Showers Pass Mountain Elite Jacket Review

by Brian Mullin on March 16, 2009

The Company
Showers Pass, known for its wind and waterproof cycling garments, was originally founded in 1998 in Arcata, California. In 2005, Ed Dalton took over the company, moved it to Oregon, and revamped the brand and the product line. They recently added Kyle Ranson as co-president, and consolidated to a new 6000 sq ft building in SW Portland. The company makes some incredible gear that is specific for the cycling community, and not some garment that was morphed from the backpack world into the cycling world. Their gear is for the serious cyclist who spends their time out in any weather, year round.

The name Showers Pass, comes from the same named mountain pass just inland in the foothills of Eureka California. Obviously, it is a place that the weather can be pretty wet and miserable fairly frequently due to the North Pacific storm systems, and an ideal place to test and own good inclement weather cycling gear.

Waterproof Garments
Over the years, waterproof and breathable fabrics have revolutionized the apparel we wear during our outdoor activities, whether that is running, biking, cycling, backpacking, mountaineering, or running to the grocery store. All of these fabrics are waterproof; where they have varied is in their breathability, which is their ability to pass the sweat that our bodies generate during exercise out through the garment material.

Evaporation of sweat is a major cooling mechanism. If these outer layers do not pass that sweat moisture out through them, our insulating or inner layers get wet and lose their ability to hold in our body heat. In cycling, we tend to be creating a lot of sweat and heat when pedaling up and then when going down, we cool off with fast downhill speeds. Therefore, one moment you are a hot house and the next an ice box, and the last thing you want is to be trapped in a wet cold clammy environment.

Most of the best brands of the waterproof and breathable fabrics use an expanded PTFE (puffed Teflon, properly called ePTFE) membrane layered with woven shell fabric to stop liquid moisture from the outside world and pass moisture vapor from the inside. By expanding the PTFE material into a thin sheet, tiny pores are formed, providing exceptional breathability. Water droplets (rain) are large in comparison to the PTFE pores so they get stopped from passing through to the inside, while water vapor (sweat) is smaller than the pores and can pass through to the outside. PTFE is hydrophobic, that is it repels liquid water, while letting water vapor pass through.

But, there is a catch. PTFE, in its natural state, is readily contaminated with oils from our body and other environmental substances. The oil contamination eliminates the hydrophobic quality and the fabrics leak.

To solve this, some manufacturers put a layer of polyurethane (PU) over the PTFE membrane to protect it from contamination. The PU is hydrophilic; it absorbs water. First, sweat is condensed and absorbed into the PU layer on the inside of the fabric. Because PU absorbs and retains sweat, the inside of the fabric becomes wet. Then, body heat begins to push that dampness through to the outside of the fabric where it can finally evaporate – a very inefficient process. This combination “breathes” but not nearly as efficiently as the PTFE membrane alone.

eVent fabrics, which the Mountain Elite uses, have developed a way to make PTFE oleophobic (oil repelling) while still retaining the hydrophobic (water repelling) characteristics of PTFE. It keeps outside water out and lets the inside sweat pass right through it.

PTFE 101
In chemistry, poly(tetrafluoroethylene) or poly(tetrafluoroethene) (PTFE) is a synthetic fluoropolymers which finds numerous applications. PTFE was accidentally invented by Roy Plunkett of Kinetic Chemicals in 1938, while he was attempting to make a new CFC refrigerant. PTFE is most well known by the DuPont brand name Teflon.

Fluorocarbons are not as susceptible to the London dispersion force (van der Waals force) due to the high electronegativity of fluorine. Therefore, water, oils and most foods do not wet PTFE.

In 1954, French engineer Marc Grégoire created the first pan coated with Teflon non-stick resin under the brand name of Tefal after his wife urged him to try the material he had been using on fishing tackle on her cooking pans. That is a bit scary, fishing tackle to cooking pans, and now jackets!

ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene), was created by Bob Gore in 1969 when he rapidly stretched PTFE and created a very strong, microporous material that today is used in next-generation electronics, medical products, and with high-performance fabrics. The Gore family created the Gore-Tex fabric in 1976 that we now know as the ubiquitous waterproof material.

While PTFE is stable and non-toxic, it begins to deteriorate after the temperature of 500 °F, and decompose above 660 °F. Therefore, make sure you don’t get your jacket above 500 °F, or it can become toxic!

For the chemical geeks:

Molecular formula CnF2n+2
Density 2200 kg m−3
Melting point 327 °C

F   F

R - C - C - R

F   F

Mountain Elite Jacket Review
Now onto the jacket itself, and how it functions and works in the real world. I wanted to try this jacket out in the rain, but it is the winter time in Colorado so rain is still a few months off. Instead I had to use it in snowstorms, bitter cold and nasty windy weather. However, I did put the optional hood on and took a shower with it, and it passed with flying colors.

The first time you put the jacket on it feels too short, but as soon as you ride with it on you realize that the shorter length keeps the bottom portion of the jacket from getting in the way of pedaling and other biking maneuvers. A lot of jackets for inclement weather like to either get caught up with your knees while pedaling or worse getting caught by the nose of your saddle while doing intricate moves off the back of the bike. It is a very comfortable jacket, that is cut loose, so it works well with the clothes you wear for mountain biking and the way you dance around while singletracking. When the jacket is fully zipped up, the neck fits snuggly so that rain and snow are less apt to enter in through the neck area.


The jacket feels very comfortable with pack on, and does not seem to bind you at any points while riding, and I had no issues with any tightness in the back while bent over holding onto the handlebars.


Features

The shoulders and elbow area is covered with an additional layer of fabric called SuperFabric which is very grippy and abrasion resistant. When you put a pack on it stays put on the grippy SuperFabric shoulder patches, and does not move around. With most jackets the slippery nylon allows the pack to slide all over you shoulders and can be annoying while motoring down a trail.

Over the long run, the additional protection in the elbow area will help the longevity of the jacket and protect it the event of a crash, which all of us are prone to do on an occasion. The arms of the jacket are cut fairly wide, so I could wear my elbow pads under the jacket.

The jacket has some very interesting additional features, one of which is the drop down tail. It is really a butt drip protector. As water dribbles down your back when it is raining, the flap lets the water roll off past your saddle, keeping your derriere drier. That is a great cycling specific innovation!


The flap sits up inside the jacket, and is held there by 2 buttons. With a bit of effort it is easy to reach back and pull the flap down while riding, so when it starts to pour you get that extra amount of protection.


It has something they call ‘Core Vents’ which are for additional ventilation, allowing air to move into the jacket. They are placed up front in the jacket for maximum air input, and to keep them out of the way of pack straps. They are somewhat in place of the usual pit zips that most jackets incorporate for ventilation. Although this was a nice feature, I would have still liked the pits zips when you really want to cool off, that is a feature I have always liked in a jacket and was a big downfall on this jacket.


I also got the optional hood, which clips on easily with Velcro. It is a nice addition to a great jacket and keeps your head dry and keeps those annoying drips from working there way down your neck. The hood fits snugly and fits nicely under a helmet. The fact that the hood is optional was a bit odd to me, it is an important piece of the jacket for a mountain biker, and I consider it essential.

Performance
Therefore, how did it perform? I had it out in a couple of snowstorms, and the waterproofness was perfect, but the best part was how well it breathed. The temperatures were warm enough that I built up a good amount of heat and sweat going up to my usual singletrack, and I never noticed any more dampness than I usually get while riding. When I switched to go downhill, the jacket kept me warm, and it was very wind resistant, preventing the sort of wind chill that likes to creep into the torso when moving along at a good clip. On another day it was bone chilling weather. It was extremely cold, and windy with an occasional snow flake, good weather for a polar bear or a nutty mountain biker. The jacket did a great job protecting me from the elements.

The jacket did fine in my shower test and kept me dry for the brief time I was testing it. It was not quite like riding in a full rainstorm nor a long drizzly ride, but it still showed that it was good and waterproof. I also had my daughter spray me with a hose while I was on the bike with the jacket and hood on, she enjoyed that immensely drenching me as much as possible. The jacket did just fine with the hose test, and I had no damp spots anywhere under the jacket.

Bottom Line
This is a great jacket that is well made and has a lot of innovations and features. Those features are very specific to cycling and make the jacket stand at the top of the stack of waterproof apparel. The drip tail feature is an amazing little tweak that adds a lot user comfort during a wet ride. The eVent material is not only waterproof, but it is highly breathable, a great fabric for cycling where you are either sweating heavily or flying downhill at a full clip. I also liked the grippy SuperFabric shoulder patches. I disliked the lack of pit zips and that the hood is optional.

Strengths:
-Cycling specific
-Drop down rain tail
-Grippy shoulder patches
-Very breathable

Weaknesses:
-Lack of pit zips
-Hood is optional
-Expensive

Value Rating: 3 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Mountain Elite Specs:
-eVent 3-Layer body
-Abrasion and tear resistant elbow patches
-Non-slip SuperFabric shoulder patches
-Waterproof front zipper and chest pocket with audio port
-Core vents for ventilation
-Two front cargo pockets
-Drop down rain tail
Weight: 19.7oz/558g (Large)
Colors: Red & Black or Blue & Black
MSRP: $ 250

Optional Hood Specs:
-Extended brim
-Fits under helmet
-3 Layer
Color: Black
Weight:2.8oz/80g
MSRP: $22

Showers Pass url: http://www.showerspass.com/
Mountain Elite Jacket url: http://www.showerspass.com/products.asp?ManId=1114&ProductId=11&Product=Mountain+Elite

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