Review: ZPacks Ultralight Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket

Fast and light isn’t dumb and naked!

As oft as I have repeated that sentiment to ultralight enthusiast mates, I last week forked out over $200 for the worlds lightest waterproof jacket. The purchase came about when planning a 3 week long climbing trip in the Darran Mountains on the infamously rainy West Coast of New Zealand. To repeat the gear advice of a very respected Aussie climber:

“Bring a boat. It can be useful to get between the hut and your car. Or between your car and the highway. Or between your tent and the hut. I’ve never seen so much rain as in the four days that Ness and I spent there a few years ago.”

Given this promise of rain and the importance of weight when dragging oneself, technical gear and food up 400m + rock routes (not to speak of the lengthy approaches) I decided the price tag was worth it. I also ordered a Zpack cuben fiber tarp to again save weight (I must be getting soft with age and paid employment).

Gold standard size
Gold standard size comparison – 1L water bottle

So come January I’m sure I’ll be able to give a well tested review of the jacket’s performance and wear (with comparison to my climbing partners choice of Marmot Super Mica jacket). For now let me summarise the specs that made the Zpack the jacket of choice.

Weight. This is what this is all about. The medium version comes in at a pretty amazing 127 grams. The lightest jacket made by a major manufacturer is the Marmot which is 247 g (and a pretty similar heavy price tag). The magic hear lives in the Cuben Fiber material, which contains Dyneema, the high strength fiber used in climbing slings.

The less exciting but still important features that look attractive are its stiffened visor and ability to roll up into itself, which allows it to comfortably pack away on my climbing harness.

Jacket attached to climbing harness.
Jacket attached to climbing harness.

UPDATE (after 7 months use)

Executive summary: my climbing partner has a Marmot jacket for sale and has ordered himself a Zpacks cubin fibre jacket!

Ascending the Barrier Knob in the Darran Mountains, Aotearoa
Ascending the Barrier Knob in the Darran Mountains, Aotearoa

For the purpose of multipitch climbing there is no better option. This jacket is just so small and compact that you can always carry it with you just in case there’s a turn in the weather.

In the last 6 months I have experienced multiple changes whilst on a route and have been extremely relieved to have this little guy on my harness ready to put on as soon as I reach the next belay.

Climbing in the rain at Mt Arapiles, Australia.
Climbing in the rain at Mt Arapiles, Australia

Walking wise, I have carried it more than I have used it, as it still functions more as a fall back when the forecast is fair but I’d rather be safe (dry) than sorry (wet).

I haven’t had to trudge through any real scrub with it, so cannot say how it will hold up to this. N(ote that Zpacks do sell cubin fibre adhesive patches that make patching to a waterproof level trivial.)

That’s pretty much all there is to it. I don’t want much from my rain jacket.
– It should be waterproof, which this is absolutely, relying not on a treatment but using an inherently waterproof fabric.
– It should fit well, which this does.
– For these uses it should be light, where this is in a league of its own.
– It should last, which this so far has.

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