How to dress to enjoy being out in the rain

Getting soaked in the rain isn't a whole lot of fun. When you go for a swim or take a shower, you usually wear little or no clothes and have a towel ready to dry yourself off. But when you go out in the rain, you usually have to wear more clothes, and if they get all wet, and you get all wet, it is a pretty easy way to ruin your day. And if you live in a place with a dry season and a wet season like me, having a whole lot of ruined days in a row can drive you over the edge. They key to enjoying being out in the rain is to not get wet.

umbrellas are lame
rain coat
rain pants
waterproof boots
warm hat & misc.


Umbrellas are lame

I used to think umbrella when I thought rain. I always had at least a couple umbrellas floating around: at home, at work, left behind in places that I had forgotten about. I remember one day being caught out in the rain without an umbrella, and without thinking much about it running into a drug store and buying a cheap one. On the way out I realized that this was rather ridiculous, and in effect I had just paid a weather tax. (Or some sort of poor-organizational-skills tax.)

An umbrella is better than nothing, but not much better. I have two big problems with umbrellas. The biggest problem is that umbrellas don't really keep you dry. If you are lucky, maybe your top third stays dry. But it is really uncomfortable to walk around in wet pants especially once you get inside where it's not raining. I have a friend who feels embarrassed whenever she walks around in wet pants. I just find them uncomfortable.

The other problem I have with umbrellas is they are really hard to handle when it is windy. I guess the problem is because they have such a large surface area (in an effort to keep as much of you dry as possible) that they act as really amazing sails. I once saw somebody use an umbrella with a skateboard to go wind boarding. That was pretty cool. The other problem with wind and umbrellas -- especially cheap umbrellas -- is that if the wind is strong enough your umbrella can turn inside out. On a windy rainy day I see lots of people doing a little umbrella dance where after their umbrella gets turned inside out, they spin around so that it blows back into shape. You know it is a really bad storm, when the sidewalk is littered with broken umbrellas that collapsed in the wind.

One last problem with umbrellas is that they are big. The more effective they are, the bigger they are. And on a busy sidewalk, that can cause problems. Especially because on most busy sidewalks, there is at least one really rude person.

One thing that sort of interests me about umbrellas is a controversy I heard about a while ago, and don't really remember all the details of, regarding the use of umbrellas by military personnel. I think the jist of the problem is that historically military people weren't allowed to use umbrellas. The thinking was probably something like, well, you certainly wouldn't use an umbrella if you were fighting on the front lines so you shouldn't use them period. But there are a bunch of people who work for the military who didn't buy that argument. Their argument was probably something like, just because I'm in the military doesn't mean I have to get wet. I'll act all tough when I get to the front, but until then I want to use an umbrella. They got their way, but I remember that the old school military people gave them a lot of grief about it.

Rain Coat

So as I see it, the first key to rainy season happiness is investing in a good waterproof rain coat. The problem is, they can be sort of pricey. They are certainly a lot more expensive than a cheap umbrella. But keep in mind that they are also a lot harder to lose and harder to break.

The first thing to realize if you are shopping for a jacket is that water-resistant and waterproof are not the same thing. Water-resistant will do if you just want to be less wet, but if you want to stay dry, you need something that is waterproof.

About ten years ago I bought a really cheap plastic rain suit that was definitely waterproof (since it was made entirely out of plastic). This was a mistake because it was totally unbreathable, and if you are out walking around on a rainy day you'll produce enough sweat that if your rain coat doesn't breath at all, you'll get almost as wet as if you weren't wearing a rain coat at all. This is unbelievably true if you live someplace where it rains in the summer while it is hot outside. A couple of years ago, I made the investment in a breathable rain parka. I fealt a lot better about getting it, when a friend of mine told me that he had the same jacket for over twelve years before it started to get ratty enough that he wanted a new one. That works out to pennies a day.

One thing I was surprised by was that even though my parka was certainly more breathable than my plastic parka, it was still pretty easy to build up a good sweat wearing it while walking around all day. So think about wearing thin layers and maybe finding a jacket with vents if you plan to be working up a real sweat.

Rain Pants

The real key to staying dry is getting some waterproof rain pants. The parka will keep your top half dry, but if you really want a substantial improvement over just using an umbrella, rain pants are the way to go. Adding the rain pants will get you about 80% head-to-toe protected from wet. We'll figure out the last 20% in the next couple of sections.

Fortunately, the rain pants don't need to be as fancy as the rain coat. After I got the rain parka, I kept using the plastic rain pants from my old unbreathable rain suit and found out that these didn't cause me to get hot and sweaty at all. I guess it is your torso that makes most of the heat when you are out and about (probably different if you are really exercising).

There are a couple of things you should be aware of before you go out and get some rain pants. You'll want to be able to get them on and off pretty easily. (Just so we are clear on this, most people wear their rain pants over their regular pants, not in place of them.) Look for pants that have either wide legs, or zippers that go at least part way up the leg so you can get them over your shoes. You'll probably want to get them off when you get inside because when you walk around in them they make a much louder swishing noise than regular pants. You should also think about pockets. My pair has pocket holes where the pockets in my regular pants are. This probably makes them a little less waterproof but it is very convenient because you don't need to keep moving stuff from your regular pockets to your rain pants pockets and back again.

Another thing is that it seems that a lot of people think rain pants are a fashion no-no. I often get a smirk or two from hipsters when I wear my rain pants. The thing to remember, is your legs are dry, their legs are not. In my mind this is the whole crux of the umbrella vs. serious rain gear debate.

Waterproof Boots

So a waterproof rain parka (with a hood) and some rain pants will keep you dry from head to foot, but if you are looking for head to toe dryness, you're also going to need to get some waterproof boots. At first you'll probably be so excited about being dry from head to foot that you'll think the boots are a little silly. But once you start getting used to being mostly dry, you'll probably end up finding your feet getting damp intolerable.

I have a pair of breathable waterproof boots, and like them a lot better than the pair I used to have which didn't breath. I don't know if I am some sort of freak, but my feet tend to sweat quite a bit. I'm probably not a freak, because foot sweat is probably at the root of the universal smelly sock problem. An alternative to waterproof boots is waterproof socks. I've never tried them, but a friend of mine wears sandles and thick waterproof socks out in the rain. Besides some weird fashion statement which it is hard for me to understand, my friend also has an economic argument: waterproof socks are cheaper than waterproof boots.

The cool thing is that if you take the full head-to-toe root you can spend as much time as you want out in the rain and not get wet.

Warm Hat & Misc.

I have a couple more ideas.

1 - If you live someplace where it rains in the winter (like me), get a nice warm wool hat and wear it underneath your hood. When I was a kid, I was always told that you lose something like seventy percent of your body heat through your head. I never really believed that. But I've been shocked by how that number seems to get inflated every year. Recently I heard someone say that you lose 83% of your body heat through your head (having the number end in three makes it sound a lot more official, doesn't it?). Since then I've decided to jump way ahead of the competition and start quoting the number 99.9% I encourage you to tell your friends (if you have a good poker face) that you lose 99.9% of your body heat through your head.

2 - I have not found a great solution for keeping the stuff I carry around with me dry. One thing I've tried is to get a bunch of sealable plastic bags for things that I carry in my back pack which I really don't want to get wet. I'm not a big fan of putting the whole pack in a plastic bag which I've seen some other people do. My parka has some big pockets, and if its not raining very hard, I usually just put the most critical things in those pockets and gamble with the rest.

3 - This last suggestion has nothing to do with gear but rather is about attitude. Most people tend to squint their eyes when they are out in the rain. If you are one of those people, try not doing it next time. It is pretty amazing how much less tense being out in the rain is if you aren't scrinching up your eyes during the whole experience. If you're like me it is going to take a while of remembering to not squint before it becomes a habit.

When it rains in San Francisco: just how much water comes crashing out of the sky?

Comments? Suggestions?

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