Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: DC Rainmaker

I decided it’s time to get a new GPS watch, as my foray into cheapies was pretty disastrous. It’s a big investment to drop a couple hundred bucks on a watch, so I like to do my homework before I plunk down my coin. While the Interwebz is full of useful info, it’s also full of a lot of crap. So, when I come across useful info, I like to share it.

Last night I found DC Rainmaker’s website and boy was I blown away. The dude does his homework, and shares all the information. And I do mean “all.” While I could do without the blow-by-blow photo sequence of how a particular watch unboxes, his reviews are methodical, detailed, and imaged to provide as much information as possible about the item in question.

I think it’s safe to say he’s a techie. According to his blog, he owns five smartphones, just so he can test out any fitness app he desires. Wow. Anyway, if you’re looking at a new running watch, check out the link above. I guarantee you’ll get as much info as you can process. While I think my reviews definitely Don’t Suck, DC Rainmaker might just be the Original Gangster of Gear Reviews…

Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Pearl Izumi Fly Softshell Jacket



I’ve been looking for a decent cold weather running jacket for several years. But, it just never made much sense to buy anything more robust than a light wind jacket when my coldest runs in SC and AZ might have approached a frigid 32F. Sure, the occasional winter excursions back to northern MN might mean some chilly jogs, but if I had 99 problems, a good running jacket wasn’t one.

Alaska, on the other hand, has been a much different story. Running in the winter up here is quite obviously legit. Last year, I made things work with my old wind jacket and a Patagonia jacket I got on sale at REI. Nothing was ideal, but it was better than nothing. Both jackets breathed very poorly, which led to a lot of frost buildup on the insides of the jacket, the fit for both is a bit wonky, but they worked so long as I layered appropriately. I made it through a winter of running, didn’t freeze off anything.

This winter, I was lucky enough to get my hands on the beauty you see above, in red. MSRP is $165 but sometimes you can find markdowns at the end of winter on Roadrunner or Runner’s Warehouse. Pearl Izumi is a company better-known for their cycling apparel, but they also have a line of running clothing. Their outwear is pretty much sport-independent; items like jackets are designed to apply to cycling, running, and pretty much any other cold weather athletic pursuit.

As I write more of these gear reviews, I’m realizing that in order to keep up with the other cool kids out there, I should start structuring these things more predictably. Someday I’ll get on top of that. Until then, you’re stuck with my scattershot approach. Oh well. There are plenty of reviewers that judge gear based on a single run, or a watch’s appearance for crying out loud; I can guarantee that what I tell you is backed up by my basic approach:

1) Nothing gets a review without roughly 100 miles worth of use. Shoes, jackets, shorts, whatever. When I say it’s been tested, it’s been tested.

2) I have no sponsors, unless you include your and my tax dollars. So, nothing I push or bash is based on a relationship with a corporate entity.

3) No nonsense, no bull. Take it or leave it.

So, here’s what I think about the jacket.

Bottom Line Up Front: Hands-down, best high-aerobic activity technical jacket I’ve ever worn, and it just so happens to be affordable.

1) The breathability of this jacket is simply outstanding. I simply have no tolerance for running jackets that don’t breathe, and you’d be surprised at the number of supposedly high-tech, expensive jackets that don’t breathe. The purpose of a running jacket is two fold – for one, it keeps the outside stuff out. Rain, snow, wind: a running jacket should keep all that nasty stuff off you. The other purpose is to move what’s inside, to the outside…namely, the perspiration your body creates. A running jacket that doesn’t do both doesn’t belong in your closet. I ran in everything from -20F to the high 20s, in hard winds, to driving snow. I am convinced that there isn’t a hardshell on the planet that can compete with a softshell when it comes to breathability, and this softshell in particular performed better than any other jacket I’ve tried. My breathability test is simple – run in the cold for a while, then stop. If I can see steam rising from the jacket, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Manufacturers want to throw numbers around, but they rarely mean squat outside the lab. This jacket steamed, and it steamed good.

I have another test for breathability: as soon as I finish a run, I strip off the jacket and look for signs of heavy condensation buildup. Are my forearms soaking? If it’s near zero, can I find large frost buildups inside the jacket? My experience is that most jackets struggle with the forearm sweat issue – the Fly solves this varying material density. The dense stuff is where you need it, the places most likely to be affected by cold wind. The chest, shoulders, and fronts of the arms are a nice, tightly-weaved windblocking material while the rest is more of a jersey-knit, allowing for greater breathability. Even so, I still found some condensation frost inside the jacket after a cold run. Just a touch in the forearms, and some in the lower back.

Now, I will say that in cold, wet regions, a hardshell would be more advantageous to keep heavy rain off you. I did not run in the rain in the Fly – but it’s billed as “water-resistant,” which means it probably won’t do much beyond a light drizzle.

2) Fit – A running jacket has to walk a fine line between too loose and too tight. Too loose, and excess material flaps around; more importantly, the jacket is too far away from the heat of your body to push your perspiration outside the jacket. Remember my basic maxim of cold-weather running: you are the heat source. Everything else serves to insulate and evaporate. Conversely, a jacket fit too tightly is constrictive, uncomfortable, and leaves your skin too close to the fabric blocking the wind, snow, etc.

That being said, the manufacturer describes the Fly as “semi form-fitting,” and I found that to be accurate. The drop-tail hem design, a nod to muddy/wet feet and rear bicycle tires, is appropriately loose, but the rest is *just* the right balance between tight and loose. I have large shoulders, and very un-runner-esque arms and chest for the time being, and I found the jacket to be perfectly comfy for running. Galen Rupp might have something else to say, but this stocky runner found that it fit as needed.

Other high points of the jacket include the hi-vis reflective piping, which got high nods from sleepy mates driving past me in the cold, dark AK mornings. Storm flaps on zippers and pit-zips are de-rigeur these days for any performance jacket, so nothing special there. If I had one complaint about the jacket, it was the internal fist mitts in the sleeves, which I found too short to be of any use to anyone without child-like appendages.

So, there you go. The jacket is priced competitively against other running softshells, but I’ve also noticed that when they go on sale, the discount is typically less steep that some of the other competitors. I’d recommend one, even at full price.

Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Arc’teryx Eon SLW

Eon-SLW-T-Shirt-Black-BlackI’m not sure when I got my first “technical” shirt. Probably sometime in college, although, at USAFA we were issued sweet cotton throwback shorts and tees as our mandatory PT gear. No, I probably bought something on my own at some point after realizing that synthetic fibers tended to breathe and dry faster than the old cotton tee. I’m not sure, but my dresser tells you need to know about how I have dressed over the past decade of running. More shorty shorts than you can toss a stick at and scads of technical shirts. Race shirts, specialty shirts, tank tops, tee shirts, long sleeve, crew-zipped, mock turtle – you name it, I probably have it.

What I did not have until this past year was anything that wasn’t born in a lab. What do I mean? Synthetic fibers are just that – man-made. Most tech shirts these days are a blend of some kind polypropylene base and something stretchy. So, your average tech shirt is pretty much plastic.

In the past few years, natural fibers have made a comeback in the sporting apparel industry. For one, and not to be cynical, but companies recognize “green” is a market from which there is money to be made. Natural fibers can be far more green due to the low(er) carbon footprint needed to produce the material (got sheep and some scissors?). Secondly, natural fibers tend to be more durable. Thirdly, companies like Ibex and Icebreaker have figured out how to engineer technical apparel using natural fibers like Merino Wool. In short, this ain’t your granddaddy’s pair of heavy wool pants/lederhosen. The clothing being produced is uber-high quality and looks no different from your favorite pair of running tights or best zip-up running top. Finally, Merino wool has natural antibacterial qualities, which has obvious advantages when it comes to clothes in which one might run.

So, how did I test this shirt? Well, in many ways, when it comes to running, a shirt is a shirt is a shirt, right? Not much different from one to the next in terms of design. It does feature flatlock stitching, which is important to avoid chafing when you wear a pack, but less important for runners. But really, the most important thing to test with a shirt is the material. In this case, I was most interested in both the breathability and odor-resistant properties of the Merino Wool.

Breathability – it’s important to note here that the thickness of the fabric in question is a key aspect, and you should toss out the idea that wool garments are heavy, thick, and cumbersome. Merino wool allows designers to things with wool, like thin out the material without losing durability. The Arc-teryx shirt is pretty thin – think of your favorite tech shirt, how thick that is, and that’s about the thickness you’ve got here. I layered it under a jacket in AK, and wore it solo on runs in CA and it did well in either case. Merino wool fibers wick naturally, as they are hydrophilic at one end and hydrophobic on the the other; when worn next to skin, the shirt literally wants to move perspiration away from your skin, keeping you more dry.

Odor-resistance – I wore this shirt for two weeks straight without washing it, for every workout. Towards the end, I even wore it throughout a day of skydiving just to see if I could overwhelm it with a bunch of weirdness. Nothing, which is more than impressive. Try that with a synthetic shirt and you’ll be divorced/the Smelly Guy at the Gym before you can say “The Future is in Plastics!” So here’s the deal, folks – I pushed several pounds worth of sweat and corresponding funk through this shirt over two weeks without washing, and it didn’t even flinch. When I say it smelled like nothing, I mean nothing. I couldn’t even pick up traces of my own deodorant. Now, I will say that the shirt, when wet with sweat, smells slightly “wooly,” but it beats the alternative, which is…smelling like nasty ass BO. Seriously, is there anything worse than running behind someone with out-of-control funk? Other than actually being that guy?

Bottom Line: Approved. Frankly, it better be, at $90 a pop. Like I’ve said in other reviews, I want what I pay for. This shirt delivers what I want from a base layer/performance tee.