Choosing The Best Hunting Rain Gear
I’ve spent literally thousands of dollars over the last 15 years on rain gear in an attempt to stay dry, or at least drier, as I hunted and fished throughout the southeast. I also spent several years working at an outdoors store where we stocked and sold everything from $5 disposable ponchos to $500 Sitka rain jackets. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about the best hunting rain gear.
I speak from experience. I live just outside of Mobile, AL, which has repeatedly earned the dubious honor of being the “Rainiest City in the US” according to the Climate Corporation. We get four to five-and-a-half feet of rainfall a year, and most of it occurs during the winter when I’m busy trying to sneak out of work to go shoot ducks and deer. In fact, it’s raining as I write this, and it’s scheduled to keep raining straight through the current 7-day forecast. There’s an unfortunately high chance that I will be tent-camping and hunting the rifle opener in my part of the state in the rain.
In this article, I’m going to discuss the most popular rain gear technologies, the gear that has worked best for me personally, and a few tips I’ve learned over the years to help make rainy days more bearable.
Popular Rain Gear Technologies
There are currently three popular technologies in rain gear. Gore Tex, Durable Water Repellent (DWR) Treatment, and a polyethylene membrane. Each technology has its pros and cons, which we’ll discuss in relative detail here.
Gore Tex is synonymous with quality rain gear. Walk through a sporting goods store, and you’ll notice that the jackets with the square tag with gold letters fetch a high price. Invented in 1969 by Robert Gore, Gore Tex is the trade name for expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (more commonly known by another trade name, Teflon). This “miracle fabric” is microporous and about 70% air. So the advertising goes, garments utilizing a Gore Tex membrane are both waterproof and breathable, blocking the passage of large water molecules in the form of rain, while allowing passage of smaller water vapor molecules talking form as your body’s perspiration.
The promise is nothing short of miraculous. But like many promises that seem a little too good to be true, Gore Tex’s claims have (at least in my experience) fallen short in the field. If you want a more thorough dive into what Gore Tex is (and isn’t) this video breaks it down pretty well. Basically, while Gore Tex is both waterproof and breathable in a controlled laboratory, it fails to live up to that claim in field conditions. It can be waterproof, or it can be breathable. But it can’t be breathable while also shedding water.
I have owned several Gore Tex jackets and boots. The jackets have been waterproof barring torrential downpours, but have not been any more breathable than any other rain garments. The boots? I’ve never had a pair of Gore Tex boots that didn’t leak within a year of purchase.
That being said, Gore Tex garments are usually a pretty solid choice for keeping you dry in the rain most hunters will find themselves in. Gore Tex clothing usually features taped seams and the exterior layer of fabric is generally coated with a Durable Waterproof Repellent that works in conjunction with Gore Tex to keep you pretty well-protected from the rain. And, since Gore Tex is a “premium” product that costs both you and clothing manufacturers a pretty penny, garment makers generally put their best foot forward in pieces utilizing the material.
DWR (Durable Water Repellent)
DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent. It is a fluoropolymer treatment applied to make garments water resistant. Big emphasis on “resistant”. By itself, a DWR-treated garment will not keep you dry in anything but a mild, passing drizzle. If you are looking for a rain jacket, and it says “DWR” on the tag and makes no mention of another membrane (Gore Tex or otherwise) run, don’t walk away from that jacket!
DWR is best used when combined with a “breathable” waterproof membrane like Gore Tex. It is often used on an outer layer of fabric in an attempt to keep moisture from reaching the Gore Tex membrane and blocking the micropores, thereby keeping it breathable.
It works ok when new. What most manufacturers stretch the truth on, however, is just how “durable” a DWR is. Fluoropolymers break down when exposed to heat, detergents and (very unfortunately) water! If your DWR treated garment makes no mention of how to reactivate or retreat the finish, that’s generally a bad sign.
That said, DWR is cheap, and can be found on a wide variety of garments. DWR-treated gear can also be quieter than more waterproof options. If all you’re looking for is a garment to buy you a little time to either ride out a passing sprinkle or make it back to camp, DWR may just be your solution.
Polyethylene is waterproof. End of story. A garment utilizing a non-porous membrane with taped or welded seams will be dry as a powderhouse until you wear a hole in it. Poly membrane garments are generally cheaper than those using “breathable” membranes as well. The catch? They breathe about as well as a plastic bag, because…well, that’s kind of what they are! They also tend to be a little on the loud side.
With that being said, if a hard rain’s a-gonna fall and I’m going to be out in it without shelter from the storm, good poly membrane garments are my top pick.
Best Hunting Rain Gear
Below is the best hunting rain gear and the gear I personally use to keep me warm and dry during the Gulf Coasts wet winters during deer and duck season. I’m happy to say that it has been years since rain has kept me out of the deer woods and duck swamps, and I am highly confident that these garments will keep you dry regardless of how hard the rain falls on your next outing.
Best Hunting Rain Jacket
A close friend turned me onto Rivers West hunting garments back when I was still in college. Rivers West’s “claim to fame” is that they make quiet, waterproof hunting clothing. Their Original Waterproof Fleece (OWF) is basically a membrane sandwiched between two layers of fleece. It’s extremely quite, and also quite warm. Their Ambush jacket doesn’t just keep the rain off of you, it also blocks 100% of the wind chill on cold morning boat rides.
Rivers West stuff isn’t the lightest or most “technical” on the market, but in my experience it’s perfect for a wet weather whitetail hunter who isn’t packing his clothing on his back several miles into the backcountry.
Best Hunting Rain Pants
Bibs are the way to go with rain gear. Honestly, I’ve been known to wear my Rivers West jacket over waders even when deer hunting during cold, wet weather. A long jacket and bibs eliminates any gap around your midriff when you sit or bend at the waist.
If you’re not quite so serious about staying dry as to wear a pair of waders into the deer woods this season, Rivers West makes a good pair of Ambush Bibs that are just as warm and waterproof as their jacket.
Best Hunter’s Rain Boots
Rubber is king when it comes to rain boots. My favorite rubber boots are these Tingley Airgo models. They’re lighter than most sneakers, and have no seams to leak at. Unlike most of the cheap rubber used in boots today, which is full of fillers and will leak at crease points over time, these boots will stay warm and dry for several seasons. And they’re cheap.
Since I hunt by boat frequently in riverine flood plains, I like to pair my Tingleys with a pair of Yoders Chaps. My rain jacket rides down pretty low, and with these pulled up and fastened to my belt I’m bulletproof when the rain starts to fall.
Tips For Hunting In The Rain
While good rain gear can help keep you dry, I’ve found that you can’t just slap on a rain coat and hit the woods and expect to stay dry and toasty. For starters, if you’re wearing truly waterproof gear, it will trap your body’s moisture and leave you damp. In my experience, it’s better to accept this fact and plan for it as opposed to relying on “breathable” rain gear. The secret? Wool undergarments. Wool, in my experience, is the least unpleasant fiber to have in contact with your skin as it starts to get damp.
If at all possible, I also like to take shelter in a ground blind. Yes, my clothing is waterproof. But if I can get out of the rain, I absolutely will. In the even that I can’t do that, something as simple as this chair umbrella or a tree umbrella can provide a reprieve from the rain where you can sip coffee or scarf down a sandwich in relative comfort.
Good, waterproof seat covers are also nice to have if you hunt in the rain frequently. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down the day after a hunt and grimaced at the sensation of my clean, dry, street clothes becoming soaked in yesterday’s muddy rain water.
Final Thoughts On Hunting Rain Gear
Rain can put a damper on a weekend hunting trip, but it doesn’t have to keep you cabin-bound. With the right clothing and a little bit of planning, it’s possible to tough out a rainy day in relative comfort. Remember, critters don’t have the option of staying inside during a rainy day. They may hunker down for the worst of it, but they will move during breaks in the rain. Since the rain provides you with sight, sound, and scent masking and also keeps other hunters indoors, it can actually work to your advantage if you’re wearing the best hunting rain gear.
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