ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Jacket Gear reviewPosted by Claire Walters on Sep 23, 2013 in Clothing, Featured, Trail Gear Gallery | 4 comments
Typically, I review my gear after having used it for a long period of time. In the case of my new rain gear, however, I’ll make an exception. I recently returned from an amazing 12 day backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada range, and during that trip I wore the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable (WPB) Cuben jacket far more than I’d expected it to be necessary. Since the experience is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d pump out a quick ‘short-term’ review.
The ZPacks WPB jacket is made without pockets or many other features. The wrist openings are adjustable via cordlock and shockcord, as is the hood. The waterproof zipper is typical of ultralight rain gear, and doesn’t let any water in at all. The adjustable hood has a stiffened brim to keep rain from landing on the wearer’s face. Bonded seams prevent leaks and mean you never have to seal the seams. That’s about it, and at 4.5 ounces (size Medium), this jacket is nearly as light as an emergency poncho and far more reliable.
The material is certainly something to write home about. Constructed of two layers of eVent membrane with high-strength Dyneema fibers between them, this 1.42 ounce/square yard version of cuben fiber is the lightest 3-layer, waterproof-breathable material on the market today. Silnylon is a bit lighter, but is not breathable at all and I’ve found it all but unusable (for me) in the rain. Where silnylon is clammy and can wet out in certain situations, the WPB Cuben remains waterproof and hasn’t felt clammy yet!
I received the jacket at the end of June 2013 and took it for a spin during an exploratory trip on the Benson Plateau out in the Columbia Gorge of Oregon. In healthy Oregon tradition, I received plenty of ‘test rain’. I wore the jacket while moving for approximately 7 hours and continued to wear it while pitching my camp. The added warmth was excellent as the sun went down and I stayed completely dry from both the light (but oppressively constant) rain.
The most striking first impression was that the jacket did not feel at all clammy against my bare skin; this is something I could not get over while wearing a silnylon rain jacket. The WPB Cuben jacket also blocked the wind very well, and I found the breathability to be adequate unless I was hiking uphill at a fair speed. As a naturally warm (read: sweaty) person, I was a bit wary of a rain jacket without pit zips, but I had no issues on my first trip.
My second trip with the WPB Cuben jacket was an attempt on Middle Sister in the Central Oregon Cascades. Despite a poorly planned trip that did not end in a successful summit, I had a chance to try the jacket in some colder conditions at elevation. I’d expected that climbing in the jacket would create some moisture management issues, but was pleasantly surprised once again. Not once did I overheat enough to require removing the jacket. While lounging around the fire at camp, I wore this rather than my Montbell ExLight and was plenty warm in temps down to the low forties.
I took my ZPacks WPB Cuben jacket with me to the Sierra and was VERY glad to have it. While this twelve day trek was awesome and the best trip of my summer, there were four consecutive days of severe thunderstorms, heavy rains, and pea-sized hail to contend with. Being above 10,000’ on an exposed hillside in a thunderstorm is intimidating enough without having to deal with being soaked with sweat or cold rain. An emergency poncho worked relatively well for my hiking partner, but he did end up cold and wet on a few occasions.
For several hours of each of those four days, we were pelted with rain and hail. The very wet, Northwest-like conditions made me feel right at home, and the WPB jacket performed exceptionally. My head hurt from being repeatedly pelted by hailstones, and my feet kept getting soaked, but my torso and legs (thanks to my ULA Rain Kilt — more about that soon) remained warm and dry.
In conjunction with the ZPacks WPB jacket, I wore a ULA Rain Kilt during adverse conditions. It is a simple sheet of Silnylon with Velcro attachment points and a draw cord, but it works much like the bottom half of a poncho. In my case, the jacket extended over the kilt a bit, preventing any rain from getting in between the two garments. The two items worked very well together, and is a combination I’d highly recommend for all but the wettest conditions. In fact, I anticipate replacing my ULA kilt with a ZPacks CloudKilt, as the Silnylon material is rather fragile and has torn in a few places.
I did some running after getting into camp one evening (I know, that’s weird) and wore the WPB Cuben jacket. I found that a steady pace of around 5 mph in mid-50s temperatures kept me from overheating and sweating. I ran several miles downhill and then hiked back uphill and never once felt clammy in the jacket. I can say from experience that even my most recent previous shell would have made me sweat considerably under those conditions.
Typically, I carry a windshirt (Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Anorak) when I’m out in the wilderness. Since I’ve had the ZPacks WPB Cuben jacket, I haven’t felt the need to carry the windshirt in addition to my shell. This saves me an additional 1.7 ounces, and I don’t miss the windshirt. I think that if the Ghost Whisperer were a bit more breathable, I’d be more hesitant to abandon it in favor of the Cuben jacket, but it really isn’t much more breathable than the WPB Cuben. To be fair, I think most windshirts are more breathable than the Ghost Whisperer, so it might not suit everyone to ditch their trusted windshirt.
This is my only major concern. Cuben feels extremely fragile. Intellectually, I’m aware that it is a bombproof material and is taking the outdoor industry by (rather slow and expensive) storm, but it still feels paper-thin and wimpy. I own several pieces of cuben gear, including some dry bags, my favorite backpack, my hammock tarp, and now this jacket. I’ve never had any issues with the material coming apart, but the jacket would be more susceptible to abrasion than any of my other pieces.
So far, I’ve seen a bit of discoloration where the heather-gray color of the material is being rubbed away, exposing a darker color underneath. The places where my shoulder straps sit and where my backpack rests against my back are the only areas of significant discoloration. This hasn’t affected the overall performance of the jacket, but I was surprised to see it occur after only a few full days of wear. This has been touched on by other reviewers, and long-term use seems to indicate that it is strictly an aesthetic change; the cuben fiber is not deteriorating.
Typically, rain gear stays in a hiker’s pack most of the time. As a result, I’ve always had trouble justifying the weight of even the lightest 2.5 – 3 layer waterproof breathable(-ish) jackets available on the commercial market, but I can’t imagine bushwhacking or long-distance backpacking in a flimsy poncho or even a slimy Silnylon rain jacket. The 4.5 ounce weight will ensure that I never complain about a heavy rain jacket, and I won’t hesitate to toss it in my pack.
I’m excited to use this jacket through the winter and give it a fair shake! This review will be updated as I spend some more time running, hiking, and scrambling around the very wet and rainy Pacific Northwest.
**Note: The jacket has been updated since this review was written. The update to the description says: “The material has been updated with a micro-checkered pattern in the eVent membrane for even better breathability!” My jacket was made with the previous version of the material, and I have found the breathability of the material to be adequate; a slightly more breathable material at the same price is certainly a plus!**
Date of Purchase: 6/25/2013
Date of Review: 9/19/2013
Purchase Price: $225
Weight: 4.5 ounces
Material: 3-Layer, Waterproof & Breathable Cuben Fiber
Color: Heather Gray
Jesse hikes roughly 30 miles per week, and goes backpacking (2-3 days at a time) twice a month. Major multi-day trips 5-10 times per year. Jesse has hiked most of the long trails in Pennsylvania (all of the NCT in PA, the Loyalsock trail, the Quehanna trail, etc.) He’s summited most of the lesser peaks in the PNW.
His obsession with the lightest gear on the market has become increasingly expensive – so he found a business partner and began OneLife Wilderness Products as a means to feed the addiction. OneLife products is available in the ODTG store, along with other items that Jesse uses and swears by.
Jesse is working with Outdoor Trail Gear as lead gear tester, reviewer & blogger. Most of his gear reviews will be long-term and in-depth – written to help other hikers make informed decisions about what items might work for them in the long run.