Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Rain Gear, Part 1. Jackets

I've mentioned my waterproofs in passing but thought it might be worth a more detailed look. I basically have 2 sets, one light summer set and a heavier set for winter but obviously there's some overlap, in addition I have a few other items, some from way back.

As far as jackets are concerned I have an old 3 layer Gore-Tex Phoenix Opal which is still ok but could use a wash and re-proof. It cost £145 from 'West Coast Outdoor' in Fort William, sadly they aren't around anymore but I always looked forward to reaching Fort Bill for a look around together with a look in Nevisport, this was back before Ellis Brigham/Blacks etc.

The Opal is a basic mountain jacket that ticked the boxes back then, two way zip, double studded stormflap, drawcords at waist and hem, map pocket behind stormflap, 4 external pockets, velcro adjustable cuffs and a helmet compatible wired hood. Not a bad spec list even yet, thankfully free from gimmicks and the hood is the best of any jacket I own with or without a helmet. The weight is reasonable for a 3 layer jacket at 862g.

I also have a Berghaus Mera Peak I.A. which I bought about a year ago. I was looking for a new jacket but still going by the guidelines from the late 1980's and about the only jacket that fitted the bill was the Mera Peak. It's fairly similar in design to the Phoenix Opal but made from 2 layer Gore-Tex with a mesh drop liner. It has the I.A. zip system to allow you to attach a Berghaus I.A. fleece, a bit pointless in my view but a feature which was starting to appear in Berghaus jackets around late 1980's early 1990's. The design of the hood/internal collar is more fussy than the Opal and the visor is poor as it isn't wired, it does have some kind of stiffening but overall it's floppy. It's an ok jacket but the design is a bit too fussy in some areas, clearly the result of trying to appeal to the broader market as I've seen more Mera Peaks worn in the high street than in the hills. Weight is 868g.

Once I started to look at current trends I realized that not only were perfectly capable jackets available at around half the weight of the Opal or Mera Peak but that there was a new fabric on the market. In the good old days it was Gore-Tex v's Sympatex now Sympatex had all but disappeared but to provide some competition to Gore-Tex there was Event. The general view seemed to be that Event was more breathable so i decided to look for an Event jacket and set a maximum weight limit of 500g or thereabouts. I shortlisted the Montane Venture and the RAB Bergan and eventually decided on the Venture.

The Venture is a very different style to the Opal/Mera Peak, it's shorter with only a hem drawcord, a velcro stormflap over a 2-way zip, no map-pocket behind the stormflap and a hood with the now common 'Flat Cap' style stiffened visor. The jacket has performed as expected although I don't find it any more breathable than Gore-Tex. The worst aspect of the jacket is the hood, it's absolutely massive. The result is that unless the hood drawcords are fully tightened the hood won't stay up and because the drawcord doesn't go all the way around it really only pulls the hood down (or the shoulders up) rather than closing it in around my face, there is a volume reducer but it only serves to pull the front of the hood up and back. That aside it's ok but I may have been better with something like the RAB Latok/Latok Alpine which appear to have a drawcord which goes all the way around. That said I won't change until the Venture is worn out. The Venture in Medium weighs 450g.

Finally my lightest jacket. I wanted something for summer use that would pack down small and be super light. I knew about the Haglof range but really wanted something cheaper. In the end I decided on a Marmot Essence which I discovered on the Webtogs site, it wasn't really cheap but wasn't too expensive either. The spec is pretty basic, a very light jacket with a breathable coating, underarm gusseted vents, 1 way front zip with a single storm flap behind, one zipped chest pocket, elasticated cuffs and a hood with a similar style peak/visor to the Venture. The hood works better on the Marmot Essence as it's smaller, although again tightening the drawcords tends to pull the shoulders up, like the Venture there a Velcro'd strap to reduce the volume. I intended to use the Essence only in Summer but used it last time out, the small packed size and minimal weight make it an attractive proposition, I haven't had any problems regarding breath-ability or waterproofing so at only 183g it's all good given the intended use, the packed size is great and colour sublime.


  1. Mac, That Pheonix jacket is a blast from the past. Looks to be in great condition. It's come through the last 3 decades with fewer knocks that I have by the looks of things. From what I can see you've got a hell of a collection of retro gear. Interesting to see. Seems to me that whats mostly changed is colour, weight and design. Functionality hasn't moved on that much at all. More startling: 1980's goretex compares well to eVent in the breathability stakes! As for replacing the RAB when it wears out: in your case that'll be around 2035!

  2. It probably looks better in the photie TBH. I've always been really careful with my gear simply because of the cost, a £140 jacket was about 2 weeks wages back then and a serious investment considering prior to getting it I used a surplus German Parka which wasn't even waterproof!! Of course a 10 odd year lay-off from outdoors pursuits helped preserve things.

    Regarding breathability, obviously it's just an observation, I know that I had a fair amount of condensation down the sleeves of the Venture last time I was in the Cairngorms although I was pressing on at a fair old rate. Lets say I'd be inclined to choose a jacket on features & fit rather than Event or Gore-Tex. I think that regardless of which one you use you'll sooner or later push it beyond the limit.

    2035? it'll be a shroud or a nice suit I'll be needing

  3. That Phoenix jacket brings back so many memories, as does the mention of the much missed West Coast.
    The Opal looks like what became the Karrimor Diamond maybe?
    Ah, the old days!

  4. Aye West Coast was a great shop, The Opal could have ended up as the Karrimor Diamond although there was a Phoenix Diamond which was slightly different and more expensive than the Opal.

    I completely missed the Karrimor take over of Phoenix, did it happen mid 90's?

  5. 183g? Is that a typo? That's way below the specs for that jacket.

  6. No 183g it is, it's not a current model but the closest I could find just now was a womans version on Webtogs at a listed weight of 198g.

    What weight did you see the Mens Essence listed as?

  7. The Marmot Essence has been discontinued, but the specs for the jacket were 8 ounces = 227 g, so 183 is 20% under spec.

    Are you a small? It's rare for manufacturers to overstate the weight of their products, at least by such a significant amount. Often manufacturers outright lie about the weight of their products.

  8. My jacket is a Medium, just weighed it again and it's coming up at 187g.

    I find that there is always some variation between actual and suggested weights, sometimes over sometimes under. To put it in perspective 3g is the weight of a UK 1 pence coin.