Buyers Guide: Lightweight Waterproof Jackets

by
October 30, 2015

Sanny takes five excellent waterproof jackets from Rab, Berghause, Keela, Haglofs & Dakine out in the rain to find the one that stands out.

Brand: Hagloffs, Berghaus, Keela, Rab, Dakine
Product: L.I.M 3, Vapor Storm Active, Saxon, Flashpoint, Calibre
From: Hagloffs, Berghaus, Keela, Rab, Dakine
Price: £85 - £270
Tested: by Sanny for 2 months

By Sanny

Trying to find the right super lightweight waterproof jacket for mountain biking is no easy task. Aside from the almost overwhelming choice of jackets available, finding a waterproof and breathable jacket that can cope with a sweaty body working at full intensity in filthy conditions, is no small challenge. What works for walking, climbing and road biking doesn’t necessarily translate over to being a good jacket for mountain biking.

jackets rab keela dakine hagloffs berghaus singletrack

However, with the advent of adventure racing and multi activity disciplines, big name manufacturers  in the outdoor industry have cottoned on to the fact that it’s possible to design and bring to market jackets that work well for a variety of disciplines and which just happen to meet the needs of mountain bikers.

The best waterproof is always the one you have with you, unless its bulk and weight mean you left it at home

So what makes a good, lightweight mountain biking jacket?  First and foremost, being waterproof without giving you that horrible boil in the bag feeling that you can get while climbing in the rain is a given. Stopping the water getting in is of limited value if you are soaked in sweat. A hood (ideally one which fits over a helmet) is another key feature, although they tend to be a love ’em or hate ’em thing with most riders. Lightweight and packability are important – the best waterproof is always the one you have with you unless its bulk and weight mean you left it at home. Able to withstand the odd off and not costing the earth are key considerations also. With this in mind, we gathered five lightweight jackets together and put them through their paces.

Haglofs L.I.M. 3

DSC07002-thinConstructed from Gore Paclite®, the L.I.M 3 comes backed with Haglofs considerable experience in designing lightweight hard-shell jackets. The jacket comprises a full length, waterproof style zip with a concealed rain flap behind it. The chest features a single Napoleon pocket which will take a phone while the waist has a draw cord for adjustment while the tail is dropped for a bit of extra butt coverage. On the sleeves, there is a neat thumb loop feature which is an improvement on the previous version which tended to leave me with damp wrists, while the cuffs are elasticated but not so much as to make rolling up sleeves a chore. The hood design is excellent. It easily accommodates a helmet but can be cinched down to move easily with your head when helmetless. It features a stiffening peak which stops the hood flopping above your brow although I would have preferred to have a wire peak for when shoving it into my pack. Breathability is pretty good although not being a three layer shell, it did suffer a little more condensation than some of the other jackets in the test.

Overall: The L.I.M 3 is a good looking and well-fitting jacket that works both on and off the bike.

Berghaus Vapor Storm Active

DSC06963-thinDesigned by their MtnHaus™ Design Team, the Vapor Storm Active Jacket is an interesting take on how to cope with condensation in a waterproof jacket. Constructed from three layer Gore Active® which is designed for fast and light activity, the jacket feature waterproof storm vents on the chest, side and back which result in this being the most breathable jacket on test without letting any water in.  When the weather goes tits up, the slightly thicker material gives a real sense of protection. The waist is easily adjusted while the cuffs are elasticated with thumb loops. Personally, I would have preferred these to have Velcro adjusters as they were a little too loose for my liking, letting some water in when used in driving rain. The hood is adjustable with a stiffened peak although it doesn’t fit over a helmet. The back length was the shortest of the jackets tested while there is a single Napoleon pocket for valuables. Reflective highlights help the jacket stand out in headlights when used on the road.

Overall: In terms of breathability and ultimate rain protection, the Vapor Storm Active is a great choice on horrid days out when you expect to be riding in liquid sunshine.

Keela Saxon

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Hailing from the North East of Scotland, the Keela Saxon is the cheapest jacket on test but it’s certainly not lacking in features. Constructed from 2.5 layer Flylight Aqua fabric, the breathability felt on a par with the Haglofs L.I.M. 3.The hood is helmet compatible and features a wired peak (whoop!). The full length zip is waterproof with a concealed rain flap behind it. The back is scooped which gives good additional coverage for your lower back. The cuffs feature both Velcro adjusters and thumb loops while there are two zipped hand pockets. Sensibly, Keela have avoided mesh pockets and used waterproof material for the inner pocket which helps eliminate water ingress while giving you somewhere to put your hands in cold and wet weather when off the bike. At the back, there is a horizontal storage pocket. I never used it but it can be flipped inside out and used to pack down the jacket. There’s even a Velcro flap to cinch down the hood when not in use. While having a slightly more generous cut than the other jackets on test, it never felt flappy in use.

Overall: At only £84.95, the Saxon packs a heavyweight punch at a flyweight price.

Rab Flashpoint

  • Price: £199.99
  • Weight as tested: 186 grams including supplied stuff sack
  • From: Rab, rab.equipment

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Weighing in at a mere 186 grams, Rab’s Flashpoint is unbelievably light. Despite its wafer thin feel, the three layer Flashpoint ™ fabric proved completely waterproof throughout the duration of the test. Rab have a well-earned reputation for manufacturing jackets for the worst of conditions and the Flashpoint is no exception. It’s a full featured mountain jacket. The hood is helmet compatible  while all seams are taped with the narrowest taping I have ever used. I suspect that the combination of this and the ultralight fabric contribute to the jacket’s excellent moisture management meaning that I would also happily use it instead of  a windproof. As is the current fashion, the jacket features one Napoleon pocket while the waist can be adjusted via a single handed draw cord. Pack size using the supplied stuff sack is tiny. I have used lightweight windproof jackets that don’t pack down so small! The full length zip features and double flap internal rain flap. The cuffs feature Velcro adjusters while there is enough material to roll the sleeves up, if required. The grey and orange looks a little bit future world but the jacket also comes in orange.

Overall: Rab haven’t just raised the bar for lightweight jackets but smashed it. For the level of protection it offers in such a small pack size, there’s no excuse not to take it on every ride.

Dakine Caliber

  • Price: £129.99
  • Weight as tested: 433 grams
  • From: Dakine, dakine.com

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Dakine have a well-earned reputation for well thought out riding kit. The Caliber is their take on what a mountain biking jacket should be. Constructed from a 2.5 layer unbranded waterproof  fabric, the jacket was the heaviest on test. However, the heavier duty stretch fabric lent the  jacket a real feeling of crash proof durability. The Caliber did a good job of keeping torrential rain out while the pit zips helped to stop things from getting too steamy. However, when worn against bare arms, the jacket had a bit of a tacky feel to it. The cut is slightly on the boxy side but the dropped hem at the back kept the rain off my lower back. The hood is helmet compatible although felt a little basic compared to the other jackets on test, opting for a Velcro volume adjuster.  Having hand pockets, albeit mesh lined ones, was a welcome feature. However, for my six foot one frame, the arms were cut a bit on the short side leaving me with partially exposed wrists and ultimately damp cuffs. If your arms are less orangutan than mine, this shouldn’t be a problem though.

Overall: A good effort from Dakine at a reasonable price. Just make sure you try for fit before parting with your hard earned queenie vouchers.

Verdict

Of the five jackets we tested, none struck a bum note. All have their strengths and we would happily commend all of them for your consideration. It’s great to see that manufacturers have really upped their game and are now making jackets that meet the exacting demands of mountain bikers. Drawing on hood designs pioneered and perfected in the alpine climbing sector, cutting fabric so as to reduce wind flap and employing dropped tail designs mean that we mountain bikers now have a real embarrassment of choice when it comes to keeping the rain out.

If you want the ultimate in durability and don’t mind the extra weight, the Dakine Caliber is an excellent choice. For breathability, the combination of Gore Active™ and clever venting design means that the Berghaus Vapor Storm should be on your list. The Haglofs L.I.M 3 is proof that the Swedes really know their onions when it comes to designing a jacket for biking. Were it to come in Gore Active™ , it would be the clear winner of the test.

Which leaves us with two to choose from. At a mere £84.95, the level of performance on offer from the Keela Saxon is astounding. To have so many useful features crammed into such a well performing jacket had me double checking the price. The Rab Flashlight is breathable, completely waterproof , incredibly light and packs down to a tiny size. It edges the Keela  in terms of overall performance although the Keela feels that bit more durable. As such, I’m going to break with tradition and award the Singletrack recommended award to both the Keela Saxon and the Rab Flashlight.

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Review Info

Brand: Hagloffs, Berghaus, Keela, Rab, Dakine
Product: L.I.M 3, Vapor Storm Active, Saxon, Flashpoint, Calibre
From: Hagloffs, Berghaus, Keela, Rab, Dakine
Price: £85 - £270
Tested: by Sanny for 2 months

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