Gear Guy

What’s a good non-Gore-Tex rain shell?

Are there any materials that can offer reasonable rain protection and still breathe well? I can't use Gore-Tex in anything but the coldest conditions without getting significantly dp. How does REI's Elements line stack up? Ken Johnson Hollister, California

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Well, Ken, you’ve run into the conundrum of waterproof-breathables: NONE of them is free from at least some condensation, not to mention pure sweat buildup. They certainly “breathe” better than a straight PVC-coated fabric does. But perfection? Nope. And in fact, Gore-Tex as a general rule is regarded as the most breathable product out there -— at least for now. Plus, some people just give off more water vapor than others. I have a good friend who won’t wear a rain jacket in anything less than a downpour. Otherwise, the water building inside the jacket is worse than the drenching he gets from going unprotected.

REI “Elements” clothing, such as the Convergence Zone Jacket ($135) is perfectly good stuff, particularly for the price. Like many Gore-Tex items, it uses a three-ply laminate, with an outer face fabric and inner liner fabric acting as a “sandwich” around the waterproof/breathable layer, which is coated. But it lacks pit zips, and the fabric itself does not breathe quite as well as Gore-Tex. In its defense, the Convergence Zone does have a lining that dissipates moisture well and feels less clammy than some competitors. Still, it’s not going to perform as well as a jacket that costs $300 more.

Another good non-Gore-Tex piece is the new Drizzle from Cloudveil ($225). It’s a “2.5-ply” jacket, meaning it has a middle waterproof layer, an outer face fabric, and a very light interior coating that’s sort of half a layer. I had a chance to use one this past winter, and though it breathed very well. Plus it vents nicely (and venting often is more important that the fabric breathability) and is very lightweight. So you might take a look at it as well.

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