Here there be an in-depth review of one contender from Dave Chenault's Ultralight Waterproof-Breathable Jacket SOTMR, the GoLite Malpais. On paper (or more appropriately, “on monitor”), the Malpais has everything a gear junkie could possibly want. Very light (7.0 oz / 198.4 g), waterproof but breathable, and all the little features… a full hood, full zipper, two pockets, and adjustable cuffs. The Malpais is even made using a three-ply fabric, which should prove more durable in the long haul. But does real-world experience with the jacket remind us of the disparity between some online dating profiles and the actual person?
Weathering the rain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Note the volume of the hood.
The first thing I noticed was the size and weight of the Malpais in its package. I’ve had windbreakers that felt heavier! When I started handling the jacket, its touch was silky and a reinforced kind of wispy. The tricot scrim of the third ply is of an exceptionally fine gauge, a barely discernible texture to its feel. The inside of the jacket is finished in a clean, restrained manner. The face fabric is about as silky as ripstop nylon will get. The pocket liners are of fine-gauge mesh and laminated to the shell.
Moving outward on inspection, the cuffs are curvy and shaped, with a sleek laminated tab for hook and loop (ie Velcro) closures; the attachment points are three neatly-placed dots of loop. The hood is noticeably large and deep, and its visor is substantial. It seems like one of the “features” most manufacturers skimp on for uber-light jackets is a good brim, and it baffles me, because a good visor can so greatly enhance a good hood. At any rate, that’s here! The hood has two hook and loop dots on back which seemed, frankly, almost superfluous - in essence, one dot is “neutral,” which allows for a single position of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) of adjustment. The front cord of the hood is incorporated very cleanly into the shell, a construction I’ve admired time and again when I’ve picked up the jacket, and the small shock cord tightens with a tiny neoprene line tensioner/rack/tri-slidish thing… more on that adjustment piece later.
Detail of the cuff sculpting and Velcro dots, also note the surface texture of the fabric.
Pulling on the jacket made me feel pretty much like the Hulk, as though I was of beastly growing proportions and on the verge of bursting through the material. Although the material almost seems to have a bit of stretch, it ain’t enough to accommodate the fit… this jacket runs a size small. The fit was so strange, in fact, that I had several friends of widely varying body habitus try on the Malpais. Conclusion? The fit is funky and small. It seemed to fit significantly tighter around the chest and shoulders than around the belly and lower back… or perhaps you could think of it as fitting more like a suit jacket than a rain jacket. The arm length was almost short on ME in the medium I would normally wear, and I normally find sleeves to be several inches too long. The cut was extremely restrictive… everyone who tried it on pretty much laughed when they tried to move. (Upon reflection, I suppose you could describe the fit as pear-like, or more Christmas tree than “V.”) One or two of the guys who run between a small and medium found the medium to jussssst fit. It is probably worthwhile to note that I was a retail buyer for about a decade, and between those who trial-fitted the jacket was probably another 15-20 years of experience with technical garments like this.
Needless to say I re-ordered the jacket a size up, going from a medium to a large. When the large came… well, the fit was still funky. And, honestly, still seemed a little tight, though mostly agreeably livable, to all who tried it on. It was strange, having a significant amount of room in the belly, but wondering if you would be able to wear more than a single layer to fit in the chest area of the shell. The large seemed like it would work just fine, though, and we moved on to other details.
The next thing that sprang (er, zipped) to attention was the zipper. I have helped so many people zip up new jackets that I should probably add “Zipper Slayer” to my resume, because I’m just that good and that experienced making finicky zippers work fine. That said, the Malpais zipper remains as curmudgeonly as the first day I donned the jacket. It works, but it’s stubborn. It doesn’t want to start. But once started, it zips up fine and stays closed, and I’ve always been able to get the zipper going (reminds me of getting an old car going in winter).
The pockets are in a great place for an around-town jacket, easy access for the day-to-day stuff, at a comfortable level. However, the pockets are also dead-center of a hipbelt, so if you were planning on wearing this ultralight rainjacket, say, backpacking… well, then, you’d best plan on not using the pockets. They are so perfectly placed at hipbelt level that it seems clear the designers had no intention of this being worn with a pack. Weird. If this jacket is, indeed, intended for use in the backcountry, while wearing a pack, I would recommend the pockets be (a) eliminated or (b) moved higher on the jacket. Bottom line, though, the pockets do not actively interfere with use of a pack… it wears fine with a pack, you just can’t really use the pockets.
I liked the minimalist design aesthetic of the neoprene “line tensioner” adjuster for the hood draw cords. Nice, clean, streamlined look. Field use, however, showed that the tensioners were probably best for the showroom. Quite simply, they don’t hold enough tension to keep their position on the cord when I’ve been in even a mild blow. The jacket would be a better product if these tensioners were simply replaced with a micro spring-toggle type. The neoprene things drove me batty on days I really wanted to batten down the hatches, given that I couldn’t keep things battened.
Battening down the hatches on a blustery day. You can make out the hood drawcord arrangement.
The cuffs fit nicely, and like so many other aspects of the jacket, they fit cleanly. The three dots of Velcro, however, were not quite sufficient for my taste. They do not afford much room for adjustment (think power tools: “on or off” versus “variable speed”), and I found that they would come unfastened periodically, seemingly of their own accord. Over all it wasn’t a big deal, they worked, but they were a bit of a nagging nuisance at times… and I think that sense was heightened by an otherwise great execution on cuff fit.
As the test period continued, I was surprised by how often I found myself wearing the Malpais. This’ll sound stupid, but it’s easy to wear. I think it’s an effect born of the minimal weight and a barely-there kind of feel? I did notice that the extra volume of the lower part of the jacket, combined with the (loaded) lower pockets, required zipping up the jacket to prevent swaying slap-happiness. I found the Malpais comfortable in a wide range of conditions and activities.
Breathability is hard to judge objectively. I generally believe that if you’re moving enough to sweat, you should wear less… so my tendency is to avoid wearing a shell unless it is particularly cool, wet, or windy. I did wear extra layers to stimulate sweat production for some parts of testing. Breathability struck me as average.
The fabric of my Malpais started showing small partial delamination puckers after relatively mild wear, less than a season of use. The good news is that although the points of delamination seem evident over the surface of the entire jacket, it doesn’t seem to be spreading from point to point… it seems “contained.” The delams uniformly stem from the edge of the ripstop grid, and most are contained to the perimeter of those grids, but some do cover, for example, the center of a grid or a few adjoining grids. The location and distribution of puckers made me consider whether it was purely a visual effect, some correlation of the micro gridstop and superlight fabric… but a more in-depth investigation of the fabric surface indicates regular partial delamination. (Some of the lamination difference in, say, seam tape can be seen even on heavier shell materials of other jackets, but the Malpais seems accentuated more than its weight would suggest.) The bumps or bubbles, for example, do not occur just at grid junctions, but also along lines and multiple cells. Also consistent with my experience of waterproof-breathable fabric delamination is a noted concentration of the defects at higher-wear areas of the jacket. How concerned am I about potential delamination? Not particularly, really. Strictly speaking, it shouldn’t affect performance much, and so far it seems as though it probably won’t make a significant impact on garment longevity. It is, however, a cosmetic issue that is indicative of a potential for reduced service life of the jacket. Otherwise, durability of the shell was quite good, holding up to some mild brush-busting kinda travel.
Note “surface texture” on the shell, dimpling suggestive of at least incomplete bonding of materials. Look either side of the seam tape, and also along the tape just above photo center.
So where does that leave us? While the Malpais shines in some areas, it is not an “end-all” piece. The light weight and great hand of the jacket, combined with a full front zip, make it a joy to “just toss on.” (Except when you’re stuck standing there, just trying to get the zipper started.) The jacket fit, however, needs some reconsideration, and the hood desperately needs some cord locks that, well, lock, and a rear adjustment with better range. As I noted earlier, I don’t see the point in putting pockets at “city” level for an ultralight shell… and I’d guess that GoLite decided to produce this jacket more specifically toward the travel-oriented crowd, not the ultralight backpacking crowd. Whoever they’re marketing this jacket for, though, it could use a few tweaks. It works, it’s really light, it packs small, and it’s not likely to blow apart on you anytime soon… all of which make it worthy of consideration, though in certain aspects the jacket is remarkably average.
Enjoying a surprise sunset along Pictured Rocks National lakeshore after a day of cold rain. The Malpais kept me warm and dry.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.