The new Outdoor Research Zealot rain jacket is aimed squarely at the growing ultralight market, packing no frills storm protection into a simple package and weighing in at just over 7 ounces (7.2 ounces, 204 g Backpacking Light measured weight). The Zealot has a minimalist design; one pocket, one hood adjustment, elastic cuffs, and hem drawcord. A water resistant two-way full zipper adds a measure of breathability and ease of use. The waterproof/breathable shell fabric is 15 denier Gore-Tex PacLite. The Zealot performs nearly as well as heavier rainshells, with little sacrifice in performance due to the simple feature set. It has limited storage space relative to a full-featured rainshell, and the water resistant zipper is more difficult to operate than others I have used. The Zealot jacket does not contain new technology, but Outdoor Research made good trade-offs to produce a fully functional waterproof/breathable jacket and keep it under 8 ounces.
|Weight||7.2 oz (204 g) as measured size M; manufacturer’s specification 7.7 oz (218 g) size L|
|Shell Fabric||15d Gore-Tex PacLite|
|Features||Full double separating zipper, chest pocket, single hood adjustment, hem drawcord|
- Full zip waterproof/breathable shell weighing only 7.2 ounces (204 g)
- Double separating zipper provides good breathability control
- Low bulk Gore-Tex PacLite fabric with Gore taped seams provides good storm protection
- Roomy enough to fit over layers
What’s Not So Good
- Water resistant zipper is difficult to operate
- Single rear hood adjustment provides limited control
I tested the Outdoor Research Zealot on late winter trips in the southern Arizona mountains. I stayed dry in light and heavy rain while hiking, resting, or performing basic camp chores. The water resistant zipper performed well and the hood stayed in place while cinched down in wind driven rain. The lack of control on the hood brim exposed my face and forehead to more weather than a full-featured hood with multiple adjustments does. I tested breathability and comfort in my standard fashion; wearing the jacket on a 1,200 vertical foot, 2 mile climb into the Saguaro Wilderness with temperatures in the 50s °F. This test puts most shells squarely in the discomfort zone. While I was certainly warm and moist by the time I finished this climb, the Zealot performed as well as other, heavier rainshells I’ve used. The zipper is critical to maintaining some comfort under these conditions. I experimented with the two-way zipper and found its versatility useful when wearing the jacket with different pack configurations (waistbelt, no waistbelt, sternum strap). The elastic cuffs held in more moisture and heat than adjustable cuffs that can be opened wide. I found the small hood volume to be just fine in normal use. With a high volume climbing helmet (Black Diamond Halfdome) the hood was too small to use comfortably. A lower volume helmet might fit under the hood more effectively. The lack of storage space in the Outdoor Research Zealot is the most significant weight/performance trade-off. The chest pocket has a vertical zipper and is large enough to hold your keys, or an energy bar or two, but not much else. The chest pocket’s vertical zipper makes it easy to access while wearing a pack under most conditions, but use of a sternum strap blocks entry. I will gladly sacrifice the convenience of more pockets to get a functional shell at just over 7 ounces. According to Todd Walton at Outdoor Research, the design goal was to create a hardshell so light that there would be "no reason not to take it." At this they have succeeded.
The Zealot is well constructed with good overall fit. The tail is slightly dropped and the sleeves are articulated to keep the jacket from rising when arms are lifted to shoulder height. The hem drawcord has a single toggle lock on the left side and adjusts easily and tightly. The hood has a moderate brim stiffener and a single drawcord adjustment in the rear. The hood adjustment cinches the hood around your ears, providing better protection from wind and rain. The hood adjustment does not provide any control over the brim of the hood, making it a little less storm resistant than more full featured hoods.
The Outdoor Research Zealot hood cinches up well around your ears, but its single adjustment provides no control over the brim.
Outdoor Research has used lightweight fabric and pared down the features to reduce the weight to near 7 ounces in a waterproof/breathable shell, while retaining the most functional feature – a full zipper. By including a double separating zipper they have added extra usability and breathability control for very little extra weight; a good trade-off in my opinion. The 15 denier Gore-Tex PacLite fabric is significantly less bulky than most other waterproof/breathable materials and has Gore seam tape which adds little bulk to the seams – features I appreciate when wearing the jacket or packing it. The PacLite fabric features a Gore-Tex membrane with abrasion resistant dots designed to protect and enhance the life of the membrane. This abrasion resistance allows PacLite shells to eliminate the full liner layer common to other Gore-Tex fabrics, saving weight and bulk; although Gore states that PacLite shells will be less durable than heavier Gore-Tex shells.
Recommendations for Improvement
My biggest concern with the Outdoor Research Zealot jacket is the difficult operation of the zipper. Water resistant zippers are frequently difficult to move, but the zipper on the Zealot I tested is more difficult to use than most I have experienced. There was no significant improvement after several weeks of use. A smoother zipper would be a welcome improvement.