I get presents once in a while. This past winter I got one from my parents, a rain layer for my commuting. Nothing fancy, and in a sense the nothing fancy part was all right. Because in the rain jacket world, cheap means impermeable -- like the rubberized pants that I keep rolled up in my backpack, for as many years as I possibly can. Impermeability was fine for me in the Seattle winter, where I got routinely pounded with rain and my plastic outer layer saved me from wearing warm layers that would just get soaked. Sure, if I rode more than my commute, the inner layers would get soaked with sweat instead, but, well, let's just say Seattle cyclists have plenty of other problems in December (January, February, June...).
Every now and then, however, it's nice to emerge from my low-info cave and discover that the tradeoffs I chose to make didn't represent the full range of choices. Because O2 Rainwear, of balmy Minneapolis, asked me to demo their Calhoun model jacket, whereupon I discovered that you can, in fact, repel water without sealing yourself in suffocating plastic. O2's products, which start at $35 for the basic shell and peak out at $185 for the convertible, bells-and-whistles Nokomis, boast a fabric which is porous enough for breathing but fine enough to stop water. I know, this isn't news in the industry, but the experience of riding in one was news to me.
From a distance it seems like the O2 angle is to sell you a top performing coat for perhaps a little less than the top-dollar stuff. Does a Showers Pass jacket that'll run you $250 do something you can't get from the half-the-price Calhoun? Maybe, though I can't think of what. I rode around in the windy, wet Seattle slop in the Calhoun (~$120) for a couple weeks, both commutes and multiple hour rides, and was able to check off the following:
- kept me dry
- didn't feel like a sweat lodge
- blocked the wind
- fit trimly enough to not feel any billowing
Actually, I've taken to wearing the Calhoun around off the bike, since stylistically it's a big upgrade from my standard-Northwest-issue Mountain Hardware coat. But that's not the important part. What matters is that it does what it said it would, keep my body temperature under control while repelling rain, and by all appearances the construction is very solid. Zippers are firm and grippy, and the stitching is covered over to stop seepage. It's got pit zips, cinches in the waist and back of the neck for really trimming, and velcro sleeve cinches. And only one pocket: this is a rain layer that's meant to fit trim and be light. If you're into going fast on a rainy day.
Check out some more details on the flip, or at O2 Rainwear.com.
Here's how they explain their technology:
Our Calhoun, Nokomis and Primary Series gear are designed using our exclusive 3Flow Performance Fabrics. Engineered to keep you dry, this ultra-breathable fabric features millions of microscopic pores that seal out water, snow and wind while letting your skin breathe so you won’t be drenched in sweat. It’s also thin and lightweight to keep you comfortable in all weather conditions.
Images courtesy O2 Rainwear, Inc.