Review: Showers Pass Rain Gear

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we know rain. And in order to keep biking through the winter, we need good rain gear. Some folks seem to do all right with lots of wool clothing and maybe a rain poncho or cycling cape stretched to the handlebars, but for me, good rain gear means a jacket and a pair of pants that are waterproof but not plasticky and fit well over street clothes. My rain suit from Showers Pass, a Portland-based company specializing in technical rain gear for cyclists, fits the bill. I've been using their Elite 2.0 jacket for several years, and recently retired my old rain pants, which are too baggy and are no longer anything resembling waterproof, in favor of their Women's Club Convertible pant. The short version is that I'm very pleased, despite a few nitpicky complaints. Here's the long version with all the whys and wherefores.

All decked out in waterproof finery. (photo from Showers Pass)

Elite 2.0 jacket

The goldenrod Elite 2.0 jacket. (photo from Showers Pass)

The Elite 2.0 is Showers Pass's ultimate rain jacket, its crowning glory and bestseller. It is made of eVent fabric, a fairly recent innovation that uses similar technology to Gore-Tex®--both fabrics incorporate waterproof membranes with tiny pores that keep water out while allowing water vapor from your sweat to escape. But Gore-Tex® is sensitive to degradation from body oils, sunscreen, and the like, and polyurethane is added to the fabric to prevent that. The makers of eVent fabric say that their fabric requires no such additions, which makes for superior breathability. Indeed, testing by the US Army supports such claims (source). The short version is that eVent fabric is designed for use in wet-weather clothing for sports that require exertion. You sweat, the jacket wicks; the rain falls, it rolls off your jacket.

The Elite 2.0 jackets features this magic fabric sandwiched between a nylon outer layer and a durable liner, and all the seams are taped so the resulting three-layer fabric can do its work. Lesser jackets are often made of only one or two layers of fabric, but without the liner, the waterproof membrane is exposed to wear that might cause it to tear or wear thin. So though a two-layer jacket might be cheaper and just as waterproof when you first buy it, you'll end up having to buy it several times over before you'd wear out a three-layer jacket like the Elite 2.0.

But the Elite 2.0 isn't all about the fabric. The construction is also carefully designed to meet cyclists' needs. The cuffs are designed to be loose enough that air flows into them and cools the torso, and they have velcro closures if you need to keep them tight around your wrists in colder weather. A vent on the back lets the air flow through. The full front waterproof zipper is two-way. The stand-up collar is lined in soft "Micro-Chamois," with a little extra tab covering the top of the zipper so it doesn't dig into your chin when you've zipped all the way up to keep the rain off your neck. There's also velcro for attaching a waterproof hood (sold by Showers Pass as an accessory). Underneath the armpits are long zippered vents that let air in where you need it without exposing your clothing to rain. There are two pockets: one in the back where a jersey pocket usually is, with a zippered slash opening for easy access, and one on the left chest, with an audio port on the inside. The jacket itself is cut long in the back and shorter in the front, to protect a cyclist's lower back without causing uncomfortable bunching in front when he or she is leaned over the handlebars. The sleeves are extra-long to keep wrists dry. And, of course, there are reflective strips on both sleeves and across the back. The jacket is available in several colors--mine is "goldenrod," which is a bright and visible but not blinding or neon yellow.

Showers Pass paid attention to detail in creating the Elite 2.0. (photo from Showers Pass)

I like the Elite 2.0 jacket. It keeps the rain off me and its comfortable. It fits me well--it's roomy enough to fit over another jacket if I'm wearing one, without being annoyingly baggy when I'm not. The pit zips are great. However, no jacket is perfect. Even the most breathable jacket will not allow all your sweat to escape, and I do sometimes find myself overheating in this jacket--maybe in part because I usually bike with a bag on my back, blocking the large vent there. I can usually solve my overheating problems by taking off my gloves or pushing up my sleeves--luckily, the cuffs of the Elite 2.0 are big enough to allow this.

However, the cuffs are another problem. They are made of stretchy material that feels great but soaks up rainwater like a sponge. I rarely notice while I'm on my bike, but when I get off, the cuffs are sometimes cold and heavy, and the cuffs of whatever I might be wearing underneath the jacket are often moist as well. It's not a huge deal, but it's a little frustrating. Though I love the cuff design--it's way superior to elastic--I'm disappointed that Showers Pass couldn't find a more water-resistant material to use.

The cut of the jacket itself sometimes results in my clothes getting a little wet in heavy rain, too. It's more than adequately long in the back, but the front is cut a little too high--or perhaps it rides up while I ride--and the hem of whatever I'm wearing underneath gets wet. This is only a problem when it's really pouring, though--usually a leaned-over posture keeps my front dry, and even in a downpour I could probably solve it by tucking whatever I'm wearing underneath into my pants. If the cuffs were made of a waterproof material, I would suggest panels at the side of the hips made of the same material, to allow a little more freedom of motion while maintaining length and coverage.

Despite my complaints, I think the Elite 2.0 is a great jacket. It's lightweight, comfortable, and versatile. It keeps me dry. I've been using it heavily for several seasons and it still looks and performs as though it was brand new.

Women's Club Convertible pant

This is Showers Pass's "every-woman's rain pant." Before I extol upon the virtues of this rain pant, I'll give you some basis for comparison with a brief description of my old rain pants. They were made of a two-layer fabric, and they had a simple pull-up construction with an elastic waistband. For reasons that escape me, the rise was very high, so that I would have to sort of hike them up around my hips to get my leg over my bike and sit comfortably on the saddle. When I did that, the cuffs would ride up, too, so that even in boots my socks often ended up wet. The kicker, though, was that after a couple of seasons, the waterproof part of the fabric basically started disintegrating, I guess from pulling the pants on and off over my shoes, because there was no lining. I was left with a pair of unflattering nylon pants that barely kept me dry in a drizzle.

The versatile Club Convertible pant. (photo from Showers Pass)

After my old rain pants, these pants are a revelation. They have a zip fly with a simple snap at the top, plus an elastic waistband with belt loops. They pull on easily over my street clothes, and they don't make me look like the Michelin Man! Other features include reflective strips around the knees, two zip pockets at the hips, zips at the bottom of the pants to make on and off over shoes easier, and velcro tabs to tighten the calves and cuffs to keep wind and water out. The bottom part of each leg also zips off below the knee. According to a tag on the pants, they're made of Artex fabric: "weatherproof, breathable." Showers Pass just says they're made of a three-layer waterproof fabric. Whatever Artex is, it does the job.

These pants are comfortable and they fit well. Except for the inevitable nylon "swish, swish" as I walk, I don't feel ridiculous wearing these into the grocery store or while running other errands. While they are not exactly yoga pants, they offer more than enough freedom of movement for walking and cycling, and they definitely don't have the saggy crotch problem that my old pants did. The zips at the bottom of each leg lets me pull the cuffs down over my boots easily, and the velcro straps keep them there. They are not baggy, but are roomy enough that can wear a variety of pants underneath them and can even stuff a knee-length skirt down them without too many strange lumps. I really only have one beef with these otherwise excellent pants.

Why on earth are they convertible? Do people really want three-quarter length rain pants? Wouldn't you just end up with wet socks? Maybe if I lived somewhere where it rained in the summer, I would understand, but, believe it or not, Oregon has a dry season, and I am baffled. The convertible nature of these pants means there's a big bulky zipper just under each knee, and when I pedal, I feel it. The zippers are lined on the inside, and the zippers themselves don't rub against my skin or anything, but their presence caused that part of each leg to feel strange and stiff at first. After a few minutes of riding, this sensation stops being noticeable. It's not a deal breaker at all, but it is a little annoying. I can't imagine that I will ever make use of the convertible "feature," but the pants are a recent purchase, so time will tell. I'll keep you updated.

Conclusion

This is a great rain suit, one I don't mind putting on in the morning before I head out the door. It's comfortable enough that it's eliminated the guesswork I used to do--"do I really need to wear my rain pants? Maybe it will just be a really light drizzle, or maybe it will stop..."--which used to lead to me struggling into my rain gear in the rain by the side of the road, halfway to my destination.

Showers Pass gear is spendy. The Elite 2.0 retails for $230, and the Club Convertible pant for $120. I was lucky enough to receive my Elite 2.0 jacket as a gift several years ago, and I because I am a bike shop employee, I was able to purchase my pants at an unbeatable price. Would I pay full retail for my rain gear? I think I would buy the Elite 2.0. The bike-specific details (long back and long sleeves particularly) are awesome, and it serves well off the bike as well. As for the pants, I don't know. It might take another pair or two of uncomfortable, leaky rain pants to convince me that the investment was worth it, especially if I hadn't tried on the Club Convertible pants yet. Once I did, though, I would probably take the plunge. In an Oregon winter, with day after day of rain and darkness, it's difficult to underestimate the importance of small pleasures like flattering and comfortable rain pants. Whatever it takes to keep me on my bike until spring! $120 would buy me less than two months riding the bus.

The Elite 2.0 is available here, and the women's-specific version is here. You can buy the Women's Club Convertible pant here, or the men's/unisex version here.

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Comments from our Readers

Good Review

Paul(VA), submitted 9/11/2011

I already have the elite jacket and it's awesome. I use it as a winter jacket as well as a rain jacket. I'm looking to get the convertible pants for the same reason. I can see me using the feature on days when the weather is in the upper 40's to the mid 60's on my commute. Then adding them back on mid 40 and below days.

Showers Pass Elite 2.0

Andrew Priest(Fremantle, Western Australia), submitted 4/16/2012

Thanks for your review of the Showers Pass Elite 2.0 jacket. I am also a pretty happy ex-owner managed to loose my new jacket on a tour but haven't experienced the little niggles you have commented on. That said I see this jacket as being a good touring, commuting and maybe mountain biking jacket rather than one suitable for a roadie.

Having lost mine I am tossing up getting another one. Mind you I haven't come across anything that excites me so far.

Are you still using yours or have you moved on to something else?

love the convertible option

Anonymous, submitted 4/25/2012

The convertible option is great for backpacking. I know that is not the original intention of the pants but they are great for that. I can have long pants for cold nights, shorts for warm days, and rain protection all in one item of clothing.

Elite 2.0

Mark(Bangkok), submitted 8/28/2012

The showerspass elite 2.0 is NOT waterproof. Mine leaks on the right side where the vent is...

Bummer!