In fair weather, deciding what to wear for a day on the water is the least of our worries. This is fishing, not a fashion show. But when Heaven opens the floodgates and rain enters the equation, the dress code changes dramatically.
In fact, donning the right rain gear when the skies open up can mean the difference between enjoying a great trip — no matter the weather — or getting soaked and throwing in the towel. Following are 10 key features that separate great gear from rain gear that's all wet.
Dryness aside, you'll fish longer and have more fun in comfortable raingear. We touched on breathability — a hallmark of high-quality membranes. But you also want a suit that fits, without being tight or bulky. Check that the hood is roomy, adjustable, and turns when you turn your head. Also look for features such as fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, and an adjustable waist and cuffs. Finally, well-placed gussets, along with articulated knees and sleeves, offer freedom of movement whether you're casting for bass, netting a trophy, or getting down on all fours to pluck the weeds from your trailer before heading home.
High-quality cuffs keep water out of your sleeves, and your sleeves out of the way. The least desirable are loose, open-cut options that leak like a sieve and catch on everything. Generic elastic choices are better, as are adjustable velcro-cuffs — though the latter also like to snag reel handles, line, and anything else within range. Raise the bar in performance by choosing premium neoprene or spandex cuffs, which offer watertight seals while keeping the end of your sleeve under control.
Ease of Use
I hate taking off my boots to pull rain bibs on, and I bet you do, too. Worse, trying to slip them off over footwear at the end of the day makes me feel like a kindergartener kicking off my snowpants. End frustration and embarrassing boat ramp dances by choosing raingear with leg openings extending clear to the thigh.
A float suit is the ultimate in life insurance for folks who venture into extreme conditions both winter and summer. Capable of rain protection, these types of suits also provide U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation and hypothermia protection. In the general rainwear category, reduce your safety risks by choosing rainwear with reflective fabric — which catches the rays from flashlights, spotlights, and headlights, alerting fellow boaters and potential rescuers to your whereabouts.
Anglers love pliers, clippers, and other must-have gear, and an abundance of well-placed pockets helps keep it all handy. Large, lined exterior compartments provide storage and double as handwarmers, while zippered pockets stop valuables from falling out. And don't forget about interior mesh pockets, which keep your fishing license, wallet, cell phone, and other small items close to your heart.
The best fabric is only as good as the seams holding it together. Welded seams on plastic rainwear lack leak-prone needle holes — which is good — but letdowns in breathability and durability are often deal-breakers. With sewn seams, taping is a top option in the fight to keep water out. Here, too, Gore is a gold standard. On low-price gear, beware of cost-cutting measures such as sealing seams with cheap glues. Worse, some manufacturers pick and choose which seams to seal — often skimping on the sides — and some skip sealants altogether.
With the exception of vertical, waterproof front pocket zippers, I like a flap anywhere there's a zipper, to keep water away from it. Pocket flaps with Velcro closures are awesome, and dual flaps that Velcro together are ideal for protecting front zippers. Don't forget the pants or bibs, either. For example, interior-leg storm flaps help keep your lower extremeties warm and dry.
Lightweight Tough Fabric
A $5 poncho might pass in a pinch, but paper-thin plastic tears easily and won't go the distance. Heavy-duty vinyl is better, but not breathable. For long-lasting performance, look for nylon, polyamide filament yarn, or other durable fabric 75 to 200 denier or thicker. Cross-woven ripstop nylon and polyester are additional tough, lightweight options.
Other than plastic, most material owes much of its water repellance to finishes, coatings, and laminates. You can check a suit's finish in the store by rubbing a little water on the fabric. Beading up is good. Soaking in — not so much. Polyurethane coatings cut cost and often reduce weight, but sacrifice breathability. On the laminate front, look for breathable membranes such as Gore-Tex, which let moisture escape while keeping the elements at bay. If you're concerned about the longevity of a particular finish, coating, or membrane, check the garment's care tag for maintenance instructions.
In a driving rain, or when driving a boat at high speeds or against the wind, raingear featuring high-quality windproofing such as Gore's Windstopper is worth its weight in gold. Breathability is key here, too — allowing water vapor to escape the interior regions while blocking the breeze from outside.