One Year Review – ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket
It was a little over 14 months ago when I wrote my first review of the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket (allow me to just abbreviate that as “ZPWPBCF” from here out) and it continues to be one of the most asked about pieces of gear that I own. A few months later I proceeded to write a follow-up article on the jacket that helped to address some of the more popular questions that I received about the jacket. Over the last year I have continued to carry and use the jacket out on the trail and at home when it is raining – which is quite often here in the Redwood rainforest of Northern California.
Since my initial purchase of the ZPWPBCF rain jacket I placed an order for a second jacket with longer arms and a shoulder pocket to hold my wallet when I am in a trail town and all of my cloths are being washed. It has proven to be very useful both out on the trail and in-town, and my thanks go out to ZPacks for their continued efforts put forth to make custom modifications to gear that they sale.
All of us as hikers seek different features in our gear, but when it comes to a rain jacket the end result is whether or not it keeps us dry. There are of course two factors regarding this: external moisture (rain/snow/etc) and internal moisture (thermoregulation) and usually one of those does not come about without the other trying to mess things up. It is an important part of learning to be a hiker is to learn how to properly manage and control your thermoregulation – failure to do so can result in a lot of unnecessary suffering on your part. For example: sometimes when it is raining and very cold, you are better off removing a layer or two of mid-layer base clothing when wearing a rain jacket to prevent overheating – which can lead to condensation build up on the inside of the jacket.
In this article I am going to try to summarize the questions I have received over the last year regarding the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket.
Great comfort. I have previously described the material as “silky” and that remains true. I have no problems wearing this jacket as a quasi-VBL when sleeping with a bag rated warmer than what the outside conditions are. While hiking it does not make any noise or present any problems that would make me unhappy about its comfort performance. If you have longer arms such as I do you can request that ZPacks make them with longer arms. As you might be able to see from the photograph above, the material tends to bunch up in the elbow region, so having the few extra inches of arm length means keeping your wrists dry while you are hiking in the rain.
The hood has proven itself to be quite good. I tend to usually wear a hat of some kind, and the hood does not cause my hat to be squished or interfere with my natural gait in any way.
The durability of my jackets have been spectacular. Being a three layer, 1.42 oz/square yard, material means it is pretty tough. This is not like the same kind of cuben fiber that your 0.51 or 0.74 cuben fiber shelters are made from. My jacket has survived everything I have thrown at it.
It is no secrete that the breathability of the waterproof breathable cuben fiber is not all that spectacular. We hikers who choose to buy this rain jacket are not buying it for its crazy high breathability, we are buying it because we are skilled enough to control our own thermoregulation, and because a rain jacket is mostly dead weight, so having the lightest three layer rain jacket on the market just makes sense to help reduce the long haul dead weight of a rain jacket. At 127 grams (4.5 ounces) for the regular size jacket, it dominates the market for a three layer jacket when it comes to the scale and its effect on your total backpack weight.
Independent tests have shown that the breathability of the WPB Cuben Fiber is 8,000 g/m2/24hrs.
To give you an idea of that number I did a bit of comparison and came up with this:
Some of the recent Gore-Tex Pro-Shell garments are in the 24,000 to 25,000 range.
Some of the recent Marmot MemBrain garments are also in the 24,000 to 25,000 range.
Some of the recent eVENT garments are in the 22,000 to 23,000 range.
The Marmot PreCip Jacket, a highly popular UL rain jacket, is in the 12,000 range.
What it really does come down too is are you willing to sacrifice breathability for dead weight?
Before the next winter season arrives I plan to send it back to ZPacks and have pit-zips installed. There have been only a few times when I had wished that I had originally ordered mine with pit zips, but in those few times I was faced with a decision of opening up my jacket in order to vent air (and thus get wet), or keep hiking and hope the rain would stop. To prevent this from continuing to happen, it just seems like an extra ~11 grams to have the pit-zips installed makes sense. These few situations occurred when it was it raining and the temperature was above around 55F/12C.
I have encountered way too many jackets that were advertised as “rain jackets” and did not have tape bonding along all of their seams. I find it amazingly comical that any company could make a ‘rain jacket’ and yet not tape bond all of the seams.
The ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket is fully bonded. The bonding tape has proven to be extremely solid. Before every major hike I turn the jacket inside out and inspect the bonding. Not a single bit of the bonding tape has had any issues.
One of the topics that I discussed in my follow-up article was using the ZPWPBCF rain jacket as a wind jacket. For most of 2012 I did use it as a wind jacket. However, with the release of the updated Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, a crazy light 45 grams (1.6 oz) hoodless dream-come-true wind jacket, I have since switched away from using the ZPWPBCF rain jacket as my primary wind jacket. It is not that it failed to do the job, but it simply cannot perform at the same level as the Tachyon at being a wind jacket, and at 45 grams for the Tachyon, I am willing to carry two different garments to help tackle two different job requirements.
Some hikers like jackets with a lot of features, others just want a straight jacket without any little extras. I tend to fall into the later group. The jacket has the obvious features, a zipper, a hood, taped/bonded seams, xul adjustments on the cuffs, waist and hood, and if you want, pit zips.
The jacket does not have any external or internal pockets. The goal with this jacket is to have one of the lightest rain jackets possible. Plus, this material is a bit pricy so I would rather have a jacket without pockets taking up more material and driving up the price.
Cleaning The Jacket:
Like all multi-layer materials, the ZPWPBCF rain jacket needs some TLC at times. There is very little (ok, I have never seen anything out there) on how to properly maintain this waterproof breathable material. Cuben Tech, the company that manufactures the material, has never released anything that I have encountered.
I have had a few hikers ask me what I have done to clean mine. To be honest, all I do is hand wash it in a trail-down sink with warm water, just like I would do most of my other hiking garments while out on the trail. I never wear the jacket as a next-to-skin layer, so whatever next-to-skin layer I happen to be wearing is the garment getting loaded up with body oils and such.
Where To Buy:
You can purchase this jacket directly from the manufacturer:
So I hope this article has allowed me to summarize the vast majority of the questions that people have asked me about regarding the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket. I have been extremely pleased with mine. I have come to accept that in the world of breathability the jacket is not at the top of the list, but it has allowed me to learn a great deal more about how to approach hiking in adverse conditions. It was not all that long ago that we hikers did not have any “breathable” rain jackets, and hikers and explorers had to learn the same skills. As a SUL/XUL hiker I am willing to accept these issues in exchange for having the worlds lightest three layer rain jacket on the market. For me it is about total pack weight over a long distance, and dead weight is dead weight. The idea of having a 12 or 15 ounce rain jacket being dead weight for mile after mile, when I could have a rain jacket that is only 4.5 ounces of dead weight for those same miles, is the approach I have chosen to taken. If you feel you have the experience and knowledge of how to control your own thermoregulation, you should too. However, if you are not an experienced hiker and/or would care more about just hiking along a trail in a highly breathable jacket that is four times the dead weight when not using it, but not having to worry about sweating it out, then this is probably not the jacket for you. A decent eVENT jacket is about the same price, offers the same features, and will give you a high level of breathability, their own downside is their weight. Only you can make the decision.
I suspect, unless ZPacks makes a major modification to this jacket, that this will be my last article related to the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket. There does not seem to be anything else I can share in detail regarding this jacket that I have not previously addressed or addressed within this article.
Since I bought this jacket I have not had any desire to purchase any other rain jacket. Know your gear, know your skills, know the trail.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket mentioned within the content of this article was not supplied to me in exchange for services.
As of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell America, Gossamer Gear, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.