His Rain Gear

Now that it's stopped snowing, it's been raining - and happily, the Co-Habitant has some new rain gear that keeps him from getting soaking wet on the way to work. As far as finding what worked for him, his case was a tricky one. In his hatred of shopping and owning too much clutter, he wanted something suitable for both roadcycling and commuting to work. So a nice waxed cotton trench coat was out, as those are uncomfortable on a roadbike. A waterproof cycling jacket was out, as those are too tight to be worn over office clothing. And most waterproof windbreakers are too short in the back to be worn on a bike, plus they are seldom available in the classic colours he likes. Also, two years ago he bought a couple of rain capes and hated them: They billowed in the wind, didn't cover his knees as much as he wanted, and started to fall apart after just a couple of storms. I was at a loss as to what else to suggest.

But what I feared would be an endless search for The Garment That Does Not Exist, ended after a visit to our local Eastern Mountain Sports: The EMS Thunderhead rain jacket and rain pants turned out to be just what he'd been looking for. The colour he chose is a very classic shade of loden/olive green, which was exactly what he wanted. Although the jacket is not cycling-specific, it works great on a bike.

It is cut more slender than a typical windbreaker, which reduces billowing. And it is considerably longer in the back than in the front, just like a cycling jacket.

The wrists are mildly elasticised and can be tapered further via velcro closure - or loosened up for a less sporty look.

Air vents under the arms.

Elastic for adjusting collar and hood.

The zipper is bi-directional (Is that the right term? It opens at the collar and at the hem). The hood rolls up an stows away under the collar.

The hood is a pretty nice one - classic and even a bit old-fashioned, with an elegant front extension instead of a visor.

The jacket is not restrictive while cycling. While the EMS product description states that the material is breathable, the Co-Habitant says not so much. Still, at least it is a thin shell, and ventilation can be improved by opening the vents.

The rain pants are from the same Thunderhead line as the jacket. He liked them because they look presentable for cycling to work and not too sporty.

Made of the same material as the jacket, these are meant to be pulled on over regular pants when it starts raining. They are roomy, so this is easy to do.

Alternatively, they can be put on or removed via the side zippers.

Side zipper again.

Both the rainpants and jacket fold up to take up very little space, and can be stowed away easily in a handlebar or saddle bag.

I don't know much about the EMS Thunderhead line, other than what's here. The product page includes customer reviews, some of which state that the jacket loses waterproofing over time - which has been my experience with pretty much any waterproof jacket. Still, for those looking for rain gear that is versatile enough both for cycling to work and on a roadbike, I think this set-up works pretty well. It stows away easily, works in all seasons, and is neither too roadie nor too dandified - just some easy to wear, easy on the eyes, all around rain gear in a classic colour scheme and at a reasonable price.


  1. Thanks. The Co-Habitant my not appear in photos here often, but its good to see his alternate to the Showers Pass offerings. O2 rain pants are not robust enough.

  2. It was cheaper than brand name stuff, and on sale. I paid about $140 for both. I guess that's still a lot of money, but anything slightly more expensive will not be better. To get really good rain gear made out of technical fabric the likes of which Rapha and Campagnolo use for "their" rain stuff you need to spend serious cash.

  3. MDI - The fabric Rapha uses, at least for their women's jacket is not waterproof. In fact that jacket gets pretty poor reviews, and after trying it on myself I would rather buy the woman's EMS version of yours. The Campagnolo TXN jacket, on the other hand, is fabulous.

  4. ...some of which state that the jacket loses waterproofing over time - which has been my experience with pretty much any waterproof jacket.

    That's been my experience with any rain jacket, and believe me, I've tried a lot. (I do live in Portland, y'know?) Though throwing a rain jacket in the dryer every once in awhile revives it a little. And I've heard if you use the Nickwax technical wash for these types of garments, it can extend the water resistance a bit. The main problem it seems is that the waterproofing on the inside eventually delaminates. Even the Showers Pass jackets.

    And I've never found a pair of rain pants I liked, opting instead for Rain Legs when I need them.

  5. Rapha & Campy are in a different class from EMS. The EMS looks like a nice, everyday setup. The R & C are cycling-as-sport jackets, waterproof or not.

    Endura is great stuff and can swing both ways. Greatness doesn't come cheap, tho.

    re: vestigial waterproofness--silicone or other waterproofing spray periodically, as any member of REI knows.

  6. I have a Rapha softshell and love it. It is not waterproof - and in fact I don't believe Rapha ever claimed that it was - but rather water resistant, and works very well as a supremely comfortable and breathable winter jacket that will shed showers quite nicely.

    If it is seriously raining, or likely to be, I use a Gore Fusion which is the only Gore Tex coat I have ever bought or tried that actually does what it says on the tin - that is, be breathable and waterproof at the same time. I've had a lot of experience, and wasted much money, at these things. My work takes me to some very remote and often inhospitable corners of the world and I have need of good outdoor gear both on and off the bike. (I live in rainy old England when I am at home) This one seriously works. It cost a bit, but is well worth it.

    I have tried Endura gear, but frankly don't rate it very highly. I do have a pair of their three-quarter length waterproof eVent trousers and they work all right - a bit rustly with the fabric - but everything else of theirs I have ever tried has been very hit and miss. Their ironically named Deluge gloves are downright awful: poorly stitched, poorly shaped and sized, and not even remotely waterproof, or even water resistant.

    I've tried their waterproof overshoes as well, and had them fall apart very, very quickly - although I will acknowledge that some of that is my 'fault'. I take a size 48 shoe and their biggest (as well as everyone else's) goes only to size 46. Even so, the zipper snapped on that on only the second ride, and this was not in a part of the overshoe that was stretched.

  7. I love my Helly Hansen jacket although it cost a LOT of money. It's the only think I've ever owned that is both waterproof and breathable. It's a bit too fitted to wear over anything bulky but for some bizarre reason Helly Hansen has become a brand the yoof wear (at least around here) so I even look like I'm down with the kids when I'm walking around town in it, which is a first for me. I've only had it a few months so can't comment on how long the waterproofing lasts; the salesman did recommend the nikwax wash to prolong its life.

  8. Does a garment exist that is waterproof and breathable. I have a perfectly waterproof jacket which includes ample ventilation, but with just a little heavy breathing, it becomes very wet inside.

    Portland style rain is often not really heavy, so sometimes just my very dense wool sweater suffices for short rides. But, Portland style rain is also unpredictable, so the sweaty, waterproof jacket and pants always come along for the ride.

    I have some Rivendell over shoes that do a decent job of keeping the feet dry - when the velcro straps cooperate and keep them over my shoes.

  9. I have a nice pearl Izumi windproof jacket in black I have worn all winter and it is very nicely made. All zippers work well, thin breathable material.

    The first day I got caught in the rain, I appropriated an actual waterproof jacket, and since bike infrastructure does not exist on most of my daily commute, the drivers are less than friendly (or very intelligent) and I've had a few very close calls (once laying my bike down) I just ordered the gore fusion waterproof jacket in shocking lemon. Now, no way can they miss seeing me in the middle of an intersection.

    I love commuting, just not sure it's worth my life, especially to be hit by some compensating, less than brilliant southern jerk in a climate controlled gas guzzling diesel truck trying to race me through an intersection.

  10. This looks like a really good solution.

    The waterproof yet not technical thing has totally eluded me. I'm too small for any waxed cotton cape I've tried and I looked like a failed camping-related superhero when I tried them on. I will totally fly in to save your campsite from bears, though.

    I am toying with the idea of getting a waxed cotton Belstaff motorcycle jacket and making some skinny rain pants for myself. A designer friend told me about some new Japanese fabric that has stretch and is lightweight but is also somehow waterproof.

  11. Hi,
    On the waterproofing, I learned about NikWax on the EMS site and just used it on my LLBean rain gear (make out of their TEK 2.5 fabric?) Anyway, I bought the rain jacket and pants in Spring 2008. This weekend I used the NikWax wash and then the NikWax Direct X in the washing machine. They look and behave like new! I also threw in my 1990's OR gore-tex mountaineering mitts and they also came out great.
    Looking at the weather report, I'll get to test them tonight or tomorrow.

  12. Here in Florida there is no such thing as breathable rain gear that does not get you just as wet as the rain. Unless it is cold out I just settle for shorts and a t-shirt. BTW what is a co-habitant?

  13. Velouria, have you done a review of women's rain gear? I'm in northern CA and it rains - a lot. I have a rain jacket and rain pants but they just don't convey that biking can be a normal everyday activity - and quite frankly, most of what I've seen is functional but not attractive or fun. I've searched high and low for a waterproof (water resistant won't cut it here) trench that covers the knees making the rain pants unnecessary.

  14. Both silentq and I have owned Showers Pass Century jackets and they are the only rain jackets that I've found to be comfortably breathable. As others have indicated, the waterproofness wears away over time, but the same can be said for any garment that relies on its laminate for waterproofing. We've used Nikwax to revive the waterproof qualities and it helps extend the usefulness but it does require frequent maintenance. Eventually, my Showers Pass ripped at the shoulder seam that supports my courier bag, and I'm now using a Craft rain jacket that I bought on sale at the City Sports Downtown Crossing outlet. It's _very_ much a cyclist jacket, all high-viz red and stuff, and isn't nearly as breathable as the Showers Pass, but it was 1/3 the price. If I need to look presentable and the rain isn't too heavy, I'm usually good with a wool/poly short trench ... it binds a bit at the shoulders when I try to tuck in, but otherwise it's fine.

    For pants, I recently picked up a pair of Vim Hybrids from the Ibex winter sale. They're more intended to be a pair of active outdoor winter pants for XC skiing and the like, but they also work well for cycling (cinched cuffs to avoid the drivetrain, waterproof, bit of stretch to allow for full range of pedaling but still form fitting enough to avoid bellowing, side zippers at the knee for venting) The black color blends in well enough for casual office settings, but the poly shell still looks too 'tech-y' for formal meetings. Which is fine, I still tend to bring dry clothes with me when weather is inclement.

  15. I bought a similar women's raincoat (I think it is made by Marmot and packs down to almost nothing) but the hood won't stay on in the wind unless of course I put my helmet on over it but that doesn't make for great peripheral vision. It is super light though and waterproof.

  16. Roff said...
    "I have a Rapha softshell and love it. It is not waterproof - and in fact I don't believe Rapha ever claimed that it was - but rather water resistant"

    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that they misrepresent the product; it is not described as fully waterproof. But that makes it not really rain gear per se in my book, but a training jacket. Also, the women's version is ill-fitting; you'd be hard pressed to find a positive review of it.

    Anonymous said...
    "I bought a similar women's raincoat (I think it is made by Marmot and packs down to almost nothing) but the hood won't stay on in the wind"

    That shouldn''t happen with this jacket, because these things allow you to pull the hood opening tight.

  17. Pennieys Pedals said...
    "have you done a review of women's rain gear? ...I've searched high and low for a waterproof (water resistant won't cut it here) trench that covers the knees making the rain pants unnecessary."

    I do plan to review - or at least describe - my own stuff (I have an old Burberry trenchcoat, a newer Banana Republic trenchcoat, and a Campagnolo cycling jacket) - but not a comprehensive review where I compare different makes and models, for the simple reason that I can't afford to buy things just to compare them and you really need to wear these jackets for a while to know how they will perform. The only elegant and truly waterproof solution I know of for commuting in downpours are classic Burberry trenches and Barbour waxed cotton jackets. But they are very expensive!

    Oh and I avoid rain pants by wearing skirts with dark nylon tights when it rains. Those take longer to retain water than pants or other types of tights, and they dry much faster once you're indoors.

  18. I own a Barbour waxed cotton jacket (a couple of them, in fact) and while they are wonderful jackets, both elegant and waterproof, and perfectly suitable for long walking in the rain, snow and whatever else nature wants to throw at you, I would no more wear one cycling than I would a suit of armour.

    Not only are they heavy, but if you were to cycle more than a bare couple of miles you would certainly start to feel a sweaty glow; further than that and you might find yourself as damp on arrival as you would be if you'd ridden through the rain in your clothes. Their breathability quotient is zero. Lovely jackets, but for cycling breathability is a huge factor - which is why the great juggling act between waterproofness and breathability. Having both is nearly impossible. the nearest I've ever come to finding such a thing is the Gore fusion.

    I would have to say that for most commuting rides, and shorter transport rides, a good water repellent jacket should be sufficient - shedding water and still keeping you sweat free when you get there.

  19. Roff- What model(s) do you own? They make super thin ones now that function like shells. I haven't owned one since before I began cycling and the one I did own was heavy. But a couple of friends in the UK have recommended the new thin ones for cycling. Mind you, not for roadcycling, but for commuting to work.

  20. I have to say mine are the old classics - the Northumberland and the even older gamekeeper's model, the Longshoreman. Both very heavy. I've not seen any of their later models. Barbours are so well made that they just last forever and so I've never had the need to go shopping for another!

  21. Barbour did a collaboration with a Japanese brand ToKiTo wherein they made lighter jackets based on the company's archived designs but with a mix of some canvas and some lighter weight and fully waterproof materials. One was specifically for bicycling. They were beautiful. I don't know if they did it again -- this was a couple of years ago, now.

    There is very very little out there that is completely waterproof and still good-looking, especially for women. Wool has been my answer because at least it's warm when it pours. But the outer layer. My Burberry mac is really heavy and hot, too. It was my mom's in the 70s, maybe they aren't so heavy now . . .

  22. omg hey that's me! :)

  23. neighbourtease - My Burberry trench is circa 2003. It is made of a very thin, summer weight fabric, but has these buttons that I believe allow you to attach a lining for colder seasons. Or of course it can be worn over heavier clothing.

    As for wool, I have found wool coats to be surprisingly waterproof. The wool is so dense that it would take hours for the moisture to penetrate. The problem though is that they are too warm for the late spring - early fall season.

  24. Gortex is the best for biking in the rain gear. Sometimes the bike specific stuff is not practical for cycling commuters because it is meant for people who cycle in tight lycra and do not have clothes on otherwise. Anyone who has moved to the pacific northwest from elsewhere can probably tell you the day they gave in and got a gortex jacket. It was wonderful be in a rainforest for hours and not get wet! There are cheaper alternatives, but are not always waterproof and breathable. I have a gortex jacket and non gortex pull over rain pants that I wear for rainy days. I usually carry my rain pants if rain is on the horizon. The pants are ugly and I call them diaper pants, but they work, so who cares what it looks like. Wool does work very well-but in heavy rain I find my wool jackets will get soaked through and my clothes underneath will get wet and then my skin. A damp wet girl at work is unhappy indeed. My gortex jacket's zipper is broken and it is kind of ugly so prefer to wear a wool coat, but have learned my lesson in heavy rain. Also when it is raining hard enough I carry my work clothes in my pannier and wear something light under the rain gear.
    I do like the olive jacket! It is nice and classic looking without being dorky, technical or in some horrible colour.
    As for wool being too warm, there is no crime in having different weights of wool coats for warmer weather. I have some wool zip up hoodies for warmer weather and wear layers of thin wool tops. Ibex for example has a boiled wool zip up hoodie that would be water resistant and is fairly light. Wool regulates heat very well so is excellent even in warmer weather, but most wool coats also have synthetic linings that can add to the heat factor and in fact make the coat unbreathable. I have to reline one coat and will do so with silk.

  25. I have a huge heavy wax jacket (Barbour type but not actually a Barbour). It's actually brilliant if you have to cycle somewhere in winter in really cold miserable weather especially if you aren't going that fast (it's perfect for the snow for example, where you can't cycle fast enough to keep warm) - totally impermeable and wind proof, but it weighs a ton and if it warms up at all you know all about it.

    What I wouldn't cycle without at all except in the height of summer is my waxed cotton cap which is completely waterproof (tested in SW Scotland), warm and keeps the sun and some of the rain out of my eyes. Much better than a hood although not great at protecting the ears.

  26. Great review!! Now I have something I can get my own cohabitant when we move to rainier climes...I kinda want to try the raincoat/pants for women, too! :)

  27. Not my style, but: http://www.swrvestore.com/servlet/Detail?no=161

  28. Uh.

    Now that I got this rain gear, there's been no rain. It's like rain insurance, I suppose it was worth it.

    And if I ever want it to rain again, I can just take it out of my bag and leave it at home.

  29. I wonder how long before we're all wearing these LED bicycle coats! http://www.flickr.com/photos/superdress/sets/72157624916567545/
    Just read about the designer in Whole Living's April issue. Very cool but a wee bit expensive at $449!
    You can find out more here

  30. Anonymous said...
    "...LED bicycle coats! "

    Okay, I was expecting to see something hideous, but these are actually quite stylish and I especially like the turn signals.


    - Most people (especially women) don't just wear one coat.

    - For the money, I'd rather get the latest bestest dynamo hub & lighting set-up.

  31. Interesting! I use, depending on the severity of the rain, an old London Fog trench coat, wool coat, wool cape or another light weight baby blue trench of indeterminate maker. And wellies.

    Wool has historically been a reliable source for waterproof fabric. It's been used in everything from clothing to ship sails. The lanolin (sheep grease) repels water and also causes the wool fabric to float. Quite a lot of our manufactured woolen items these days seem to be from Merino sheep, and that helps in their waterproofness as Merino is one of the greasiest sheep breeds out there.

  32. Some of my coworkers recently asked me why I don't wear head-to-toe raingear when it's damp (as it often is in Portland). I do wear a Showers Pass jacket if it's pouring, but for pants I just wear polyester knickers when it's wet--they're not waterproof but they dry really fast.

    I had a hard time convincing them that truly waterproof clothes leaves you just as wet, but due to sweat. I have found this to be true even when I'm not riding hard at all!

  33. As another PNW year-round cyclist posting here, I am in the minority in my town in not donning the head-to-toe sweat-fest that is technical clothing.

    I use a rain cape (Agu-- light blue) when it is really monsoon-style raining, and while it flaps in the breeze and is pretty plasticy on the inside, it does breathe from below and keep all of me dry. Most of the time though for "normal" PNW rain, I now wear a relatively cheap DKNY nylon/cotton blend trench. It looks nice and breaths well enough, and keeps most of me dry.

    As for technical fabric clothing, I only wear that on the ski slopes, and I know all about how to Nikwax my stuff-- it works and is necessary as it tends to rain here while skiing, too.

  34. ha ha - they remind me of male stripper pants

  35. I wanted the version with snaps, for faster removal. :)

  36. Love the coat for the co-habitant. Very stylish!

    I have a GoLite Gortex jacket that I bought from Sierra Trading Company for cheap when I was camping a lot. It was waterproof for several years. I wear it all the time, especially skiing, as over a down parka it is the best way to stay warm on the slopes, by far. Puffy, but I'm never cold. The seams are giving in to the rain as it ages, so I'll have to get some Nikwax.

    For pants, I have a pair of GoLite rain pants for women, which I got from ProLite Gear. Love them. Exceptionally light, quite breathable, pack up to near non-existent, and look okay. No zippers, but they do have small snaps on the ankles. I really like GoLite's gear, and wear it for everything.

    Being another PNW native, and being allergic to wool, I love poly fleeces and down and multi-function rain gear. But being exceptionally cheap, I don't own much gear. I expect everything I own to work in multiple situations. I bike, ski, camp and just hang out in the same rain jacket. That thing has to really perform for long periods of time. Until this winter, my GoLite was going strong. Nikwax!

  37. All waterproof garments lose their waterproofness. The difference between them lies in which ones can be renewed. Of course, you can do that to cotton duck. That's not possible with some of the synthetic materials, though.

    I find that in cooler wet weather, wool really is the best thing for waterproofness (or, at least, water resistance) combined with breathability. During the winter, I wear my British duffle coat (with the toggle buttons). And for the mid-spring and mid-fall, I use an old shirt-jacket made of wool.

    Whatever you do, don't wear down in the rain: It's useless when it's wet!

  38. they remind me of male stripper pants

    Never thought of it this way : )
    But I admit that I've been under-exposed to male strippers.

  39. so any update from MDI on today's ride? ;)

  40. I got to try my rain suit today! Yay! Nothing to report, so I guess it worked out just fine.

    Well, I guess I do have something to report: the hat really is water repellent, it's kind of weird and hard to believe yet true. Water just slides off and drips down. My hair wasn't more wet when I arrived than when I left home after a shower. So the hood is unnecessary unless it is a serious rain emergency.

    And the second issue is boots. I didn't notice this before because my legs would get wet in general, but I do feel a bit of moisture creeping inside since the rest of me is completely dry. It seems riding in the rain exposes the shoes to water in a different way from walking in the rain. So, my tip is to wear wool socks.

  41. re: boots, you might consider getting mudflaps for your front and rear fenders. I used to have mudflaps on my last pair of Honjos on the ANT and it certainly cut down on the amount of spray that would get on my shoes.

    the other tip that I was going to make was, depending on the boots, one should always be mindful of wearing pants over boots and not tucking pants into boots as the latter is an easy way to introduce moisture into your socks (ditto for wearing pants and overshoes or booties); but V's photos appear to show that you're already doing that.

  42. I've never had good luck with waterproof shoes. Even ones that claim they are waterproof always let me down.

    Shoes... how do they work... :)

  43. Wet feet... I hate having wet feet. My favorite rainy day shoes have become my Oliberte shoes in "antique brown". They are remarkably water repellent-- and since different colors come in different types of leather, I think I really lucked out with this choice, as I did not buy them specifically as rainy day riding shoes. I also wear wool socks, too. They help a lot as well.

  44. I have a pair of NEOS overshoes for anything more than a light sprinkle. They are light and pack flat to the sole. My wife also got me a Pearl Izumi Stockton Jacket which is now my favorite jacket even in the cold. I just toss on some wool arm warmers and the jacket and I'm good to go.


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