I’m never going to advocate leaving your waterproof jacket at home when heading into the hills, but if you’re pretty sure it’s going to spend most of the day in your rucksack there’s no need for a heavy winter-spec mountain waterproof. Thankfully modern designs and outdoor fabrics have led to some very well-featured lightweight jackets that add little to your packweight but may not have the durability and breathability of heavier fabrics. The breathability of waterproofs is a source of major consternation and pub arguments, so rather than writing an essay on unrealistic consumer expectations and the joy of windshirts, this article by Andy Kirkpatrick is required reading before progressing any further.
In this review, and a companion review by Helen, we will be looking at a range of waterproof jackets in the ‘lightweight’ category. By this I mean a shell jacket that will spend the majority of its time in a rucksack being carried. Ideally such a garment will weigh under 100g – but that’s not going to happen if you require a waterproof/breathable membrane. The majority of the jackets reviewed use Gore-tex Paclite – a 2 layer fabric consisting of – you guessed it – 2 different layers bonded together. Most waterproof jackets begin with a pretty tough nylon or polyester outer face fabric treated with a Durable Water Repellent coating to make water bead on the surface and revent the fabric becoming waterlogged. This also protects the membrane from the outside world. Beneath this is the membrane itself, in the case of Gore-tex it’s an expanded PTFE membrane which contains over 9 billion microscopic pores per square inch. These pores are approximately 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water, but 700 times bigger than a molecule of moisture vapour. So whilst water droplets cannot penetrate the membrane, moisture vapour (a gas) can easily escape. Bonded onto the inside of the membrane is a protective layer of an oleophobic (oil-hating) substance which helps to prevent the pores in the membrane getting clogged by body oils and cosmetics – whilst this prevents the pores clogging it also reduces the breathability of the membrane. A 3-layer fabric such as eVent or Gore-tex Pro Shell features a fabric scrim layer on the inside for the protection of the membrane, increased breathability and a nicer feel against the skin, but obviously this extra layer of fabric adds weight and bulk to the garment and is probably not essential for a jacket that is only going to be used occasionally.
Check out Helen’s review for women’s lightweight waterproofs.
Arc’teryx Beta SLRRP £220
This is a prime example of a lightweight waterproof that is anything but a lightweight performer. As you’d expect from Arc’teryx, it’s absolute top quality with a price tag to match. The Beta SL is designed as an all-round hiking jacket but draws upon the Arc’teryx climbing-oriented style, so there is a stiffened helmet-compatible hood and harness and hipbelt-friendly pockets. The fit is athletic without resembling the upside-down triangle shape of many climbing shells (big shoulders and a tiny waist) so there is plenty of room for layering a microfleece underneath. This close fit leads to good articulation, and the jacket will move with you without riding up or resisting. It’s not a long jacket – there is a drop tail but overall cut is slightly shorter than others. Arc’teryx suggest that this is to prevent too much overlap when wearing waterproof trousers, which sounds reasonable in the intended application. The zips are good quality waterproof-style with minimalist cord zip pulls (which I really like) and the front zip is further reinforced with an internal storm flap. A top quality jacket, if a little pricey for most hillwalkers.
Protection: Gore-tex Paclite Weight: 344g (size L)
Berghaus EtiveRRP £185
This doesn’t feel like a lightweight jacket. It’s simply a standard mountain waterproof made from a lighter fabric. Whilst this pushes the weight up towards the 400g mark the Etive has a lot of features that I was surprised to find on a Paclite jacket. The cut is generous and long – almost old-fashioned nowadays – and zips and fastenings are chunky and easy to operate. I like the wired Asgard hood, a Berghaus design which is found on several of their more recent alpine shells and offers one-handed adjustment via a pullcord arrangement similar to that found in a church belltower. Whilst the cords are routed to the outside of the jacket they are not of a sufficient length to risk cord-whip and damaged teeth in the wind. It’s easy to cinch in the hood to really seal out the weather. The double main zip is a standard non-waterproof design protected by a double storm flap that seals with baselayer-friendly non-aggressive Velcro and press studs. The two big mesh-lined side ‘pockets’ are clearly labelled as vents rather than pockets, and as they clash with hipbelts that’s a far more sensible use for them, though there is also a napoleon pocket at the left breast sealed with a waterproof zip.
Protection: Gore-tex Paclite Weight: 391g (size L)
Craghoppers Travelite IIRRP £65
As the name suggests, this jacket is perhaps aimed more at the travel market than hillwalkers, but considering that this model can be found online for well below the £65 RRP it’s definitely worth a second look. By using their own AquaDry fabric rather than licencing something from Gore-tex or eVent they can keep the price down, but it appears that this fabric is significantly less breathable than the offerings from the membrane specialists. As mentioned in the preamble this isn’t necessarily a big deal, and Craghoppers have dealt with the moisture build-up inside the jacket through the use of a mesh lining. The understandable weight increase takes the jacket over my ideal upper limit of 500g in size large, though the listed weight is 450g. This may not seem like a huge deal, but when compared to the measured weight of the Rab Kinetic below you may change your mind! Nonetheless, the Travelite II has a nice matt outer fabric and tasteful colour schemes so it makes a very nice general outdoor jacket, and I quite like the styling. The pockets are covered by a hipbelt and are lined with fabric to prevent them being used as vents, and I struggled to get the hood to adjust enough to protect against substantial rain.
Protection: AquaDry Ripstop Weight: 520g (size L)
Karrimor X-Lite Mens HeliumRRP £120
Karrimor have historically been a leading light in the outdoor clothing industry and prior to their sale to Lonsdale Sports/Sports Direct in 2004 were responsible for legendary items such as the Haston Alpiniste climbing pack – developed with Dougal Haston – and the ubiquitous Karrimat. For a while the Karrimor name was slapped on a whole variety of items found in Sports Direct stores to the detriment of the brand, but in recent years the tide has turned and Karrimor have just launched their first range of waterproof jackets for seven years. The X-Lite Helium is the lighter of the two hardshell jackets, the Elite Alpiniste (ha!) being a heavier 3-layer eVent mountain jacket with an RRP of £200. The Helium uses a 2.5-layer fabric (with a raised pattern of dots bonded to the inner fabric rather than a full layer of material) called Weathertite Extreme which is significantly lighter and wonderfully supple. It doesn’t appear to breathe as well as eVent or some of the proprietary fabrics featured here, but I was able to use the jacket on my usual jogging route without getting unusually moist. Fit and features are good – it’s clearly a product of the alpine school of garment design with a short cut and single waterproof zip over an inner storm flap. The wired hood is cavernous but easy to adjust, but the cord pulls exit externally and can whip around a bit in the wind. Currently on sale well below RRP this is extremely good value for money.
Protection: Weathertite Extreme Weight: 391g (size L)
Kathmandu NeriusRRP: £180
This is my first experience of Antipodean brand Kathmandu. The Nerius is another Gore-tex Paclite jacket, featuring a distinctive striped outer face fabric that is thankfully available in colours other than the baby blue sample I was supplied with. Aimed at hikers rather than climbers the hood is low volume with a stiffened peak, and has a zip allowing it to be removed which adds unnecessary weight. The cut is long with a slight drop tail and the main zip has inner and outer storm flaps secured with Velcro. The pockets are covered by a hipbelt though they are cavernous. The inner pocket has a hole for a headphone cable to pass through, and the double layer of material used here hinders breathability. The wide Velcro cuff fastening is good and I can’t fault the quality of construction or fittings. Little things like the included stuffsack and unusual outer face fabric are endearing, but I think this is more a travel garment than hillwalking waterproof.
Protection: Gore-tex Paclite Weight: 401g (size L)
Odlo 3L Packaway Pro RRP £190
Odlo have surprised me with this jacket – I really wasn’t expecting a fully-featured jacket made from three-layer fabric that weighs under 400g. The mysterious LOGIC fabric appears relatively thin and I’m not totally convinced that it has the durability of comparable 3 layer fabrics, but in use it performed as well if not better than the bigger brands and feels great next to the skin thanks to the inner scrim layer. Whilst the figures supplied by Odlo suggest that the breathability of the LOGIC fabric falls far below that of both eVent and Paclite, the inner scrim prevents any clamminess and makes it ‘feel’ more breathable. Despite the low weight the Packaway Pro has some neat features such as the double pockets – two slit pockets on each side protected by waterproof zips. The lower pocket – in traditional handwarmer position – will be covered by a rucksack hipbelt so Odlo have included another pocket directly above it. Simple. Both pockets are lined with mesh, so can be used for venting. The jacket is mid-length, with a drop tail, and has a standard cut. The main zip is waterproof with an inner storm flap and extends to a form a high protective collar. The hood is low profile and has an innovative and effective three-way adjustment that I haven’t seen before and permits a really tailored hood fit. The Packaway Pro does everything I want from a lightweight waterproof; I’ve used it for hillwalking, running and cycling and it performs admirably. Highly recommended and my new favourite waterproof jacket.
Protection: 3L LOGIC Ripstop Weight: 368g (size L)
Patagonia Rain ShadowRRP £160
The Rain Shadow is a bit of a lightweight classic on both sides of the Atlantic. The proprietary H2No Barrier fabric is 2.5 layer – with a raised pattern forming a partial inner layer to negate any clamminess. The nylon ripstop outer fabric looks and feels rugged and and I quite like the two-tone styling, even in yellow and orange. The cut is generous to permit easy layering and the length of both garment and sleeves is decent – it really is a standard ‘do everything’ jacket. The main zip is a good quality waterproof model with nice cord zip pull and inner storm flap, and the microfleece patch at the chin is a nice touch typical of Patagonia. The handwarmer pockets are again protected by waterproof zips and fabric lined – there is no need to make these mesh lined as substantial pit-zips offer as much venting as anyone could ever need. The hood is pleasing, cinching in nicely with good articulation, but I find the front adjustment a bit of a hassle as the hidden captive toggles mean it is necessary to rummage inside the jacket to pull on the cords. It’s much easier to just use the rear adjustment. There’s nothing more to say – it’s a good, solid waterproof jacket that is justifiably popular thanks to the perfect combination of practicality and minimalism.
Protection: H2No Barrier Weight: 329g (L)
Rab Kinetic RRP £115
Now THIS is a lightweight jacket! Feeling more like a windproof than a waterproof, the Kinetic uses 2.5 layer Pertex Shield+, at 15 dernier it’s a very thin fabric that despite appearances has a hydrostatic head of 15,000mm (half that of Gore-tex Paclite but more than sufficient for outdoor garment use). Rab designed this jacket for use by alpinists so ruggedness is not in doubt, and the Kinetic possesses all the features you’d expect from a high-end alpine hard shell at a fraction of the weight. The hood is helmet-compatible and designed for UK conditions so cinches in nicely, and there is a proper full-length front zip and two handwarmer pockets protected by stormflaps and inverted zips. Rab garments always seem to fit me really well, and this is no exception, though it is quite a snug fit and you’ll need to size up if you want to layer over thick garments. Packing into the left pocket to form a compact package this is a true ‘just in case’ jacket that punches well above its weight.
Protection: Pertex Shield + Weight: 244g (L)
Agree with Phil? Join the debate and let us know what you think…