What is the best outerwear for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest?

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This rubber rain jacket is awesome….but overkill most of the time!

If you want to get outside more during the winter months, you’ll need the right gear to stay dry, warm and comfortable. Finding the gear that works best can be challenging, due to our rainy and muddy winters, alternating wet, foggy and sunny springs, dry warm summers and random autumns. Today, I’ll cover a basic set of outerwear for hikes and walks in and near Seattle that also work for snowshoeing and cross country skiing (which are also wet activities around here) in the sno parks and National parks in the Cascade and Olympic mountains. I’ll share some general principles and some specific products that I can’t live without during the rainy months.

What’s the best rain jacket for getting outside in and around Seattle? (Upper Body gear)

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My current rain jacket on a snowy fall day in the North Cascades

In my opinion, the overall best option is a non insulated gore-tex jacket with armpit zippers priced around $200. There are certainly rain jackets that are far more expensive, and I’ll freely admit I’ve never owned one that expensive, but I spend a lot of time in the rain and have been very happy with this type of jacket. I have wasted some time on cheaper rain jackets, or ones that have insulation or do not have armpit zippers and I’ve found that isn’t worth it either! Non insulated and armpit zippers are important because often you get very warm doing exercise in our weather, since it’s not actually that cold. Particularly if hiking uphill or snowshoeing you want to avoid getting too sweaty inside the jacket (which makes it clammy and cold once you stop moving), so having an insulated layer that you can remove (such as a fleece jacket, down puffy jacket or synthetic puffy jacket) over a relatively thin base layer that you can keep on under the jacket (the inside of the jacket will become damp with the moisture from your body, so without a thin, long sleeved layer it can be very uncomfortable). Armpit zippers, also called pitzips, are zippers under the armpit of the jacket that you can unzip if you’re exercising to let out some of the moisture from your body and improve ventilation (and you can close them when you stop moving to preserve warmth). Watch out for ultra-light jackets. These often have terrible durability (a season or less) due to light construction and a lack of internal lining, and are designed for occasional use in a shower, not daily wear. I would also recommend getting one size larger than you normally wear, this is a personal preference but it allows room for bulky insulating layers in cold weather.

Currently I have the Marmot Minimalist and I love it (pictured above). It meets all these criteria, and I have it in bright red for extra cheer on gray days. I especially recommend this jacket for women (get the women’s one) as it is hip length and doesn’t ride up, and it’s got plenty of room for curvy women like me!

I also have a rubber rain jacket for more serious rain when I’m not moving around as much (such as sailing in the photo at the top of the post), but while this is truly waterproof in a way that no recreational jacket will ever be, it’s just too hot and clammy if you’re walking or doing any kind of consistent movement. I also have a lighter jacket for running, but it’s not really waterproof and not appropriate for being in a lot of rain for a long time.

What should I wear on my head?

A hat to wear under the hood of the rainjacket (or instead of it if you don’t like hoods) is a great idea. I recommend a wool or fleece hat which will still keep you warm if it gets wet. I have many hats that I wear all the time, but recently I’ve fallen in love with this smartwool headband :

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Hiking up to better snow for early season skiing at Cabin Creek sno park with the Marmot minimalist jacket and smartwool headband (lots of wet snow was falling, temperature was right about freezing)

I love it because it keeps my ears warm but my head doesn’t get too hot (which it almost always does if I’m hiking, snowshoeing or skiing). Highly recommended!

What about rain gear for my legs?

I am not a fan of rain pants, like not at all. They are hot, clammy, bulky, get in the way and are either tight and uncomfortable around the hips or huge and hardly stay on. I’ve tried (and I do use rubber rain bibs for things like sailing or fishing), but I just can’t do it. I’ve determined that the best option is to just wear pants that can get wet (making sure the rest of my body is dry) and not worry about it. The best option is running tights, but really, any of your favorite leggings will be just fine. Tight fitting pants that can’t get heavy and floppy are key. Long underwear can also work well. I wear inexpensive Fred Meyer snowpants with long underwear when it’s really cold in the mountains and I’m going out skiing (or sledding!).

What are the best boots and footwear for rainy days?

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My winning lower body combo of rubber boots, wool socks and leggings

Many people have their favorite hiking boots. I have hiking boots and wear them sometimes However, I have a lot of trouble with blisters on my heels, and I do better wearing other shoes. Over the years, I’ve come up with two great solutions for rainy day walks and hikes (for cross country skiing I’m wearing skiboots and for snowshoeing I usually suck it up and wear my hiking boots with gaiters to keep the snow out, but you could definitely snowshoe in the footwear mentioned below).

The first solution is boots! I have these super cute salmon sisters Octopus ones, but the boots would be just as functional without the fun design (but it’s so fun!). If you think that rubber boots are not comfortable to walk in, I suggest you get some xtratufs and think again. I routinely walk many miles in these and they are incredibly comfortable, don’t slip around, and are completely waterproof. Jay has hiked hundreds miles continuously in them in the Alaska tundra. You’ll need tall wool socks to keep things warm and comfortable (see photo above). Jay now has the short ankle version of xtratufs (after many years of wearing the tall ones) and he highly recommends them as well.

If that feels like too much for you (give it a try!) or for hikes with more climbing where something a little more like a hiking boot might be helpful, I’m also a big fan of the waterproof (waterproof is key around here!) hiking shoe. My current pair, and the ones that I like best of any I’ve ever had are these. Note: for this shoe, I recommend ordering a half size smaller than you normally wear, I normally wear size 7 and the 6.5 fits perfect.

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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She is working to earn a living outside and by sharing her beautiful and unique Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.