Although I plan to bring a Frogg-Togg jacket with me on the Camino, I’ve needed a new rain jacket for hiking and backpacking for some time now and decided I might as well try out a few just in case one would also work on the Camino.
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Marmot vs. Outdoor Research
I am a long-time Marmot guy. I don’t know that much about the brand really – I just tend to resonate with their products and pricing. Since I’ve been hiking more lately prepping for the Camino and planned to do quite a bit higher up this summer/Fall, I decided to upgrade my Marmot Precip jacket that I’ve had for quite some time. The natural choice was the Marmot Minimalist (basically the GORE-TEX® version of the precip), but then I saw a Camino prep video by a runner who had chosen the Outdoor Research Foray rain jacket.
That’s when things got complicated.
Both / And
The two jackets are very similar in many important ways. Just to give a quick rundown, both jackets are or have:
- 2.5 layer PFC-free fabric (GORE-TEX® + Paclite®)
- Fully seam-sealed construction
- Attached adjustable hood
- YKK zippers
- Exterior zippered pockets (2 side, 1 chest)
- Pit zips
- Velcro cuffs
- Adjustable waist
Given just these basic features, the two jackets seem nearly indistinguishable. Of course, an airliner and a bicycle sound identical when only the similarities are listed!
Either / Or
The two jackets do have a few important differences. Again, in bullet point form, here are some of them:
Outdoor Research Foray
Since the actual variation in some of these differences may not amount to much, I decided I better try both jackets out.
One of Marmot’s big selling features for its jackets is Angel-Wing Movement™. I couldn’t find much explaining what that means on Marmot’s website, but others describe it as a fit that allows moving your arms in above your head without making the jacket ride up too much.
OK, let’s see.
Well it didn’t rise a lot, but it didn’t just hang there either.
How would the Foray compare?
Basically exactly the same!
Well, there goes Angel-Wing Movement™ as a determiner.
In Tha Hood
One thing I love about the Minimalist is that the hood really conforms to your head and moves with you as you turn it from side to side. Turns out, the Foray does about the same. It does sit a bit lower on my face though. The Precip has an adjustable strap in the back that pulls the hood up off your face, whereas both the Minimalist and the Foray’s tighten it around your head. I might just need to try some different adjustment combos, but the Minimalist and the Foray work the same way, so nothing decisive there.
Both jackets did well on initial testing – no discernible difference really. Now, I have seen mixed reviews on both jackets’ waterproofing. The trouble is, most reported issues don’t seem to show up until quite a bit of use. I’ve just done the hose test for a few minutes each.
Inside the jackets the design differences show up a bit more. The Foray (left) has mesh pockets and quite a bit more seams. The Minimalist (right) is closer to a single cut and the pockets are inside the lining.
The Minimalist’s outer material feels tougher, but the Foray’s is softer. Neither jacket feels weak, however – so I don’t really think it’s critical difference.
Oddly, the Minimalist feels heavier to me – which is odd because it weighs less. On my luggage scale I got 490 grams (17.28 oz.) for the Minimalist and 460 grams (16.22 oz.) for the Foray.
Those Zips Tho!
It was the Foray’s full-length torso zips that really caught my attention, and this is where the Foray really distances itself from the Minimalist (and most other rain jackets on the market).
It may seem kind of pointless to be able to unzip a rain jacket in this way (and it also causes the waist adjustment to only modify the rear half of the jacket). It’s certainly unusual, and in regular day-to-day life, I don’t see much use for them either. For backpacking, however, I can see some serious benefits.
Breathabilty is a big issue for me when hiking – and the fact is that no clothing material can beat . . . no clothing material. That is to say, no matter how high tech the fabric is that covers someone, it cannot be more breathable than not being covered in the first place! Venting wins over permeability every time. The point of pit zips is to directly vent heat/moisture rather than trust that it will eventually find its way through some kind of breathable fabric. But pit zips don’t do a lot of good if the openings are closed off by pack straps or a hiker’s arms weighed down by a pack.
The Foray’s pit zips are really torso zips – so they can vent a ton of heat/moisture even with a pack on. Further, rather than having to unzip the jacket to vent from the front, the wearer could simply flip the “flap” up without risking much rain exposure because the Foray’s full-length pit zips can turn the jacket into a kind of parka.
With standard jacket zip options, a backpack’s hip belt either goes on top (sealing in heat and making it difficult to get to the waist area), or it goes over the belt (awkwardly leaving the back bunched up at an angle.
When the Foray’s pit zips are fully unzipped it creates a front “flap” that (in theory) could cover the pack’s hip belt instead of being smashed under it or balled up on top of it. Further, the jacket’s two-way front zipper can be used to gain access to the hip belt buckle (or a climber’s gear) without having to completely unzip the jacket or pull it up above the waist.
The Foray made it so easy to get at the pack’s hip belt (or my waist pack) and it provided quick front venting without unzipping. I retained rain protection even with the jacket “flaps” out, and there was no issue with pulling the jacket up over the pants in the back. Pretty cool!
I did, however, have a difficult time getting the torso re-zipped. In fact I ended up needing to remove the jacket to get the zippers down. Not cool!
Although the Minimalist’s zippers lack the Foray’s features, they are easier to zip because they are more robust, unsealed, and there is no troubling with double zipper alignment. The Minimalist also has a snap at the bottom which keeps pressure off the zipper enclosure. The Foray’s zippers are sealed so they won’t let water through, whereas the Minimalist’s are only water “resistant” – however the Minimalist zippers are covered by a waterproof material flap. So here you’re basically trading ease of use for features.
I have had some issues with the Foray’s dual zipper alignment – it is often difficult to get started. Further, the zippers are all fairly tight so they are not easy to use. This has turned out to be my primary concern with the Foray. I compared these zippers to my Frogg Tog jacket (left) which uses large zips and my Marmot Precip (right) which uses a smaller sealed zipper similar to the Foray’s. I’ve never had an issue with either of these, so maybe it isn’t as concerning as I thought.
This is a tough call – even more difficult for me than choosing between the hats (a dilemma I resolved by not choosing). I think that for everyday use the Marmot is the better jacket. All around, it’s built better for what it does – but it doesn’t do what the Foray does. For backpacking, the zipping flexibility of the Foray is both useful and unique. For me, that is its only decisive advantage over the Minimalist. If the Foray lacked the reversible torso zips and front zipper (or the Minimalist had them) it would be no contest.
But the contest is not over the best everyday jacket – it’s about the best backpacking jacket. And for that application, the increased heat venting and accessibility of the Foray takes the prize. I have a year to return it, so whether it goes with me on my Camino only time and experience will tell!