Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gear that works: rain capes

After years of experimenting, rain capes have become my favorite rain gear, and specifically military surplus rain capes, because they're rugged and versatile. They haven't caught on in the Americas, but many European armies use them. This one is Hungarian. They call it a "plasch-palatka", which I am told translates as "cloak-tent". 

Like a poncho, it's comfortable to hike in, with good ventilation for warm weather. Even better than a poncho, it provides closer coverage and doesn't flap around so much in the wind. It's easier to put on and take off than separate pants and jackets. It may be worn over a pack or under a belt. It's full enough to cover your legs when sitting on a deer stand or canoeing. And unlike a poncho, you can swim in one if you have to, as long as it's mostly unbuttoned or your arms are out of the holes. You can even relieve yourself while wearing one without making a big production out of it. 

There's a button arrangement that takes in some tucks to keep it from falling over your shoulders, and a drawstring to form a hood. The grommeted corner that remains at the peak of the hood is tucked under. Some rain-capes have a "tail" that is buttoned up inside so that it doesn't drag on the ground, but the cut of this one is such that it isn't necessary. There are arm holes, but it's typically worn unbuttoned with arms inside. 

Here it is rigged as a minimal shelter. It would block some wind and provide some shade, but wouldn't do for much more than a gentle rain. Two can be buttoned together to make a small tipi-tent, but wind-driven rain will still come in at the arm holes. They button shut, but unlike some rain-capes, there's no overlapping flap arrangement. The Hungarians designed it to be more of a garment than a shelter. By the way, it's nearly impossible to pitch any sort of tent with the dog helping. He's constantly going in and out, and not necessarily via the open side. 

Here's an East German version. Similar design, much poorer quality.

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