12.07.11

Travel gear reviews: wash me often?

Posted in Reviews, Travel at 9:00 by RjZ

I, um, lost my old waterproof, breathable shell. I left it on the back of a chair in a restaurant in Germany and when I returned a few hours later, there was no sign of it and no one had turned it in. It had always worked well, but even if I claim I’m a gear aficionado, I am also a bargain hunter who is often swayed more by how good a deal something is than whether it’s the perfect piece of gear. That last jacket was a two-and-a-half layer (a bit more on that later) waterproof from Mountain Hardware called Conduit. It always worked great, but I had bought the jacket at clearance for half off (remember, waterproof, breathable shells can cost upwards of $300, so half off is a load of money) and it had these weird, narrow, sleeves meant to stay out of the way when climbing. Wear a bulky fleece (or maybe even a primaloft jacket) underneath and you could feel like you couldn’t move your arms. So, actually, finding a new one wasn’t really a bad thing.

Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson, because the jacket I wound up with was chosen at least as much thanks to its close-out clearance price as it was because it met my criteria. I wanted a tough shell, not too heavy, helmet-sized hood, and pockets above a backpack waste belt. I didn’t want anything else, including all the crazy features and ideas that some pieces of gear which seem to have been designed more by clever marketers than people who actually use the gear.

This jacket’s big change, though, was e-vent waterproof breathable fabric. Start looking for a shell and you’ll quickly see Gore-Tex and then dozens of other materials. Gore-Tex subdivides into a high-end XCR and a less breathable, much lighter Packlite. Most of the rest are so-called 2-layer (or 2 ½ layer) which bond some form of poly-urethane to some nylon. E-vent is a 3-layer material that’s been around for some time (I have a pair of boots from more than five years ago with an e-vent logo on them) but only recently started showing up in shells. They claim it’s so breathable that jackets don’t need pit-zips and it breaths even when completely dry (apparently Gore-Tex isn’t breathable until some of your sweat or the world’s humidity have wetted the fabric).

It rained, either a lot or little, so often in Tierra del Fuego, that I never left the hotel without the jacket on. It got plenty of testing. Short review, I was always dry and remarkably comfortable no matter what. How folks climbed Cerro Torre and Mt. Fitz Roy without this stuff I will never know.

The real cool part about this new jacket though, came after I’d returned home. Right on the jacket there is a label that asks “wash me often.” The instructions go on to suggest you iron the jacket (on the lowest steam setting, sure, but that’s scary hot for a nylon jacket, isn’t it?) to restore the water repellent finish. Now that’s just crazy talk. Justified or not, I’ve always been terrified of washing Gore-Tex, let alone ironing it, for fear that it would destroy the water repellency of the garment, or more likely, melt it.

I’ve actually had the jacket a little while and it’s been keeping the water for while, but drops of H-two-O certainly were not beading up and rolling off the surface. I nervously pushed the heat up on the iron until only the barest puffs of steam came out and then, thinking this was going to be a costly experiment, started ironing the jacket. Once done, a quick test under the shower and lo and behold, water off an e-vent wearing duck’s back—it’s good as new! Turns out it wasn’t so bad to lose my old jacket, but I hope the guy in Germany wearing my jacket get’s his arms stuck in the tight sleeves.

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