While we all want to look like a Volvo Ocean racer wearing the most high tech foul weather gear, do ocean rowers need it?
I went to the Annapolis SailBoat Show to find out how extreme we need to go, to get the right gear. In the process, I learned alot about the features, models, and sizing differences. In this post I'll give an overview on the jackets that were on offer and my opinion.
Walking into the show I had a very short list of requirements for foul weather gear.
- Material, seams, and surface waterproofing should last at least 50 days on the Pacific Ocean.
- Jacket weight should be comparable to competitors offering
- Getting in and out of the garments should not take any thought
- Garment should give range of motion that is near equal to rowing motion without jacket and pants.
The vendors and the models that were looked at or referenced:
- Musto: HPX and MPX
- Zhik: Isotak 2 Ocean and Race
- Gill: Ocean Racer and OS1
- Henri Lloyd: Off shore Elite and Pro
- Helly Hansen: Aegir Race and Ocean
One of the first things that I found out was the difference in the cut between brands is pretty close in the Medium/ Large jacket. At six feet tall and 175 lbs. I was tight in the Medium jacket and far more comfortable in the Large across all brands. Zhik's Isotak 2 was the only jacket I would feel comfortable wearing as a Medium. But I would still go for a Large, if I was to buy this jacket as layering underneath could make the fit tighter.
Some of the brands offered trim versions of their jackets compared to the 'Pro' or 'Ocean' version. As there won't be much room for moving about, having a more fitted and trim jacket would help. The price also seems to be less for the non Pro/ Ocean versions. The reduction in size seemed to be in the torso not in the bicep or raising the arm holes.
Stretching and simulating rowing in all the jackets was easy. The sleeve length was longer than I expected but welcome as reach in a rowing garment is essential. I wear a 33/34 inch sleeve in dress shirts and all the jackets had sleeves that went past my thumb with arms straight down.
The long tail of the jackets was also welcome for rowing. However, i'm not convinced that the jacket length's are in the sweet spot where we wouldn't be sitting on it, caught in tracks, nor it flaring out while on recovery phase of the stroke.
I would note that the most extreme versions of the jackets tended to be exceptionally long and on small rowing boats likely excessive. This included Helly Hansen Aegir Ocean and Musto HPX Pro.
Jacket weight. Effectiveness of every ounce added to the jacket is hard for a non quantitative approach but I can at least note the two extremes in weight. Musto's HPX was the heaviest and Zhik's Isotak 2 (non ocean) was the lightest. Helly Hansen and Henri Lloyd were heavier but in the 'marina' with Zhik. Gill's jacket struck me as a typical heavy winter coat weight but was still lighter than Musto's.
A noticeable difference between the top two tiers of each company was the robustness of the exterior material used. I have no doubt that months on the sea would be attainable with the each brand's top tier jacket. Its a hard call on which tier to go with unless they both have the top tier material just in different quantities.
Pockets, hoods, reinforcements. Although each of these are important they seemed to be fairly represented across all the lines without one being notably better than the rest. Reinforcement was provided on elbows and on the seat, so no differentiation could be made.
How can we differentiate between the products to make a decision? I think the easier criteria revolves around price and availability. There's likely more feature differences in the pants than in the jacket.
Price could be skewed with athletic sponsorship, whether in kind donations of gear or discounts. But outside of that large factor, the price of the jackets ranged from $600 USD to $1000 USD.
During the boatshow, many of the vendors mentioned they are releasing new versions early next year, so fit and availability of the existing models might be hit or miss depending on timing.
Ultimately the trip to the boatshow was worth the time for me. While one jacket didn't stand out, I have a reasonable comfort now that all the jackets could meet my unscientific requirements.