Monday, December 24, 2012

RJ Review: GoLite Kenai Pertex 2.5-Layer Hardshell Jacket

Great at low speed.  So so at high speed

The last time I reviewed a running jacket was way back in 2008, when I both lauded the Patagonia Houdini and also lamented that there seems to be no such thing as a perfect running jacket - one that's at once lightweight, waterproof, and breathable.  Today, in time to be of no help for holiday shopping, is a follow-up review of sorts, this time of GoLite's Kenai Pertex 2.5-Layer Hardshell jacket (MSRP $200, but can be found for less).

Though the Patagonia Houdini remains my go-to jacket - from summer afternoon mountain thunderstorms to pre-dawn zero degree road runs - it falls down on one major area: water repellency.  In a deluge, it can quickly soak through, soaking your clothes underneath.  Most times this isn't a huge issue since the Houdini is so light that after the rain stops, it and the clothes underneath air dry fairly quickly.

Yet, in a sustained downpour its lack of true waterproofness can become an issue - something I was spurred to think about while crewing at the 2011 Coyote Two Moon 100, where epic and sustained spring rains and snow cancelled the event.

Over a year later, I've finally been able to put a fully waterproof jacket - the GoLite Kenai - through the paces in a wide range of conditions.

Out of the box
The Kenai is a beautiful, well constructed relatively light jacket with an adjustable hood and long pit zips with two-way zippers.  All seams are taped, and it has three good-sized waterproof pockets. The sleeves have top-side extended gauntlets and velcro wrist adjusts.

On the trail
The Kenai was put through the paces in some classic mountain venues, including the scramble to the top of Leatherman Peak (elev 12,228 ft; second tallest in Idaho), the trip around the Northern Loop in Rainier NP; and general Sun Valley trail running.

At 10 ounces, the Kenai is pretty standard in its class.  It's not a flyweight but feels nimble, and the extra weight can provide some extra warmth on chilly opening miles.

In rain or snow, the Kenai shines best.  It provides full protection against the elements, no matter how long you're out on the trail.  The long gauntlets keep hands and gloves a bit drier than they normally would be otherwise.  The hood stays well in place with some adjustments.

Where the Kenai falls short is ventilation.  The large pit zips do a good job venting heat and perspiration at low intensity, say a long hike or slow chilly ultra.  But turn up the speed and intensity, and your clothes under the shell will soon be nearly as wet as they would be without the shell - and without any chance of drying out as long as you keep the shell on.  On one cold and snowy run, the Kenai shed water and snow like a newly waxed car; on the inside, though, my clothes were soaked with sweat and the inside layer of the jacket was coated with ice.  As I turned it inside out in the car after my run, flakes of ice spread like snow.

This, of course, is an issue with most (all?) waterproof running jackets.  The energy expended during running just overwhelms the venting ability at any pace over a slow jog, even in cold weather.  At slow speed, though, they provide adequate venting, great protection, and good warmth.

Exactly where the Kenai might fit in a runner's clothing repertoire will be a matter of personal choice and event choice.

The bottom line:  The GoLite Kenai Pertex 2.5-Layer Hardshell is a great jacket, with some issues.  It is well built and comfortable with solid barrier protection but poor ventilation at higher intensity.

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