Staying dry on a rainy backpacking trip is a two-pronged struggle: first, you need to keep the rain from soaking you, and second, your rain gear needs to be breathable enough that you don’t end up protected from the rain but dripping in your own sweat as you hike. A favorite rain jacket for thru-hikers is the Frogg Toggs Emergency Jacket due to its bargain price tag and extremely light weight.
But, are Frogg Toggs good for backpacking? While the Frogg Toggs Emergency Jacket would not be ideal for a multi-day backpacking trip in a consistently rainy area like the Pacific Northwest, it is a great option as a backup storm jacket or as a designated trail shell. The price and weight can’t be beat. Like most rain shells though (except the very top of the line), this jacket will eventually ‘wet out,’ or soak through.
The jacket is best utilized if you aren’t expecting consistent rain and/or wind on your hike but still want to be prepared.
The Frogg Toggs Emergency Jacket
At the time of this writing, both the men’s and women’s Emergency Jacket is listed on the Frogg Toggs website at $9.99 originally, but currently on sale for $4.99.
The size and color options are very bare-bones, with the women’s jacket only available in a bright purple and two sizes (small/medium or large/x-large) and the men’s jacket is solely available in a sage green color in one size (medium/large).
Review from Christina, a Colorado Trail Thru-Hiker
I spoke with my friend Christina (@christinahadly) who thru-hiked the Colorado Trail in 2018, about the ubiquitous Frogg Toggs jacket and she provided some excellent insights.
Christina said that they are super popular with thru-hikers because of their light weight and bargain price tag, but that they do get beat up on the trail and can tear quite easily on branches or other minor trail hazards.
She opted for the slightly heavier but quite similar Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite2 Suit but did not end up using the pants and had to throw the jacket away after completing her hike. This set is listed on the Frogg Toggs website for $29.99 but Christina purchased her set from Amazon for around $18.
With such a low price point for both the Ultra-Lite2 set and the Emergency Jacket, you could buy a new set or jacket for each backpacking adventure if necessary and still not break the bank.
I asked Christina whether her Frogg Toggs jacket did its job on the trail, and here’s what she had to say:
“They are pretty flimsy! It did do the job though. It ‘wets out’ in a couple hours, although all but the most high end rain jackets will do that too. Colorado rain storms are generally really quick, so it was fine for hiking in. By the end of my hike it was wearing thin under my backpack shoulder and hip straps, so it got wet faster in those areas, especially when we had a cold day where it rained all day.
I wouldn’t recommend it for a multi-day PNW backpacking trip where you knew it was going to rain all the time, but as a backup jacket it’s great. It also helps cut wind if it’s just cold and windy.”
Christina also mentioned that Frogg Toggs sizing runs extremely large – her size small jacket was huge on her. It does say on the Frogg Toggs website that the Emergency Jackets have a “full-length parka cut” and the Ultra-Lite 2 jackets appear to be cut similarly, but they still may have gone a little overboard with their sizing.
Pros and Cons of Frogg Toggs Jackets for Backpacking
- Very affordable
- Extremely lightweight and packable
- Great for quick rainstorms or for blocking wind
- Baggy fit means air can circulate
- Easy to layer over other outerwear in very cold/wet conditions
- Ridiculously large fit means this is a “trail-only” jacket in terms of style and comfort
- Tears easily and wears quickly
- Overall breathability isn’t great compared to other jacket options – unless it’s very cold you will probably sweat in the jacket
- Wets out after a few hours
- No armpit vents
Caring for Your Frogg Toggs Jacket
Taking good care of your jacket and other rain wear can help extend the life of the products.
- Whenever possible, hang your jacket up to dry after you’ve used or cleaned it. This may not be feasible in a tiny backpacking tent, but be sure to at least keep wet gear in the vestibule of your tent, away from your dry gear inside. Spread out wet items to help them dry faster and never wad or bundle wet gear, as it will stay wet and might get mildewy.
- According to the Frogg Toggs website, you should not dry clean your jacket. This seems obvious, but there you have it. Instead, hand wash your rain gear in warm water using a mild soap if necessary. The Dr. Bronner’s soap that most backpackers use for everything would work just fine, although having a spotless rain jacket probably won’t be your most pressing priority on the trail.
- In between hikes and backpacking trips, store your jacket on a hanger in a cool dry place, away from heat, flame, and appliances (duh).
Other Essential Rain Gear for Backpacking
A rain jacket is only the first step in staying dry on the trail. It protects your torso and head, but your lower half and backpack are still exposed to the rain. Let’s take a look at a few options for additional rain gear.
Frogg Toggs offers a complete rain suit that includes a jacket and pants for about $30, although the quality of these pants has come under some question, as they are prone to ripping. They also offer heavier duty rain pants, but these are much bulkier and not as practical for backpacking.
Another option is something like a “rain kilt” from ULA-Equipment, which essentially amounts to wrapping a tarp around your waist, but the kilt is lighter than pants and allows better ventilation so your legs don’t get as sweaty. However, the potential for snagging on branches or extreme ‘wind flappage’ is higher with a kilt.
MontBell.com has rain pants that have some stretch to them, which means they are more comfortable and less restricting than your standard rain pants, although these are more expensive. However, if you are hiking at high elevation or in stormy conditions, a good pair of rain pants can be the difference between a comfortable hike and hypothermia.
In many cases, if you are in a relatively warm climate, it might be more practical to just hike in shorts which will be covered by your extremely long Frogg Toggs jacket, and let your legs get wet. If you are working hard hiking up an incline, some cooling rain might feel nice, and in a place with frequent but brief squalls, you could waste a lot of precious daylight taking on and off your rain pants multiple times.
Gaiters are designed to keep things out of your boots, whether it’s rocks, grit, rain, or snow. As such, gaiters can be a critical piece of equipment for keeping your feet dry while you hike, which in turn prevents blisters. Gaiters come in a variety of heights and materials, from lightweight ankle-height to heavy-duty knee-high versions.
The more intense the gaiters are, the less airflow and breathability you’ll have, which can then mean your feet become soaked in sweat, so choose your gaiters carefully based on your expected conditions.
In a serious downpour, wear your gaiters under your rain pants so the water shingles off from your pants to your gaiters to the ground. If you wear them over your rain pants, water can sneak down underneath the gaiters and get into your boots and socks.
While there are backpacks out there that are fully immersible, most multi-day-use (i.e. large) backpacks are not 100% waterproof. But, you have a few options in terms of keeping your stuff dry. Fortunately, most modern backpacks are made of lightweight wicking materials like nylon or polyester, so even if the bag itself becomes wet, you won’t be bogged down with tons of extra weight.
However, if everything in your pack was to get soaked, you would definitely notice a weight increase.
One option for keeping things dry is to use a waterproof backpack cover. These are great to throw on your backpack if a rain squall comes out of nowhere, but they can be inconvenient for long term use because to access anything in the pack, you need to remove the whole rain cover, thereby exposing everything to moisture.
If you are expecting to get wet, you can line your backpack with one large dry bag or a heavy-duty trash bag, or use a series of smaller dry bags. By using multiple smaller bags, you can open your backpack to remove, say, your tent without exposing your clothes or food stash to the rain.
For very water-sensitive items in your backpack like your phone, camera, map, toilet paper, etc., it’s a good idea to keep each item in a sealed Ziploc bag as an extra precaution. That way you can pull out your map to reference it in the rain without worrying about damaging it.
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