Sunday, July 13, 2014

BLOG 72. Most Waterproof Lightweight Rain Coat I've Used

Reliable rain gear ranks high on my “most important item” list. When I first began to paddle wild Canadian rivers, I relied on a heavy bright yellow foul-weather rain suit, like those worn by sailors and fishermen.  Later, I switched to lighter weight Gore-tex, often wearing two ultralight jackets, one over the other with my PFD sandwiched inbetween. But I’ve long been on the prowl for a lightweight rain coat that works as well as my old yellow rain suit—one that keeps out water no matter how hard and how long it rains, and doesn’t become a sauna  when I’m working hard.

I recently field-tested a Bergans Super Lett Raincoat. I was quite impressed. It is very light, reasonably quiet (not too crinkly) and in more than four days of near continuous, hypothermic quality rain, it didn’t leak a drop. This is the first lightweight rain coat I’ve used that is absolutely waterproof in sustained rain over the long haul.
Rainy days make me smile--that is, as long as I'm dry!
The jacket is constructed from three bonded layers of fabrics: polyester, nylon and polyurethane. The inner layer, called Dermizax®, is similar in function to Gore-tex (repels water, eliminates perspiration) but there are no pores that can clog with oil or dirt. The manufacturer defines Dermizax® as a “hydrophilic, non-porous membrane—i.e., a water loving film with no holes in it.  It breathes by absorbing vapor molecules on one side and releasing them on the other side. The claimed advantage is that during high activity, it can reduce condensation on the inside of the garment. When sweat is transported away from your body, it reaches the cold surface of the outer-shell. If the sweat-vapor condenses to water before it gets there, it will stay on the inside and make you wet. At least, that’s the theory.

 The hang-tag reads:
·      Waterproofness and moisture permeability even in extreme cold.
·      Superb moisture permeability for comfort even in warm weather.
·      Minimizes condensation on the fabric’s inner layer, preventing rapid heat loss.
·      Superior flexibility for improved freedom of motion.
·      Durable fabric which stands up to wear from frequent use of backpacks.
Kopka River, Ontario. Near flood water and constant rain. June 2014
It rained 4.5 of the 7 days on a recent (June 13-21) Kopka River canoe trip in northern Ontario. Not normal rain, mind you, but icy, hypothermic rain that continued through the nights.  Day temperatures were in the 40’s and 50’s; night temps in the 30’s. My seven friends all wore Gore-tex rain coats—different brands and weights. By the end of the first day, they were all were wet. I was completely dry in my Super Lett jacket. Really! This scenario was repeated daily.  They were wet; I was dry. I’ve never used a lightweight rain coat that worked so well.  My wife Susie and I have about a dozen different lightweight rain shells—most of them Gore-tex, but all will leak if it rains hard enough and long enough. Even more impressive is that I wasn’t just sitting around on this trip: I was constantly paddling and portaging and sloshing through wet vegetation. No rain touched my skin. It was quite remarkable. To be honest, I still can’t believe it.
Rain...nearly every day!
Time will tell how this Dermizax® jacket will hold up over the long haul. And, I’ll need some warm summer rains coupled with tough portages to see how well it dissipates sweat. Look for a long term review next year.  

And now the bad news. Retail price on this jacket is around $300—a function of the high cost of everything in Norway.  Still, if you’re going in harm’s way and can expect long, icy rains, this jacket is worth the price.  But for warm summer Boundary Waters trips, there are many less expensive jackets which are adequate.  

Cliff Jacobson

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