In a journal entry dated January 4, 1977, I wrote: “I made a cagoule last week,” but I don’t now recall where I got the idea to make an oversized, full-length cagoule. A cagoule is a lightweight pullover rain jacket that’s usually only thigh length. There may have been something similar to my long version on the market 40 years ago, but I can’t find anything like it on the Internet now, which is unfortunate because it’s quite useful in cold and wet weather.
My cagoule proved its worth on the outing that began on that cold day in 1977. My friend Mark and I embarked then on a snowshoe hike across the Cascade Range from Western to Eastern Washington. Temperatures dipped to 20 degrees, and the cagoule was especially valuable in camp when we weren’t warmed by hiking. In the evenings I’d sit with the bottom of the cagoule drawn up under my feet, the hood tight around my face, and my arms drawn in from the sleeves into the warm bubble of still air inside.
For taking refuge from the weather, my cagoule worked very much like a bothy bag, which is an emergency shelter, usually for two or more people, that slips over the occupants with the bottom opening tucked underneath them. When you’re in a bothy bag, you can read, take notes, check the weather, anything you can do in a small tent, but for anything else you have to leave its protection. With a cagoule, you can pop your head into the hood, and put your hands and feet outside; you’re then able to move about and tend to chores and still be warm.
A full-length model eliminates breezes and helps keep feet warm, but for climbing stairs or steep terrain and stepping over thwarts, the hemline needs to be hiked up. The belt of a backpack or a PFD can hold extra fabric up, or you can tuck the excess fabric into the front of your pants. The cagoule has a generous width to make it easy to slip arms in and out of the sleeves and to keep it loose while sitting down—if it’s too narrow, it stretches tight across the knees, creating cold spots.
I lost track of my original cagoule, so I recently re-created a pattern and sewed up two new cagoules. The first was a bit tight over my knees when I sat down with it on, so I added to the girth of a second cagoule; it measured up to the pleasant memories of the original. Sitting out in the weather, I can be quite comfortable. Wearing just a light pile pullover over a T-shirt —what I wear in the house—and a knit cap prevents cold spots where the shoulders and the hood make close contact with the cagoule. With the hood opening drawn tight around my face and my hands pulled in, it can be 20 to 30 degrees warmer inside the cagoule than outside. On one 37-degree night I measured 67 degrees inside the cagoule.
Making a cagoule doesn’t cost much or take a lot of time. Four yards of 200-denier coated cloth cost $20, and I spent another $10 on thread, cord, toggles, and seam sealer. Working from a pattern I made of plastic sheeting, I progressed from raw fabric to a seam-sealer-ready cagoule in a single Saturday.
When my son saw the finished cagoule, he said there would be a market for it at football and soccer games in open stadiums. The fans are unexpected kindred spirits to boaters and camp-cruisers, just other people who sit out in the weather and want to keep dry and warm.
Making a Cagoule
From here, the cagoule can be folded so the sides can be stapled together with coated sides out, sewn, and topstitched. Seal all of the seams. I used SeamGrip +WP. Let the sealer dry overnight.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Magazine.
A cagoule that’s cut very wide, like the green one here, works great for privacy when changing clothes or using a porta-potti. While the crescent-moon on the blue cagoule pictured above suggests the latter, it’s a design from my third great-grandfather’s private signal.
A couple or readers asked about condensation in the comments below. I mostly use the cagoule for relaxing in camp or as an extra wind-proof layer in very cold weather. I went out rowing on March 29 and was getting chilled by a brisk headwind. The air temperature was about 50 degrees F, not especially cold, but the wind was cutting through my fleece jacket. My cagoule was handy so I slipped it on. I was working hard for about a half mile against the headwind and worked up a sweat. I could feel the moisture in the sleeves of the jacket while I was rowing so when I reached a lee and dropped my anchor I took the cagoule off. The inside of its sleeves was somewhat wet. The jacket and the cagoule dried in a few minutes and I put the cagoule back on for relaxing in the boat. The waterproof/breathable jacket tucked away in the boat would have been a better choice for the rowing, saving the cagoule for the anchorage.
You can share your tips and tricks of the trade with other Small Boats Magazine readers by sending us an email.