Divide Peak in the Rain
We went on the Sierra Club hike to Divide Peak. It rained.
We grabbed some rain gear before we headed down to the trailhead but did not expect it to rain quite as much as it did. It wasn't heavy, just gentle rain that sometimes would stop for a few minutes. By the time we reached the top of Monte Arrido Trail, it was much colder and windier and the thought of sitting on top of Divide Peak was not appealing. So we decided that we had had enough and turned back.
I had rain gear with me, and it got me thinking about my layering system that I have sort of come up with from my experience hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. My system may not be the best layering system in the world, but it is what has worked pretty well for me hiking in the summer and in Southern California in our seasons down here. Basically, I like to have as many small pieces as possible, none of which are particularly warm. Then I can mix and match according to the weather and my activity. If you want to learn everything there is to know about layering, read this.
On backpack trips I usually take a pair of fleece sleeves I cut off of a fleece sweat shirt. I put elastic around the top of the sleeves. I can wear these as arm or leg warmers or let them cover my feet in my sleeping bag. They can extend the range I can wear a lightweight windbreaker or sit around in shorts. They go on and come off easily without having to take off my pack.
I also like to take a fleece balaclava that covers my neck and face. I can roll it up to uncover my neck, face and ears when I'm too warm or roll it down to cover everything when I'm cold.
I like a second puffy hood-type hat for sleeping in or when it's really cold and the fleece balaclava isn't warm enough.
For my hands I have fleece gloves and rain mitts. I can wear either one or the other or both and in this way keep my hands warm, warmer and/or dry.
I have a cuben fiber rain jacket from ZPacks. This works for wind or rain. It's light and really ugly. I really never need to hike in a puffy jacket so my ZPacks jacket will often be my only jacket on a trip. If I'm so cold I need to put on down, I'm usually sitting in camp and at that point, I can wear my Jacks-R-Better wearable down quilt or stuff my down sleeping bag into my jacket.
For hiking in the rain I have a rain skirt from ULA. It's a wrap-around skirt that fastens with velcro. Goes on quickly and on me, it goes down to my knees. If I roll my pants up, I can feel less warm while I hike and I don't care so much if my legs get wet. When it's too cold for wet bare legs, I have some long gaiters to cover my lower legs. It can add warmth, too, and it's pretty easy to hike in. Leaping across boulders over a stream requires me to undo the velcro.
An umbrella is also one of the things I usually bring on backpack trips. It provides shelter from rain or sun. If it is warm rain, you can stay dry without having to wear layers that will make you too hot and sweaty. If it is hot sun, you can remove sun-protecting layers without worrying about sunburn and without having to put on greasy sunscreen.
Every time I pack my stuff it just seems like so many little pieces rather than large, single-use items. But all my pieces function in so many environments. I can always find the combination that keeps me comfortable.
The climb up the Monte Arrido Trail is very steep. I wore my ZPacks rain jacket and rain skirt with rolled up pants. I was grateful there had been a lot of brushing done recently. The trail wasn't scratchy on my legs at all. We worked up quite a sweat on the way up. When I took off my rain jacket, it seemed to me it was as wet on the inside as on the outside. I put on a long-sleeved shirt under my jacket and instantly felt a lot warmer and not so wet. We decided at the top that the weather wasn't going to be fun to sit around in, so we decided to turn back and go home. The rest of the Sierra Club group did reach the top of Divide Peak and sat up there in the rain for lunch.
I often cancel hikes when there is rain, but any time I do end up hiking in the rain, it's always a lot more fun and pleasant than I expect. With decent rain gear, it's not only beautiful to experience the backcountry in the rain, but comfortable, too.