Gear Guy


What's the best ultralight jacket for the money?

So everyone I know agrees the Marmot Oracle is a fantastic storm protection jacket. But sometimes you have to take the advice of longtime friends... and throw it away because they are not the Gear Guy. I want an ultralight jacket to throw in my pack while hiking. I bought my wife the Marmot Oracle, which she loves, but what do you think about products using PacLite such as the GoLite Phantom Jacket, or the Marmot Osprey? I already have an Arc'teryx Beta AR, but is that light enough, or would PacLite be worth it? Jeremiah Eugene, Oregon

A: Marmot's Oracle ($150; is indeed a fine lightweight jacket—especially for the money. It basically uses the same material as Marmot's immensely popular PreCip ($99), but with a slightly different design and the incorporation of stretch panels for more mobility. It works well for backpacking, light climbing, that sort of thing. My own belief is that if your wife likes hers, you'd like one for yourself.

But what about PacLite? I think this material, introduced about five years ago by the Gore-Tex folks, remains something of a mystery to many consumers. Here's the deal: Gore-Tex is delicate stuff, and needs protection from abrasion and dirt. On "regular" Gore-Tex jackets (and, for that matter, all laminated clothing), the Gore-Tex layer is sandwiched between a face fabric (the stuff you see on the outside) and either a lining fabric (three-ply) or a mesh liner (two-ply). PacLite retains the face fabric but eliminates the inner liner by adding thousands of little rubbery dots to the inside surface of the Gore membrane. These little dots don't add much weight, but do protect the membrane from abrasion by pushing the membrane away from your layering clothes.

The stuff works pretty well, but is expensive and has been a marketing challenge. The first generation of it was stiff, and the inner layer changed color to an alarming degree. Those problems have been ironed out, but price factors do remain. The Marmot Osprey was $300, and was such a poor seller that Marmot discontinued it this year. GoLite's Phantom uses third-generation PacLite and is priced pretty well at $228. Weight is an impressive 13 ounces in the large size. The Marmot Oracle is 17 ounces for a medium. Another good lightweight jacket is Patagonia's Lightning ($210;, which uses a proprietary waterproof-breathable material and weighs only 12 ounces. So that's a good choice, too.

Still, I'm inclined to encourage you to go with the Oracle. For the price, it's fantastic, lightweight rain gear.

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