Rain gear recommendations from our Family Biking Columnist

Alpaca wool for mama, waterproof onesies and Bogs boots for the kids. (Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

Thanks for all the great feedback on my post last week about how I psych myself up for riding in the rain.

As I mentioned in that post, I really enjoyed Ride Westside’s Winter Gear Clinic earlier this month. If you missed it, they posted their members’ gear recommendations. It was so encouraging to hear gear suggestions and solutions in-person, and to meet like-minded folks who ride in the rain. I relied on their enthusiasm to get me outside on our first rainy ride last week, and I’m using their gear list to shop for a few items to bolster our stash of winter riding gear.

Now, after two years of rainy riding, I finally have some winter gear favorites of my own to share. 

A word about our gear: Much of our gear isn’t bike-specific. A big reason for that is that we’re adopting a rainy lifestyle outside; so we want gear that can ride the bike, play at the park, pop inside at the library, and head back outside for an afternoon picnic in the drizzle. With an upright e-bike, slow pace, and nearby destinations, I am not riding like a fitness cyclist or long-distance commuter, so bike specific gear is less necessary for me and most of my children (who are riding along without pedaling).

OK, here’s my list. First I’ll share what I’ve got, and then will share what I’ve got my eyes on.

Recommended

Used/donated rain jackets, boots, rain pants
In other words, whatever we can find. It’s worth investing in quality rain gear, but if you can’t afford what you need, Portland thrift stores probably have something to cover you (hint: look for rain gear in the summer and stock up), or a BuyNothing group may be able to supply you for free. When it comes to children, who change sizes every year and lose/misplace gear regularly, I usually rely on used gear found for cheap or free. I have found much of my kid rain gear that way. You can too.

Be sure to get waterproof (not merely “resistant”) from head to toe–hoods, shirt, pants, lined boots, gloves, plus a warm performance underlayer complete with hats and warm socks. Don’t skip anything or kids will be cold and very unhappy. In other words: worry less about having the perfect/best brands, and just make sure you have everything covered.

Full-Body Rain Suits
A onesie for the rain! These are an absolute favorite, a “must-have” especially for toddlers, who somehow manage to belly flop into the first puddle they see. The brands Hapiu, Tuffo, and Oaki have all served us well. (We managed to have different brands in each size, passed from kid to kid. After five years in the PNW, we haven’t had to replace any of them yet.)

One caution: These rain suits make playground slides go really fast. Rain-suit-wearing kids will fly a few feet off the end of the slide–which might be great or terrible, depending on the kiddo. I recommend you be ready to catch a flying kid at the bottom.

Toddler/Baby Bunting
A friend gave me her JJ Cole BundleMe stroller bunting, which is basically a winter sleeping bag that connects to the stroller to keep baby snug and warm. This worked with our bike seat straps kept my baby cozy. He always looked so snuggly! It gave me the confidence that my little one’s toes would stay warm. There are many brands that offer stroller bunting. I just used what I was gifted.

Bogs Boots
Warm, sturdy, waterproof, and with handholds to help put them on. Added benefit of rain boots: No shoelaces! It’s wonderful when the youngest ones can put their boots on without help. Definite win. BogsFootwear.com

Wool/Waterproof Picnic Blanket: My favorite piece of rain gear!I didn’t have a rain cover to keep my kids warm and dry, so I purchased a waterproof picnic blanket from Amazon (from a company which has since disappeared… this is the closest similar item I can find). My picnic blanket is wool on one side with a waterproof layer on the back. The wool is so warm, and it’s very sturdy and the waterproof side lives up to its purpose. We have used this durable blanket year-round for picnics and we never have to get wet from sitting on wet grass or wet park benches. Furthermore, I wrap this around my kids, wool side down, to keep them warm inside and dry outside.

This is a really good idea, especially if you will be waiting around in the cold with kids. It’s one thing to bike in the cold, but it’s especially hard to sit and wait in the cold, which happens a lot, like when picking up a sibling from an activity, or for kids riding along without pedaling. (This is a hard adjustment, compared with waiting in a heated car, so try to plan for it.) Be prepared to wrap up waiting/riding kiddos in a warm blanket. We find we need this even with our fancy rain canopy. Wool is sturdy and warm, and I am now a wool convert. This is pricier, but I think our sturdy wool/waterproof blanket will last us a decade, and it doesn’t seem to get muddy and gross the way a regular blanket would. Previous family biking columnist Madi Carlson also recommended this upside-down waterproof picnic blanket.

Alpaca Winter Hat and Gloves
I love the coziness of real wool, and I like thinking about the alpacas that my kids got to feed and pet, who provided the wool for my favorite hat. This hat makes me happy. And the bonus is I got them from a local farm! StonebergAlpacas.com

Merino and Alpaca Wool layers
After falling in love with my wool blanket and hat, I’m trying out more wool layers this year. So far I am enjoying various layers from WoolX and Paka. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Crosspoint Knit Waterproof gloves from Showers Pass
I don’t usually ride very far/long, so I can often wear my fingerless gloves, but when the temperature really drops, I regret it if I forget my Showers Pass gloves. These are warm and flexible and they even handled a morning of sled-riding and snowball fighting last winter. ShowersPass.com

Nikwax Tech Wash
Keep rainwear waterproof or refresh the waterproofing on used gear with this technical wash. Otherwise, avoid washing rain gear with detergent (try a water-only wash, or only wash when needed) and never use fabric softener. I try to make our waterproof layers last a long time with limited and careful washing. REI.com

Merrell Men’s Jungle Moc Nubuck Waterproof
This is the only pair of shoes my husband wears. He stomps in puddles and wears them to work. He beats them up and one pair last him two years. Totally waterproof, sturdy, comfortable, and with no shoelaces to tie. Best all-around, walking, working, do anything waterproof shoe. Worth every penny. I resupply him every second Christmas. Merrell.com

My Rainy/Winter Gear Wishlist

Alpaca Joggers from Paka
I’m very interested in wool for its warm and breathable qualities, its combination of sturdiness and coziness. I don’t usually want to bother putting on rain pants, and I dislike the swishy noise and plastic feel. I want something else that keeps me warm while wet.

Portland’s annual Tweed Ride got me thinking more about functional wool clothing. I’m also interested in wool as a nature-friendly product. And I’m especially interested in the Paka brand for their commitment to pay a fair wage to the women artisans who make the clothing. This is what I am looking for in clothing that matches my needs and values. I already bought— and love — the Paka Hoodie. Now I will have to save up for these!

Double Darn Wool 4-Panel Cap
Thanks to Michael and the Ride Westside Winter Gear clinic for this suggestion. I’m in love with this cap, handmade in Portland, with helmets and cyclists in mind. I wonder if the shop could add the earflaps to the charcoal colored cap? I bet they could. That would be dreamy! Double Darn

Lights, Lights, and More Lights
As it gets darker and rainier, we need more lighting. We never have enough lights. They break, they fall off, kids switch to new bikes over the summer and we forget to add lights to them. We always need more lights to see and be seen. First, I need a better headlight to be able to see debris and roadway hazards. Any recommendations?

For our front-box cargo bike to be better lit for drivers to see us, I really wanted Cargo Glow lighting, but they don’t make a product for my Bunch bike (Bunch is currently working on a new lighting option for their box bikes). So in the meantime, I swiped my husband’s work light and the kids just hold it up on the night ride home. The plastic rain cover filters it such that the entire bike box is lit up like a glowing lantern. I bet an electric camping lantern could work too. I think it’s a pretty effective DIY solution.

I’m also interested in pedal lights and wheel spoke lights for my son’s bike. The more we ride, the more we ride in rain and darkness, the more we want more lights.

Shower’s Pass Updated Little Crossover Jacket
Reflective and bright kid jacket with waterproofing and breathability. Since my 10-year-old son rides fast to keep up with his Momma’s e-bike, I think he merits some cycle-specific clothing that can help keep him warm, comfortable, and highly visible. Showers Pass

Low Profile, Casual, Waterproof Shoes
I thought I would try wearing my regular sneakers with wool socks yesterday. That was a soggy failure! I hated how wet and squishy my feet were. But I don’t feel very comfortable in my heavy waterproof hiking boots all day, and I don’t always want to wear my giant galoshes.

I’d like to find a low-profile, casual, everyday waterproof shoe to wear to the park, playground, library, and local bike rides. Something that feels comfy at a coffee shop, but can do the job in the rain. No more squishy feet. Any recommendations? (I’m looking at waterproof Merrell sneakers and I am also told that Nike Shield is a line of waterproof sneakers great for the rain. I think I’d be more interested in a low-profile waterproof slip-on shoe, more of a “rainy lifestyle brand” casual shoe…anyone have a favorite?) 

What’s your favorite piece of winter gear? Let us know. It’s great to learn from each other! Thank you so much!


— Browse more great tips and tricks in our Riding in the Rain story archives.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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Bogs Footwear
Bogs Footwear
7 months ago

Love this round-up and getting ready for the winter-time commutes!
Also really appreciate the shout out to Bogs Footwear! I’m an employee at Bogs right here in Portland and a year-round bike commuter. This free publicity is wonderful to see popping up on BP and as a small thank you to Shannon and the BP community, below are 20 one-time use 40% off+Free Shipping discount codes good for any full-price item on the Bogs Footwear website. If these all get used up, I’ll post more, but please don’t share these via social media.

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Thanks again for wearing Bogs!

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago
Reply to  Bogs Footwear

Wow! Thanks so much. I hope folks enjoy!

Laura
Laura
7 months ago

A family-friendly outdoor shop is Foster Outdoor…the main store and their annex. They have a consignment program that is great for families with growing kiddoes. Bring in last-year/too-small, and trade up! Last time I was there, there was quite a bit of highend, name brand kids stuff, gently used.

joan
7 months ago

Great gear round-up, Shannon! Thanks! I have also gravitated more to wearing regular rain gear rather than bike-specific gear the past several years, including a rain coat with a hood so I can use it as my jacket when I get off my bike too. I also love those Shower Pass knit gloves.

Some smart bikey women I know swear by Blundstones for winter and rainy riding. I don’t have a pair, but I look at them every winter. I do sometimes wear regular rain boots on the rainiest days, but if I were running around with kids rather than commuting and running errands, I think I’d get some Blundstones.

Pogies, or bike mitts, are a bit much for this transitional season, but once the temperature drops, I’ll have them on my bike all winter. On those coldest and wettest days, they make a big difference for my hands.

Leah
Leah
7 months ago
Reply to  joan

I can vouch for Blundstones for rainy bike commuting! I don’t even use the waterproof version and they are great. The originals and classics have a sole that is nicely grippy on the pedals. Deep Lake on Belmont often has a pair or two available (used) at a cheaper price than most Poshmark listings.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago
Reply to  joan

Ooh, I love this shoe recommendation! I’m going to see if my local shoe shop carries these. Thanks!

Julie H
Julie H
7 months ago
Reply to  joan

I 100% LOVE my Blundstones! I wear them year round and can vouch for their comfort, practicality, and flexible good looks. I can slip them on/ off while holding a toddler & have worn them for hikes & long restaurant shifts. Do I sound fanatical? Who cares. I’ve had mine 8 years & am only just starting to think about getting a new pair.

Peter
Peter
7 months ago

This is a great roundup.
Regarding shoes, I’ve been using a pair of Vessis for the past couple of years. Feel-wise, they’re great: waterproof, but lightweight and cool enough for our mild winters. Unfortunately, they follow the current trend of using that super-soft foam for the sole; it’s really soft and comfortable, but wears out quickly. I make sure to only wear them when it’s raining for that reason.
As for lights, I bought an Outbound Detour light (https://www.outboundlighting.com/products/detour) about a year ago, and it’s the best commuter light I’ve ever used. I’ve also tried Trek’s new cutoff light (it was too weak with a bad beam pattern), and previously used non-cutoff lights from Cygolite and Gemini.
The Detour is great because it has a cutoff beam that doesn’t blind other people, the beam shape is excellent, with a good spread all around but with a subtle central hotspot that lets you see further down the road, and you can also power it with a USB power bank if you need to go on a longer adventure.
With all that said, I’d love to build a bike with a dynamo and permanently attached light, so I never have to worry about charging ever again.

EEE
EEE
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter

I also recommend the Outbound light. It’s almost comical how few options there are for commuter lights with a sharp vertical cutoff. In addition to actually having a nice vertical cutoff, the rest of the device is slick — quick release, mounting hardware, power controls. If you have older bars, I’d buy the separate shim(s) they offer.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago
Reply to  Peter

Oooh, another fantastic-looking rain shoe recommendation. I’m going to have a difficult time deciding what to try from these recommendations. Thanks so much for sharing your favorites.

Paige
Paige
7 months ago

Shannon, I *love* wool. Wool is such a wonderful fiber, and worth every penny. Alpaca fiber is also great because it’s so lightweight compared to sheep’s wool, and just as warm or warmer depending on how densely knit it is. Thanks for all these great recommendations!

For a casual, low-profile rain-friendly shoe, the only one I have found and loved is the Sorel Harlow boot, and I’m not sure they make them anymore. However, I found several pairs for sale on Poshmark last year. The boots are leather, so they’re pretty water resistant. Mine got pretty soaked in Monday’s deluge, but they hold up pretty well in typical shower conditions. There’s also no heel. You might gain an inch in height overall, but it wears like a completely flat shoe. Great traction on the sole for just walking around wet/icy spots also. I think Target also has some cute chelsea-style rain boots that don’t look like rain boots. If not there, they seem to be ubiquitous.

Cyclekrieg
7 months ago

Some thoughts/recommendations from someone who rides in wet/cold weather a lot:

Paka – I want to love Paka because alpacas are cute and there is farm near me. But some items just don’t have enough wool. The filler (non-wool) material is man-made (plastic) too. My wool stuff is from Varusteleka, which is as close 100% wool as it gets. The Sarma and Sarma TST lines where to look, the TST line having different weights to mix/match. (Not much for colors in the TST line though.) Plus, Varusteleka has a #GTFOChina policy, which is great. Duckworth is good stuff too, make in Merica. Smartwool & Ridge Merino are OK, you start running into “wool” items with 50% plastics though.
Lights – Big fan of Bontrager lights. Lots of mounting options and Bontrager hasn’t changed their low-profile mount dongle in years so you can get lights without the worry of having to buy new mounts. Another more Merica-centric option is Outbound Lighting. Though, caution on them, they make mostly MTB lights, so except for their specific road light (Detour), the others aren’t exactly street legal. Retinas will burn if people are coming at you.
Shoes – Well the Leatt 7.0 HydraDri are the obvious ones to point out, but if you care about aesthetics, maybe not the best. They look like radiation cleanup gear. If you want made-in-America options, I’m honestly stumped. Keen? Danner? From Europe, maybe Giesswein Wool Cross shoes, but those aren’t slip-on. Seal skin is what you need. You know anyone in Alaska?

John V
John V
7 months ago

I know you said you want waterproof shoes, but I just have to suggest (to you or whoever’s reading), shoe covers instead. Like these:

https://showerspass.com/products/club-shoe-covers

To me, they’re far superior to a dedicated shoe. It’s hard to get shoes fully water proof, and they usually don’t stay that way. They also don’t breath that well, and they usually aren’t the same shoes I’d opt to buy just on their looks and fit. They’d be a compromise. I like the shoe cover because it’s a much simpler product than a whole other shoe, and lets you just wear the “regular” shoes you wanted to.

These kind have a big zipper so they’re easy to slip on and off. Since they function as a wind breaker, they also help keep your feet warm even in tennis shoes if it’s one of those really cold days.

And, thanks for pointing out more sources of cool gear (the hats and alpaca stuff specifically), now I’m forced to look at it all.

EP
EP
7 months ago

Re: Visibility/Lighting: I just ordered a bunch of Oralite HIP/Type 4 tape to make my dark grey cargo bike more visible. The tape has glass beads that retroreflect light back to cars. It’s similar to what’s on school buses and lots of emergency vehicles. It isn’t very flexible, but works great on the sides of bike frames, cargo bike boxes, etc. you can cut little strips and wrap them around your spokes to add some moving reflective attention-getters. Generally, with reflective tape, white is on the front, yellow on the sides, and red on the back.

This is the good stuff, it’s super reflective and lasts longer than many of the knockoffs around:

https://reflectivepro.com/products/oralite-hip-yellow-1-or-2-5-or-10-rolls-type-4-orafol-reflexite-safe-tape?variant=32321719664749

I believe they are on Amazon as well.

I also bought some super-bright white SOLAS tape to try and use on my canopy. SOLAS is made for use at sea, it goes on boats and rafts and life vests and is super-reflective. Basically my goal is to have the cargo bike as bright as possible!

Those in-canopy lights are cool, they’re a good solution to the USB battery packs and 5v USB Xmas/fairy lights and strip lighting I’ve been using. I wish modern e-bikes had a better “accessory” port that let you add more “marker light” type lighting along the sides of the bike.

EEE
EEE
7 months ago

Surprised no one has mentioned the retroreflective jackets that are increasingly common. Proviz is one company that offers them up. If you are cycling in the dark I’m sure you’ve seen them, whether on cyclists or steppers. They are EXTREMELY effective and should be standard gear. It’s like you’ve mummied yourself up with retro-reflective tape. I will never use a non-retroreflective jacket again while commuting in the dark.

Cason
Cason
7 months ago

As another commenter noted, reflective tape and stickers are great, especially if visibility to car drivers (with headlights) is your primary concern. Plus reflective stickers don’t need to be charged or remembered!

You can have fun with the shapes and styling, too, doesn’t have to be boring. Any reflector that moves is also pretty noticeable, so on the wheels, anything dangling, or reflective stickers meant for clothing or jackets.

Cason
Cason
7 months ago

Gear Aid is a brand of reflective clothing sticker that I’ve used in the past with pretty good results and it comes in colors. They also make tent repair tape and stuff like that. Example from Amazon of what I’m talking about, I’m sure someone sells it locally, too. https://a.co/d/47pt0YF

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago
Reply to  Cason

Super! Thanks for this recommendation. We’re experimenting with reflective tape, especially on things like my son’s black backpack. Buying a cycling specific reflective backpack (for my kiddos) is really expensive, so we’re trying out some reflective tape and stickers. We haven’t tested them much yet (I want to go out at night and follow my son with our car, to see what he looks like to a driver). I also want to see how long they stick, or if I need to get some that sew on… and learn to sew them, ha.

Cyclekrieg
7 months ago

I think my previous comment got snagged by the spam filters for too many links. I’ll try again, a bit shorter this time and without the links.
Wool – Want to love Paka, but a lot of their “wool” stuff has a lot of non-wool filler. I have gotten almost all my (biking) wool stuff at Varusteleka. The Sarma and Sarma TST clothing lines are where it’s at. The Sarma TST things are limited in colors though. Also, they have corporate GTFO China policy, which every company/country should have. Duckworth is good Murica option. Ridge Merino and Smartwool actually have more bike/workout gear, the wool percentage isn’t as high as I would like.
Lights – I’m a Bontrager lights fan. They only make “lipstick” style lights. But the Bontrager mounting brackets are great and they haven’t changed the mounting interface ever, so a brand-new light works on a X year old mount and vice versa. Outbound Lighting is another option, though warning there, their MTB lights will burn retinas if used on the road. If you haven’t already, I would suggest making a light recharge dock, there are plans online.
Shoes – The Leatt 7.0 HydraDri might be an option. You look like a pollution clean-up team member, but waterproof and comfortable. Beyond that, I think your options are limited. I might suggest Giesswein, they have waterproof low tops and mid-boots, though I have no personal knowledge.
Rain Gear – Tried Watershed? Expensive as all get out but made in Murica (in Oregon & Nebraska).

Vans
Vans
7 months ago

As already stated several times and notably by Shannon, wool, especially socks, hat and a shirt, long sleeve with full zip

All thin, sturdy, high quality, lightweight so as to not be too hot, and can be used with most any other additional layers.

Wool insoles can help a lot too, but you have to be sure and dry them when they get wet.

It truly is a miracle fiber, it will keep you warm when it gets wet and most of the modern performance versions are not itchy at all.

For that you need to get a Pendleton shirt which also can work amazing with the right undershirt. ; }

Kyle Banerjee
7 months ago

Great summary and as someone with a lot of high tech clothing (I’m a Gore-Tex product tester), my favorite high tech baselayer is also Merino wool.

Despite owning a king’s ransom in waterproof gear, I don’t believe in waterproof gloves or footwear. That same magic that keeps the water out traps it in — if your sleeves don’t cover your cuffs and your pants don’t go over your booties, heavy rain just washes down your arms/legs into your shoes/gloves.

As an alternative to staying dry, it’s often easier to embrace the wet — if you’re out long enough, it eventually will sneak through openings or you’ll swamp it out from the inside since the 100% relative humidity in the air isn’t conducive to letting vaporized sweat pass through unless it’s really cold. Neoprene and wool both provide good wet performance, but Neoprene is much better against wind and far more durable.

One thing I’d add is that fit is an important part of comfort. If your clothing is loose, it’s too easy for the microclimate of air keeping you warm to get flushed out.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
7 months ago

This just might be the right place for my review of the Lezyne HB500 light. I’ve had it for 4 months now.

Short version – 4/5 if you ride an upright. 2/5 on a recumbent.

First the good is *really* good: It’s an StVZO light (that means it meets the German specification that requires a high beam cutoff).

This light is mounted in front of my feet on the trike about 2ft up and at 30ft the cutoff is just above the waist of a co-worker. You might need a slight tilt down on the handlebars of an upright – but it is the friendliest thing you can do to fellow cyclists and peds on the path.

Besides being friendly to oncoming people it also means that you need a much less powerfull emitter for the same light where you need it.

Specifically, this light is 400 lumen (low) / 900 lumen (high) and puts more light where I need it than a 1000/2000 magicshine MJ902. As a result the battery lasts a *very* long time. I usually ride 40+ miles between charges and it doesn’t even drop under half.

The beam pattern is fantastic and I find the low beam more than sufficient for riding the Springwater on the Willamette at 18-20mph at 4:30am.

It comes with a small wired remote that allows you to put the hi/lo switch under your fingertips.

Now the problems (the first 2 are really exacerbated on a recumbent)

First points deduction for the “big rubberband” style of handlebar mount. After being spoiled by a clamp and slide on my last light this feels like a *huge* step backward. The advantage of clamp and slide is you adjust your light angle *once* and never again. “big rubberband” mounts require resetting the angle everytime you take it off and have a tendency to rotate when you hit bumps. Since my light is down past my feet, that’s not a good thing on a ‘bent. I had to jury rig something to fix the angle and hold it there (call out to local business TerraCycle for great accessories). This is much less of a problem on an upright because the light is inside the wheelbase instead of far in front of the front wheel (less movement on bumps).

Second points deduction is the remote connects to the charging port and is micro USB. Problem #1 – you can’t seal the charging port and use the remote at the same time. Problem #2 – micro USB doesn’t have a great deal of mechanical strength and can come just loose enough on bumps for the remote to stop working. Compared to the wireless remote on my MJ902, a definite step backward. This is probably exacerbated by movement and having ot get an extension to reach the trike’s cockpit.

The 3rd deduction holds for all types of bikes – it’s hard to get locally and a bit expensive to buy from a european shop. (shoppe 🙂 )

As a result of my experiences with StVZO lights I’m going to hunt for one more suited to a recumbent.

Even with a 2/5 I don’t regret buying it and am absolutely hooked on StVZO’s advantages.