Saturday, September 28, 2013

How do you stay dry in a coastal rain forest?

This year, the fall and winter rains have appeared a little earlier than usual on the coast of British Columbia. Summers bring a drought to coastal rain forests, but the fall winter rain events from October to January bring more than half the total annual rainfall. Ground vegetation in the forest can stay wet for weeks in the rainy season.

How can you stay dry if you work or recreate in a wet rain forest environment?  Everyone tries to combat the wet, but most are unsuccessful. Loggers try heavy rain gear made of a fabric coated on both sides with rubber or vinyl. This keeps the rain out and it is sturdy enough to withstand the tearing effects of thick undergrowth. It keeps the water out, but it also keeps moisture inside. The rainstorms that move in from the Pacific Ocean have their origins in warm southern climates, so rain events often come with mild temperatures. Rain, high humidity and mild temperatures can turn rain gear into sweat buckets. Then you get wet on the inside. The rain gear sticks to clothing and the damp clothes remove heat from the body resulting in a good definition of miserable.

There are some fancy fabrics and clothing that claim to be waterproof and breathable, but most of these do not perform as well as promoted or are easily ripped by undergrowth. The answer to the title question is that you do not stay dry in a coastal rain forest when it is raining. You will get damp or wet, so you need to protect yourself from the heat loss that comes with damp or wet clothing. This can be tricky.  Weatherproof or waterproof winter clothing that is suitable for the extremely cold winters in most of Canada often has too much insulation. You can get overheated and sweat excessively and get wet. Wool is perhaps the best fiber for keeping you warm if it get wet. Thin wool fabrics or a wool component in fabrics helps to keep you warm even when they are damp or wet. The wool fiber has air pockets inside the fiber to provide insulation.

Some folk cannot stand wool near their skin. There are some new synthetic fabrics and underwear that drive moisture away from the skin as a result of body heat. These do seem to work when you are expending energy, but they can feel cold if they are damp and wet and you stop vigorous activity. Thin down filled and waterproof garments will keep you warm even if damp. Cotton fabrics hold moisture and loose their insulation qualities when damp or wet, so it is not a good choice for the rain forest.

The perfect rain forest clothing that deals with water from the outside and moisture on the inside has yet to be developed. Saami or Laplander reindeer boots with upturned pointy ends at the toes was an innovation to deal with sweaty feet in cold weather. The moisture makes its way into the pointy upturned toe where it freezes in some packed fibers and the foot stays dry and warm.

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