First, the Cliff’s Notes’ version. The Sierra Designs’ Pack Trench ($149) is water-resistant, windproof and, for a nylon jacket with polyurethane laminate and water repellent finish, pretty breathable.
Sierra Designs opted for open armpit mesh vents instead of zippers to shed weight. Indeed this works because it weighs next to nothing in a backpack.
I had the pleasure of wearing the Pack Trench in Austria this summer for ten days of hiking in the Salzkammergut region. Rain jackets are one of those staples where you always need to pack one and hope to never use.
Well, use it I did. It literally rained katzen and hunde every day but one the entire trip. It seems that this simple, basic design is brilliant for hiking in the Austrian Alps. Allow me to explain.
There is a trail hazard up there in those Alps called “free-range livestock.”
Goats, sheep, cows, horses. They all wear bells and they all crap on the trail like it belongs to them. Add a sudden downpour of rain, or ten solid days of drizzle, and you have mud on top of the muck that you have to walk through.
The mud and muck clings to the lugs of your boots and squishes its way over the uppers. Unless you remove your boots before you put on your rain pants, your rain pants will also be caked with animal poo. Then, when you can remove your rain pants and stash them in your pack, the inside of your pack smells like animal poo.
This was my life for ten days.
Fortunately I figured out by day two that it wasn’t always necessary to put on rain pants. Unlike packable rain jackets of yore, the Pack Trench’s length hangs to my thigh and provided just enough coverage that I didn’t need rain pants during short cloud bursts or light drizzle to keep my shorts dry.
The hood deserves a mentioning. It is designed to fit over a head, not a head with a helmet. In my opinion, “helmet compatible” hoods are superfluous. I’m not going to climb a rock face when it’s raining; I’ll wait it out in a tent in safety.
I’m also not going to pull a hood over my bike helmet. What’s the point? So my helmet will stay dry while my legs get splattered with mud?
I never understood the need. Smaller hood means better fit, less fabric, less weight and it doesn’t bunch up between my neck and pack.
Size-wise, I can tell you that my size small squished down to fit nicely in my Osprey Tempest 30 pack without compromising space for snacks, water, first aid kit, fleece, etc. Fit-wise, it runs just large enough to wear over layers, including a down sweater, but small enough that it doesn’t feel bulky.
I like it a lot and recommend, but there two annoyances worth mentioning:
- Wrist cuffs: I’m not hugely in love with them. The shape and design did let in some rain when I was using trekking poles. Not a ton to the point where I was cold, wet and miserable but just enough to notice.
- Open mesh armpit vents: The zippers were likely omitted to shed weight but on a very cold day, not having the ability to zip up under the pits is a good way to let in the cold. I didn’t experience cold on my trip, because it was July, but something to think about if you plan to do some cold-weather hiking.