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Cover-ups for wet-weather hikers and walkers.

Here are low- and high-tech alternatives

IF RAIN SOMETIMES catches you when you're out hiking or biking, you understand the problem: rain soaks you if your clothes aren't waterproof, while sweat soaks you if they are.

Textiles that are waterproof and breathable, along with new clothing designs, have gone a long way to deal with this problem during the past two decades. But are they the best choice for wet-weather exercise? The answer is maybe.


For about $30, you can buy a good urethane-coated nylon poncho. Add a $20 rain hat and you have pretty good protection at a great price. Loose and open at the sides, the poncho provides great ventilation and keeps you dry from upper legs up.

In really bad weather, you can add coated-nylon pants to your rain uniform for $30.

On your feet, wear athletic shoes with removable insoles and count on them getting wet. When you get home, remove the insoles, stuff the shoes with newspaper, and let everything dry in a warm place like a water-heater closet. (Don't throw the shoes into a clothes dryer; heat softens glue, and the shoes can come apart.)


The new waterproof, breathable fabrics (there are many) really do keep water out as they let moisture-laden body heat escape. But these fabrics are still limited by the rate at which they can dissipate heat.

Consider this: As you walk a 20-minute mile, your body burns about 70 calories (a measure of heat). Walk a 12-minute mile and you burn up to 120 calories. While waterproof, breathable fabrics may be able to keep you comfortable at the slower speed, they have serious trouble keeping ahead of your heat-sweat production at the higher speed.

That's where clothing design comes in: to handle vigorous exercise, your clothing must be extremely well vented, regardless of the fabric from which it's made. "If you don't put a priority on good venting," says one clothing designer, "you'll find yourself sweating to death in $300 worth of waterproof, breathable clothes."

Peter Langmaid, product development manager for REI in Seattle, gave us his advice on good clothing design for wet-weather exercise:

"Buy a waterproof jacket with mesh pocket bags in all pockets, zippered underarm vents, a front zipper that opens from both bottom and top, and cuffs with adjustable openings, not elasticized. Every opening, even the pockets, in a jacket like this moves body heat out and keeps you from sweating.

"For pants, look for simplicity. Get ones with an elastic waistband, but non-elastic cuffs."


Nonbreathable, urethane-coated nylon is inexpensive and useful, but because it's water- and vaporproof, adequate ventilation is crucial.

More advanced materials consist of a fabric (such as nylon) coated or laminated on the inside with a waterproof, breathable synthetic. Rainwater can saturate the outer fabric, but the synthetic barrier keeps water from reaching you. The result: you stay dry, though your jacket may be wet.

Laminates. Gore-Tex is the premier laminate on the market. First-generation (1970s-era) Gore-Tex fabrics were made with textiles that sometimes delaminated, discolored, leaked at the seams, and lost their waterproofness when contaminated by sweat. These problems have been solved, according to the sports clothing designers and textile buyers we interviewed.

The current generation of Gore-Tex is effective and pricey: at $150 to $400, a Gore-Tex jacket costs about 50 percent more than one made of a competing synthetic, but the material appears to have a clear edge in durability. And Gore-Tex is the primary waterproof, breathable fabric used in shoes.

Coated fabrics. Several fabrics that are coated on the inside with breathable, waterproof urethane have come to market during the past few years. The coatings come in two types.

Continuous-film coatings, such as that used on REI's Elements fabric, act like a molecular bucket brigade, moving moisture-laden air from the inside to the outside of the garment.

Microporous coatings, including Burlington's Ultrex, Helly-Hansen's Helly-Tech, and Toray's Entrant, are films whose microscopic pores let vapor escape and keep water out. Fabrics with these coatings don't soak easily, they dry quickly, and they generally range in cost between urethane-coated nylon and Gore-Tex.

You will also find that some of these fabrics, especially Ultrex-coated Supplex Nylon, feel remarkably soft and pliable for waterproof textiles.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McCausland, Jim
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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