Wilderness reviewers step out into the rain to find the best wet weather jackets for all budgets and trip types. Reviewers: Alistair Hall, Beth Masser, Josh Gale, Mark Banham, Richard Davies
The North Face Mountain Light $549.95
Using TNF’s Mountain Light jacket in the first heavy downpour I encountered felt like taking a leap of faith. My normal wet weather jacket is a hard-wearing three-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell. This two-layer Gore-Tex Performance Shell is softer and more supple – a far cry from the security I feel with my much stiffer jacket.
However, the first thing I noticed when I put the jacket on was its comfort. The uncomfortable cold hard fabric against the skin sensation was happily missing from the Mountain Light. It didn’t feel cold at all and with a super soft – and supple – lining in the sleeves and on the back it almost felt like putting on an insulated jacket.
There’s a lot of mesh in this jacket, including the lining to the two handwarmer pockets, to aid breathability – and perhaps to make up for the fact that there aren’t any pitzips.
The brushed lined collar is another nice comfort touch and is bigger than those found on other jackets I have used. I also really liked that I could zip in my TNF fleece to make the jacket even warmer.
All these comfort features count for naught, though, if the jacket doesn’t keep you dry. In most regards, it performs superbly – seam sealed and with a Gore-Tex membrane, this is about as waterproof as you can make a jacket. But the hood doesn’t match the performance of the rest of the jacket. It’s not deep, so you can’t sink your head into it and hide from the rain. The side cinch cords are hard to operate with gloves on and often when I pulled on them the hood snap closures detached.
I was also surprised to discover it weighed around 700g – making it the heaviest reviewed – because it felt much lighter.
I think this is an excellent jacket, well suited to the conditions found in New Zealand. And even though the hood could be better, the jacket will do all that you ask of it and keep you protected from wind and rain.
– Alistair Hall
Macpac Zealot $649.95
The piece of gear that I recommend people buy first is a good rain jacket. In New Zealand conditions it is absolutely vital. It can be hard, though, to know which to buy and how to evaluate all the specialist jackets on the market.
The Macpac Zealot has been around for a while and is the kind of jacket used for hard, off track trips in any weather.
The eVent fabric is tough – a major contributor to the jacket’s 680g weight – and highly waterproof. It has a double storm flap with Velcro closure and a drainage channel on the rear storm flap. The front zipper is water resistant, the hood fully adjustable and the sleeves provide unrestricted movement. The waist can be cinched tight with one hand. This is a jacket that you can get serious in.
But it is also a jacket that would be perfect for gentler tramping as well. The hood can be zipped away and tucked into the collar when not in use. If you have the jacket done right up, you’ll find a chin guard lined with microtherm for comfort. There are two hand pockets with water resistant zips, and one internal zippered chest pocket.
On a sticky winter’s night, I tested the breathability of the jacket as I slogged up a big hill after work. I was impressed – especially when on reaching the top the jacket kept a cutting wind at bay.
Tramping in the rain, the jacket was a pleasure to wear. Its fit allowed me to move comfortably while it kept me dry and the hood was comfortable to use.
Overall, I was impressed with the Macpac Zealot and would recommend it as a great multi-purpose jacket in the New Zealand mountains.
– Richard Davies
Outdoor Research Helium II $249
The backcountry is Murphy’s Law’s jurisdiction. Anything can and will go wrong: daytrips will turn into overnighters, rain will fall out of high pressure systems and the wind will blow with hurricane force from whichever direction is least helpful. So it’s great to see companies like Outdoor Research bringing out products like the Helium II jacket that are designed with the unexpected in mind.
The Helium II is described as being ‘built for flash-storm protection’. It’s not designed for bush-bashing. If you’re looking for something to wear while hunting down the last Fiordland moose – this isn’t the product for you.
What it is designed to do is be very small; folding into its own pocket and compressing down to the size of a hamburger – and very, very light at 180g, about the same as two energy bars.
To shed weight, OR has offloaded some of the creature comforts you’d expect in a conventional shell jacket: there are no hand-pockets, pit-zips or cuff-adjustments and the fabric is gossamer thin (but rip-stop reinforced). However, OR has kept the stuff that matters: a Pertex Shield waterproof and breathable membrane, seam taping, water-resistant zippers. Plus OR clearly hasn’t skimped on build-quality – the Helium II comes with a lifetime guarantee.
I would have liked to see a roll down hood – an extra five grams of Velcro would open up a whole raft of high velocity uses, and a bit of extra reflective detailing would be good. But those are pretty minor gripes.
If you’re planning on doing some trail running this summer, or simply love the feeling of a light pack – or if you just don’t like the sound of the headline ‘Ill-prepared, hypothermic tramper rescued’, then you really should check out the Hellium II.
– Mark Banham
Kathmandu Jardin $749.98
Kathmandu is continuing to surprise with new products in its line. The Jardin is a good example of the improvements in tailoring coming from this company.
Kathmandu describes the jacket as designed for hiking and extreme wet weather conditions. To me this description has come to mean strong but light – just not light (it weight 660g) in the way some jackets make you feel like you are only wearing a shopping bag. It arrived as I was leaving for the Peak to Peak multisport event. It’s a slim line tramping jacket and was a bit too much to wear throughout that event so it had to wait for a bike ride into Macetown the following day to make its debut. The jacket was comfortable to wear and moved well with my body. In spite of a fairly solid workout in the icy Central Otago conditions I didn’t build up any sweat.
The Gore-Tex Performance shell fabric is supported with fully waterproof zips including pitzips.
The tailoring includes articulated sleeves, internal waist tensioning and a scalloped tail to give a dry surface to sit on. The hood is big enough to accommodate a helmet and has a stiff peak that enhances visibility and a draw cord behind your head for tensioning back if side visibility is an issue.
Tough fabric panels on high wear areas on the outside of the arms, across the shoulders and around the bottom promise to make this a long lasting jacket.
One gripe is the price. At almost $750 I think is a bit on the high side. However, it’s well designed and constructed and should survive many backcountry trips.
– Beth Masser
Rab Bergen $569.95
With no shortage of rain recently I’ve had the ideal conditions to test Rab’s Bergen jacket.
I’ve worn the jacket on three occasions in thick damp bush in the Waitakere Ranges. Before I even got into the bush, the first thing I noticed is the jacket comes down to only just below my hips rather than half way down my thighs like my personal shell. While this makes it reasonable light (535g), it also offers less protection and with a heavy pack means it tends to ride up so that my lightweight down jacket poked out the bottom.
However, Bergen’s tapered shape makes for a snug fit while still providing enough room for my down jacket.
The jacket’s torso is made from three-layer eVent Storm fabric with a heavyweight version of the same in the arms and shoulders. It has a nifty protective hood with volume adjustment cords, a wired peak that protects the face in rain and a convenient roll down tab to stow it away.
An earlier version of the Bergen received a number of critical reviews due to some people experiencing a degree of leakage.
Since then, Rab has made adjustments to the Bergen’s design and I experienced no sign of leakage while walking in the rain.
In saying that, I did notice my mobile phone got wet in one of the front chest pockets, which have vertical water-resistant zips.
During harder activity I found the jacket to breathe well, thus avoiding too much condensation forming on the inside.
Overall this is a great year-round tramping jacket that will keep the rain out. However, for longer trips, especially below the bush line in New Zealand, I would prefer a jacket with a longer cut for added protection.
– Josh Gale