Q&A—Foul Weather Gear

Question [edited for brevity]: I did a quick search on your site, but didn’t find anything discussing foul weather gear. I’ve researched all lines and all levels of gear—West Marine, Gill, Henri Lloyd. I’d like to think this stuff may last me 10 to 15 years with proper care and avoiding snags anywhere on the boat. We’re planning several trips along the U.S. east coast this year and one to Bermuda.

Answer: We are actually in the market for new gear as I write this: the tape on the inside seams of our old stuff has detached and there are areas of chafe on the exterior; however, even though our gear looks disreputable, it’s not leaking…yet. But we don’t want to get out there and then have it start to leak, so we’ll replace it this spring.

Which Brand?

In the past we’ve been through a number of different brands of offshore foul weather gear. For the last set we settled on Musto HPX Ocean. Yes, the price tag really hurt, but we found it to be the most comfortable and effective of any we’ve tried so far:

  • a hood that protects but doesn’t interfere with movement or visual field
  • zippers that work (more on that later)
  • adjustment buckles in the right place
  • completely and utterly waterproof (even after 5 years of hard use)
  • good breathability

Benefits of Gore-Tex

Good breathability is an important issue considering the type of sailing we do. Sure, fishermen in the north get away with wearing cheap non-breathing foul weather gear, but they keep physically active when out on the working deck and then, when they stop working, they go below where it’s warm and dry. (Plus, they’re way tougher than we are!)

With our open cockpit, we end up sitting out there in the cold and wet for hours, with an occasional interlude of frantic physical activity followed by more sitting in the cold. Without the breathability of Gore-Tex, we would get sweaty during sailwork and then sit and get hypothermic in between. So, for our use, the benefits justify the price tag of the HPX Ocean level of gear.

Lighter Gear

For the use you describe, I would think you could get away with lighter, cheaper gear; however, with Musto that may not work: the crew on our Arctic trip this summer had MPX gear (their normal sailing territory matches yours). The jacket zippers kept getting caught, and there is nothing that brings on seasickness faster than being stuck below with the boat thrashing around, while you’re getting hotter and hotter fighting your foul weather gear jacket zipper, which is jammed halfway up.

We know all about it—we had Henry Lloyd gear a number of years ago that did that (Team One Newport replaced the first set without question when we complained, but the second set was just as bad, so we put up with it until they wore out).

Note that Keith, the Musto guy from Landfall Navigation, says they sell a lot of MPX gear and they haven’t had any problems with the zippers, though he admits it does take a certain technique to get them to work right.

Longevity, or Not

The bad news is that we only get about 5 years out of a set of foul weather gear, whatever the brand. Now, that’s 5 years of extremely hard use, but still, at the price that’s just not acceptable. (Note that Keith was surprised that our gear only lasts 5 years. I guess we’re really hard on the stuff!)

We’ll report once we’ve test driven this next set of Musto HPX gear.

Anybody out there have first hand experience of a better option for foul weather gear? Please leave a comment.

{ 29 comments… add one }

  • Colin February 26, 2012, 1:30 pm

    I’d vote for the Musto Ocean suits in HPX as well. On our research boat we had two HPX suits for the skipper and mate (well, we lived in them) and 6 suits for the volunteers in MPX (different sizes). Our HPX ones lasted for around 5 years of virtually daily use before they had to go – once they start to leak, there’s not much point in trying to do anything with them. But up until then they had been fantastic, and were very hard wearing.

    The MPX suits were nothing like as good, and considering they got less use weren’t as good value. They ripped quite easily, and the hoods were very poor – I had to stitch the tensioning cord back in to every one of them. Fine for occasional use, but not for serious stuff.

    I bought a new Ocean suit a couple of years ago at a bargain price (last years colours – as if I care) despite the fact it’s in a strange silver shade which makes me look like a renegade from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I’m otherwise very happy with it – except for the hand pockets on the jacket, which have diagonal zips designed to ensure you lose everything in them – if Musto haven’t gone back to the old patch pockets – then they should!

    Best wishes

    Colin

    Reply
  • Paul February 26, 2012, 2:00 pm

    I vote musto HPX also. I’ve had mine for 10 years, five years of light use and five of moderate. Their end of life is coming but of all the gear I have, my musto suit is what I recommend the most.

    Reply
  • Sigurdur Jonsson February 26, 2012, 7:39 pm

    Good day

    We have had overall bad experience with the Musto MPX gear. Especially the pants don´t last very long until the seams start leaking. This is a shame because they have nice design and are comfortable to wear.

    But I´m always looking for a simpler jacket. A “HPX-grade” smock/anorak type jacket but with perhaps only one small pocket on one of the sleeves, no bulky pockets on the front. And as few seams as possible on the jacket. Really like some of the simple fishermans smocks but breathable…

    All the best // Siggi

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 27, 2012, 10:59 am

      Hi, Siggi; I agree that it would be great if they could come up with a simpler, less expensive, and longer lasting foul weather gear using HPX fabric technology. I’d also do without all the bells and whistles! Though not without the comfortable fit. When wearing the gear for 12 hours/day, comfort is vital!

      Reply
  • Jerry Levy February 26, 2012, 8:15 pm

    I don’t have enough dollars to vote for top-of-the line Mustos. A high quality and less expensive breathable alternative is Guy Cotton’s offshore foul weather gear made out of “dremtech’. I bought my suit years ago, though, and don’t know what prices are now. They used to have a US outlet in New Bedford.

    I will say, though, that having a breathable foul weather suit IS worth the extra money.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 27, 2012, 10:47 am

      HI, Jerry; Thanks for the heads up about Guy Cotten. We’ve never tried their gear–one of the few brands we haven’t! We use their Astron boots for wet work (anchor hauling).

      Reply
  • james peto February 27, 2012, 10:01 am

    We too would vote for Musto HPX, however we find that the hood is not so good when wearing glasses.
    We also have insulated suits bought in Norway( everybody going on the sea uses them) which are the best value ever, indestructible, warm and if you do fall in provide an element of flotation ALL for about 1300Nkr. Makes Musto very expensive in comparison.
    Weven wore these with just a sweat shirt under whilst saling in Svalbard.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 27, 2012, 10:50 am

      Hi, James; Yes, we also have the insulated suits but they don’t breath and so we can only wear them in very cold conditions.

      Reply
  • Svein Lamark February 27, 2012, 10:10 am

    Hi Phyllis,
    My wife has a Musto MPX and she says it is good. She sailed around Nordaustlandet with it. I have a ca 12 year old HPX. It is much stronger and thicker in the clothing. I think it will still last for many years. The problem with the HPX is to get rid of your humidity because the clothing is so haevy. After many hours in the cockpit i feel wet. It helps a lot with some layers of wool under the HPX. Yeasterday we sailed into Hammerfest (worlds northen most town) and I asked the locals what type of underwear they used. They said the new type of wool with a thin layer of polyester or polyproylene was the best. It transports out humidity fast and dryes quickly. Producers i found in Hammerfest were Devold and Dovre. Both wellknown among fishermen in The Barents sea. I will try this new underwear because i think good underwear is the key to comfort. Some go for syntetic underwear. It works, but it smells. During the winter of 2005 i traveled around on Svalbard wih locals. The locals refused to enter open huts known to forengers because they used syntetic underwear. I tried the open hut in Brucebyen. It has a terrible smell. I will not have that smell in my yacht. Finally good booths are important. If your foots are dry and warm it is not so bad.
    Svein

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 27, 2012, 10:55 am

      Hi, Svein; Thank you for pointing out that what you wear under the suit contributes a huge amount to the comfort of foul weather gear. We also use smart wool as our under layer, which soaks up any humidity that might build up but still keeps us warm. We also wear a synthetic t-shirt under the wool for comfort, but we can attest in agreement with Svalbard locals that the wool is much better from the aromatic point of view! We agree that keeping feet warm is also imperative.

      Reply
  • Phyllis February 27, 2012, 11:06 am

    Thanks, all. I guess 5 years of hard use is the norm for HPX gear. That’s frustrating! It makes it very difficult to hand over the credit card.

    Reply
    • Svein Lamark February 28, 2012, 5:16 am

      Hi Phyllis, I think you can hope for more than 5 years of lasting time with your HPX, even if you use it harder than other do. The clothing is so strong that it is almost impossible to destroy it. I wonder if the layer on the knees are kevlar or twaron ? Good maintainence is important to make it last. Salt will block the gore-tex humidity transport ability. HPX has several layers. When you get salt between the layers, the gore-tex will be the looser against the stronger outer skinn. So HPX needs to be washed in freshwater more than other onelayer gore-tex. This is The Achilles of HPX. But it easy to solve when you know it.
      I am using the Dubarry boots. I always buy 3 pairs so that a pair can rest for two days when in use. If the boots start to smell, I fill them with freshwater and let them stay over night. Next day I dry them with warm air. Then they are good again. I am now into pair number 9. I will not think of the cost. That will ruin my day.
      Svein

      Reply
  • Lane Finley February 27, 2012, 6:21 pm

    Hi Phyllis,
    It is too bad that Musto does not make women sizes in HPX. At least we cannot find any women’s sizes.
    Cheers
    Lane

    Reply
  • Geir Ove February 28, 2012, 5:46 am

    If you sail places where HPX is needed, then a female cut dress, is not what you are looking for,
    It needs to have room for wool and air under it. then you can go anywhere.
    i sail the north sea, but HPX is to stiff, so i use MPX, and also a HH dress for costal sailing,

    Reply
  • Phyllis February 28, 2012, 10:26 am

    Hi, Lane and Geir; I guess I am so used to not getting foul weather gear in women’s sizes that I don’t even think about it anymore, but it’s not that big a problem for me because I’m tall. A shorter more curvy woman could have a lot of problems. So I agree with you Geir that a roomy fit is necessary, but if the gear is too long and too tight and/or loose in places, it could actually become a safety issue for some women.

    Reply
  • Geir Ove February 28, 2012, 10:46 am

    Yes. If anyone is short, than a tailor-made one , will be best ?
    you need to have room underneath and def. not to tight, There is always a “but”

    Reply
  • karoline February 28, 2012, 11:26 am

    I’m a rather tall woman, sailing where HPX is necessary, and would love if the could make a female cut. Not to look slim if that’s what Geir Ove is thinking of, but there are escpecially too much cloth around the shoulders, which are simply impractical and annoying. I’d suggest Geir Ove wore female cut gear for a season ..:-)

    And when sailing far, fresh water use is at issue. I’ve found it hard to keep the HPX as fresh as recommended when making crossings, and thereby the HPX last shorter. But good to know through these postings, there probably are no better option.

    Reply
    • Phyllis February 28, 2012, 11:57 am

      Hi, Karoline; Yes, if there was a female cut HPX I would definitely prefer that, given that it was long enough–my usual problem with female cut gear (anyone at Musto reading this?!).

      One of the things that just gets my goat is when gear that is supposedly for offshore use has as one of its requirements that it be washed in fresh water after each use!! DuBarry boots are like that and, as much as I love them, they just don’t get that kind of care around here. Same with our foul weather gear–it doesn’t get washed more than once a season, in the fall when we lay up. I personally think that this is a completely unrealistic requirement for offshore gear.

      However, this time our gear is disintegrating and yet still waterproof! So it isn’t the Gore-Tex that is failing–it’s the construction.

      Yes, the comments to this post have been helpful for us too since they confirm that the HPX is, despite its many drawbacks, the best thing going at this point.

      Reply
  • Sverre February 28, 2012, 12:36 pm

    Hello and thanks for good advice. I’m also in the market for new foul weather gear and am at the stage of procrastinating before spending the bucks on HPX. Just one suggestion for those who are experiencing their zippers getting stuck: try lubricating them. You can use candlewax, just stroke the end of a candle gently over both sides of the open zip a few times and you should notice an improvement in operation. A slightly softer wax works better, but one doesn’t always have that kind of stuff lying around. I’m using archer’s stringwax from my sewing kit where it serves double duty as lube for sewing thread. Stringwax is fairly inexpensive and is readily available from all stores that sell archery gear.

    Reply
  • Svein Lamark February 28, 2012, 2:32 pm

    Hi Phyllis,
    Maybee we are a bit snobbish choosing the expensive HPX with so many problems. I bought new Spinlocks the other day and for the salesman it was an important argument that the crew would look much more professional with Spinlocks. As a young man I fished several years in The Barents Sea and 5 winters off Lofoten. I always used Helly Hansen PVC oilskin and Viking Neptun boots and wool underwear. It worked perfectly. The gear is cheap and comes in all kind of sizes. The Neptun boots were wonderful because my foots were always dry and warm. When my HPX is gone I will go back to Helly Hansen, but I will keep my Spinlock and the modern wool underwear.
    Svein

    Reply
    • Rikki February 29, 2012, 5:21 pm

      Agree with Svein.
      After more than 130 000nm I find myself suiting up in fisherman oilies with natural fibers (wool) under. Inexpensive, light weight, compact, easy on/off, waterproof, easy to ventilate. Wrap a small towel around neck and wear a peaked cap under hood. Metal snaps need to be maintained (oiled). Duct tape comes in handy during fire hose conditions on the foredeck.
      Guests very pleased to be able to borrow my expensive, hardly used, Henry Loyds.

      Reply
      • John March 1, 2012, 10:15 am

        Hi Svein and Rikki,
        I think that whether or not you will be happy with fisherman’s PVC gear is a lot more about the person wearing it than the gear. I burn a pretty high thermostat and tend to get overheated and sweaty very quickly when I exert myself. I can remember way back in the seventies the most popular foul weather gear of the time was made from heavy PVC by Line-7. On the boats I raced on some crew members thought it was great since it was absolutely waterproof and a big step forward at the time. I hated the stuff because within 5 minutes of starting a sail change I was soaking underneath it from my own perspiration. That was bad enough in the mid-latitudes, but up north it would be dangerous because of the danger of hypothermia.

        Bottom line, it depends on you, not the gear.

        Reply
        • Rikki March 1, 2012, 3:30 pm

          Large and loose. Jacket slips off as soon as I’m under the protection of the sprayhood which also means it never comes below decks. Important what you wear underneath. Wool next to skin is paramount. I agree as well that it is an aquired taste that demands a certain technique.

          Reply
  • Ray Dunn February 28, 2012, 8:47 pm

    Great info! Not really having any experience with off-shore sailing, I’ve been hesitant to spend big money on an article of clothing that I may only use once or twice/year, then find out later that just a bit more would afford me something that wouldn’t leak after a few short hours of constant cold rain. I’ve never noticed the smell from sweaty synthetic under-layers, but coming from a cycling/triathlon background, I’ve probably just been experiencing olfactory fatigue! I’ll keep that advice in mind when shopping for wool layers in the near future. Thank you, all!

    Ray

    Reply
  • Ray Dunn March 1, 2012, 11:10 am

    I was wondering if you guys ever considered re-habbing old garments through the manufacturer. I looked it up and Musto provides it as a service that seems to have some sort of guarantee. The more I thought about how these things are made, the more I realized it made sense, especially given the investment. Here’s the link: http://www.musto.com/fcp/content/ProductRepairs/content

    Reply
  • Carolyn Shearlock March 3, 2012, 12:12 am

    On the zippers, try some stuff called ZipCare, available from Amazon and many outdoorsy stores (we first found out about it from a high-end tent manufacturer when we returned our tent for zipper work) — relatively cheap (a little over $5). Haven’t used it in an extreme conditions as you’re in, but we had huge problems with wet suits and even day packs (that we often in the dinghy) freezing up from salt deposits. The ZipCare does wonders and the neat thing is that it does NOT attract dirt and crud like wax will.

    Reply
  • Phyllis March 3, 2012, 10:16 am

    Thanks for the great comments. Ray, that’s interesting about the repair option from Musto. We never realized they did that. We’ll look into it and see if they can do anything with our old gear once we get the new stuff.

    As to zippers, the problem with our crew’s MPX and our old Henry Lloyd zippers wasn’t salt or that they weren’t lubricated, it was a fault in how the zippers connected at the bottom. In all these cases, the problem was there from when the gear was brand new.

    We do, however, advocate ZipCare as well, as we use it on our anti-exposure and survival suit zippers during our annual inspection of that gear.

    Reply
  • Svein Lamark March 25, 2012, 7:06 am

    Hi Phyllis
    There is an interesting new development of foul weather gear going on i Europe to day. The producer Regatta has made a new gear for fishermen that is now becomming popular. The new gear is named Regatta Fisherman. The growing popularity is connecting to two tragic accidents in Ireland and Norway where the fishermen with this new gear survived and those with other gear did not. Look at regatta.no ,choose the UK flag for english, go to professional and look on regatta fisherman. You can even find some movies there. I have not tried this gear, but the fishermen I have spoken to says it is comfortable to use and keeps them warm and dry. The norwegian fishermans assosiation has bought 2500 sets to their members and several insurance companys are also subsidising members. The marked price is less then 350 USD so I intend to try one.

    Reply
  • Paul Mills September 5, 2012, 3:50 pm

    Hi

    I want to put in a vote for Gill. I have a set of their Atlantic waterproofs, of which I like many design features – not least the handwarmer pockets on the trousers as well as jacket. A couple of weeks ago I noticed the trousers were starting to leak, after 3 years use. So, I emailed asking for their position on this. Gill came back instantly, saying send them to us freepost for evaluation. I asked how long, as I needed them back asap and they replied 7-10 days, but mark urgent and we will do our best…. . Five working days later a new pair have arrived in the post, with an apology for any inconvenience = Paul Mills is a customer for life!

    Well done Gill :)

    Reply

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