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GoLite Malpais Trinity 3-Layer Liteshell Jacket Review

On paper, the Malpais has everything a gear junkie could possibly want, but does real-world experience with the jacket remind us of the disparity between some online dating profiles and the actual person?

Overall Rating: Average

While the Malpais shines in some areas, it is not an “end-all” piece. The light weight (7.0 oz / 198.4 g) 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 fussy 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. Pockets are blocked by use of a hipbelt. The Malpais 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.

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by Brad Groves |

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?

GoLite Malpais 2012 Review - 1
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.

GoLite Malpais 2012 Review - 2
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.

GoLite Malpais 2012 Review - 3
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.

GoLite Malpais 2012 Review - 4
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.

GoLite Malpais 2012 Review - 5
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.


"GoLite Malpais Trinity 3-Layer Liteshell Jacket Review," by Brad Groves. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2012-04-17 00:00:00-06.


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GoLite Malpais Trinity 3-Layer Liteshell Jacket Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
GoLite Malpais Trinity 3-Layer Liteshell Jacket Review on 04/17/2012 14:37:58 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

GoLite Malpais Trinity 3-Layer Liteshell Jacket Review

sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
I have this jacket and took it through its first trip last week. on 04/18/2012 12:19:30 MDT Print View

I just brought this jacket through five days and forty miles in Cedar Mesa (Grand Gulch, Collins to Bullet) and saw everything from intense heat, light rain, freezing temps, driving sand blizzards and some light snow and this review nailed every single point that I observed. Puzzling (read: useless with a pack on) pocket placement, tight chest fit, loose belly fit, and the worst zipper I have ever encountered in my 25 years of walking around the hills. I am pretty sure that I have permanently damaged the zipper from forcing it in the early uses. The key is to get it to "set" and then force it. Force it before it sets and you will hurt the coat. No Bueno.

I love the concept, the light weight, breath-ability and 3-layer design, but sadly it's going back to its maker today.

Edited by Seanneves on 04/18/2012 12:20:31 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
GoLite going 'mass-consumer? on 04/18/2012 22:12:40 MDT Print View

> significantly tighter around the chest and shoulders than around the belly and lower back
Can one jump to the conclusion that the jacket is designed for the average quite-obese yuppie maybe?

OK, harsh. But still ... it fits.


Paul Hatfield
(clear_blue_skies) - F
GoLite Malpais Trinity on 04/18/2012 22:30:48 MDT Print View

Posting my comments from another thread:

I love GoLite backpacks, but the GoLite Malpais Trinity does not get a thumbs up. It has a
absolutely horrible zipper
too much fabric in the gut
hood with poor coverage

The GoLite Tumalo that I tried had a horrible zipper too (just about impossible to get started).

B. F.
(thrush) - F
Weight??? on 04/19/2012 11:12:00 MDT Print View

I find it disturbing that on a site about lightweight backpacking, I can find no weight on a product review. I scanned the text and searched for "oz", "Ounce", "Weight", "gram" - there is no weight. Waste of time.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Weight??? on 04/19/2012 11:16:57 MDT Print View

This may or may not make you happy, but the weight was published in the SOTMR.

B. F.
(thrush) - F
Thanks on 04/19/2012 11:34:17 MDT Print View

Thanks. An idea would be to begin a review with the product weight and a comparisson to two similiar alternatives, always one lighter and one heavier. Also, this way you could sometimes cross-link product reviews. Example:

GoLite Malpais - 7.2 oz / 204 gram
Lighter*: Montane Litespeed H20 (5.6 / 159)
Heavier*1: Montane Spektr (7.7 / 218)

* : (chose a similiar featured alternative here)
*1: (chose a more featured, slightly different alternative here)

Just for consideration. Good review apart from this.

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Weight omitted on 04/19/2012 12:02:33 MDT Print View

B.F.: Agreed. Weight should have been listed, and it completely slipped my notice that it was not! Thanks for pointing it out.

René Jeninga

Locale: Near the coast in the Netherlands
Weight of Golite Malpais on 04/20/2012 04:02:15 MDT Print View

I own one in a size medium and it is heavier than the weight listed by BPL. I put the jacket on my digital scale and the weight of the jacket in size medium is 224 gram/7.9oz
I don't know why my jacket is heavier...

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Weight of Golite Malpais on 04/20/2012 07:47:00 MDT Print View

My XL Malpais weighs exactly 8.0 ounces. And I hate the zipper too...

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Weight of Golite Malpais on 04/20/2012 20:05:39 MDT Print View

Roger, stop sticking up for the pudgy yuppies! They have enough money to pay for well fitting clothes, yet starving college students like myself have to spend big bucks on Euro styled brands to get decently cut clothing!

Rene, each scale is different. Some aren't that accurate or reliable (the former meaning reading represents actual weight and latter meaning weighing the same item over and over gives you the same reading with little/no variation).

While I think my scale is pretty decent, I really just use it as a relative guide to compare two items, rather than an absolute measure.

So unless there's something incredibly wrong with your jacket (ie much larger than labeled size or different fabric used) more than likely the issue is with your scale than the jacket.

Mark Montag
(mMontag) - F
GoLite another take on 04/21/2012 10:00:39 MDT Print View

Brad, nicely presented and well thought out review. Thanks for your time in putting this together.

As owner of one of these jackets, purchased 2011, just a few other comments. My men's medium weights in at 7.6 oz - at 5'-8", 140lbs, w/ athletic build the medium fits well, no restrictions for full movement, I like the softer, non crinkle fabric.

The jacket does indeed seem to be fuller towards the bottom, I use the jacket for backpacking only, it's in my pack most of the time waiting for the weather to change, I'm happy it's less than 8oz. When I do have it on, I never put my pack waistbelt over the bottom of my jacket(s), (or shirt for that matter) - instead pull the jacket above the belt. With the Malpais two-way zipper, I can unzip and open the bottom to aid in breathing. I'm thinking that little bit of lower looseness helps that function. As Will points out in one of his many fine articles - a waterproof/breathable jacket needs to be open in the front to truly breathe, I agree. The controls on the hood could be tighter, I typically use hoods with a mesh brim cap (ballcap) underneath the hood. The Malpais hood pull down nice & tight to the brim. A brim cap & hood is the only way to go in precipitating weather. jmo

As for the sticky zipper - mine had that at first, I thought mine was the only one that did that until I read it in a few BPL articles. The first thing I did was to rub paraffin (hard dry wax) on the zip coupler & zipper start - smooth operation, still works great after 8 months or so. YES - I know - a new jacket shouldn't need that, but it's a 30 second fix for those that have or would like to purchase the jacket.

Lastly, the outdoor clothing industry have their suggested retail price, GoLite however is almost always on sale somewhere at a substantial lower price & usually before the season is over.

andrew morgan
(andrewjet1) - MLife

Locale: philadelphia
Review Fail on 11/20/2012 12:16:35 MST Print View

Not a single mention of how this jacket fares in the rain???? Am I missing something?

Review fail.

Jim Milstein
(JimSubzero) - M

Locale: New Uraniborg CO
Recent Malpais Jacket on 02/23/2013 22:33:17 MST Print View

I got one of these in December 2012. The fit of mine is overall slender, which is ok, since I am too. There is no accommodation for a paunch, as described in the review. I normally buy men's medium, and this is the right size for me in this jacket too. The slender fit does not allow much extra clothing under it, like a puffy jacket. But that seems reasonable given what I think is its purpose.

Like everyone else's, mine has a hard-to-start zipper. A tiny, tiny smear of white silicone grease on each of the two zipper lugs at the bottom has helped a lot. An earlier commenter was not troubled by the pocket placement, since he unzips the bottom and keeps the jacket outside his pack's waste belt. I normally do too with all my jackets.

I have not field tested it yet, since it is not really the right shell for winter in the Rockies.

Green Thumb
All day in the rain on 02/25/2013 04:39:50 MST Print View

I walked 25 miles up near the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC in a constant rain. I was wearing the Malpais Jacket with the Currant Mtn. pants. I stayed dry and they never came close to wetting out. Not bad considering I picked the set up for what the jacket costs right now. I've also worn the jacket around town lately with the wet weather and have finally gotten the zipper to loosen up a bit. Definitely worth it as an uber lightweight rain jacket.