|Blissful in the fog of PA before descending down to Palmerton|
But rain is a fact of life on the trail. And you must protect your gear and yourself. In some conditions it can be a life saver, especially if you hit the 50 degree temperatures with a wind that can actually cause hypothermia to set in rapidly. Hypothermia is a condition where your core body temperature begins to drop. Symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, poor decision making, weakness, drowsiness - if it progresses further you are in serious trouble. In the case where the temperatures warrant it, I always don my full gear - rain jacket, rain hat, and my rain pants. In the summer I don't bring rain pants as its warm enough that a good shower can actually feel good. My son loved to carry an umbrella. But in colder conditions they can help prevent you from getting soaked to the skin and having real issues.
This is a picture that a fellow hiker took of me atop Springer Mountain during my southbound hike a few years back. It shows me with full rain gear in action as it is November. Because of my glasses issue, I prefer wearing a rain hat. I have tried both the Marmot and Outdoor Research brands and has served me well. I am wearing a Marmot precip rain jacket (the orange color here came in handy when I hiked through the states of TN and NC in the fall and full hunting season with hunters out actually carrying their rifles - slightly unnerving). I did switch to DriDucks for a light weight option in the summer and it served me well on the Long Trail, but note - it is NOT durable if pine branches snag it! You can purchase rain gear made of simple silnylon or cuben fiber but remember they do not vent well and you may find yourself wetter on the inside than the outside. My son disliked rain gear and carried a lite umbrella for the summer rains on our thru hike of the AT.
In the above photo I am also wearing Marmot precip pants. On warmer days, a rain skirt such as the ones sold on Lightheart Gear has done well to keep the upper part of me dry. I only have regular trail runners on, not waterproof, but on a nice sunny day afterwards, I find they dry out amazingly well. But I did use a pair of the Gore Tex waterproof trail runners to test them out in the spring snow-like conditions. And I must say, having dry feet at night sure felt good.
As for pack protection, in this photo my husband sewed for me a sil nylon pack cover (we also made our own stuff sacks). You can get kits to make your own covers like this at Thru-hiker Gear which sells kits and materials for that creative person. I have met hikers that have made many of their own gear items, including a backpack, a sleeping bag, a vest, etc. Just recently I purchased a Sea to Summit pack cover and it has worked out well. But in heavy downpours, no pack cover keeps a pack dry, so it behooves you to keep the contents dry. On the inside I have lined my pack with a trash compactor bag. The thicker the bag (in milliliters), the better. After a heavy storm though, I found the Z packs cuben fiber pack liner a must-have, esp as I still got water inside the trashbag line. Nothing gets by this - it's bombproof. They also make a variety of stuff sacks for clothing and sleeping bag (which must stay dry no matter what). Worth the $$. I tend to go overboard and double bag my camp and clothes and sleeping bag. if all else fails and you are wet and cold, these can really save you and make you comfortable. Be sure also to have a working stove to heat up water for hot soups and drinks, and carry a good tent to protect you at night.