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Sierra Designs Jive Jacket

I’ve tested the Sierra Designs Jive Jacket in just about every condition imaginable over the last several months, from blustery snow storms in Norway to wet, humid, rainy outings in Europe to hot and stormy mountain adventures in Colorado. Along the way, the Jive Jacket has become a favorite.

There’s so much to like about this hardworking three-season jacket. For starters, it's super lightweight (15 ounces) and packs down to the size of a grapefruit. I can’t overstate how much I appreciate this when it comes to picking gear for trips into the backcountry. Lugging a heavy four-season shell for miles and miles is kind of ridiculous in the summer but so is the idea of being stuck in a rainstorm with an emergency shell so thin it would fall apart after a few days beneath pack straps. The Sierra Designs Jive jacket strikes a perfect middle ground. It’s light and supremely packable, but the material is still full strength. When I put it on I don’t have to worry that I’m using up one of its allotted 30 days of wear before its days are numbered. ’ll definitely be taking this gem with me on trips around the world for years to come.

I really like the fit of the Jive Jacket. The sleeves are nice and long, so when I reach out in front of me they don’t hike up my forearms. I also noticed that when I raise my arms, the jacket seems to stay in place. That’s thanks to an innovative cut that Sierra Designs calls Condor Construction. I loved how the pockets are set high on the jacket, too, so I can still access them when I’m wearing a hip belt. This jacket also gets high marks for the sizeable pit zips that run from my elbows to just below my armpits.

On the trail, I was blown away by how breathable this jacket is. The jacket is made of a waterproof, breathable fabric called Cocona Xcellerator, which uses material derived from coconut shells. It’s definitely one of the best hard shell fabrics I’ve ever tested. Surprisingly, it rivals the breathability of many softshell jackets I've worn.

A few months ago, I noticed how well this fabric performs during many outings in coastal Norway where I live. The early summer weather was hot, rainy, and humid. It would pour for hours, but it was never truly cold – just wet, clammy, and potentially unenjoyable for outdoor activities. The Jive Jacket handled the weather with aplomb, keeping the rain away but also venting, wicking, and breathing so I didn't drown in my own sweat. Again, on a trip to Colorado, this sweet jacket kept me comfortable in rainy, humid weather characterized by intense daily thunderstorms and 70-degree temperatures. I breezed along the trails with my pit zips open, while my friends grumbled along our hikes in their clammy old hard shells.

Sierra Designs is a great company, and the amount of thought the designers put into the small details of this jacket is impressive. For example, there's a useful pocket on the left sleeve, which is great for stowing my iPod or iPhone. It also has a two-way zipper on the front, so I can unzip it a little from the bottom when I’m wearing a harness and am attached to a rope. This is great because it prevents the jacket from riding up my torso while simul climbing, belaying, or alpine climbing. I also love the fuzzy chin guard that's designed to prevent rashes. The jacket also has an adjustable hem, making it versatile for trail or urban outings.

The Jive Jacket comes in black, blue, and light khaki, from S to XXL for men. The women's Jive Jacket comes in black, indigo, and light khaki, size XS to XL.

Bottom Line: Fantastic hard shell rain jacket with amazing breathability and venting. The Jive Jacket has earned a permanent place on my packing list for backpacking and hiking in miserable weather and in humid, tropical wet zones.--N.W. (June ‘11)

BUY ONLINE: $279, women's jacket on sale for $189.93 at REI. Men's jacket on sale for $223.16 at Backcountry.

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When hiking or camping, always carry the "10 Essentials":

Extra clothing, extra food and water, lighter or water-proof matches and fire starter, map in waterproof envelope, compass, pocket knife, sunscreen and sunglasses, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, emergency shelter.

Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue and Seattle Mountaineers.