ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket – Update #1
This is an update to my previous article about the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket, which I really recommend you read if you are at all interested in what is possibly the lightest cuben fiber rain jacket on the market.
As I promised within that article I would provide updates on this jacket as I get some usage of the jacket. I have now reached the 25 hour mark of wearing the jacket in the rain, and have nearly 40 hours of total wear time with this jacket. I believe it is safe to say that this is more than enough time spent wearing this jacket to provide a solid initial update article on this jacket.
I have been able to use the jacket on the trail, around my house, and while out doing business around town. It may not be the biggest fashion statement around town, but what SUL/XUL hiker cares about fashion – none that I know. It has performed flawlessly.
Keeping Things In Perspective:
In a comment I made in the original article I made this statement:
Over 90% of hikers do not hike a 500 miles a year. Of the remaining 10% less than half of them do over 2000 miles a year. Those rare few in the 1-5% of hikers that do more the vast majority of them that I have talked to have had very very few items that gotten used for 2000+ miles have durability issues, and typically it is socks and shoes, nothing more, and they are the two things we expect to not last that far. As most tripple crowner can testify too, the use of rain gear on the big-three trails is typically less than 2% of the 8000+ miles. You really going to be wearing your *rain jacket* for 2600 miles? Stop and think about that.
So with this in mind we need to ask ourselves, is the weight of a 10+ ounces rain jacket really worth carrying? I say no. If I can hike any of the long distance trails in the USA and typically encounter less than 20 days of rain, why would I carry twice the amount of dead weight when I need too. For me, being able to save 5 ounces off a largely dead-weight item such as a rain jacket is an amazingly exciting aspect.
It is no secrete that this latest edition of the waterproof breathable cuben fiber is not the most breathable material out there. I will be first in line to say such (though I know a lot of other folks that would like to get in line ahead of me, because they just enjoy trash talking cuben fiber) and have never made the statement that this new WPBCF is the end-all of breathable material, it is not.
However I can say for a fact that this WPBCF is pretty amazing. I have used it in hail, in snow, in the rain, in my sleeping bag, as a thermal barrier, and sometimes just as a jacket to slip on when I am going out the door. I have used it while hiking with a backpack on as well, obviously. I have tried to use it in every aspect of my life as I can since I purchased it.
Not a single time have I thought to myself “man, this jacket sucks!”. Not a single time.
As a SUL/XUL hiker I carry very little gear, so the gear that I do carry has to be amazingly reliable. The ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket has now officially made it into my backpack as an “always in my backpack item”. Yes, it is even in my sub-2-pounds summer gear setup!
How Does It Perform As A Wind Jacket?
This is the most popular question I have received about this jacket. While I did mention in my previous article that “I will no longer be taking” my wind jacket, I did not expect to get the kind of feedback about how this jacket performs as a wind jacket as what I have gotten.
Let us just look at this from a pure number perspective. The wind jacket I have been using the last few seasons is the MontBell Tachyon Anorak wind jacket which I really do love, though it is almost impossible to find for sale anymore. This wind jacket is made of 7-denier nylon. The ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket is made of 1.42 oz/sqyd cuben fiber. No matter what way you look at it, the 1.42 oz/sqyd cuben fiber is thicker than the 7-denier nylon material of the MontBell wind jacket. So from a material thickness perspective, the ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket is a better wind jacket. Breathablity does not equate to the ability for wind to blow through it.
The ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket is also much less nosy than any other wind jacket I have owned and/or used. A couple years ago I had a wind jacket that was so loud I just could not stand using it. The WPBCF makes pretty much no flapping noise in even the strongest of wind that I have encountered.
So as I move into the 2012 hiking season the most awesome MontBell Tachyon Anorak wind jacket is going to be staying at home and the ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket will for-sure be making it into the very top of my backpack for those times when I just want to put on a clothing item to help with some cold wind.
discolouration – the act of changing the natural color of something by making it duller or dingier or unnatural or faded
Within this photograph (click it to view a much larger image) you can see some discolouration that has occurred to the jacket. The white is slowing fading off in those places where it receives the most rubbing against my backpack, sleeping bag, and chair when I am wearing it around the house.
When I first noticed it I was a bit perplexed. I have read accounts of non white and non black cuben fiber rubbing off some of its colors, but I had never read any account of white cuben fiber having discolouration issues.
So I put out an email to a half-dozen guys I know that are developing products using this WPBCF material to see if any of them had encountered this issue. A few of them were able to confirm that this WPBCF does tend to have some discolouration issues. I keep meaning to ask two of the guys I know with a Water Penetration Tester (Hydrostatic Pressure Tester) to see if they would be willing to do tests on the jacket to see if the jacket is loosing any ability to repeal water, but it has been winter season and I have needed my jacket, so maybe come June or July I will see if they would be willing to test it. If they are willing and if I do have them test it I will be sure to provide any results that I get back from them.
I performed a standard water puddle test and the jacket did not have any seepage anywhere – be in in the middle of the hood where it is bright white, or the middle of the back where all the white has fadded off. I allowed the water to sit in a puddle for over 10 hours. That is more than good enough for me.
So I mention all of this just so other hikers who might have already bought this jacket, or those looking to buy it, are aware of this discolouration. In no way does it appear to be effecting the performance of the jacket.
A few days ago I emailed ZPacks and let them know that I was going to be writing a follow-up review of the jacket and asked if they had made any changes or updates to the jacket. (this is something I feel every reputable outdoor gear reviewer should do).
The next day the owner of ZPacks emailed me back and indicated the following:
I made one little update- I saw in your video it was a little tricky for you to cinch the wrist elastic. I added a second non-stretchy cord through the wrist that holds the cord lock in place. That way you can pull the elastic with just one hand. The same way as on my mitts.
Putting aside the fact that it is unbelievably awesome that a company is willing to update their product based on a video review of one of their products, I can say that this is really the only thing that was bothering me with the jacket. Not so much that I will be sending mine back - it really is not an issue at all - but just stop and think about that folks, a minor issue such as this and the company updated their product based on seeing the problem from a youtube video. Huge props to ZPacks for being so on-top of trying to make the best gear available. I never once mentioned to ZPacks or anybody else this minor annoyance.
Being somebody who does not like to carry single-use-items in my backpack (though I regrettably have a few), I have made it a goal of mine to try to find as many different uses for this jacket as I can.
Here is a list of other uses that I have used the jacket for – just let me be clear here though: I am not somebody who abuses their gear. I have only had a single piece of gear fail on me in the last three seasons of hiking. I treat my gear with the utmost care – you just have to when you are a SUL/XUL hiker.
Quasi-blanket. Over this winter season I have been trying out different winter season gear setups. One of the setups I have been trying is going without a sleeping bag. I purchased a pair of crazy warm down pants from GooseFeet and than using my MontBell down jacket, my ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava, Black Rock Gear Gloves and Hadron Hat, and Feathered Friends Down Booties. At one point the wind started blowing some really cold wind so I grabbed my ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket and put it over my shoulders to help control my core-temperature. It worked very well at blocking the wind and helping to reduce the shiver I felt coming on because my down jacket was not lofty enough for the temperatures – the cold wind caused a 16-degree temperature dip in the span of 20 minutes.
Food Prep. Sometimes when it comes time to prep your food it is nice to be able to put down something on the ground. I use to use my wind jacket, but this jacket works a lot better as it has a zipper and thus is larger, plus the white color makes finding those random mouse-size pieces of food I dropped – hey, calories count, grin.
Wind Jacket. I already address this issue above, but felt I should mention it here again. The jacket has thus-far proven to be very good at being a wind jacket.
A-Frame shelter door. When the weather has been nice I have gone out with my 0.34 cuben fiber tarp to continue long-term durability testing with it. Once a bit of light rain and horizontal wind came up so I threw my jacket up as a door/beak to help block the rain from coming into the shelter. It was not big enough to cover the entire entrance, but big enough to block enough rain that it was worth putting up. I might attach a small tie-out loop on the bottom of the jacket to help with staking it out better as a beak.
Future Article Updates:
As I mentioned above, I now have 25 hours of using the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket in the rain and nearly 40 hours of wearing the jacket when it has not been raining. It has performed without a single failure.
I will probably not be writing up another update for the rest of the 2012 hiking season, as once the main hiking season comes around I am on the trail to much to invest the two or three hours it takes to write these updates.
Should the jacket fail in some way, I will first notify ZPacks and from there decide what and how to share any details of the failure.
I just do not see how the jacket could have any failure if it is not directly related to user-abuse of some type. If after 25 hours of rain the jacket has not leaked, it seems safe to say that the material has proven itself.
I highly recommend the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket if you are looking to have the lightest breathable rain jacket that is presently on the market (at least that I know of). Only you can decide if it is worth the money, but given the fact that my last rain jacket was 10.2 ounces and this jacket from ZPacks is 4.6 ounces, as a SUL/XUL hiker, the extra money spent on this jacket was well worth it – I have spent far more money trying to save 5.6 ounces from my overall base pack weight.
(disclaimer: I purchased this product with my own money. It was not provided to me for review, t&e or any other reason, I actually did buy it. ZPacks is not one of my hiking sponsors.)