Long Distance Walking Equipment Guide: Waterproofs

Published 9 April 2014

Looking at hills in the rain

If you’re new to multi-day hikes and long distance walking, your mind may turn to what equipment you need. If you’ve done day hikes before, you may have some already. But is it up to the job? In the first of an occasional series of articles on the subject, I look at my own experiences of walking and how it affected the equipment I have. First up, waterproofs.

It was on my first day walking the Cumbria Way that there was something lacking with my waterproofs. About lunchtime in fact. The rain had been coming down all day, and I’d dutifully left my digs in Ulverston all suited up. Waterproof trousers and jacket were on from the outset. I was taking no chances, which was sensible as the rain showed no sign of letting up.

There was just one problem. Just a few hours later I was so wet that I ended up having to change my t-shirt in a set of public toilets not far from the foot of Conniston Water (having got lost.) And not just my t-shirt, but all the clothes I was wearing.

After a couple of hours of pouring rain, my waterproofs had completely failed in the task I’d assigned to them. I was soaked.

How much water had permeated them, I never could tell. However the rain wasn’t entirely to blame. The waterproofs were a rather basic pair, probably the cheapest pair in the shop. Something you could bundle up into a small pack and shove in your rucksack.

In certain circumstances they’re all you need. Day hikes for example. If you just want a set of waterproofs that will last you during a bit of rain whilst doing a bit of a walk, anything more expensive is probably overkill. Something to do you through a shower or two, then you can whip them off. These were exactly the circumstances I’d bought them for many years earlier. And they did me through my early multi-day hikes where I hadn’t encountered particularly bad weather; sections of the Pennine Way, and the entire of the West Highland Way, mostly walked in either cloud or sun.

But for the long distance walker who sometimes has no choice but to head out into the rain, and in such circumstances, the cheap waterproof has a fundamental flaw.

They’re not breathable. In other words, they don’t let air or heat out. So when you’re warm, you just get warmer and warmer and warmer. The warmth has nowhere to go. It’s trapped by the plastic of the waterproof. So you begin to sweat. A lot. This was the lesson I was to learn on the Cumbria Way. The water I squeezed out of my clothes in the entrance to that toilet block, was a mixture of rain that had got through, and fluids generated by my body as it had attempted to keep me cool.

On that trip I made a decision. I was going to buy some decent equipment. And top on the list would be a good set of waterproofs.

Fully waterproofed at St Bees

Most of the money went on a waterproof jacket, buying a Berghaus jacket made with Gore-Tex’s Paclite shell. Paclite’s a lightweight, breathable material, meaning you can scrunch the jacket up and pack it away in your rucksack when you don’t need it – exactly the same as I could with my old, non-waterproof jacket. The decision to go with Gore-Tex and Berghaus in preference to other brands and other technologies, was purely pragmatic. At the time I worked for the BBC and Berghaus gave BBC staff 30% off at their Covent Garden store. That said, I’ve always found the staff there to be extremely knowledgeable and very helpful.

The jacket was what you’d expect. It had pockets and everything. It also had a couple of other benefits over my old cheapo model. You could tighten the cuffs with velco to keep rain out, and you could adjust the hood to stop it slipping over your eyes. Most useful features.

It was the waterproof trousers that were the most eye-opening for me though. Again they were Berghaus, this time made with Berghaus’s AQ2 fabric, which is basically Berghaus’s own breathable, lightweight fabric. And unlike my old naff waterproof trousers, some thought had gone into the design.

The legs featured very long zips – pretty much three quarters of the length of the trouser. This is wonderful as it makes getting waterproof trousers without taking your boots off, a breeze. My old waterproof were impossible to get on over my size ten boots. When the rain’s just arrived, the last thing you want is to be taking your hiking boots off just to get your waterproofs on.

The second great feature was that the Berghaus trousers are lined. This means they’re wonderful for putting over shorts – something I could never do with the old trousers as the plasticly material stuck to the legs horribly. Being able to put them on over shorts is a wonderful thing on a warm, but very wet day, is fantastic. Instead of being a trauma, they’re a delight to wear. So good are they that I have two pairs of the waterproof trousers. Although that was mainly because when walking the Coast to Coast, I managed to pack an old pair of Catherine’s instead. Which wasn’t good, as she’s just a bit smaller than me.

Since I purchased both jacket and trousers in 2010 I’ve never looked back. Both are still going strong, with a few re-proofings along the way. Good quality jackets in particular are not cheap, however if you plan to do a lot of walking, having some good equipment will really make your walk so much more enjoyable.

Your Comments

David Ashby

8 August 2017 at 12:59 pm

Top tips thank you. We just walked the Huayhuash Cordillera in Peru and I managed with a ‘bin bag kilt’ that I improvised on the walk. Not for the C2C though!

Guy

24 July 2018 at 10:03 am

I agree with the concept of waterproof and breathable. otherwise we sweat all over the place.

Only thing I’ve found with Berghaus is they are very expensive and all blue, except your’s. Never seen a black one before.

Normally I go for the better (which is usually higher priced), but I’ve ended up with a Gelert that breaths and keeps me very dry, plus some trousers that are the same. Had them a couple years now, no problem.

Phil

30 July 2018 at 12:03 pm

I had a similar experience to yours. After 3 hours of very hard wind blown rain yesterday I was soaked to the skin. The Jacket I was wearing was a Berghaus Mera Peak which I’ve owned for some time but never used in rain, in fact it is as new as I’ve not used it much at all. It is the version with a water resistant zip down the front and on the chest pockets. My shoulders and back were bone dry so I suspect that the zip didn’t resist the water as expected.

The point is that even expensive (I think it cost £220 from Cotswold Outdoor) rain wear isn’t a guarantee of waterproofness. If I was buying a new jacket now I would go for one with a YKK chunky moulded zip on it protected by well designed storm flaps that velcro down. The zip then never has to resist water as water never gets to it. Also note breathable fabric only breaths when it is drier outside than it is inside. In other words they breath in dry conditions but stop breathing when it rains.

I have the same trousers as you I think. Berghaus Deluge. They worked fin excets where the water ran down from the leaking jacket zip.

Guy

1 August 2018 at 7:48 pm

Hi Phil, just got back here. My leggings are North Face. Soon as I bought them it linking well stopped raining, didn’t it. Looks like I have to wait until Fall to test the things out.

Your Comments