Prologue: July 28, 2010
I was out for a quick 9-mile spin, roughly 4.5 miles each way running from a little over 9,000ft in elevation to about 10,400ft. The ride up was sunny and bright, sitting perfectly at about 70 degrees. Upon hitting the Wilderness boundary, my mandatory turnaround point, the sky suddenly grew dark… very dark… very, very, very dark. After feeling the temperature plummet and seeing the inevitable deluge coming, I quickly finished my energy bar and turned tail back down the hill. By the time my cleats clicked into my SPDs, it was as if God himself had overturned a bucket the size of the Heavens, right over my coordinates.
This wasn’t a rainstorm… it was more than a deluge… the word “downpour” doesn’t even begin to cover it; it was literally like riding under a waterfall for 4.5 miles! By the time I got to the trailhead, the temperature had dropped to just under 50 degrees and the ice-cold Rocky Mountain rainwater had soaked through every fiber of every piece of clothing I was wearing and had seemingly soaked through every cubic centimeter of my flesh right down to the bones and vital organs. I was shivering madly, plunging rapidly into hypothermia, and could barely gather enough composure to start the engine of my vehicle and turn on the heater. A decent, waterproof jacket would have been a life saver.
In my adult life, I’ve lived in 12 states, and everywhere I’ve lived, I always hear people spout the old cliché, “If you don’t like the weather in (insert your location here), just wait 5 minutes… it’ll change!” Nowhere in America is that so true as high elevations in the Rockies. Weather prediction is actually pretty accurate most of the time, but it is completely pointless at high altitude where no predictive models can factor in all the pertinent variables and give you a reasonable chance at knowing what’s going to happen and when. So, knowing this, why didn’t I have a jacket appropriate for my environs? Because every jacket I’d ever owned was either 1) not as waterproof as claimed, 2) not as breathable as claimed, or 3) just too bulky for me to be able to, or even want to, fit it into my hydration pack. (Actually, most jackets were guilty of at least two or all three of these flaws.) Being annoyed by this lack of performance, I simply chose to eschew the jacket and take my chances.
My Introduction to the Endura Xtract Jacket
I was intrigued when Endura offered Singletracks one of their Xtract jackets for review, and I jumped at the opportunity to put it through its paces. I had high hopes–no actual expectations, mind you, but high hopes nonetheless. Endura is a Scotland-based company, and their products are heavily influenced by Highland weather. While I’ve never been to Scotland (not that I wouldn’t love to go, as they appear to have some epic singletrack), I’ve seen plenty of pictures and video and the place looks… well, wet–and damp–and cold. So if anybody ought to know about making clothes for bone-chilling weather, it ought to be the Scots, eh? While I do most of my riding in Colorado, what your geography teacher will tell you is a “semi-arid” state, as the story above attests, altitude changes all that and in the most unpredictable ways, so I surmised a Scottish jacket might be just the ticket for a Rocky Mountain Yank.
If you’re short on time and want the quick answer, here it is: those hopes were very well met. If you’re curious about the specifics of this jacket, keep reading. The Endura Xtract jacket features:
- Lightweight waterproof/ breathable ripstop fabric
- Waterproof 5,000mm; Breathable 5,000g/24hrs/m2
- Reflective trims on sleeves and rear centre back
- Elasticated cuffs, neck and hem
- Front zip with full length storm flap and zipper garage
- Centre back mesh vents for optimal breathability
- Concealed security mesh pocket
- Comes with stuff sack
So How Did the Xtract Perform?
When I first threw the Xtract on in my living room, I was a little concerned. Being significantly bigger than the average mountain biker, I went with a size XL (they do make an XXL), which still felt a bit snug when I threw it on, especially across the shoulders. I worried that the Xtract might hinder my range of motion when ripping the gnar where I have to throw my wide handlebars around a lot.
Other than that, all first impressions were quite positive. The jacket was unbelievably lightweight and yet appeared quite sturdy with its high tech material and very substantial stitching. The jacket was surprisingly snug at each opening (wrists, waist, and neck) but without feeling constricting. There was a good deal of mesh in the back, which was well shielded from above, making for an impression of breathability without sacrificing security from the elements. The red color was bold without being obnoxious. I looked forward to my first ride and actually hoped it would rain–hard!
On the trail, my concerns about the seemingly narrow shoulders constricting my range of motion completely disappeared. I rode with the jacket on my gnarliest routes and completely forgot I was even wearing it. But how did the Xtract do on my three prime criteria from above?
Definitely. The fabric repels water very well and, as a bonus, in the absence of rain, makes for a great windbreaker, adding to the Xtract’s versatility. Those snug-but-not-too-tight openings also keep the water out of where it doesn’t belong. Lastly, the extension over the bum even keeps water from getting down your shorts. While I have yet to get hit with another deluge of biblical proportions like in the prologue, the daily afternoon thundershowers this spring has brought us have been enough for me to know I can trust the Xtract when the going gets wet.
Better than most, and certainly better than anything this waterproof. While the Xtract didn’t vent all my sweat, the fact is nothing made by man ever has. I’m a cold weather beast and the slightest bit of exercise instantly has me generating heat like a brand-new 20,000 BTU furnace. I’m usually sweating by the time I throw my leg over the top tube. So while I would like the Xtract to be a bit more breathable, I know no such thing exists and am happy the Xtract comes closer to my personal Holy Grail than any other product I’ve tried.
3. Not too bulky?
As already noted, the Xtract is shockingly featherweight, but the feature I like more than any other is how it packs down into a sack no larger than a can of your favorite brew. That something this substantial and so useful can be made so insignificantly small is beyond astonishing. Never more will I have the dilemma of whether it’s worth it to carry a jacket along for the ride–this is now a total no-brianer. And this jacket won’t just be accompanying me on bike rides: it’s now my number one choice for backpacking as well.
The only feature better than the packability is the price. With many technical jackets demanding as many as three Ben Franklin’s out of your wallet, for the Xtract, you only need pull out one, and you’ll get some change back, too! I’d be happy with this jacket at a much higher price: the value here feels like free extra icing on a Cinnabon. Thanks to the Xtract, I’m now 90% impervious to the elements–now if only someone could make some riding glasses with little windshield wipers on them!
The Xtract is available in sizes S – XXL, in red, black, or high-viz yellow. There is also a women’s specific Xtract in sizes XS – XL, in ultramarine, black or high-viz pink.
Many thanks to Endura for shipping us the Xtract for review.