2001 Raingear Roundup Review Summary

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by the Product Review Staff | 2001-12-16 03:00:00-07

Introduction

Long awaited, read the results of a months-long review of raingear that includes extensive laboratory and field testing of fabrics and garments by the BackpackingLight.COM Product Review Staff.

Introduction

In the Spring of 2001, BackpackingLight.COM embarked on a full-scale program of rainwear testing that included seventeen individual garments from seven different manufacturers. These garments included:

  • 1 poncho
  • 9 hooded jackets
  • 1 non-hooded jacket
  • 2 hooded pullovers
  • 3 non-hooded pullovers
  • 1 non-hooded crew

The criterion for inclusion in this review was a simple one: each garment had to weigh less than 13 ounces. Certainly we did not include every garment on the market that met this criterion. Some manufacturers simply declined to participate in the review. Others submitted one or two but perhaps not all of the garments in their product line that met this criterion. Finally, there came a time when we had to close the invitation in order to give each garment a fair field trial.

We feel that this is one of the most comprehensive comparison reviews of raingear ever performed, because we looked at virtually every detail, including breathability, ventilation, waterproofness, fit, mobility, and other features. It includes more different types of raingear than can be found in other reviews.

In addition, we offer the first results to appear out of the Beartooth Mountain Product Research and Testing Laboratory - our own independent laboratory for testing the performance of products side by side, under the same test conditions. The fabric breathability measurements presented in this review came from this laboratory effort.

Finally, we sent a selection of garments to Associate Editor Alan Dixon, who tested thoroughly their ability to ventilate moisture. His results appear both in this review and in his companion article, High-Exertion Moisture Accumulation in Rain and Wind Shells.

We hope that this review provides you with a fair assessment of raingear currently available. More importantly, we hope that it helps you look at these - and other garments - with a sense of objectivity that will allow you to choose the garment best suited to your needs.

Contents:

  • Frogg Toggs
  • GoLite
  • Integral Designs
  • Montane
  • Rainshield
  • Red Ledge
  • Sierra Designs
  • Trail's Best Award
  • Raingear Comparison Table
  • Review Criteria Discussion

Enjoy!
Ryan Jordan, Editor-in-Chief, and
the BackpackingLight.COM Product Testing Team

Frogg Toggs Original Pullover

There are few differences between the Frogg Toggs Pro Action Jacket and the Original Pullover, but the differences are significant.

The Pullover sports a short neck zipper (vs. a full-length zipper), and a shorter hem (by several inches) that rides above the waistline when the wearer reaches overhead.

On the upside, the pullover offers a kangaroo pocket that is accessible even under a pack, so you can stash those few necessities needed while hiking. The pocket is large enough for a map, a few energy bars, or a pair of gloves.

Finally, it is 2.4 ounces lighter than the Pro Action Jacket, so if you want the torso volume characteristic of Frogg Toggs and are looking to minimize weight (with some loss of storm protection for the trunk, and ventilation), then the Pullover may be appropriate.

At 7.1 oz, only three garments in this review came in lighter (and only one of those - the less durable and far trimmer Rainshield Multi-Use Jacket - has a hood).

Final Grade: B-

More Info: http://www.froggtoggs.com/

Frogg Toggs Pro-Action Jacket

Like most polypropylene rainwear in this review, the Pro Action Jacket is a simple garment that took a surprising amount of abuse. Still, it was not appropriate for bushwhacking through brambles, due to the relatively fragile nature of the polypropylene fabric.

On first inspection, the Pro Action Jacket appeared to be far too baggy for our tastes, but after being constricted by the trim cuts, low sleeve volumes, creeping hems and cuffs, and cramped hoods of the other garments in this review, testers learned not only to appreciate the freedom of movement but to relish it.

The Pro Action Jacket is roomy enough to layer over the loftiest down sweater, and it offers unparalleled mobility and freedom of movement, at a cost of bagginess. One other benefit of the bagginess (combined with the excellent resilience, which is to say resistance to draping) of the three-layer polypropylene fabric: it promotes air movement through the jacket for good ventilation. Another advantage of the Pro Action Jacket is a fine storm flap with snaps over the front zipper; this gives excellent storm resistance (with a touch of added warmth, perhaps). One the downside, this voluminous jacket's extra fabric adds weight and, more importantly, it can get in the way, snagging on trail brush.

Torso volume could certainly be reduced without decreasing the jacket’s functionality. In addition, the hood was uncomfortable when cinched, due to a certain "stickiness" of the fabric and its inability to slide easily over hair or a fleece hat); and it had no brim to offer eye protection in driving rain.

The Pro Action Jacket is a head-to-head competitor with Rainshield’s 3-layer polypropylene Sporting Jacket (see review below) and was an easy favorite between the two among our testers.

Final Grade: A-

More Info: http://www.froggtoggs.com/

Frogg Toggs Raincoat

Remember cagoules? Those ultra-long anoraks that provided full trunk protection so you could safely leave the rain pants at home? That even provide shelter as an emergency bivy? The Frogg Toggs Raincoat is probably closer to a cagoule than any other type of garment, but it is better: it sports a full-length zipper and a breathable fabric, while cagoules were typically made from nonbreathable coated fabrics.

Marketed primarily as a long street coat (e.g., for traffic officers), the Raincoat just might be a concept worth pursuing in backpacking rainwear. Our testers balked at the design when they first received it, but when the heavens poured out, this was the jacket they wanted for standing around in the rain.

To our surprise, the Raincoat received high marks for comfort on the trail, but testers found that it was not as versatile as Frogg Toggs’ Pro Action Jacket for highly active use (it has a lower volume torso and a less articulated cut), and they did not appreciate the jacket's hem dragging around on the muddy ground when it came time to cook meals and pitch the tents. The extra hem length tends to get in the way on brushy trails, and our test samples suffered the consequences with tears.

However, if you’re looking for something different and want to turn heads on the trail with some style and a look that says "I'm with the CIA, can you guess what’s under my trenchcoat?" then the Frogg Toggs Raincoat is just for you.

Final Grade: B

More Info: http://www.froggtoggs.com/

Frogg Toggs Wind Shirt

The Frogg Toggs Wind Shirt is the simplest garment in this review. There are no zippers, hood, or adjustable cuffs or hem. It is essentially a waterproof-breathable sweatshirt with synthetic knit cuffs and waist hem.

Our reviewers struggled to find a niche for this garment in a backpacker’s arsenal of raingear, and in the end they recommended that it would be appropriate for rain protection for hikers only when they are relatively inactive around camp.

Alternatively, it might serve as an emergency piece. However, even for such limited applications, there are lighter, more functional alternatives. Zero options for ventilation and knit cuffs and a hem that absorbed a good bit of water motivated testers to give this jacket low marks as backpacking raingear (or as wind shirt for that matter).

Our testers are sure that this garment has an application, but they're still searching for it (one suggested that the torso be emblazoned with a college mascot logo and sold by vendors at outdoor football stadiums).

Final Grade: D+

More Info: http://www.froggtoggs.com/

GoLite Squall and Newt Jackets

[Editor's Note: The only difference between the new Squall and Newt is a minor one: the Squall has a mesh-backed ventilation flap on the upper back of the jacket.]

The Squall's unique features include its voluminous torso (suitable even for layering over a down jacket), sleeves that are long enough to withdraw hands into, and a very long hem that kept wearers' trunks completely dry in the rain.

Also readily apparent is its very light weight – 9.6 oz (men’s size M) for a full-featured, roomy jacket that is completely waterproof and breathable; this made it the lightest of its kind in this review.

The Squall is simplicity itself - if you like a minimum of drawcords, seams, and frills, then the Squall might be just your ticket.

However, testers did discover a few limitations. First, the simple brimless hood did not provide adequate face protection from driving rain; (on the other hand, its volume was ample for layering over warm hats). And although the sleeves crept up the wrists slightly when testers reached overhead, the jacket provided very good torso, hood, and arm mobility.

In the field, the testers felt that the fabric seemed to be breathable enough for comfort while they moved at a moderate pace, but the jacket's lack of ventilation features (e.g., pit zips, mesh-backed pockets) kept testers too warm when they moved fast in rain that was hard enough for them to keep the front zipper fully zipped.

In addition, the position of the pockets low on the torso prevented them from being accessed under a pack's hip belt.

All in all, testers appreciated the Squall's simple design, long cut, and minimal weight. It does its primary job – protecting from rain – very well. However, its lack of supplemental ventilation features (e.g. mesh-lined pockets placed high on the torso, adjustable wrist cuffs for forearm ventilation) made it just a shy too steamy under some conditions and prevented it from earning an "A" grade.

Final Grade: B+ (Squall), B (Newt)

More Info: http://www.golite.com/

Integral Designs Sil Poncho

The Sil Poncho (which doubles as a very functional 5' x 8' tarp for shelter - and a pack cover) is one of two nonbreathable products in this review. However, unlike a jacket, it offers ample ventilation with its open hem and sleeves, allowing the hiker to remain quite comfortable on the trail. We found that when the poncho was worn over a pack and the hood left open, there was no overheating, even during uphill hiking (assuming the wearer was dressed appropriately underneath the poncho).

For added storm resistance, you can fasten the two snaps down each side and tie a cord around your waist from the rear of the poncho (using the poncho’s guy loops) to control flapping. This worked surprisingly well, though it hindered ventilation significantly.

The large-volume hood makes head-turning difficult when it is cinched tight, because the ultra-slippery fabric doesn't move with head. However it does provide excellent ventilation and face coverage when not cinched.

Lacking sleeves, the poncho exposes the forearms and hands if the hiker is using trekking poles, but otherwise arms can be drawn completely inside for full body protection as needed.

Although we recognize the primary limitations of the poncho due to the excess of fabric, we like ponchos for their light weight, multi-use functionality (i.e., pack cover, rainwear, and shelter), and wonderful ventilation.

Integral Designs' incarnation of the poncho is excellent for its very good hood and its design as a quality tarp. A stiffened hood brim and a volume-adjustment drawstring would make it virtually perfect.

Final Grade: A-

More Info: http://www.integraldesigns.com/

Montane Hyper-Activ Smock

The Hyper-Activ Smock was the only garment in this review with a wicking mesh lining, which improved perceived comfort (by minimizing clamminess through moisture dispersion) and increased warmth. Thus, this was our testers’ choice for a serious cold-weather rain and wind shell.

A excellent (but trim) fit, in addition to its warmth and breathablility, made the Hyper-Activ one of the most comfortable garments in this review.

Since the smock is intended for use in cold and cold/windy conditions, an integrated hood would increase both the warmth and water resistance of this garment, and factory taped seams would be appropriate considering the waterproofness of the face fabric (Pertex Tri-Activ).

For a garment that is only slightly heavier than similar ones (e.g. Marmot’s DriClime Windshirt or Patagonia's Zephur Jacket), the Hyper-Activ offers increased water resistance and warmth which make it more appropriate for sustained cold and wet conditions.

Final Grade: B+

More Info: http://www.montane.co.uk/

Montane Sirocco Bike Smock

At 5.9 oz, the Sirocco Bike Smock is the lightest nylon rainwear in this review (third lightest overall). However, it achieves this weight at a price - no hood, trim cut, and a partial front zipper.

Montane takes a unique approach to rainwear with its Sirocco series, choosing to develop garments that are “showerproof” (as opposed to completely waterproof) but highly breathable.

Our tests confirmed these claims, as our testers did notice water leakage through the fabric in all-day sustained rains, but also, but on the other hand, they raved about its significantly better breathability relative to the other nylon-based waterproof-breathable jackets (from Red Ledge and GoLite) in this review. Our lab tests confirmed this as well, with the Montane fabrics testing four to five times more breathable than either Red Ledge or GoLite.

The Sirocco Bike Smock is probably the least storm-resistant garment in this review, lacking a hood, outside storm flaps, and taped seams (although the seams can be sealed with a polyurethane-based sealant).

It has a trim cut that is not appropriate for layering over bulky fleece or high-loft synthetic garments, but our testers found that it worked well when layered over long underwear and a lightweight synthetic vest like a Patagonia Puffball or Moonstone Cirrus.

A single kangaroo pocket that is backed with the garment fabric (rather than mesh) and a too-short front zipper would hinder ventilation if not for the huge (12”) twin core vents on the front of the torso. These are effective enough that this garment might be considered as a serious alternative to a wind shirt.

If you’re looking for a bare-bones rain shell that provides decent shower protection and durability for high levels of activity, the Sirocco Smock warrants serious attention.

Our testers' only recommended changes to this garment were factory-taped seams and slightly more torso volume, and well, that’s about it. This one is a winner in the “hoodless” category.

Final Grade: B+

More Info: http://www.montane.co.uk/

Montane Sirocco Jacket

If the hoodless Smock and Bike Smock from Montane do not give you enough features, yet you want to enjoy the benefits of a highly breathable fabric in an abrasion-resistant nylon construction, then the Sirocco Jacket might be your best choice.

It offers slightly more room in the torso than the other two, and its double-layer hood failed to leak in the field, even in an all-day rain.

The articulation of the jacket is superb: the cuffs and hem remain where they are supposed to when the wearer reaches overhead, and the jacket is particularly comfortable under a pack, featuring high pockets and good head-turning mobility under the hood. In terms of fit and mobility, the Sirocco Jacket takes top honors in this review.

The Pertex Tri-Activ fabric (and untaped seams that can, incidentally, be sealed for added protection) will not prevent water entry in an all-day rain, yet the very high breathability of this jacket results in surprising comfort during periods of high exertion.

Despite the lack of supplemental ventilation features, the Sirocco Jacket's full front zipper and wide wrist cuffs with a straight hem combine to vent the forearms much more effectively than the elastic construction that has become the industry standard.

Testers' key complaints concerned the lack of factory seam taping (since most water entry did occur at the seams); the use of Pertex Tri-Activ (instead of mesh) as pocket backing, preventing the dual use of pockets as torso vents; and the lack of a brim to protect the eyes in wind-driven rain when the hood is cinched tight.

At 8.8 oz, this jacket offered the best fit in the review, and it was a favorite among the reviewers.

Final Grade: A-

More Info: http://www.montane.co.uk/

Montane Sirocco Smock

The Sirocco Smock is a well-designed anorak with highly breathable material and an excellent but trim fit.

This smock could be improved with better ventilation options and sealed seams.

A single zipper along the sides (extended 11” upward from the hem) fail to provide adequate ventilation of the upper torso due to the relatively short neck zipper (10”). An improvement would be to replace the side zips with lighter front core vents similar to those on the Montane Sirocco Bike Smock, Sierra Designs Backpacker’s Rainwear Jacket, and the Montane Hyper-Activ Smock.

Improved ventilation, factory-taped seams, and a simple hood might earn this garment an "A" grade for a general-use backpacking anorak.

Final Grade: B

More Info: http://www.montane.co.uk/

Rainshield Cross Training Jacket

Raingear doesn't get much simpler than this. This jacket has a full front zipper and that’s about it. No hood, adjustable cuffs or hem, pockets, storm flaps, etc.

Raingear also doesn’t get any lighter than this. At 4.3 oz, the Rainshield Cross Training Jacket may very well be the lightest waterproof-breathable (or for that matter, waterproof) rain jacket on the market.

The torso cut is trim and thus inappropriate for layering over even a midweight fleece jacket. The pattern is very simple and not articulated, so the jacket binds slightly across the shoulders and the cuffs and hem ride up while arms are reaching overhead.

Though ventilation was limited, this was not too much of a problem, as the jacket’s fabric breathed well. However, despite the fact that this fabric scored similarly to the Pertex Tri-Activ fabrics (used in Montane garments) in our laboratory breathability tests, our testers agreed unanimously that it was not as breathable as Pertex Tri-Activ in the field. Admittedly, this perception may have had as much to do with jacket design as with fabric performance.

All in all, there is not much to discuss about this jacket because frankly there are not many features to discuss. And therein lies its beauty – if you absolutely have to carry a rain jacket but do not intend to pull it out of the bottom of your pack unless it’s a dire emergency, then at 4.3 oz, this one is an ideal choice.

On this basis, this jacket fills a unique niche in the lightweight backpacking rainwear market, competing only with a (far less durable and breathable) plastic trash bag. Our only complaints were the short sleeves and too-trim torso fit.

Final Grade: B+

More Info: http://www.rainshield.com/

Rainshield Multi-Use Jacket

This is a great garment for its intended purpose - very light, basic rainwear.

Excellent fabric breathability makes up for a lack of ventilation options.

The biggest complaint with this jacket was its storm flap. All testers found it to be completely non-functional because, lacking snaps or hook-and-loop patches, it would not remain in place over the zipper (especially after long-term use and repeated stuffing and laundering).

Other problems such as the absence of drawstring toggles on the hood drawcords and sleeves with no extra allowance in length were minor design annoyances but forgivable given the $27 price tag on this jacket.

The use of ultralight but not-so-durable fabric makes this jacket a solid choice for occasional-use rain protection for trail hiking.

Final Grade: B

More Info: http://www.rainshield.com/

Rainshield Sporting Jacket

Rainshield makes two types of polypropylene garments: two-layer, offered in their Multi Use and Cross Training jackets, and a more durable three-layer, offered in their Sporting Jacket.

The Sporting Jacket competes directly with the Frogg Toggs Pro Action Jacket, and while the features are similar - they lack pockets but have a hood and a storm flap with snaps over the front zipper - there are significant differences in performance and construction.

First, the Sporting Jacket offers a longer hem and a trimmer cut. Although the torso provided plenty of volume for layering over high-loft synthetic fill garments (e.g., a Moonstone Cirrus Jacket), the non-articulated cut and short sleeves caused testers to give the jacket lower grades for mobility. A smaller hood made the jacket less storm resistant than the Frogg Toggs Pro Action Jacket and less comfortable when worn over a warm hat.

In general, testers found themselves equally comfortable (with respect to staying warm and dry) in both Rainshield and Frogg Toggs garments, despite the fact that the Rainshield fabric appears to be more breathable (as evidenced by our own laboratory testing). Perhaps the trimmer cut of the Rainshield garment does not promote venting as well as the baggier fit of the Frogg Toggs garment.

The Sporting Jacket’s strong suit is its long hem, which may even motivate you to leave rain pants at home, thus saving weight in the long run.

All in all, the Sporting Jacket is a fair purchase (and still far from a disastrous product) at $35, but all of our testers felt that the $10 premium for the Frogg Toggs Pro Action Jacket was well worth it.

Final Grade: C+

More Info: http://www.rainshield.com/

Red Ledge Thunderlight Parka (TRAIL'S BEST Award Winner)


This jacket was the testers’ unanimous top pick for best all-around rain gear and a true performance bargain for the $65 MSRP.

The heaviest jacket in the review, the Thunderlight still tips the scales at less than 13 ounces and uses its weight efficiently in a nearly perfect design.

The Thunderlight offered the best ventilation of any jacket in the test, despite being the least breathable of the "waterproof-breathables" (according to our laboratory testing of fabric breathability).

The testers' only complaints concerned the hood, which, though otherwise well-designed, lacks a brim. Also, with the heaviest fabric of any garment in this review (3.2 oz/sq.yd.), the Thunderlight would have benefited from the use of a lighter fabric to shed a few ounces.

Final Grade: A

More Info: http://www.redledge.com/

Sierra Designs Backpacker's Rainwear Jacket

The Backpacker’s Rainwear Jacket was rated both the most durable and the warmest of the jackets tested, due to its waterproof, non-breathable fabric. Durability was rated subjectively for abrasion resistance during both lab and field tests.

When the jacket was worn without a pack (at a mild level of exertion), the twin "core" vents on its upper torso were surprisingly effective ventilation channels; however, their effectiveness was limited under a pack’s shoulder straps, which inhibited air channeling between the torso and upper arms, as would happen with any rain jacket.

A wonderfully wide (3") hood brim coupled with a well-designed hood gave the jacket top honors for hood mobility and eye protection in driving rain, but the hood was a little too short (causing a tight fit) when the testers wore packs or when they layered it over warm headwear.

The biggest complaint with the jacket was the lack of sleeve articulation: overhead reaching caused the wrist cuffs to ride halfway up testers' forearms, and sleeves were not quite long enough for testers to withdraw their hands fully for added warmth and rain protection.

In addition, the handwarmer pockets were not accessible under a pack's hip belt (they were too low), but at least wearers could warm their hands in the torso vents.

The testers' favorite feature of the jacket was its durability: it stood up to severe abuse as the wearers bushwhacked in thick undergrowth and scrambled and scraped on rock. Testers also appreciated being able to button the jacket up to retain heat, so much so that they would seriously consider this jacket as a replacement for waterproof-breathable raingear for this feature alone.

With additional volume (height) in the hood and length in the sleeves, the jacket might be something of an industry model of excellence for a flattering and comfortable fit; as it is, though, it falls short. In addition, despite the presence of core vents, testers felt that ventilation was inadequate and that pit or forearm zippers would be well worth their added weight.

Final Grade: B

More Info: http://www.sierradesigns.com/

Sierra Designs Microlight Anorak

The Microlight's first serious strike against it was the choice of using a nonbreathable fabric in a poorly-ventilated anorak design. Changing the backing of the front pocket to mesh to create a core vent and/or adding pit zips would improve its performance for high-exertion activity.

The Microlight fabric is waterproof, yet in lacking seam taping the jacket is somewhat at cross-purposes with itself (although the consumer can certainly seal the seams with a polyurethane-based sealant). Leakage occurred significantly in seams across the upper torso and middle of the back, a lapse in pattern design apparent in no other garment in this review.

The positive features of this garment are its durability-to-weight ratio: at 8.3 oz, this would be a great jacket for weathering a hail storm, but we can't recommend it for much else.

Final Grade: C-

More Info: http://www.sierradesigns.com/

Trail's Best Awards: Raingear

You'd think our testers could reach a consensus about a Trail’s Best Award with 17 garments from which to choose, but the decision was a difficult one. They found at least minor faults with all of the garments, but still a few products stood out as having excellent performance-to-weight ratios.

All of the following garments fill unique product niches with little overlap (which means you really need to own several!), and they offer tremendous performance-to-weight ratios. Thus, we highly recommend each of the following garments with a Trail's Best Honorable Mention:

  • The Integral Designs Sil Poncho offers multi-use functionality, terrific ventilation, and unparalleled construction quality;
  • The GoLite Squall Jacket offers room for layering, long sleeves and hem, light weight, and a supple and quiet ultralight fabric in a full-featured nylon jacket;
  • The Frogg Toggs Pro Action Jacket offers plenty of room for layering with excellent storm resistance, warmth, and breathabilty for a great price;
  • The Montane Sirocco Jacket blends fit with functionality in a terrific all-around package that takes top honors for breathability;
  • The Rainshield Cross-Training Jacket provides absolute simplicity and a ridiculously light weight for a waterproof-breathable garment;

Minor upgrades to each of these garments could elevate their status from "very good" to "best in class."

However, one garment stands out above the rest, due in large part to its high price-performance ratio. Ironically, it is the heaviest garment in the review, but at 12.8 ounces, it's hardly a back breaker. With taped seams, waterproof-breathable fabric, a mid-length cut, enough torso room for layering (and a terrific fit to boot), a functional hood, and usable pockets, this jacket is a steal at $65. But it was the addition of terrific ventilation features (pit zips and torso vents) without inflating the weight that sold us on this jacket.

So, we are pleased to award the Red Ledge Thunderlight Parka with a 2001 BackpackingLight.COM Trail’s Best Award.

Raingear Comparison Table

This table provides a comparison overview of all garments in this review.

Click for Table 1. Raingear Comparison Table Adobe PDF

For a detailed description of the review criteria, see the following pages.

Review Criteria: Weight and MSRP

Weight & Statistics

All gear was weighed on a digital scale with an accuracy of +/- 0.05 oz. Weights were rounded to the nearest 0.1 oz. The average weight of the 17 garments in this review was 8.4 oz. All garments weighed were a Men’s or Unisex size M except the GoLite Newt (Women’s size L). The lightest jacket in the review was the Rainshield Cross-Training Jacket (4.3 oz) and the heaviest garment was the Red Ledge Thunderlight Parka (12.8 oz).

MSRP

Manufacturer suggested retail prices were rounded to the nearest $5. The average MSRP for the jackets in this review was $56. The most expensive jacket in the review was the GoLite Squall ($125) and the least expensive garment was the Rainshield Multi-Use Jacket ($25).

Review Criteria: Fabric Specifications

Specifications are those reported by the manufacturer.

FACE FABRIC

The material exposed to the outside environment. Face fabrics in this review included nylons (most durable) and polypropylenes (lightest).

LINING FABRIC

The material (if any) that is exposed on the inside of the garment. Only the polypropylene garments in this review had a lining fabric. In addition, GoLite's Newt and Squall are described as having a lining (see the comparison table), but the lining is actually a polyurethane matrix bonded directly to the inner membrane.

WATERPROOF TECHNOLOGY TYPE

A brief description of the barrier technology used in the garment. Barrier types in this review include nonbreathable coatings to nylon (silicone, polyurethane), breathable coatings to nylon (microporous polyurethane), and breathable membranes laminated to nylon (microporous membrane) or fused to polypropylene (polypropylene microporous membrane).

WATERPROOF TECHNOLOGY BONDING

Indicates whether the barrier is coated, laminated (glued), or fused (via thermal and/or ultrasonic means) to the inner and/or outer fabrics.

WATERPROOFNESS SPECIFICATION

Indicates the water pressure that the fabric is capable of withstanding before leaking. In some cases, manufacturers reported the height of a column of water (in mm), while in other cases, they reported this value as pounds per square inch (psi). To facilitate comparison, all results have been converted to psi.

WATERPROOFNESS TEST METHOD

Identifies the standard test method used to determine the waterproofness specification. It should be emphasized that results are not necessarily comparable between different test methods.

FIELD OBSERVATIONS OF WATERPROOFNESS

Indicated as "good" if no apparent leakage was observed in an all-day downpour, and "fair" if some leakage occurred. The only garments to receive a "fair" rating were unlined shells from Montane. Laboratory testing confirmed that these garments were the least waterproof of all fabrics tested (according to hydrostatic head testing in our own laboratory) but they were still waterproof enough to be classified appropriately as rainwear, based on our subjective experience with them in the field.

FINISHED FABRIC WEIGHT

Indicates the weight (in ounces per true square yard) of the fabric used in the garment construction, and it includes the combined weight of the face fabric, waterproof barrier, and inner lining fabric.

Review Criteria: Breathability Specifications

Reported by the Beartooth Mountain Product Research & Testing Laboratory
in Collaboration with BackpackingLight.COM

By Ryan N. Jordan, Ph.D., Laboratory Director

BREATHABILITY & MANUFACTURER CLAIMS

Whether or not a fabric is "breathable" is indicated by the manufacturer's claim only. For breathable fabrics, breathability is most commonly reported as a moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR), i.e., the quantity of moisture vapor passing through a given area of fabric in a specified period of time. We have normalized these values (see the "breathability specification" criterion) according to the industry standard of g/m2/24hr.

MVTR data was not reported by Montane, who chose instead to report breathability as a percentage (according to the test method outlined in British Standard 3424) of the MVTR through a monofilament polyester mesh fabric with 12.5% open surface area.

It should be noted that breathability results from different tests MUST NOT be compared. In many cases, breathability results from the SAME test method (performed by different laboratories) may not be comparable and can vary by up to 50% depending on the test conditions.

The "Breathability test method" criterion indicates the standard test method that the manufacturer used in reporting breathability data. Because of the variability and controversy involved in breathability testing and reporting, we do not intend to compare and discuss manufacturer-reported breathability claims, and we report them only for informative purposes.

BREATHABILITY TESTS FROM THE BEARTOOTH MOUNTAIN OUTDOOR RESEARCH & TESTING LABORATORY

[Editor's Note]: We realize that inclusion of the following technical information will not be of great benefit to most people; however, we include it here in order to offer the more advanced consumer insight into breathability testing and to highlight the importance of performing comparison testing in the same laboratory with the same methods.

We evaluated the breathability performance of each garment in our own testing laboratory according to a modification of ASTM E 96-00 (dessicant method) with a vapor pressure gradient of approximately 5 hPa over a 27 hour period. Data was normalized and reported according to BS 3424. The data is presented as a percentage in Table 1 under the heading “BackpackingLight.COM Breathability Index” (“BI”). We do not support the reporting of actual MVTR values because of the warranted debate over their validity and ability to predict actual MVTR values under field conditions.

Test control fabrics included 1 mil polyethylene (BI = 0%) and a polyester monofilament mesh (noseeum mesh) (BI = 100%). The reported BI for each fabric is the average of triplicate tests with an average standard error of the replicates of 4.9%.

The average BI for the six “breathable” (BI > 5) fabrics in this test was 58%. Fabrics with the highest breathability indices included Pertex Tri-Activ (used on Montane garments) and 2- and 3-layer polypropylene constructions from Rainshield, with BI’s of 90%-91%, with no statistical difference between them. Frogg Toggs polypropylene constructions were next in line at 45%. Red Ledge TH4 coated nylon and GoLite’s GoDri laminated nylon were not statistically different, at 14%-17%.

It is important to realize that laboratory breathability testing according to our chosen test method (ASTM E 96) is probably not indicative of actual field performance. However, our field testing confirmed the relative differences in breathability between the garments, indicating that such (laboratory) testing may be valuable for comparison purposes.

Review Criteria: Durability

Fabric durability was evaluated in both the laboratory and the field.

Abrasion resistance was tested with a low-grit sandpaper in the lab and by extensive bushwhacking through thick forest undergrowth.

Tear resistance was evaluated by measuring the (approximate) force required to rip the fabric. Puncture resistance was evaluated by repeated cycles of "swatting" the fabric with a freshly-cut limb from a spruce tree. A grade of "good" was awarded to a fabric if no leakage was observed after the test. A grade of "fair" was awarded if minor leakage occurred, and a grade of "poor" was awarded where major leakage occurred after the test.

Review Criteria: Pockets, Hem, Cuffs, Front Zipper, Hood, Torso Volume

POCKETS

Table 1 reports pocket types, whether or not the pockets are accessible while wearing a pack, what type of material the pockets are backed with (note that mesh-backed pockets can also serve as vents), and the presence and type of storm flaps on the pockets. Our testers’ favorite pockets were found on the Montane Sirocco Jacket and Red Ledge Thunderlight Parka.

WAIST HEM

The waist hem can be elastic (nonadjustable), shockcorded (adjustable), or straight (nonadjustable). The hem type is an important consideration because it provides a key source of cool, dry air that contributes to ventilation via the chimney effect (primarily while not cinched by a pack’s waist belt).

Hem length is also reported as being short (waist-length); medium (covers the buttocks in back but no extensive coverage over the front of the trunk); or long (covers entire lower trunk, front and back).

WRIST CUFFS

Wrist cuff type is reported because the cuffs provide the only source of ventilation to the arms, a particularly important feature when hiking strenuously while wearing a pack. The industry-standard wrist cuff is a half-elastic cuff with a hook-and-loop (e.g., Velcro) flap closure. However, nonelastic straight cuffs and non-adjustable full-elastic cuffs also appear on some garments. Our testers' favorite wrist cuffs (wide, straight hems with hook-and-loop closures) were found on the three Montane Sirocco garments.

FRONT ZIPPER

The length of the front zipper is reported, as well as the presence and type of storm flap. Storm flaps in back of the zipper are not as water-resistant as storm flaps in front of the zipper, but they allow for easier zipper operation by staying out of the way. Our testers’ favorite front zipper was found on the GoLite Squall and Newt Jackets and the Frogg Toggs Pro Action Jacket, because their storm flaps closed with snaps, providing ample ventilation when the zipper was left open while preventing water entry with the snaps secured.

HOOD

The presence of a hood is indicated in the comparison table, as well as the presence of a hood brim (which serves to keep rain out of the eyes). Adjustability and hood volume (an important consideration for layering over warm headwear) are also reported. Our testers’ favorite hood was found on the Sierra Designs’ Backpackers Rainwear Jacket.

TORSO VOLUME

Torso volume is rated as "trim" (incapable of fitting over a midweight fleece without severe binding); "medium" (suitable for layering over a midweight fleece or light synthetic loft layer); or "large" (suitable for layering over a down jacket with 1.5” of loft). The Integral Designs Sil Poncho, Frogg Toggs Pro-Action Jacket and Raincoat, and GoLite Squall/Newt provided the most room for layering, while the Red Ledge Thunderlight, Sierra Designs Backpacker’s Rainwear, and the Montane Sirocco Jacket provided the best balance, with "comfortable volume without excess."

A NOTE ON FIT

Garment fit will depend in large part on the individual. The fit and mobility grades assigned in this review were based on fitting by a single model. The model was a typical size "medium" male, 5'7" in height, 150 lbs, with a waist size of 33, chest size of 37, and torso length of 18.5 inches.

Review Criteria: Ventilation

VENTILATION FEATURES

Ventilation features, such as vented pockets, torso vents, or rear flap vents, are reported in the comparison table; in addition, the table reports whether or not the ventilation is adjustable, for instance by zippers, and whether or not the vents are protected by storm flaps so that they can remain open for some air exchange while minimizing water entry.

MOISTURE ACCUMULATION INDEX

The “Moisture Accumulation Index” (MAI) is a number presented on a scale of 0-100% that evaluates how well a garment’s ventilation features perform during periods of high exertion, the number indicating the mass of moisture accumulation from sweat in a base layer worn under the shell during a period of intensive exercise, relative to the case where a shell is not worn (see companion article by Alan Dixon for a detailed description of the MAI and how it was determined for these garments).

VENTILATION SUMMARY

The Integral Designs Sil Poncho, Montane Sirocco Jacket, and the Red Ledge Thunderlight Parka, with its pit zips and torso vents, provided the best overall ventilation, but special mention goes to the Montane Sirocco garments for their well-designed wrist cuffs that effectively provided forearm ventilation.

Review Criteria: Field Performance

Field performance was evaluated by testers on overnight backpacking trips during the summer and fall of 2001. Garments were worn in temperatures ranging from the mid-teens (degrees Fahrenheit) to the low 60s, winds to 40 mph, and precipitation that included rain, sleet, and snow.

Four key field performance categories were addressed: mobility, storm resistance, breathability, and ventilation.

Testers rated several performance criteria as "poor", "fair", or "good". A "fair" rating indicates that the garment served the intended function satisfactorily, while a "poor" rating indicates that the expected standard of performance was not met. A "good" rating indicated that the garment exceeded the standard of performance. All testers had the opportunity to review at least six garments. However, the reader should be made aware that the level of perceived performance may vary between individuals; thus, these criteria may not be indicative of garment field performance in all conditions.

Our testers' favorite garment with respect to mobility and fit was the Montane Sirocco Jacket. Top honors for storm resistance goes to the Sierra Designs Backpacker’s Rainwear Jacket. The most breathable garment in the field was Montane’s Sirocco Bike Smock, while the best-ventilated garments were the Integral Designs Sil Poncho, the Red Ledge Thunderlight Parka, and the Montane Sirocco Bike Smock.

Review Criteria: Final Grade

The final grade was assigned based on a traditional letter scale (A-B-C-D-F) by evaluating weight, price, fabric performance, fit, mobility, features, storm resistance, breathability, and ventilation.

Garments were NOT graded on a curve. They were graded on their own merits according to their intended use. Grades also took into account the garment's utility as all-purpose backpacking rainwear.

Thus, for a garment to receive an “A” grade, it must serve well in both its intended niche market and as general-purpose backpacking rainwear.


Citation

"2001 Raingear Roundup Review Summary," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00093.html, 2001-12-16 03:00:00-07.

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