Gear Guy

Impulse Jacket     Photo: courtesy, Marmot

Q:

Which lightweight shell is rugged enough to hack it off-trail?

I need a rain jacket that can take the abuse of going off-trail. Something that shrugs off thorns, branches, and trunks with nary a RIP to be heard. And it needs to be light to handle the 90-degree, 90-percent-humidity days we enjoy each summer here in Rocksylvania. Any ideas? John Lebanon, Pennsylvania

A:I get questions like this fairly often. I always sit in mock horror and look at them on my 21" ViewSonic screen. And I say aloud to the two beagles sleeping in their bed behind my chair: “90 degrees, 90 percent humidity, and worried about a rain jacket?!?" I’m mainly a West Coast hiker, but on a travel story once I did backpack on the Gaspe Peninsular in Quebec, and the last thing on my mind was a rain jacket. I was utterly drenched WITHOUT one.

Anyway, anything as bulletproof as requested here would have to be a heavyweight three-ply jacket, something such as Arc’Teryx’s Beta AR ($399; arcteryx.com), which uses Gore-Tex XCR. It’s a very nice jacket, and very sturdy, but even at that it would have its limits to how many thorns and tree trunks it could fend off. Plus, you’d have steam coming out your sleeves.

Personally, I’d opt for the lightest jacket out there, and if it gains a few rips over the years before I retire it, well, there’s always duct tape. Marmot’s Impulse ($135; marmot.com) is sort of the default champion here. It’s light, well-ventilated, has a decent waterproof-breathable material, and doesn’t cost a fortune. Same for Mountain Hardwear’s Cohesion ($145; mountainhardwear.com), which, like the Impulse, uses a proprietary polyurethane-based laminate for good rain protection and adequate breathability. Outdoor Research’s Zealot ($199; outdoorresearch.com) uses Gore Pac-Lite for excellent breathability. The most durable jacket out there? No. But it would work well and be far more comfortable than heavier pieces.

The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.

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