Thunderstorm Training

Raintesting our Gear Before it Snows Again

With our thru-hike 10 months away, my boyfriend Rocky (that’s his real name, not a trail name) and I are starting shakedown hikes and gear prep here in Montana. While that may seem excessive, seeing as we’re heading NOBO next March, Montana winters start around mid-September and don’t let up until the middle of May.

IMG_4472Since most of the AT will not be post-holing through snowdrifts, we have the next few months to get our gear (and ourselves) tested and tweaked before we head to Georgia.

I checked the weather on Saturday and saw a burly thunderstorm headed our way. It was a prime opportunity to put our gear to the test, so I called Rocky.

“Hi Rocky. How’s work? Anyway, there’s a thunderstorm coming in. Let’s pack into the canyon and rain-test our gear.”
“Not really feeling it. Spent the last 12 hours packing 70-pound sheeting up the roof—I’m exhausted.”
“But I really want to.”

We stuffed our packs and hit Bear Trap Canyon as the clouds rolled in. The thunder was consistent throughout the 1.5-hour hike to the campsite, but the deluge didn’t start until we were in the tent for the night.

Here’s how the gear held up on a scale of 1-10, including the soaking-wet hike out the next morning.


nemo2The tent/fly was giving a 5-star performance until the soaking wet, 110-pound dog (AT participation pending) managed to plow his way inside at 3am as we tried to goad him into the vestibule. The result was hot, wet, and smelly… not the tent’s fault. The condensation from two people and a dog was gross, and some water from the ground seeped up and dampened the edge of my sleeping bag and pad. Our packs under the vestibule stayed dry though, which was exciting.
Waterproof: 8
Suffocation Level: 7

Columbia Rainshell of some sort

columbiashellI got this on sale last year, and can’t remember exactly what model it is, but this is close. The shell held up the swampy underbrush and crappy weather, but I was sweating almost immediately. The label proudly states: “Waterproof and breathable.” Breathable for who? The lack of pit zips and double layer of fabric had me dragging. The hood has a good brim and the cuffs feature Velcro to keep the rain out, but between how large it is when packed down, and how profusely I was sweating, I might end up replacing this.
Waterproof: 8
Breathability: 5

Westcomb Shift LT Hoody

Westcomb-FOCUSAt $400, this absurdly expensive rainshell better perform well. It was a score from my job at Outside Bozeman Magazine… nothing we could afford otherwise. The rain beaded off this thing, the hood cinched tight, and it packed down to softball size. Rocky was still sweating, but that might also be because he was wearing a COTTON T-SHIRT.
Waterproof: 10
Breathability: 7

REI Duckback Pack Cover

440Fits well over my 60L pack, and kept it dry. I wish there was a drawcord to really pull it tight. I compress my pack so much that the cover felt a little loose and let some water in.
Waterproof: 8
Breathability: I’d ask, but I don’t speak pack.




Sierra Design Hurricane Rain Pants

uglypantsThese wildly unflattering pants kept me dry, but I was sweating proverbial balls. They were great for plowing through the underbrush, but my ankles got wet where the cuffs were flapping around.
Waterproof: 8
Breathability: 6




Generic Basketball Shorts: Well, this will change once he gets some rain pants.
Waterproof: 0
Breathability: didn’t want to ask
Lack of adequate gear: priceless

I know we’re going to get wet and stay wet next year—that’s a given. But the more we test gear and accept inclement weather, the better we’ll be. Stay tuned as we seek out Montana’s crappiest weather to put our gear to the test.

Past hikers and 2014 hikers: Feel free to give any suggestions for gear or strategies that are working for you.

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