The Montbell Versalite is an ultralight waterproof/breathable rain jacket that weighs 7.0 oz in a men’s XL. It’s by far the best backpacking rain jacket in my gear closet in terms of the features important to hikers. It has pit zips, a four-way adjustable hood, hook and loop wrist cuffs, hip-belt compatible chest pockets, an internally controlled hem adjustment, waterproof zippers, and taped seams. Montbell nailed this one.
Specs at a Glance
- Weight: 6.4 oz in Medium (7.0 oz in XL)
- Fabric: 2 layer Gore-tex Windstopper Infinium and 10-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon ripstop
- Water resistance: 30,000 mm
- Breathability: 43,000 g/m2/24hrs (JIS L-1099 B-1 method)
- Center back length: 28.7 in (73 cm)
The Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket has 18″ long pit zips with smooth sliding waterproof zippers in the armpits to vent built-up body heat and reduce perspiration. I view it as a very positive sign when a waterproof/breathable jacket manufacturer includes pit zips, even when a jacket has a high breathability rating like the Versalite. It indicates that they understand the limitations of the technology and aren’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Perspiration and condensation buildup inside a rain jack is a fact of nature and not something you can engineer away with breathable fabrics.
Pit zips help vent some of the heat that builds us inside a rain jacket when you’re active so you perspire less. They also reduce the temperature differential between the inside of your jacket and the exterior, reducing the amount of condensation that forms. It’s no different than venting a single-wall tent to reduce internal condensation.
Four-way adjustable hood
The Versalite Jacket has a four-way adjustable hood with a velcro tab on the back to adjust the height of the front brim and a rear elastic adjuster to tighten the circumference of the crown of the hood. The size of the hood opening is controlled by two cords at the top of the chest which are easy to grab and tighten even if you’re wearing gloves or rain mitts. The beauty of this system is that you don’t have to reach into the neck or hood area with wet gloves to adjust it in the rain.
The cords are routed through two channels in the neck and sewn quite robustly to avoid tearing. If you still manage to rip them out, there are exposed adjusters above the channels, much like the conventional ones you find on other jackets, that you can still use to tension and adjust the size of the hood’s face opening.
There’s also a stiffener sewn into the brim to keep its shape, although it’s not bendable like a wire. Still, it is sturdy enough that I can hike without a billed cap to keep the rain off of my eyes and my glasses, which I appreciate.
Overall, the Versalite hood is just fantastic for a rain jacket. I especially like the hood sizing and adjustments because they minimize noisy flapping in a stiff breeze so I can use the Versalite as a wind shirt as well as a rain jacket. That saves a few ounces of extra weight on my gear list.
Hip-belt Compatible Chest Pockets
The Versalite Jacket has two medium zippered chest pockets, also with waterproof zippers, that can be accessed while you’re wearing a hip belt. They’re large enough to fit electronics, maps, snacks, glove liners, or anything else you want close at hand during the day. There are very few rain jackets available today that have hip-belt-compatible zippered chest pockets for the simple reason that few rain jackets are actually made for hikers, backpackers, or climbers instead of downhill skiers or casual urban users.
When I hike, I like to treat the pockets in my rain jacket as an extension of my packing system, like I do with backpack hip belt pockets. You can’t do that though if the pockets are covered by the hip belt and inaccessible. If you can find a rain jacket with hip-belt-compatible chest pockets (sometimes called Napoleon Pockets) grab it. It’s a rare but useful feature for three-season and winter hiking.
The Versalite Jacket has velcro (hook and loop) wrist cuffs which are much better than elastic cuffs because you can wrap them over the ends of rain gloves and prevent rain from dripping down your arms. The same holds for cold air in winter when using insulated gloves. Your blood flows very close to your wrists and keeping them warm and dry, especially in wet hypothermia-inducing conditions is important. It’s also a heck of a lot more comfortable.
I usually wear the Versalite Rain Jacket with REI’s Minimalist GTX Mittens (see review), which are great rain gloves, also with velcro wrist cuffs. The combination works really well and keeps my wrists warm and dry in wet and cold weather.
The Versalite Jacket is seam-taped so it won’t leak in heavy rain. This can be a problem with jackets that have bound seams instead of taped seams like the Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket and the Anti-Gravity UL Rain Jacket. Getting wet isn’t a huge deal in summer, but it can be pretty miserable when it’s still cold in spring or autumn. I’ve experienced it and I know others who have too.
The Versalite also has elastic hem adjusters so you can prevent cold wind from cooling your torso from below. These are adjusted from within the chest pockets and routed through the interior of the Versalite Jacket, much like the hood cords described above. Montbell uses this same buried hem adjustment system in other garments, including the Ex Light Down Anorak, we reviewed last winter.
Comparable Lightweight Waterproof/Breathable Rain Jackets
|Make / Model||Pit Zips||Adjustable Hood||Wrist Cuffs||Avg Weight|
|Marmot Precip ECO||Yes||Yes||Yes||10.9 oz|
|Black Diamond Stormline Stretch||Yes||Yes||Yes||9.9 oz|
|Outdoor Research Helium||No||Yes||No||6.3 oz|
|Enlightened Equipment Visp||Option||Yes||Yes||5.3 oz|
|Montbell Versalite||Yes||Yes||Yes||6.4 oz|
|REI DryPoint||No||Yes||Yes||10.5 oz|
|Zpacks Vertice||Yes||Yes||Yes||6.2 oz|
|Marmot Bantamweight||No||Yes||No||5 oz|
|Montbell Storm Cruiser||Yes||Yes||Yes||10 oz|
|ArcTeryx Zeta SL||No||Yes||No||10.9 oz|
I think the Montbell Versalite Jacket is one of the best hiker-specific rain jackets you can buy and I think it’s fairly priced at $199. The things that make this jacket so great are its features, the quality of its construction, and its low weight. It’s only weakness, is that it’s made with waterproof/breathable fabrics and coated with a DWR layer that will rub over after 1-2 years, although you can restore it with a product like Nikwax Tx-Direct. Despite this, I far prefer wearing this jacket over the non-breathable jackets in my gear closet, because it’s so well made and functional with features that few other rain jackets offer. However, I wouldn’t recommend wearing the Versalite Jacket for off-trail hiking. It’s far too delicate for that.
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