Wet Weather Review
Race Face Conspiracy Jacket - Reviewed
I am such a sucker for jackets. I think my problem is that I have a hard time justifying spending higher dollars on shirts, pants and things that don't get worn every day. But a good jacket? That seems eminently justifiable. Throw in the need to meet all of Vancouver's weather moods... You need a summer rain jacket. A spring rain jacket. A spring shower jacket. A fall rain jacket. A fall downpour jacket. An insulated winter rain jacket. Rationalizing a lot of jackets is quite easy.
Currently, I have 4 cycling-specific rain jackets hanging in my front hall. I have a couple of non-waterproof ones that add to that total. And then 3 other non cycling specific rain jackets (at least). I had to hold back just now from ordering another one online. It's totally bonkers and it needs to change. The question is, where will this one fall in the jacket hierarchy?
This jacket, the recently updated Race Face Conspiracy (in black!), showed up in the tiniest little box imaginable. I actually got a little bit pissed off, because obviously they shipped me the wrong thing and I was going to have to deal with that. But no. It's just a super minimalist jacket that can fit into tiny little places.
It accomplishes this by having absolutely no extras or accoutrements. There's one fully internal pocket. There's no velcro. No external zipper flaps (and only one zipper). It's just a really simple jacket, lacking in most of the things that might add weight or let water in.
That's not to say it doesn't have features. The armpits are tremendously interesting, in their own little way. They look a bit like a hawk, eagle or some type of raptor had their way with your underarm, leading to permanent pit zips in the form of some lengthy little slashes.
The cuffs are similar. Not in the "attacked by birds" sense, but in the "minimalist features" one. No velcro, just some elastic for you to snap over your gloves.
There's a couple of stick-on elbow patches on each of the arms. Unfortunately, one of them was partially peeling off upon arrival (I blame whomever stuffed the jacket into the tiniest little box imaginable during the shipping process). It seems like they'll be relatively easy to peel off completely, when the time comes. The offending patch still seems to be in roughly the same shape as it was upon arrival (even after a few washes), so maybe I won't need to go that far? It is a bit bothersome, though.
Lastly, you have the hood. The giant, giant hood that easily swallows up your helmet.
This is a no nonsense jacket, made for riding bikes and for nothing else.
To go along with its minimalist appearance, this jacket comes with a relatively slender fit. The size large I have has room for a layer or two beneath, and not much else. There's nothing to billow or bunch, but if you're packing some pounds in unusual places, it might be worth trying on before buying. It sits fairly high on the waist as well, which minimizes the amount of bunching there when bent over on a bike.
My first few rides were in drier conditions, and the jacket did a really good job. It seems to be very breathable. At no point did I experience soupy arms or back. I seldom make use of pit zips when they're present, so maybe there is something to the Race Face system. Everybody brace for Pete to add a comment along the lines of "actually...waterproof/breathable garments aren't supposed to have venting in order to work properly." Whatever Pete...this thing works well.
Once the rain came, I was even more impressed. Whether commuting or in the woods, this jacket never seemed to flinch at whatever rainfall I could throw at it, and I would finish up each ride dry and content. Even in some of the biblical conditions we saw recently, it kept me comfortably dry.
Race Face doesn't provide a tonne of detail on the fabric (3-ply nylon DWR treated with a waterproof and breathable membrane with a rating of 10,000 mm and 15,000 g/m^2, and fully sealed seams). These aren't the highest numbers you're going to find, but whatever the fabric is, it seems to do the job, and the performance held through several washings (machine wash cold, do not tumble dry). Be prepared to put some effort in to maintain this level of performance...Nikwax, etc.
The elastic cuffs were something I wasn't certain of. In the end though, I'm a convert. They're a tiny bit trickier than a velcro cuff to get over a pair of gloves, but once you get them on they really stay put. I like them.
The giant, giant hood was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, it was really easy to pull it over a helmet. On the other, when you're not using it, it's a giant, giant hood, flapping in the breeze. I also had it blow off my helmet once, as there's room for wind to get in between your helmet and the hood. I'm not sure if there is an alternative in designing a hood to fit over a helmet (although, the elastics on the old version seem like they did a good job of keeping things snug). I've become partial to under helmet hoods recently, but those come with their own set of challenges, and I'm sure a number of you will tell me I'm wrong in the comments. In the end, it kept my head dry in the rain.
There's a lot to like about this jacket. It's the first jacket I've been reaching for lately when the rain is really pelting. It offers better protection than the Gore I recently tested, and better breathability and similar waterproofness to the Dainese I tested a while back. It's light, comfortable, and it keeps you dry, both from sweat and from rain. It's definitely a form follows function piece of clothing, so probably not something for walking to grab a coffee on a rainy morning. Other than that, the shortcomings are minor and easy to deal with. Worst case, you end up with a really great rain jacket that you may have to peel some elbow patches off. If you want one, it will set you back US$200 or CAD$250.