Gear Review: Westcomb Focus LT Hoody

October 7, 2013  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   10 Comments
Westcomb Focus LT Hoody

Westcomb Focus LT Hoody

Ultralight Rain Jacket
Westcomb Focus LT Hoody
$280, 9 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL
westcomb.com

Here’s the thing about a rain jacket: Other than a first-aid kit, it’s often the least-used item in my pack, whether backpacking, climbing, or dayhiking. But when I need it, of course, I sure wouldn’t want to be without one. Like a lot of people, I have contradictory desires for a rain shell—I want it to be functional and protective when the weather turns foul, but also super lightweight and compressible. On backpacking trips in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, California’s Sequoia National Park, and Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness, as well as a 28-mile dayhike in Idaho’s White Clouds Mountains, and a hut trek in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Focus LT was consistently my go-to shell. Why? It delivered protection when I needed it, and virtually disappeared inside my pack when unneeded.

This nine-ounce jacket—with a full-length, waterproof, front zipper despite the “hoody” moniker—staved off strong, cool winds and occasional rain on a mostly off-trail, three-day traverse of Capitol Reef’s Waterpocket Fold formation in the first week of April. It’s made with eVent’s new DVL (Direct Venting Light) fabric, which is 100 percent waterproof up to a 30,000 ml water column—the highest standard of waterproofness in the industry, Westcomb says. Plus, it’s air permeable, meaning vapor actually moves through the material (like Gore-Tex) rather than wicking moisture from the inside to the outside (like many proprietary waterproof-breathable jackets). DVL, according to eVent, also has a higher Moisture Vapor Transfer Rate—the technical term for breathability—than traditional, three-layer eVent, which other Backpacker Magazine gear testers and I have consistently found to be more breathable than Gore-Tex. When I hiked in the Focus LT wearing a pack, typically in inclement conditions, the jacket proved very breathable, not building up moisture inside.

With a rain shell this light—especially one with a full-length zipper—you sacrifice features and sometimes jacket length. But the Focus LT doesn’t skimp on fabric—the length covers my butt, and the sleeves don’t ride up my arms when I reach overhead. And it has a fully adjustable hood that stays in place when I turn my head side to side. While there are no pit zips or hem drawcord, and just one pocket (chest), I don’t miss any of them. The breathability is good enough without pit zips. The partly elasticized hem and athletic fit, with enough space for a light insulation layer underneath, preclude the need for a drawcord. And I rarely use hand pockets.

You won’t find many rain shells at this weight that deliver this level of performance, especially under $300.

See my reviews of other favorite pieces of hiking apparel and backpacking apparel, including another ultralight rain shell, the Arc’teryx Tecto FL Jacket.

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

10 Responses to Gear Review: Westcomb Focus LT Hoody

  1. Marc Patterson   |  July 21, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I was lucky enough to have won this jacket in the giveaway Michael hosted, and I’m really glad I did. This past May I spent seven days on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine. It rained every day. We set up camp in the rain, broke down in the rain, and paddled in the rain. We knew it was going to be rainy week before we set out, so I didn’t want to take any untested equipment into the woods.

    I had used the Westcomb Focus LT on wet, damp day hikes in the Adirondacks and the White Mountains and it worked well, but I had reservations on how it would hold up after a forecasted week of solid rain on the water.

    I’m happy to report that I wore it for the majority of the seven days and it kept me dry all week. We thankfully had periods of time where it didn’t rain, but they never seemed to last long enough that I could manage to shed the jacket, unless I was getting into my tent, or drying out under the cover of a tarp. This meant breathability while retaining a high level of water resistance was huge. In fact, my overall comfort depended on it.

    While on the water the jacket was compressed against me under a PFD, but regardless, it did its job. The zippers functioned well – no issues. I especially liked how the hood pulled over to cover nearly all of my ball cap, helping to keep the rain off my face without soaking the cap visor. It’s truly one of the nicest rain jackets I’ve had the pleasure of using. When I tell you that a drop of rain didn’t find its way in, that’s not an exaggeration. I wouldn’t leave home without it at this point, and especially in my future trips to the Maine woods, and the White Mountains.

    I also couldn’t help but see Tim’s comments, and one thing I might add is that I paired the jacket with a set of EMS brand Thunderhead rain pants. I was trying to save a few dollars while getting a high quality rain pant. On first glance the two products appear to have a similar shell. Both are lightweight material and pack super compact. However, once saturated in a steady rain the EMS Thunderhead pants gave out. I was never “soaked” per se, but compared to the Westcomb there was a very clear difference in quality of material, and end effect.

    While before using the Westcomb I would have choked to spend $300 on a rain jacket, I’m a lot more willing to spend that hard earned cash, knowing exactly what it’s going to buy me.

    • MichaelALanza   |  July 22, 2014 at 2:58 am

      Thanks for sharing that story, Marc. I’m glad the jacket worked out so well for you, but not surprised. Have fun out there.

  2. Tim Colman   |  November 27, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Just surfaced from the Grand Canyon 4 day backpack over 20 miles and packed my Paradox rain shell from Costco. $30.

    These guys at Westcomb are selling something besides waterproof for $280.

    • michaellanza   |  November 27, 2013 at 6:06 am

      Hi Tim, I’ve used many, many rain jackets over the years, from the cheapest to the most expensive, and everything in between. You may prefer your $30 Costco jacket, and that’s fine. But I can tell you that you’re sacrificing any breathability. That usually won’t matter in a dry place like the Grand Canyon, but it will on many trips. I’ve written more about less-expensive vs. more-expensive rain jackets in this post: http://thebigoutside.com/ask-me-expensive-waterproof-breathable-jacket-vs-inexpensive-which-do-you-recommend/

      Many happy and safe adventures to you.

  3. Laura Rocks   |  November 26, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Sounds swell! Please: Tell me more about
    A) westcomb (never heard of them!) and
    b) if there an analogous women’s jacket.
    I love detailed responses btw :)

    • michaellanza   |  November 27, 2013 at 6:03 am

      Hi Laura, Westcomb is a relatively small manufacturer of high-quality, technical outdoor apparel (mostly outerwear). You’ll find reviews of several Westcomb pieces at The Big Outside. Check out their website (linked in the review above). Unfortunately, they do not yet have a women’s version of the Focus LT Hoody. You should contact the company through its website and suggest that to them.

  4. Tim Colman   |  October 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Vs. Montbell Versalite for $150? Just wondering.

    • michaellanza   |  October 17, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Good question, Tim. I have not tested the Versalite, though I have reviewed the MontBell Torrent Flier Jacket (http://thebigoutside.com/gear-review-montbell-torrent-flier-jacket/), which is basically a step up in quality from the Versalite because it uses Gore-Tex. MontBell and many other outdoor-apparel brands have their own proprietary waterproof-breathable technology; the Versalite uses “Super Hydro Breeze,” while other companies give their proprietary waterproof-breathable technology their own name. Basically, these are all simple coatings applied to the fabric. Coatings are less expensive than Gore-Tex or eVent (which are both membranes, not coatings), and frankly, less breathable and durable.

      My colleagues at Backpacker and I (as well as reviewers elsewhere) have consistently found eVent to be more breathable than Gore-Tex, though Gore-Tex has other strengths as well as newer versions, like its Pro Shell, that have better breathability than earlier Gore-Tex. Both Gore-Tex and eVent will be more breathable and resistant to wetting out (becoming saturated) than any proprietary coating.

      There’s a good, very long explanation about waterproof-breathable technologies at http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/rainwear-how-it-works.html. But the short answer is: When you pay more for a jacket, you’re usually paying for better technology, either Gore-Tex or eVent.

      So which should you buy? Only you can decide what you can afford, of course. But I would also consider the environment and weather you typically head out in. Is your rain jacket more for “just in case it rains,” or do you often find yourself in a steady rain?

      I would also consider how breathable a jacket you need. Personally, when I’m hiking with a pack on in mild temperatures (mid-50s or higher) in the rain, I find myself deciding whether I’ll get more wet hiking without the rain jacket on, or with it on–which comes down to how much I’ll sweat hiking with a jacket on. So I prefer a highly breathable (eVent) jacket for those conditions. But I run hot. Some people who get cold more easily won’t overheat as quickly when hiking in the rain in mild temps. Conversely, if I expect generally cooler temps and rain, I find that eVent still works well, but Gore-Tex is adequately breathable and has other advantages.

      Lastly, you have to make choices of personal preference regarding the jacket’s weight, fit, features (how many pockets, how adjustable the hood is, etc.).

      I hope that’s helpful. You may want to check out my other rain jacket reviews at http://thebigoutside.com/tag/rain-jacket-reviews/.

      • Tim Colman   |  October 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

        Jeez! Thanks for the detailed response regarding what to consider for a rain jacket. I didn’t know event was a membrane.

        Timothy

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