ZPacks Ultralight Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket

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– Bjorn Sturmberg

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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6 thoughts on “ZPacks Ultralight Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket

  1. I’ve been using one for 5 months now and love it.
    Waterproof, ridiculously light and breathes well. I have mine with the pit zips which I think is well worth it in subtropical climates like Australia.

    In terms of durability, haven’t taken it through thick scrub either, but I would be wary. I have zpack’s cuben rain pants which has suffered a few small tears on a rock scramble in Tassie. The material is very thin, so not very abrasion resistant.

  2. Bjorn,
    In interest of clarity your info on ‘lightest jkt from a major manufacturer’ is a little off target : Marmot make the Mica jkt which is 198 g on their website . This is pedantry for pedantries sake (my ‘gross mass’ fluctuates more than 50 grams thanks to my morning ablutions).
    Interestingly , this jkt has a very high breathability rating , which means that it ‘should’ hold less condensation / perspiration on the inside of the jacket during high aerobic activities. We’ve sold quite a few of these to trail runners , with very good results .
    Another fabric getting a lot of traction is Pertex Shield , getting used by a number of majors including outdoor research.
    These ‘next generation’ fabrics are eschewing traditional membrane technologies (eg gore membrane) for nano technology fibre treatment , which so far is proving to give outstanding water proof , but also very comfortable wear characteristics in regards to sweat management : there is no membrane ‘blocking’ the sweat movement.
    I’m noticing an industry rethink in terms of ‘jacket comfort’ thanks to these new technologies, which is an essay in itself , but right now I have a newborn baby to play with!
    Brett at Summit Gear

    • Brett, one of the reasons I like dropping into the store is for these kind of chats. I think you delve into fabrics / layering / manufacturers promises far more seriously than almost anyone else I’ve met. When you finally do find some time off from running a business and raising a baby you should punch out a few of these essays. We’d definitely reproduce them here!!!

    • Hi Brett,
      if the Mica is 198g, that would make it over 70g heavier than the Zpack one, no?
      The Mica is what my climbing partner had in NZ. He is now trying to flog it 2nd hand and has gotten a Zpack one as it feels more solid and most importantly packs down a lot smaller which is critical for climbing with it.
      Cya in the mountains

  3. Bjorn ,

    No you refer in your article to the Super Mica , not the Mica jkt . Super Mica is indeed around the 250 g mark .

    Yes, Mica is still some 70 grams heavier than Z-pack. I raised this point as I originally mentioned to clarify your point : “The lightest jacket made by a major manufacturer is the Marmot which is 247 g” : this is not correct (as I said : pedantry for pedantries sake).

    When people start splitting grams, I guess its only reasonable to ensure that the information is correct, so I thought my addition / clarification may prove useful.

    I personally don’t get too fussed by a few extra grams in gear – I lose a lot of weight on a trip, which may offset my gear weight considerations. I like the idea of ‘gross mass’ – person and gear (if only airlines worked like that !). To further this concept , endurance activities look to an optimal watts per kilogram relationship to achieve maximum performance (This is another essay titled “why does that guy with the big pack always beat me to the top of the hill??”).

    Marmot are not the only ‘major’ producing sub 200 g jkts – Montane , Outdoor Research, and a little birdy tells me that Salomon are trying to develop a ‘100 gram’ , seam sealed waterproof (not just water resistant) jkt with a hood. It may still be about 12 – 18 months away.

    I’d be interested to have a look at the Z-pack jkt sometime, especially in regards to user efficacy and comfort.

    Cheers for the chat – its nice to get away from nappies for a moment.

    Brett @ Summit Gear

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