What is enough protection from the rain? For your precious gear, almost nothing is enough. But you have to be able to carry it, so a giant reliable Tupperware container is probably out. I used layers of protection. My most precious items were in dry sacks, and those dry sacks were tucked into a trash compactor bag with the top rolled up. Those precious items were my sleeping bag, dry and warm clothing, first aid / medicine, and electronics.* My sleeping pad went in there too, but it wouldn't have been a big deal to wipe it down before I used it.
My food bag and cook kit, which were going to get wet anyway, went outside the trash compactor bag.** In theory the food bag was a dry sack, but in reality stuff got wet inside when it was hung up in the trees at night. So my food all went into heavy duty (freezer bag) ziplocs. Name brand. The cheap generics do not do the job as well.
My water sack didn't need any special protection. :)
Outside of the backpack, things like my UV pen for water sterilization, my toilet paper, and my map all went into ziplocks. On top of that, I had a pack cover keeping some moisture off the pack. The pack cover was less efficient than you'd think, but it was better than nothing.
I also used a layering system on my body. From the inside out: wicking / mesh bra, wicking long sleeved shirt (because the raincoat sticks to wet bare arms), high tech breathable shorts, hiking socks. Raincoat***, rain skirt****, gaiters over boots. Baseball cap inside the raincoat's hood to help keep the hood off my face. In long downpours, or cold rain, it can help to put your hands into plastic bags too. Because losing the feeling in your fingers sucks.
Corey asked how I packed up in the rain. There are two parts to this answer. One, I tried not to pack up in the rain. If I knew rain was coming, I made an effort to stay at a shelter or in a motel or hostel. Two, I packed up everything inside my tent first. I got myself dressed, put my packcover on the pack, and put my pack outside the tent up against a tree. My tent goes on the outside of the pack for this very reason - so I don't have to deal with stuffing it in there in the rain, and so I can get it out and set it up quickly in bad weather.
I'm afraid there is no real secret to packing up a wet tent in the rain. You shove it in the bag as well as you can and hope for dry times later. Or a motel room where you can set it up to dry out.
Motel rooms are handy places to stay when it's raining. I've done that more than once. And while I was feeling guilty about not hiking in the rain, I'd run into other hikers who had done the same thing. So it's not that uncommon.
If you do get soaked and you have to stay in your tent or in a shelter (or hammock, etc), hanging your clothes up to dry will not dry them out. Wring them, let them drip dry, wring ends again, then bring the items into your sleeping bag with you, one at a time. This is not a fast process but it works.****** Start with the essentials (say, your gloves and underwear). Put the item on your torso, where you put out a lot of heat. An hour per item will probably do it. Whenever you wake up to roll over, if the thing on your tummy is mostly dry, put it in the foot of your bag and bring in something else. And in the morning your clothing will be only mildly damp.
One other point is that neither a tent nor a shelter will keep you completely protected from the rain. Rain will blow in sideways. Condensation will build up on your fly and then splatter down on you as more raindrops shake the fly. So in heavy rain, everything that is not essential should stay packed or covered. In a shelter I've used my groundcloth as a supplemental wall to keep wind driven rain off of me. In my tent I covered my face with my hat and waited it out. My body heat was enough to keep my bag dry despite the tiny splatters from the ceiling of the tent in cool weather. In hot weather, I took advantage of the misting by lying there naked. It felt amazing after a hot, sweaty day.
|A motel room is a great place to dry out|
|When possible, bring a kitten to camp for entertainment|
*Except my iphone, which went with me everywhere. In really serious driving rain I double bagged it in ziplocs. In steady drizzle I double bagged it, but with the ziplocs open. Ziploc one went in ziploc two oriented 90 to 180 degrees away from ziploc two's opening. Ziploc two's opening was pointed down or to the side in my pocket, or up but folded over. This way my earphones could snake out without getting the iphone wet. It was a tricky balance.
**Btw I've tried using just the trash compactor bag, or just the drysacks. Either method alone has led to wet gear.
****ULA equipment. Looks silly, works *great*. Can also be used as a small tarp for shade or sitting on. The skirt is a lot cooler than rainpants, temperature-wise. And wet shorts chafe so this item is worth its weight.*****
*****That's a whole 'nother post.
******Better than not drying them at all.