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Gear Guy

What's a good ultra-light raincoat for international travel?

I'm looking for a raincoat that is lightweight and very packable, while also being waterproof and fairly breathable. I travel internationally a lot and need something that will look decent while in a major city yet also work while on the trail the next day. I'd like a jacket that doesn't have huge zipper covers or too many excessive components. I want something simple in a neutral or dark color so I don't stand out in foreign countries as much. Any suggestions for a durable, multi-functional, and ultra-packable raincoat that is lightweight and not terribly expensive? Jonathan Achter Minnetonka, Minnesota

A: A very good thing I'm seeing is a trend toward lighter rainwear. Manufacturers have come to see lightweight as a real competitive advantage in outerwear, and with new technology that makes it possible to cut ounces, they're trying to do so.

One jacket that's new this spring and that I like a lot is the Cloudveil Drizzle ($235), which uses a new waterproof-breathable fabric from Toray, the Japanese fabric maker that supplies many U.S. companies with good-quality non-Gore-Tex material. The Drizzle uses what Cloudveil calls a two-and-a-half-ply approach, versus two-ply with a mesh liner, or the heavier three-ply fabric sandwich. The Drizzle's fabric has a somewhat traditional polyurethane-coated layer that's the main water barrier laminated to an outer face fabric for protection. The half layer is a light lining that's applied to the inside of the jacket. Without adding the weight of a full layer, it helps protected the water barrier and absorbs a little moisture off the skin or base layer so the inside of the jacket doesn't feel clammy. It seems to work very well. The Drizzle is a little techy-looking, but not bad. And it's very packable and light (16.5 ounces).

Another light jacket I had a chance to try this past winter is REI's new Convergence Zone ($135). It's not quite as breathable as the Drizzle, which in turn is not quite as breathable as Gore-Tex, but it does fine in most conditions and is very waterproof and light (16 ounces). In the dark blue version, it's quite low-key, and not out of place worn over a sweater on the way to dinner in Rome.

My third choice in the light-and-not-too-expensive is the Patagonia Lightning ($189), which is similar to the Drizzle in construction, using a two-and-a-half-ply fabric. Weighs even less, though-just over 13 ounces.

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