I have a rather long history of writing about wind shirts and have been a huge advocate of them over the years – even in times when big name hikers were saying they have no place in a hiker’s backpack – yet through it all, when I hit the trail, be it for a long hike, a day hike, trail running, or just a speed walk through my neighborhood, a wind jacket is something that goes with me. Really, why not. They are stupid light, pack down crazy small, and perform the job which they are designed to do.
The wind jacket that has been going along with me, for almost a year as of the time of this article (May 2016), has been the ZPacks ‘Ventum‘ Wind Shell Jacket. On my calibrated scale the wind jacket from ZPacks is an amazing 54 grams (1.9 ounces) and that is with a hood and a full zipper!
If you have followed me for any amount of time you are probably aware that the Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket has had a place dear and near to my heart for years. I have, over the years, continued to proclaim it has the best all around wind jacket you can buy. While it may not perform the best in every category, time after time, it has continued to score as the best “middle of the road” wind jacket. At 55 grams (1.94 ounces) the hooded Montbell Tachyon Anorak is one gram heavier than the ZPacks Wind Jacket and sadly only has a half-zipper, which is why I do not own it – I really do prefer full zipper tops.
When ZPacks released their wind jacket there were hikers who became instant fans, and those who remained hesitant. I fell into the latter category. I could not see any reason to give up my beloved Tachyon. However, the dynamics of my outdoor activity has changed and in some ways the Tachyon began to falter in POU (purpose of use) and I began to seek out alternatives.
Thanks to one of my readers I was given an Inov-8 Race Ultra Shell HZ. It became the first of a set of alternative wind jackets I have tested to see if one could meet the demands for the change in the style of my outdoor activities. It, however, after a fair bit of use seemed to have a poor performing RET level for me. It claimed to have a RET in the 11 range, I put it up in the high 25+ range (very bad.) I would rank the Tachyon in the mid 20 range (also not all that good.) On the positive side, the Ultra Shell HZ has some truly amazing 4-way stretch fabric, it really does blow me away just how amazing that fabric is. Just a shame it could not breath better. So after the Inov-8 shell not meeting my POU it was time to hunt down another wind jacket for testing, and the next on my list was the ZPacks Wind Jacket.
At the time that I got my ZPacks Wind Jacket they offered two different versions made from two different fabrics. A Blue .7 oz/sqyd ripstop nylon fabric that ZPacks tradenamed Ventum, and a Green Pertex GL fabric. They have since stopped producing the jacket in the Green Pertex GL fabric, shortly after Richard Nisley tested and I published his results of the two fabrics, within my article “Wind Jackets, Take 2” – which is very likely the most detailed and popular article out here on the internet right when it comes to the top performing wind jackets. The ZPacks Wind Jacket made with the ripstop nylon fabric scored in the middle of most of the tests.
Purpose of Use:
Let me just inject here the most important thing I said in all of my wind jacket articles and reviews to date:
The reality here, folks, is that we are comparing WIND JACKETS!!!
A wind jacket is NOT a rain jacket.
A wind jacket is NOT a highly breathable garment.
A wind jacket IS DESIGNED TO BLOCK WIND.
With the understanding that the primary purpose of a WIND JACKET is to BLOCK WIND, let me talk a bit about how the ZPacks Wind Jacket has performed, for me, in this most critical aspect.
I have found the jacket to perform at and sometimes slightly above expectations. Every time I have put on the jacket it has done the job it was designed to do. It has not suffered some of the issues I have had with other jackets, but it has not excelled above and beyond any other wind jacket either – no wind jacket that I have tested has.
For testing purposes I did put the ZPacks Wind Jacket into weather conditions that it was not designed to do. Specifically that of wearing it in the rain. The garment does, of course, like any garment, let water soak through once it wets out. It was never enough to get my base layer wet – usually before that happened I just took it off. If I was wearing only a tshirt I could feel the water soak through onto my arms, which was only really in issue when there was a very strong cold wet wind and it was raining. However, that is a situation where the jacket is being put into a situation outside – so let us not condemn it for what it was not designed to do, rather be aware of what it is designed to do and not do, and thereby know when is the right time to pull out the rain jacket or take off the wind jacket. Not rocket science here.
One thing that the jacket lacks is a bottom draw hem. I find this to be a slight oversight on the part of ZPacks. Some may recall the rather helpful video that Craig Delger of ProliteGear did back in 2014 where he used a FLIR Thermal Imaging Camera on some jackets. One of the key aspects he presented was the insane amount of heat loss that escapes from jackets not having a bottom hem. Now, in the world of wind jackets, and their history of horrible RET ratings, having heat escape is a good thing. When I recently contacted ZPacks about this, specifically ZPacks owner, Joe V, he responded, “There is no elastic at the hem. I did try one but I didn’t like how it made the wind shell ride up. If you wear a backpack belt over the wind shell it is not necessary.” While I can understand his point about having a backpack belt keep it secure, the vast majority of the time that I have worn the ZPacks Ventum I have not been wearing a pack that actually has a belt. My small volume backpacks do not have hip belts. My running vests, which I use more and more these days, do not have hip belts. Bikepackers do not have hip belts. Kayakers do not have hip belts. There are so many different types of activities that I and fellow adventures participate in that does not involve having hip belts. Anyway, while having air flow through the bottom of the jacket might be nice to help reduce RET, in the end, when I want a wind jacket to do what it is I own it for, to block wind, it should be apt at blocking wind, including from the bottom. This really is the only quasi-negative aspect about the ZPacks Ventum, beyond what I feel is a rather high RET rating.
I know some would say ‘ditch the full length zipper‘, but I would not because of how often a wind jacket can be put on and taken off, not to mention I just prefer full length zipper top garments. If it was only offered in a pull over, half or quarter zip, I would not buy it.
I do not have a video specifically on the jacket, but here is one that is absolutely worth watching:
Where To Buy:
You can buy the ZPacks ‘Ventum‘ Wind Shell Jacket directly from ZPacks.
Overall I have found the ZPacks ‘Ventum‘ Wind Shell Jacket to be a great wind jacket.
From a strictly numbers/testing perspective, based on previously mentioned testing, the jacket falls into the happy middle area. At some point you have to pick either breathability, waterproofness or wind blocking. When it comes to what matters in a wind jacket, the ZPacks Ventum is high on the success list.
From a real life, in the field and around town performance perspective, I have found the ZPacks Ventum to be something I have enjoyed owning and using. The fabric is nice and soft. The fabric is the best at wind blocking of any wind jacket I have used. The RET could be lower, but that is the trade off for a higher wind blocking aspect. The design and construction makes it about as lightweight as it can possibly be made. The ZPacks ‘Ventum‘ Wind Shell Jacket has endured and proven itself. It is a keeper.