By Mike Prince
For most of us who walk the hills and mountains being cold and wet is an accepted risk. I’d argue that it isn’t an inevitability however. I’ve written elsewhere that with current technologies, being cold and wet represents a failure to plan properly more often than anything else. Manufacturers like Rohan have made that planning process much easier as the years have gone by. Before shell waterproofs and fibre pile, being wet meant being cold and carrying the weight of wet clothing. Today it is possible to achieve class leading performance at weights that were undreamed of only 30 yrs ago.
This review is of the Rohan Elite waterproof jacket. It was a personal purchase and I have worn it regularly over the last 12 months – it wasn’t supplied for review.
Before talking about the jacket it is worth spending a moment considering where it fits in. We all have different approaches to outdoor equipment and clothing depending upon our priorities, environments and frequency of use. For many the task is to find a single jacket that will suit many activities, seasons and environments. In my case, I try to match the items used to the place, conditions and activity.
As a full time landscape photographer working predominantly in mountainous environments, my needs lie at two completely opposite ends of the spectrum. One extreme of kit is for standing still for hours in one spot through whatever conditions a winter’s day might bring. At the other extreme, I may be exploring and wishing to cover as much ground as my aching limbs will allow.
This jacket forms the cornerstone of my lightweight kit and has been used in everything from full winter conditions to classic Lakeland mild, wet summer days.
Before buying this jacket, I used Goretex Paclite items from LoweAlpine and Berghaus and most recently a Patagonia Torrentshell. This is the best of those by far.
The jacket is constructed from Rohan’s own Barricade 3-layer fabric. Compared with some of the obvious alternatives, especially those based on Pertex for example, the shell feels very substantial. It is a short jacket with a single front water resistant zip behind which there is a decent storm flap. Other means of ventilation such as pit zips have been eliminated to keep the weight and bulk down. There are two outer pockets, both high and placed to be out of the way of either a hip belt or harness. There is one inner pocket which doubles as the Packpocket. This is of a waterproof material rather than mesh. While I can see the benefits of mesh in terms or weight, breathability and drainage they seem too prone to getting snagged by the contents for me. The hood is adjustable for volume and is especially well designed for this user. It’s not advertised as helmet compatible but the beautiful design enables it to move exceptionally well when the head is turned from side to side. The weight quoted is 330g, my size M sample came in at 320g.
In my opinion there are places you can make cuts to save weight and and others that should never be interfered with. I’m happy that the overall length of the jacket is short, I’m 6ft tall but with a long torso and the jacket sits just fine for me. I carry a set of lightweight overtrousers (Please reintroduce the Elite overtrousers, Rohan) so the length isn’t a problem for protection. If you are committed to a long length, thigh covering jacket, this one isn’t for you. The sleeves are perfect, I hate any sleeve that is too short or that rides up and these work beautifully for me. The cuffs are easily adjustable by Velcro. I’ve never found pit zips to be worth the weight, cost or fuss they add so am pleased to see them eliminated.
In use this jacket is close to perfect for me. (Bearing in mind of course that most aspects of fit and performance are influenced by personal physiology, fitness and body shape). Some users have been critical of a slightly full cut, however I don’t find it baggy. More importantly in terms of extending the usable range of conditions my size medium allows a thermal baselayer, thin fleece mid layer and an insulated jacket to be worn comfortably underneath. All the photos are taken in this combination as it was 3 degrees and blowing a strong wind when I took it to photograph. I couldn’t recommend this jacket for a full on winter expedition on the high fells ( I don’t think that is the design brief), however I’d happily head for the high ground in Lakeland in full winter conditions with this jacket. As with all lightweight hoods, I’d be likely to pack a fleece balaclava to protect against wind driven hail hitting the side of my head but otherwise I’d be comfortable.
The experience is different for different body shapes but many Rohan items have a way of feeling that they were made to measure and this jacket is no exception. The fit is perfect for me, it feels comfortable and allows excellent freedom of movement. Without the means to perform laboratory tests I’d say the waterproofing, beading and breathability are at least as good as any jacket I’ve ever owned. Rohan suggest that this performance will survive repeated washings and I’ve no reason so far to doubt that. The tiny weight is matched of course by a tiny packed size and while the entire jacket does fit easily into its packapocket as shown, it will compress yet further when pushed into a rucksack.
It’s often my way to conclude a reflection by considering how things might have been done better. In this instance, I’m struggling. I love this jacket, it works beautifully and if it wears out or is damaged, I can only imagine replacing it with the current version.