ZPacks Rain Jacket, Challenger Version:
In mid 2014 ZPacks updated their rain jacket to use a new combination of fabrics: a layer of eVent on the inside, a layer of spectra (CF) in the middle, and a layer of nylon on the outside.
I have written more about this jacket than anybody else so I have gotten a lot of people asking me thoughts about this new version, called the “Challenger“. If you want a lot of backstory on this rain jacket you can read my original post, my thoughts after using it for a few months, my thoughts after using it for over a year, my full review of the last version, and my post going into detail of the fabric being used.
A Change In Fabrics:
Previous versions of his jacket used cuben fiber and eVent, so why go away from using two layers of eVent and one layer Dyneema? I do not know the answer to that, however there are two very good possibilities.
The first being that CTC (the company that makes the fabric) could just be involved in further R&D and this is their next generation of R&D making it to the market.
The second could be that by going to a layer of Nylon they are able to apply better colour to the outer layer of the fabric. The ZPacks rain jacket has long been nicknamed the ‘bunny jacket’ by a lot of people due to it looking like a medical bunny suit, especially if you are wearing both the jacket and pants of these rain garments.
I will admit that the change to using nylon as the third layer of fabric has made some drastic changes to the appearances of this rain jacket. The black no longer look like a bunny suit – the fabric looks a lot nicer. So much so that the Challenger could be called a fashionable rain jacket that could fit right in with your normal day-to-day in-the-city clothing. In the past if I happened to be in my home town and was wearing the rain jacket, it was hard to really use it as a rain jacket that could be used around town without a lot of strange looks. With this new layer of nylon, this rain jacket, now, can be worn around town and look like almost every other rain jacket on the market that folks buy to wear around town. But, whether this was the reason for removing a layer of eVent and switching to nylon, I can only guess.
In regards to feel and noise, I find the outer layer of nylon to feel like any other big-store rain jacket you might buy. That silky feel of the previous versions of the ZPacks Rain Jacket is definitely gone – personally I enjoyed the silky feel of the previous generations as it made for sleeping with it on rather nice. As for whether or not the nylon makes it more or less noisy than previous versions of the jacket, well I sure have not noticed any difference.
The one thing I have noticed is that the nylon layer of fabric seems to make it significantly stiffer jacket. All the previous versions of this jacket were very soft, whereas the nylon has added a fair amount of rigidity to this jacket. Not a negative I suppose, or something that makes it all that much better, just a personal observation. Even after a bit of use I am not seeing it soften up much.
The Challenger is a true three layer rain jacket, not a 2 layer jacket, and very much not a 2.5 layer jacket. If you do not ‘get’ what this means you can read this info. Likewise, if you are not aware of the term MVTR I recommend you read this article I wrote, as it deals with a lot of the technical side of things.
The ZPacks Rain Jacket has always been a three layer jacket and that has what has made it stand out so much – a three layer jacket at these weights is just amazing.
So let us look at MVTR data for a brief moment.
The original two versions of the ZPacks rain jackets had a g/m2/24hrs of around 20,000.
The most recent version, before the Challenger, had a g/m2/24hrs of around 41,000.
These were numbers provided by CTC using a JIS L 1099 testing method.
From what I have been told the most recent rain jacket, the Challenger, has a g/m2/24hrs in the 22,000 – 25,000 range.
So this most recent version of the jain jacket is taking a fair step backwards in regards to MVTR.
Is this good or bad, let us talk about that for a moment.
There had been, and still is, a lot of speculation on a number of backpacking related websites about whether or not this change away from two layers of eVENT to using one layer of eVENT and one layer of Nylon was going to help or hurt the MVTR of this most recent version of the WPB fabric. Almost everybody that I have come to trust was saying that it would likely increase the MVTR. However that just does not seem to be the case. It seems that this layer of Nylon is really hurting the numbers. Either that, or the middle layer of eVENT has changed from a ultrahigh version to a lower grade version of fabric – perhaps something CTC found the need to do. I just have no idea, just throwing out possibilities. No insider knowledge of what is going on.
In the end though, let us remember, that a three layer rain jacket in the 20k+ range is still a dang good rain jacket.
Let us also make the point that ANY rain jacket is going to wet out, eventually. People who buy rain jackets, hike in them for hours, and come back home hating the rain jacket and complaining on the internet that their rain jacket seeped water through, should probably just stay home, or perhaps actually learn about the gear they are buying and how to properly deal with garment layering.
Facts are facts, let us just face it… a higher MVTR usually means little more than you being able to go a weebit longer without wetting out your rain jacket.
So it is important to remember that while the Challenger does have a lower g/m2/24hrs then the previous versions of the ZPacks rain jacket, this change should not be something that causes you to not buy this exceptional rain jacket.
In regards to air permeability, independent data is showing the Challenger to be at “0.29 CFM … this is almost double the prior WPB Cuben air permeability (.17 CFM)“.
Well the Challenger website page lists all of the features of the jacket – no need for me to list them all here – but I do want to highlight three new features that ZPacks has added.
Front Pocket. This is a change that I went “oye” about, but that is just because I do not like front pockets. A whole lot of folks do love front pockets so I am sure this will go over well with most folks. I have yet to put anything into mine. This just helps it stay flat and thus not cause issues with my shoulder straps. I am sure you could ask ZPacks to not include one, if you do not want one, but at this time there is no option on their website to have it not be included. I ordered mine with the pocket just to see how it looked, worked, and perhaps some day I might use it.
Extra length + 2-way Zipper. This is a rather huge features. It increases the length of the jacket from 32 inches to a whopping 40 inches. If that does not sound like much, you are mistaken. It really does make this one seriously long jacket. This add-on feature also includes the use of a two-way zipper. This is a HUGE benefit, especially for those who understand thermoregulation while using a rain jacket. An extra bonus in going with this option, if you are tall enough to justify this add-on, is that it means you can likely do away with rain pants/skirts/wraps. For me, at five-eleven&three-quarter in height, I have found I no longer need to carry a rain-wrap with me. So that is saving me some weight, even though this add-on option adds 1.5 ounces of weight to the jacket. My only complaint with this feature is that it makes the jacket too long for ‘around the town’ use – something I talked about above. While it does not have the bunny-suit effect, it has a doorky-why-is-your-rain-jacket-down-past-your-knees-look… so it is not really appealing for around town use. But for out on the trail, these additional 8 inches of fabric make a huge difference. For trail-town-while-doing-laundry, it could be highly beneficial ;)
Having owned (personally bought) every version of the ZPacks Rain Jackets, the new Challenger was a rather drastic change as I saw it – a change in fabrics, a new colour, and the option to have a two-way zipper. And I was right – the new fabric while going backwards in MVTR performance, brings with it a great new color and feel and the ability to use it around town in day-to-day life.
If you spend most of your time wearing a rain jacket while out on the trail, the new Challenger in the extra-long-length and 2-way zipper, as well as adding pit zips, is absolutely the best way to go!
If you spend most of your time wearing a rain jacket in town, an urban yuppie, for sure order up this new version of the jacket, just go with the default options. Ditch the extra length, hood strap, pit zips, etc and just have yourself one very great looking, high performing, three layer rain jacket. I already own the extra-long and plan to buy a regular length for town and day-to-day use here in the Redwood rain forest of Northern California.
I think if you happen to have one of the previous versions (especially the version right before the Challenger, generation three) and you do not care about the bunny suit affect, stick with the one you have. There has not been a better 3-layer rain jacket on the market than the version you have in regards to MVTR.
If you have a first generation, or even a second generation, and are thinking about upgrading, I would say go for it. Without doubt or hesitation. Order up one of these new ones for sure. Better MVTR, better durability, better look and feel.
Oh, lastly, after having used this latest version of the ZPacks Rain Jacket, I have sold all of my previous versions. This really is a rain jacket worth buying.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that I purchased my ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket with my own money.