I’m picky when it comes to my rain gear needs. Very, very, picky. Living in the pacific northwest, I practically live in my rain jacket and boots for a good portion of the year. I need them to be effective, durable, portable, and useful both on and off-trail. The Sierra Designs Pack Trench jacket, in combination with their Elite Rain Chaps, fulfills many of my (admittedly, very specific) criteria when it comes to year-round rain gear. As a company, I’ve had a long term interest in Sierra Designs. While not (in my opinion) 100% successful with every product, they’ve been designing outdoor gear with the hiker and backpacker in mind, specifically addressing how we USE those items. Enter their line of rain jackets + pants specifically designed to work with backpacks (and also be worn around town too).
Imagine this: You’re hiking and it starts pouring rain. You pull out your raincoat, and then strap your pack back on over your layers. You’ve now effectively made the pockets of your coat useless (since they’re covered up), and you probably end up spending a lot of time pulling down your coat as it rides up under your waist belt on your pack. Enter the Pack Trench jacket + Elite Rain Chaps, a snazzy looking rain system that also happens to have some useful features, as we’ll discuss below.
The Pack Trench is a sturdy, stylish rain jacket designed to seamlessly transition from trail to town. As an avid hiker and backpacker, I like having a system that works in conjunction with my backpack. Both the Sierra Designs Pack Trench, and their more ultra light version the Elite Cagoule, feature a zippered (or buttoned, in the case of the Cagoule) front panel than can be opened to accommodate a backpack waist strap. The Pack Trench also maintains two side pockets by putting them slightly higher above the waist than a traditional jacket, which are still easily accessible.
Additionally, a front chest pocket makes a great place to keep a phone or small camera. Having actual pockets that are both useful with and without a backpack is a clever design feature.
The fit of the jacket is tailored and stylish, while also actually being utilitarian for people who spend time in the rain on a regular basis. It’s longer than a standard rain jacket, offering more leg coverage. In Portland, where we often spend times bike commuting in very rainy conditions, the extra length also comes in handy. Additionally, the jacket is designed to work in combination with the Elite leg chaps, which can easily be pulled over shoes (or, in my case very bulky rain boots) and attached via a hook to a belt or belt loop.
Finally, an additional feature of this jacket is the overall venting strategy. How many times have you been caught hiking in the rain, put on your gear, and then immediately overheated while on an uphill climb? Sierra Designs has attempted to combat this by building open venting under the jacket arms, as well only bringing the rain chaps to the top of the thigh (as opposed to wearing full rain pants). This allows more airflow, and thus more cooling.
There are two possible downsides to the Pack Trench jacket: waterproofing, and bulk.
I’m not yet 100% convinced of the waterproofing. I’ve spent hours hiking in the rain through the Columbia River Gorge or walking my dog around town, and have consistently found the bottom edge to start eventually leaking into the interior mesh of the coat through the fabric. During one particular bad downpour, I noticed distinct leakage around the shoulders and neck onto my inner layers. While water initially rolls off the fabric, it begins to soak into the outer layer after roughly an hour of exposure.
The Pack Trench also isn’t as packable compared to other waterproof, breathable jackets. The sturdy outside fabric feels and looks great, but it’s a bit bulky when compressed down into a backpack. At almost 1 lb, it’s a little on the heavier side than similarly priced jackets for those interested in an ultra-light system. Furthermore, because of the tailored cut, it can be awkward to wear over thicker mid layers (such as a down coat), as the waist tapers inward.
Overall, I think the Pack Trench is ideal for those who hike and backpack in occasional rain, but is less dependable for long-term, consistent use in wet environments. I’ve found it to be a wonderful gear piece for walking the dog around rainy Portland or for bike rides and hikes that don’t include heavy prolonged rain exposure. For those who spend significant time in the rain, the Pack Trench is a less than ideal option for year-round use.