Signature Materials: Lightweight Active Rain Shells

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Since 1897, Filson has manufactured clothing that’s kept men and women warm and dry in the Pacific Northwest and across the globe—in rain-soaked forests, snowy rangelands and everywhere in between. When pushing through brambles and briars or climbing through barbed-wire fences, you need heavy-duty gear that stands up to punctures, tears and abuse. But for covering miles of rugged terrain in the backcountry, a different type of rain gear is required. Lightweight, waterproof jackets that can be stuffed into tight spaces are a must. Let’s take a minute to clarify some of the terms we use to describe our lightweight active-use rain jackets.

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What does waterproof vs. water-resistant actually mean?

It’s a matter of degree. Water-resistant jackets such as our Lightweight Anorak or our Women’s Hooded Deck Jacket are built with lightweight cotton that’s quite breathable and treated with special processes that cause water to bead up and roll of the surface rather than soaking in—to a point. A hard or sustained rain will eventually overwhelm the fabric’s water resistance. These jackets are very comfortable for everyday wear when you encounter light showers, but for backcountry use when you must stay dry even in prolonged, severe weather, a fully-waterproof rain shell will be a better option.

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The term waterproof is trickier to define—with enough pressure, water can be forced through any breathable fabric. There are laboratory tests that measure amount of pressure required for water to penetrate a fabric, but since those lab tests don’t reflect construction methods or real-world applications, we don’t find them very helpful in quantifying the “waterproofness” of jackets in actual use. All Filson waterproof jackets utilize fabrics that exceed the measurement thresholds for waterproofness, are fully seam-sealed and employ water-resistant YKK® AquaGuard® zippers with storm flaps. They are rigorously tested to ensure their wet-weather performance. When we call a jacket waterproof, it can be worn in driving rain, spray or snow all day, and water will not penetrate it.

The flip-side of waterproofness is breathability—the big challenge in making a fabric waterproof is also making it able to breathe during active use. In other words, to allow warm vapors to escape to the outside, so you don’t end up soaked with sweat. After all, wet is wet, whether from rain or from sweat. Filson waterproof jackets are engineered to strike the optimal balance for their intended use between competing performance factors: waterproofness and breathability, lightness and durability, warmth and packability, etc.

Choosing a Filson Rain Shell

Packability and weight are prime considerations in designing high-performance rain jackets. The waterproof Swiftwater Rain Jacket weighs just 13.4 ounces and packs into a ball roughly the size of a grapefruit. The Swiftwater is so light and packable because it’s made with a 2.5-layer fabric, foregoing the interior brushed-tricot backer found in our 3-layer jackets. If weight and space savings are your top priorities, it’s tough to beat our Swiftwater Rain Jacket. It’s the ideal solution for packing into a small space, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice when the weather changes. For the chukar hunter covering 10 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation change through desert rimrock, it’s our best choice to tuck in the bottom of a pack or vest. The Swiftwater Rain Jacket, with waterproof/breathable performance that belies its competitive price point, is our lightest and most packable option, providing multi-use versatility without peer.

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NeoShell® Reliance Jacket

Our NeoShell® Reliance Jacket, in comparison, weighs 23.5 ounces and packs down to roughly the size of a football. It’s 3-layer construction with innovative waterproof membrane, brushed tricot backer and slight stretch make it our most-comfortable waterproof rain jacket for all-day wear. The Reliance really begins to blur the line between stretchy, water-resistant soft shells and hard-surfaced, waterproof hard shells, eliminating much of the need to take layers on and off throughout the day. Our most-breathable waterproof jacket, one you may not want to take off.

Skagit Rain Jacket

Our Skagit Rain Jacket, weighing in at 28 ounces, is designed for the angler who may be huddled in the bow of a jet boat blasting upstream, or standing thigh-deep in an icy river casting for February’s winter-run steelhead. Lightness of weight isn’t the priority for this use-case, but bulletproof reliability is. The Skagit is equipped plenty of pockets for fly boxes, gear and accessories, along with neoprene cuffs to prevent water from running down your arms during a morning of countless casts. Our best option for the foul-weather fisherman, with a clean design that works for many other applications.

Swiftwater Rain Pullover
& Swiftwater Rain Jacket

When that same angler backpacks into an alpine lake for an August weekend of casting to brook trout, the Swiftwater Pullover might be the most appropriate tool for the job. At just 17 ounces and built with the same 2.5-layer shell fabric as the Swiftwater Rain Jacket, it packs compactly into its dedicated, zippered pocket, ready to pull out in case a squall moves through.

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Being uninsulated, waterproof/breathable rain shells should be considered part of a layering system for comfort in cold, wet conditions. Ours are not a slim, fashion fit–rather, they’re cut with room for a base layer and shirt, plus a wool, fleece, or insulated mid-layer. With its ability to wick moisture away from the skin and insulate when wet, merino wool is an outstanding option for base-layers. Unlike many synthetics, merino wool remains odor-free and is warmer for a given thickness. Filson’s merino base layers are available in a range of weights for comfort at virtually any temperature.

Our waterproof rain shells are designed in our Seattle headquarters with input from seasoned hunters, anglers, outdoorsmen. These same outdoor experts thoroughly test them to ensure they perform at the highest level in demanding conditions. Filson is very selective when it comes to our supply and manufacturing partners, because our jackets must be built with the best materials to the highest standards. We scoured the globe to find manufacturing partners that treat their workers and the environment well, because we believe that how you do something is just as important as what you do.

The Bottom Line

Filson’s lightweight rain shells are part of a system for warmth and comfort in a wide range of temperatures and activity levels. While some are optimized for specific applications, all are cross-functional for active use in multiple outdoor pursuits. Choosing the right one begins with prioritizing which features are most important, based on the activities for which it will be used the most. Just remember, while Filson waterproof active rain shells are purpose-built with a specific end-use in mind, all will perform at high level no matter how they’re used.

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