Outdoor Research Zealot jacket

The Zealot jacket from Outdoor Research Inc. (www.orgear.com) is representative of an industry trend toward lightweight, multiuse shell jackets made for summer rains as well as wintertime sleet and snow. Weighing in at just 7.7 ounces, the Zealot is waterproof, wind-proof and highly breathable, making it appropriate for hiking, biking, fishing, trail running, moderate mountaineering and skiing in all kinds of weather.

For warm summer rains, the Zealot will feel clammy. And for the coldest winter days, the thin shell may feel a bit paltry, no matter how much fleece and polypro you’ve layered underneath. But for most conditions, the jacket nails a nice middle ground of being light, breathable, wind-proof and capable of keeping all the elements at bay.

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Made with pricey Gore-Tex PacLite fabric, you do pay a bundle for this simple jacket. But the $199 price tag gets you a minimalist shell that in my tests has performed with aplomb.

The Zealot is so small and light that it can be folded and packed down to the size of a grapefruit. I leave the jacket stashed in my backpack wherever I go in case inclement weather comes up unexpected.

To keep the weight down, Outdoor Research designed the Zealot with few bells and whistles. It has a basic hood, a single small zip pocket on the chest, svelte elasticized cuffs, and a draw cord to cinch the jacket tight to your waist. The main zipper is a small, water-resistant design. All seams are taped to keep it watertight.

Because the Zealot is made to be used as a raincoat, I paid close attention to the hood design. Testing it out during a September downpour, I found the single, rear-pull hood adjustment and small, stiff cap bill to work well. Rain dribbled off my hooded head with no hesitation, and the hood stayed in place at all times to offer decent visibility no matter which direction I turned my head.

My single bad experience with the jacket came one windy day when I tried to cinch the elasticized hood extra tight. Upon my tug for adjustment, the cord pulled right out of the seam, leaving me out of luck in the woods with a hood that would not fit right. Though a temporary annoyance, it was an easy fix at home to re-attach the cord with a needle and thread.

After three months of hard testing, the cord pull-out incident was the one and only fluke. Otherwise, the Zealot was an admirable performer, holding up to all the hard rains and cold winds I could possibly find to throw at it.

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