Three GORE Ultralight Jackets Against the Elements

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GORE’s fabrics have undoubtedly transformed the outdoor industry and anyone who spends any time outside has probably used their products. In addition to licensing its technologies to other companies, GORE has for many years produced its own line of technical garments that have by now reached elite status for thoughtfully designed outerwear. Joe Cruz spent the last six months rotating through three of their jackets and reports back on their limits and successes…

I wouldn’t be surprised if bikepacking as a product category drives designers nuts. Sure, most of us ride with at least some items that were conceived especially for cycling, but we all also likely ride with gear for hiking, running, or climbing. Or, best of all, with stuff that everyone just ordinarily has or can get very cheaply, like a flannel shirt or merino socks. All of that is to say that bikepackers care about whether a piece of gear works (or, ahem, whether it’s fashionable) rather than what it was designed for.

Gore sent us three of their jackets to test, but only one of them—the C5 Hooded Trail Jacket—was designed for cycling, specifically mountain biking. The other two are marketed to runners. Still, I was perfectly happy to try them out. What matters is whether a jacket is effective, packable, and lightweight, not what the person in the catalog is pictured doing.

  • GORE R7 Hooded, R7 Hooded Trail, C5 Trail Hooded
  • GORE R7 Hooded, R7 Hooded Trail, C5 Trail Hooded

These three pieces are significantly different from one another even if, of course, they share the DNA of Gore’s breathable waterproof technology backed by taped seams. “Breathable” and “waterproof” don’t mean what you think they mean if you assume that you will never ever sweat in your jacket or that it will never become so wet that the fabric no longer wholly keeps the water out. We’re still waiting for that gear utopia. But each of the three Gore jackets performs admirably in hours-long downpours, and all three were as breathable as any outerwear I’ve worn. To my mind, Gore leads the pack on both those fronts.

I tested these in the various conditions I normally encounter, including day-long rainy day mountain bike and dirt road rides, week-long bikepacking trips, and chilly weather evening runs. If you have a clear sense of your priorities for a jacket, I feel as if choosing between them would be pretty clear, as the main dimensions of comparison are robustness and features. Then again, there’s the more essential question as to whether Gore’s jackets are in the mix for you at all, as they’re all notably expensive. I can report that I remain absolutely impressed by these jackets and think they compete with any outerwear out there.

GORE R7 Gore-Tex Shakedry Hooded Jacket

GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED JACKET

Gore brags that their R7 Shakedry Hooded Jacket is the lightest and most breathable Gore-Tex Active product available. It was developed with comprehensive rain and wind protection—but little else—as a goal. Its Shakedry technology and minimalist design push the limit of packability and feathery weight, and I flat out love it for those reasons.

Let me say up front what is missing from the R7. There are no handwarmer pockets. There are no pit zips. The main zipper is not two-way. Soft fleece backing at the top of the zipper, adjustable waist drawcord, a reversible zipper pull to close the stowaway pocket, a hood drawcord? Four “nopes.” Nor does it meaningfully stretch other than at the elastic hem, wrist, and hood openings. Nor is the fabric robust enough to withstand the straps of wearing a pack or, presumably, the belt of a waist pack if worn over the jacket. Finally, at US$300, it lacks a wallet-friendly price.

If the fact that the jacket is missing one or some combination of those features is a dealbreaker for you, sure, that would make sense. Why would someone put up with such a stripped down product? Well, firstly, the R7 Shakedry flat out ridiculously disappears into a corner of a seatpack or into a jersey pocket. Secondly, it is nothing short of sorcery in the way it sheds rain for hours while achieving top breathability.

  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED JACKET
  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED JACKET
  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED JACKET

The R7 achieves its magic by having the breathable Gore-Tex membrane as the outer surface of the jacket laminated to a lightweight nylon (call it “polyamide” if you must) backing material. According to Gore, by eliminating the facing fabric they get rid of the part that “wets out” in heavy rain. Instead, water beads and shakes off during use, and the jacket dries very quickly because it does not absorb water. My experience confirms this hyperbolic-sounding claim. The beads of water really do shake off and the jacket does dry notably quicker than other jackets I’ve worn.

I certainly wouldn’t bring the R7 on a month-long expedition into rugged terrain. Heck, I wouldn’t bring it on a day ride if I thought I might have to bushwack through brambles. It just doesn’t seem robust enough for daily use in the backcountry, and, honestly, when pulling it on it feels fragile and delicate. On the other hand, I’ve worn it on week-long trips and haven’t particularly babied it. The “no pack straps” manufacturer’s recommendation especially stands out, since many bikepackers wear something on their backs. I haven’t for many years, so it is in my view a non-issue. The hood works and is close fitting to be worn under a helmet, the way I prefer it. I suppose that theoretically the helmet strap contact could wear the fabric and compromise the hood, but in many weeks of use it is not showing any abrasion or compromise in weatherproofness.

If you’re going to wear this jacket over a puffy insulating layer, for sure size up. Indeed, you might want to do that in any case. The Gore site says, “Our sizes may run a little smaller than you expect.” To me it fits as if the main intended application is over a merino long sleeve base layer. Given its origins in running, the tail of the R7 Shakedry is not particularly long, nor are the sleeves. I did not find either to be an issue. The hips are fairly narrow, so if you’re wider down there, keep that in mind. There is a chest pocket the size of an average smartphone that can be turned inside out to pack the jacket, and inside there’s an elastic loop to hold the packed bundle together.

  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED JACKET
  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED JACKET

This was my favorite of the three jackets due to its weatherproof functionality and packability. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether those exceed all other considerations. If they do—and for a lot of trips they do for me—then you’re likely to find the R7 as incredible as I did. It impresses me every time I wear it and is right now my ultimate ultra lightweight rain shell.

  • Model Tested: Gore Wear R7 Shakedry Hooded Jacket
  • Size tested: S (tester’s chest size 38; height 173cm/5’8”; weight 68kg/150lbs.)
  • Weight: 118g/4.2 oz. in size L
  • Cost: US$300
  • Country of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Gore Wear

Pros

  • Shockingly packable and lightweight
  • As breathable as a waterproof jacket gets.
  • Close, trim fit

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Incompatible with backpack or waist pack
  • Feels delicate
  • No handwarmer pockets or pit zips
  • One-way zipper
  • Lacks reflective trim other than Gore logos

Gore R7 Gore-Tex Shakedry Hooded Trail Jacket

GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED TRAIL JACKET

No, this subsection heading isn’t a mistake. The second Gore jacket really is called the exact same thing as the first jacket, above, except for the addition of the word “Trail.” It’s safe to venture that Gore’s nomenclature team is not as innovative as its fabric technology division. I’ll refer to the second Gore jacket I tested as the “R7 Trail.”

The R7 Trail is a very close cousin to the R7 with some notable changes that may be viewed as improvements but that, inevitably, make it bulkier and heavier. Still, this is a very light jacket and belongs in anyone’s ultralight category. It features the same Shakedry fabric as the R7, so water beads and shakes off. There is a minimal friction—almost a waxy feel—to the outside of the jacket that I found pleasant to handle. If you wear a camera on a shoulder strap over this jacket or the R7, though, I would imagine that it would slide around more than on other garments.

Ventilation on the R7 Trail is enhanced by a two-way main zipper. The hood has a modest brim to shield against rain as well as an elastic cord adjustment at the back to get a close fit. The hood is again not big enough to go over a helmet, if that’s your thing. The hem also has an adjustment cord, and the wrist elastic is wider, more comfortable, and more refined than on the R7. There are no handwarmer pockets. The fit is close and trim and, as with the R7, you’ll likely want to size up if you’re at all close to the border between sizes.

  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED TRAIL JACKET
  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED TRAIL JACKET

The most noticeable and important contrast to the R7 is that the R7 Trail is more robust and the fabric feels markedly sturdier. There is no advice against pack straps with the R7 Trail, and Gore has confirmed to us that activities that include a backpack are well within the intended use of the garment. In terms of waterproofness and breathability, it was hard to tell the difference between the R7 and R7 Trail. They were both exemplary. I found both R7s not even slightly insulating. These are cool, not cold weather garments.

The R7 Trail stuffs into its chest pocket to yield a very small packed size, though it was a bit concerning to stow it this way, as it barely fits. I can see that Gore intends the jacket to go in the chest pocket because the pull is double sided, but I probably wouldn’t do that very often for fear of breaking the zipper. In the photo of the three jackets packed, it is the second from the left, but that is visually misleading when compared to the R7 packed into its larger chest pocket all the way on the left. If one were to pack the two jackets equally tightly and densely, the R7 packs smaller.

I’m on the fence about whether I’d bring the R7 Trail on an expedition-type ride. It’s clearly more durable than the R7, but perhaps not durable enough for big trips. For a month pedaling in, say, the Nordics in daily rain and temperatures low enough so that the hardshell is on most of the time, I’d worry about the R7 Trail. Let’s take expedition riding off the table, then: which do I prefer between the R7 and the R7 Trail for shorter trips or where the jacket won’t see daily use? Well, my kit has over the years tended in the direction of the lightest most compact stuff that I think I can get away with, perhaps leaning slightly in the direction of foolishness. I’ve sometimes been cold or have needed to do field repairs when I might not have had to if I’d started with heartier gear in the first place. That’s a risk I’ve elected to incur, and I think that’s the difference between the R7 and the R7 Trail. It may sound irrational, but if I was making a recommendation to a friend choosing between the R7 and the R7 Trail, I’d favor the R7 Trail. But for myself I’d choose the R7.

  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED TRAIL JACKET
  • GORE R7 GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY HOODED TRAIL JACKET

Really, the R7 Trail is a refined jacket and is very appealing. The combination of some important feature additions along with the impressive compactness might well put this in the Goldilocks “just right” slot in the Gore lineup.

  • Model Tested: Gore Wear R7 Shakedry Trail Hooded Jacket
  • Size tested: S (tester’s chest size 38; height 173cm/5’8”; weight 68kg/150lbs.)
  • Weight: 176g/6.2oz. in size L
  • Cost: US$300
  • Country of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Gore Wear

Pros

  • Very packable and lightweight
  • As breathable as a waterproof jacket gets
  • Close, trim fit
  • Reflective Details

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No handwarmer pockets or pit zips
  • Barely fits into its chest pocket for packing

Gore C5 Gore-Tex Trail Hooded Jacket

GORE C5 GORE-TEX TRAIL HOODED JACKET

Of these three jackets, the C5 Trail Hooded is closest to a familiar hardshell in terms of weight, construction, and features. It employs Packlite Plus fabric in the torso, which is two-layered and unlined, and Active fabric in the arms and hood, which is three-layed. (I can’t resist another dig at how Gore names its products: This is the C5 Gore-tex Trail Hooded jacket, which is different from the C5 Gore-tex Active Trail Hooded jacket. The difference is that the latter is made wholly of Gore’s Active fabric.)

With the exception of pit zips, the C5 has all the details one would want. There are two adequately sized, zippered hand warmer pockets. The waist is adjustable through clever pulls in those pockets.The opening of the hood can be pulled snug with tabs in the collar, and there is a separate elastic cord adjustment around back to change its overall size and keep one’s vision clear. The hood also shares the elegant brim design with the R7 Trail, but again doesn’t fit over a helmet.

  • GORE C5 GORE-TEX TRAIL HOODED JACKET
  • GORE C5 GORE-TEX TRAIL HOODED JACKET
  • GORE C5 GORE-TEX TRAIL HOODED JACKET

The back of the jacket is cut low for keeping one’s bum dry while leaning forward in the saddle, plus that portion of the jacket has reflective trim and a stretch panel. The fit is marginally roomier than on the R7s—you’ll may still want to size up if you’re near the border of sizes, but it’s not quite as imperative as with R7s—and the sleeves are significantly longer so there’s better coverage when reaching for the bars. The wrist fabric extends somewhat over the top of one’s hands, and the wrist closure has both elastic and a hook-and-loop closure to achieve an ideal fit over a glove. One clever touch is that the fabric that backs the main zipper is folded over to push it away from the teeth as the zipper is pulled closed, minimizing the chance of it catching, which happens pretty easily on the R7s.

The C5 resists water well but does not create the immediate beads that roll off so readily on the R7s. My perception is that it breathes slightly less well than the R7s, and is comparatively warmer. In contrast to the Shakedry pieces, the C5 has a dry, non-waxy hand feel.

Because it’s fairly traditional, the C5 had a way of fading into the background compared to the R7s. But that’s to underestimate the C5. It’s still very light, and would have easily made it on to our list of ultralight jackets three and a half years ago within the 10oz. cutoff. For my part, once I got used to the high performance of Shakedry it was disappointing to pull on a jacket without it, but there is every reason to expect that the C5 is significantly more durable that the R7s. I certainly had no trouble with it on that front, and while icy, muddy mountain bike rides with a hydration pack on have dirtied it, they haven’t caused noticeable wear.

  • GORE C5 GORE-TEX TRAIL HOODED JACKET
  • GORE C5 GORE-TEX TRAIL HOODED JACKET

Gore’s C5 is in my book overkill for a day-long dirt road ride if you’re likely to take it off some of the time and not have anything to stuff it into; it would stretch a jersey pocket to its limit. But it makes a strong case for itself on even short mountain bike trips, assuming it will go into the hydration pack when not needed. And just to complete the same thought experiment that I’ve conducted throughout this review, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring this jacket on a long trip. Gore cautiously markets Packlite Plus as a “backup shell,” where the idea is that it can live in your pack without taking up much room and be ready for unexpected inclemency. I would be confident in more frequent use than that, but it’s on the fragile seeming end of hardshells.

  • Model Tested: Gore Wear C5 Trail Hooded Jacket
  • Size tested: S (tester’s chest size 38; height 173cm/5’8”; weight 68kg/150lbs.)
  • Weight: 241g/8.5oz. in size L
  • Cost: US$280
  • Country of Manufacture: Vietnam
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Gore Wear

Pros

  • Very breathable, right up there for this kind of jacket
  • Reasonably packable and lightweight
  • Purpose designed for cycling but with off-the-bike features like
  • handwarmer pockets
  • Reflective details

Cons

  • Cheaper than the R7s, but still expensive
  • No pit zips
  • Dated look

Wrap Up

All three of Gore’s jackets here are near the cutting edge of breathable and waterproof fabric technology. The wispy light R7’s mojo is keeping you dry while mitigating interior moisture in the lightest possible package. It’s a triumph of engineering, but without any features beyond those, it’s dubious for general outdoor wear. The R7 Trail remedies the most serious downside of the R7 in that it allows for a pack, and is all around sturdier seeming. It also adds some features like a two-way zipper and hood and hem adjustment. But, really, both of the R7s are meant for when you’re pursuing ultra light weight at all costs—literally and figuratively—and are willing to sacrifice a great deal else.

The C5 Trail pulls back from the rarified domain of silly light gear and achieves high functionality in a more durable form. Subjectively, it’s nearly as breathable as the R7s, it’s nearly as rain-worthy even if not Shakedry equipped, it’s plenty light and packable, and it is a jacket that almost certainly will last longer in demanding, real world conditions. My own reaction is that, for bikepacking, the C5 is the most logical choice, the R7 Trail is really impressive for the features it packs into a very light package, and the R7 is bogglingly and irresistibly light but there’s significant risk of going awry with it.

Additional photos provided by Miles Arbour and M Coady.

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