Its no new revelation that the shape of a womans body is distinctly different from a mans, but until recently, most foul-weather gear makers seemingly ignored the fact. It was difficult for women sailors to find a jacket and bibs that fit well because the options were limited to mens designs. But the times, they are a changing, and now, women sailors can choose from an array of quality foulie gear tailored for their bodies, with tapered waistlines, more narrow shoulders, and less boxy cuts.
We reported on mens foulies in the February 2015 issue, and here, we follow up with a look at the latest offerings in womens foul-weather jackets and bibs. These test kits were priced in the mid-range of about $500 for jacket and bibbed trousers.
What We Tested
The women-specific designs we tested included the Gill OS2 jacket and bibs; Gill Coast jacket and bibs; Helly Hansen Skagen Race and Salt jackets, and Crew Coastal 2 jacket and bibs; Henry Lloyd Ultimate Cruiser jacket and trousers; West Marine Third Reef jacket and trousers and Navigator jacket and bibs. Testers also evaluated the Grundens mens XS-size Balder jacket and bibs as a unisex option, but when donned by women testers, their performance couldn't compare to that of the gender-specific apparel, so we opted to not include the kit in this report. (For our review of the Grundens gear, see the mens report in the February 2015 issue.) Musto products were not included as they exceeded the set price point for this test; an evaluation of higher-end foul-weather gear is in the works
All of the womens foulies we tested had beefy YKK zippers, roll-away hoods, reflective features, drawstring closures, and an assortment of pockets. Most also featured inner seals at the jacket wrist.
Well-placed reflective patches (on the hood, shoulders, wrists, and chest) are among the foulie must-haves that testers always look for. Others include sewn-on loops (for hanging/drying and for attaching items likes knives and whistles) and fabric that is waterproof, windproof, breathable, and a high-visibility color. Many of the jackets we tested were dark colors or white, which can be impossible to discern from an inky or foamy ocean when the wearer goes overboard. We prefer jackets that are hi-viz colors like red or yellow.
How We Tested
In addition to the must-haves, rating criteria included whether the garment was easy to don and doff, whether bibs had reinforced fabric at the knees and seat, and whether the kit featured durable, easy-to-use zippers, Velcro, drawstrings, or other closures. All primary zippers were zipped up and down at least 40 times to determine whether they could withstand heavy use. Velcro fasteners were opened and closed 200 times each, and testers noted whether there was any adhesion loss.
Practical Sailor field testers wore these foul-weather kits regularly-onboard and ashore-for over three months to see whether they were comfortable, breathable, and tailored to allow range of motion for a womans body.
For bench testing, each garment faced the same series of tests as the mens foulies for the February 2015 report. To gauge abrasion-resistance, testers wore each kit and crawled 100 feet over gravel on both belly and back, then examined the garment for wear. Testers showered in the kits for five minutes (set at 2.5 gallons per minute) to determine whether the hood, neck closures, and extremity fasteners would keep out water. In a second test, jacket-clad testers immersed a properly adjusted jacket sleeve into a bucket of water for 60 seconds to test the water tightness of the inner cuff.
We also donned only the test gear and stood for five minutes before a pair of super powerful, industrial-strength fans to determine whether the test gear adequately kept out wind.
Gills relatively lightweight womens OS2 jacket and bibs proved waterproof, windproof, and breathable. The jacket collar extends high up the back of the head, and a drop-cloth liner with mesh drainage panels that improves comfort and breathability.
Both the jacket and bibs are made from Gills trademarked 3-Dot, two-layered, laminated fabric, which means its designed for rough coastal-offshore conditions and is highly breathable and durable. (Five dots are the max in Gills rating system; 5-Dot fabrics are designed for the extremely harsh and varying climates of ocean cruising/racing.) All seams are fully taped to create a waterproof seal, and the fleece-lined collar protects against chafing. A heavy-duty, two-way YKK zipper makes doffing and donning fast, but testers would have preferred the zippers to be one size larger.
Two cargo pockets with flap closures provide plenty of space to carry small items like sailing gloves, and two slash pockets are meant for keeping hands warm. There is also a zippered inside pocket for small items and zippered chest pockets.
The jacket features a high-visibility, fluorescent hood that rolls away into the collar. The hood has a visor, a peak thats rigid enough to cast off water, a reflective patch on the front, and three adjustment points.
Gills innovative, retractable outer cuff adjusters with polyurethane inner seals were somewhat difficult to secure. The design allowed the sleeve material to gather at the wrist, which made fastening and getting a tight seal at the cuff more of a hassle. However, once they were fastened properly, they kept out water.
The jacket hem has an easily adjustable shock cord that prevents wind from entering. Zippered venting allows the jacket to breathe. Along with a hanging loop, the jacket has a series of smaller loops that provide a place to tether a life jacket or small item such as a knife.
While the jacket we tested was black-definitely not our color choice for a foulie jacket-the OS2 is also available in red.
The trousers have an elasticized waist, a dropseat, and wide, adjustable shoulder straps. The fastening system at the ankle is superior to other brands tested, mostly due to its simplicity and reliability. The wide Velcro strap laces through a plastic guide before doubling back to make the Velcro connection. This system reduces the possibility that the Velcro would come loose if snagged on a shroud or other hardware.
Our field testers were bone dry after the shower test. The Gill OS2 kit also excelled during the wind-resistance test.
Bottom line: The Gill OS2 womens gear delivers reliable protection to both the coastal sailor and those venturing offshore in temperate climates for about $550. The versatile, comfortable, quick-drying kit gets PSs Best Choice.
The Gill Coast jacket is made with the manufacturers patented 2-Dot fabric, which is designed for inshore-coastal conditions and has excellent breathability and good durability. The Coast features high-visibility reflective patches on the shoulders and chest, large capacity cargo pockets, twin fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets, and a two-way front zipper that is protected by a storm flap. The sleeves have adjustable cuffs with Velcro straps and inner seals. The jacket has a high-cut collar and rollaway, fluorescent hood with a reflective patch.
The Coast bibs, also made of 2-Dot fabric, are fully seam sealed, with a reinforced seat and knees, semi-elasticized waist, a front zipper with a generous internal gusset for wet-weather protection, and adjustable Velcro strap ankle closures.
Although not as heavy-duty as the Gill OS2 kit, the Coast jacket and bibs easily withstood the rigors of field and bench tests.
Bottom line: At $360, the Gill Coast kit is worthy investment for a near-coastal and inshore sailor, especially those on a budget.
Henri Lloyd Ultimate Cruiser
Henri Lloyds Ultimate Cruiser jacket and Hi-Fit trousers, made from the companys breathable, waterproof, and windproof TP2 fabric, have just about every feature a sailor might want.
The fluorescent-green, high-visibility, rollaway hood has a reflective patch on the front, a stiff brim, and a relatively rigid peak for shedding water. Testers found that the hood excelled in protecting the wearer in both the water and wind tests. The hood is roomy and comfortable, and designed to snug easily.
The jacket hood also was the only one we tested that offered peripheral-view windows-a major bonus. Henri Lloyds innovative Optivision Hood System is basically a pair of clear, plastic windows, or TPU panels, built into the hoods sides, dramatically improving the wearers peripheral view.
A generous, fleece-lined neck guard keeps the wearer warm and dry. The jacket features single-hand-operable shock cord adjusters, internal Dartex cuffs, a zippered inside pocket, two external cargo pockets with flaps, and directly behind those, two partially fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets with heavy-duty zippers. Reflective patches adorn the shoulders, hood, and storm flap.
Testers only complaint was that the jacket lacked a full mesh lining for breathability.
The Ultimate Cruiser trousers are reinforced with nylon anti-abrasion patches at the knees and seat. The ankles are securely closed with wide Velcro straps.
Bottom line: At $428, the Ultimate Cruiser jacket and bibs set is a top contender for sailors looking to purchase a kit that can keep them warm and dry whether racing around the buoys or heading far over the horizon. We Recommend it for cruisers.
Helly Hansen Crew Coastal 2
The Helly Hansen Crew Coastal 2 jacket and Crew Coastal 2 trousers performed well during tests. The kit is made from the patented two-ply Helly Tech Performance membrane, which prevents water from penetrating the material and allows the fabric to release body heat.
The 100-percent polyamide jacket is a three-quarter-length design that affords increased protection against the elements. The collar is lined with fleece for warmth. The hood is high-visibility fluorescent green with a reflective patch just above the brim; it can be stowed inside the collar.
Articulated arms and elbows aid free range of motion. The jacket features a two-way zipper but no storm flap. Sleeve cuffs have an internal seal that is secured with a Velcro strap, and a second Velcro strap secures the cuffs on the outside.
The jacket has two cargo pockets and two fleece-lined, hand-warmer slash pockets. Theres a zippered inside pocket for small items like keys or a cell phone.
The mesh interior lining enhances comfort and breathability, and a pull-cord waist adjuster keeps unwanted cold air from entering.
We tested the Crew Coastal bibs with the Crew Coastal 2 jacket, as well as the other two Helly jackets, the Skagen and the Salt. The Crew Coastal trousers have a zippered gusset and wide, comfortable, easy-to-adjust shoulder straps. The straps are fitted with plastic glides for ease of adjustment. Re-enforcement patches are sewn at the seat and knees for resistance to abrasion. The trousers are secured at the ankles by a Velcro strap that is wider than that of some other brands.
Testers noted that overall, the kit runs a little big when sizing.
Bottom line: The Crew Coastal 2 jacket and Crew Coastal 2 bibs lack some key features required for heavy weather sailing, but are more than suitable for coastal cruising.
Helly Hansen Skagen race Jacket
PSs testing of the Skagen Race jacket supported the makers claim that it can take a pounding. Made from patented, two-ply Helly Tech Performance fabric, the breathable, three-quarter-length Skagen features an extended fleece-lined collar, quick-dry lining, lined pockets, and plenty of ways to adjust it for a comfortable fit. Articulated sleeves make the Skagen easy to move in, even when wet. The waist can be single-handedly adjusted.
The jacket has sealed seams and features a double storm flap, waterproof zippers, and Polartec hand-warmer pockets. The adjustable hood is high-visibility fluorescent green with reflective patches.
The jacket is designed with two large cargo pockets equipped with flaps and Velcro tab closures. Behind the cargo pockets are the hand-warmer pockets. The jacket also features two smaller pockets at chest height with waterproof zippers for stowing smaller items. A Velcro storm flap guards the front YKK zipper, keeping out unwanted wind and water. Sleeve cuffs are protected by inner seals with a Velcro strap, while a second Velcro strap secures the wrist from the outside, ensuring no water enters when immersed.
Hanger loops give sailors a way to stow the jacket in a wet locker or closet, and a D-ring at the hem provides an additional location to attach needed equipment. The jacket has reflective patches on the shoulders, chest, and hood, making the Skagen among the safer jackets tested for reflectivity.
In a measure of overall comfort, the Skagen easily stands out from the crowd. The jacket runs true to size and has a tailored, form-fitting cut. Because we had to choose from the test field, we paired the Skagen with the Crew Coastal 2 bibs for testing, but wed ideally pair it with a more rugged trouser.
Bottom line: The Skagen is Scandinavian styling in a performance package: comfortable, good-looking, and functional. Windproof and waterproof, the Skagen is suitable for coastal cruising or ocean sailing. We Recommend it.
Helly Hansen Salt
The Salt jacket may very well be the ideal, all-around daysailing jacket. This isnt the jacket to pack when heavy weather is forecast or when venturing offshore-theres no neck flap for protection, no seals at the cuff, and the hem ends at the hip-but its a quality jacket for casual daysailing. In addition to being fashionable, comfortable, and available in an array of vibrant colors, its waterproof, windproof, and breathable.
The Salt jacket we tested was red, as was its hood, which folds away when not in use. The hood is mesh-lined for comfort and breathability, and it has a brim, but the peak isnt rigid enough to effectively deflect rain or spray.
The Salt hugs the body rather than hanging like some boxy styles. It is made from Hellys two-layer Helly Tech Performance fabric and has a Polartec fleece collar for comfort and warmth, and a watertight front zipper.
There are four external zippered pockets and an internal pocket with a Velcro flap. An internal mesh compartment provides additional storage. Reflective patches are sewn only on the lower sleeves and on the hood, which in the red color, would be difficult to spot in the water at night, even with a searchlight.
As expected, the Salt jacket failed the bucket immersion test as water rushed up the sleeves because the jacket has no inner seals, a feature common on foul-weather gear designed for coastal and offshore cruising. However, it stood up remarkably well during the shower tests heavy downpour.
Bottom line: Although the Salt jacket isnt designed to handle severe conditions, it may be the one you grab for daysailing and coastal club racing because it looks so good and fits well. Recommended for casual daysailing in mild conditions.
West Marine Navigator
Designed for coastal sailing, the nylon West Marine Navigator jacket and bibbed trousers are waterproof, windproof, and breathable.
The jacket has articulated arms for easy moving and is form-fitting to reduce windage. It is unlined, but according to the maker, that was intentional so dry times would be shorter.
The high-visibility, fluorescent hood has a brim, reflective patch, and an easy-adjust shock cord drawstring, but the peak lacks rigidity. The brushed-fleece collar is relatively tall, with the back reaching over 6 inches. A storm flap seals the neck.
The jacket is fitted with a YKK front zipper guarded by a flap for increased protection against the elements. There are two large cargo pockets with flaps and Velcro tab closures, two zippered hand-warmer pockets lined with fleece, and an interior zippered pocket. A drawstring at the waist adjusts easily and helps reduce windage.
The sleeves are outfitted with adjustable Dartex internal storm cuffs. The internal seals are secured by Velcro straps on the outside of the sleeves; these tended to loosen during field tests.
Velcro tabs on the Navigator jackets front zipper guard and cuffs are comparatively narrow; as a result, they lost some adhesiveness after prolonged use. That isnt a problem at the neck, where the Velcro on the storm flap is twice as wide.
Reflective patches on the hood and shoulders enhance safety, as does the reflective piping along the sleeves and on the back of the jacket.
The Navigator bibs are heavily stitched. The seat and knees are reinforced with 500D Cordura fabric to fight abrasion. The trousers held up well during the abrasion test.
Wide, elasticized shoulder straps ensure a comfortable fit and are easy to adjust by loosening and refastening the Velcro ends. There are no buckles or other closures to adjust.
The trousers also feature an internal gusset, three pockets, and Velcro ankle closures.
Bottom line: Priced under $400, the Navigator kit is an ideal solution for the sailor planning to cruise the coast in any weather. It gets the Budget Buy pick for coastal cruisers.
West Marine Third Reef
Designed for coastal and inshore sailing in moderate conditions, the West Marine Third Reef kit is made of 100-percent nylon with water-repellent coating.
The jacket has a heavy-duty front zipper and pockets with zippers and pull tabs. During wind-resistance testing, the wearer could detect a small amount of air penetrating the fabric. The Third Reef jacket has a relatively short storm flap at the neck, and other closures depend on thin strips of Velcro, which can lose their ability to adhere after prolonged use. The jacket also lacks adequate reflective patches and piping for cruising purposes.
The fluorescent, high-visibility hood stows neatly in the collar. It has a brim and a drawstring adjustment, but the peak lacks rigidity.
The jacket features six exterior pockets-two cargo pockets with flaps and Velcro tabs, two hand-warmer slash pockets, and two zippered pockets at chest level. The latter have waterproof zippers.
The Third Reef bibs have an elasticized waist and are reinforced at the seat and knees for abrasion. While the Third Reef bibs were comfortable and passed wind and water tests, they lacked some of the features the Navigator bibs offer and were not as heavy duty. The thinner shoulder straps of the Third Reef are less comfortable and harder to adjust than others we tested, like the Navigator.
Bottom line: Although weve had several readers recommend the $318 Third Reef womens kit, wed spend the extra money for the versatility and ruggedness of the Navigator gear.
Women sailors can say goodbye to the boxy, unisex foul-weather gear they were once forced to don. With styles designed to fit their bodies, women can now enjoy kits that offer better performance and protection from the elements.
All of the test kits were top-notch. In the end, the Gill OS2 womens jacket and bibbed trousers ($550) earned the PS Best Choice for versatility, comfort, and superior quality and construction.
Foulie kits from Helly Hansen and Henri Lloyd tied for price and performance: Henri Lloyds Ultimate Cruiser womens jacket ($269) and bibs ($159) and the Helly Hansen Skagen jacket ($282) and the Crew Coastal bibs ($200). Wed prefer to pair the Skagen with a more beefy trouser, but of the products we tested from Helly, the Crew Coastal are best suited to fill out the kit.
Practical Sailors Budget Buy goes to West Marines Navigator jacket and bibbed trousers at $394 for the kit; its an affordable option for the coastal sailor. For the daysailor and club racer, we Recommend the Helly Hansen Salt jacket with Crew Coastal bibs.