Head to Head: Wet Suits

Jackets and pants that will keep you dry in the nastiest weather.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Every year rainwear gets better-lighter, more breathable, tougher, cheaper. There are many different designs, however, and a lot of them don't make sense for sportsmen. These four have the features and performance abilities that hunters and fishermen will appreciate. All are priced reasonably and stood up to tough testing.

The Test
Besides wearing these garments in the rain to evaluate fit and function, I strapped all four jackets across the top of an empty 5-gallon bucket, threw them in a shower for one hour, and let the rain fall. None of them leaked. All beaded water perfectly except for the Cabela's Space Ultra Jacket, which had a dime-size area of dampness on the outside material.

1. Cabela's Space Ultra Rain Jacket and Pants
(800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com) Perfect for stowing in your turkey vest until you need them, the pullover and pants weigh only 14 ounces apiece and pack down to fit in the palm of your hand. The exterior fabric is quiet and camouflaged, and the pants are reasonably easy to pull on over your boots. Best Features: The superlight jacket stretches, making it very comfortable. Points to Ponder: There are no underarm zippers to vent perspiration. Price: Jacket, $70; pants, $50

**2. Patagonia Shadow Jacket **
and Pants (800-638-6464; www.patagonia.com) This is the lightest three-layer jacket Patagonia has ever built. All the zippers are waterproof, including the underarm ones. The pants have a drawstring waist, and a smart rubberized interior waistband keeps them from slipping down. Best Features: Rugged construction means this outfit will stand up to wear better than many others. Points to Ponder: The pants could use articulated knees, external pockets, and a waterproof zipper. Price: Jacket, $150; pants, $80

3. J&G; Cyclewear Waterproof Rain Jacket and Pants
(800-452-3938; www.bicycleclothing.com) My favorite new nonbreathable rainwear was designed for cyclists, not fishermen, but it's perfect for a day in the boat. The jacket has extra fabric in the shoulders for unencumbered casting, and its back hangs low enough to cover any crack that may appear when you're bending over to boat a bass. Best Features: It's a simple design with no loose fabric to catch on your boat hardware. Points to Ponder: It's built for a slim cyclist, not a stocky fisherman. Consider stepping up a size. Price: Jacket, $44; pants, $39

**4. Columbia ROL Jacket and Bibs **
(503-985-4000; www.columbia.com) This two-ply, breathable outfit is incredibly light. High-set chest pockets on the jacket keep out the rain, and the hood fits just right to allow for clear visibility. The roomy bibs cinch up with wide straps and have smooth pant-leg zippers. Best Features: This outfit packs small, at a killer price for the performance. Points to Ponder: There are no underarm zippers to vent perspiration. Price: Jacket, $85; bibs, $85

Tip
Just one washing in a typical laundry detergent would cause any of the breathable garments to absorb water on the outer layer due to unrinsed soap residue. Always wash your breathables in Sport-Wash or another manufacturer-recommended detergent and finish them in a hot dryer. For more breathable care info go to www.atsko.com/sportwash.html