A quality all-round shell needn't weigh heavy on your bank balance, find Carolina Smith and Chris Scaife, as they check out these lightweight men's and women's jackets.
Sprayway's Vectis and Fen jackets are his and hers lightweight shells 'designed for fast paced hikes in changeable conditions'. Carolina Smith and I have been using them on walks in the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District recently, as well as a short trip to Spain, and we've found them excellent for warm days in the great outdoors when wind or rain is a possibility. Light, packable, functional, affordable - as summer walking shells go, they tick a lot of boxes.
Like most men's Sprayway clothing, the Vectis is available in sizes from Small to XXL. Most clothing is best tried on first, of course, but if ordering online it's probably worth looking at the Sprayway website, which gives detailed measurements as a guide to which size you should buy. I went for a Medium, which is what I normally wear, and I'm pleased I did, but I often think Sprayway Mediums are slightly larger than most other Medium jackets. It doesn't feel particularly baggy but there is space to wear a few layers underneath.
In keeping with the lightweight theme, this is quite a short jacket. The hem and cuffs are semi-elasticated, so sit snugly with plenty of give, and stop the rain from seeping in.
The main difference between the men's Vectis and women's Fen jackets, as you'd expect, is with the fit. The Fen comes in sizes from 8 to 18, which seems to be the norm for Sprayway women's clothing. The shape is more in keeping with traditional women's jackets – narrower shoulders, shorter torso, slimmer, more tailored at the waist and more spacious in the chest area.
Carolina has a size 10, and this is what she normally wears. She has found the Fen comfortable to wear and a good fit. It has normally been worn with just a single layer underneath, and is the right size for this, but it is spacious enough to add a couple of extra layers underneath without it feeling tight. The arms are a good length and the cuffs work well.
These arrived right at the beginning of the late spring/early summer drought, when temperatures were high, wind was minimal and rain was absent for weeks on end. In all that time, we would put them in our bags and forget about them. They are so light that there was no real downside to having them with us, even though we knew really that temperatures were unlikely to drop and it wasn't going to rain, so they would be staying in our bags.
Of course, that drought eventually came to an abrupt end and the jackets performed admirably in the moderate winds, sometimes heavy rain and temperatures hovering around 12C (British summertime) that ensued. We have worn these in conditions ranging from when a light breeze makes it just slightly too cold for a T-shirt, right up to heavy rain, full waterproofs, head down and running for shelter. Durability is of course a concern with all clothing and a difficult thing to assess when reviewing something you have had for a short time. But though their 2.5 layer fabric may not be quite as burly as a full 3-layer, I do expect these to last – they certainly seem well made.
Given their very reasonable price tag, and the general level of protection they offer, these jackets feel notably light. With our men's Vectis weighing 295g and the women's Fen 250g, they may not match the skimpiest runner's jackets, but for general use they are light enough to be taken everywhere. When they arrived in the post, it felt as though we'd been sent an empty box. They pack up small as well, as you'd probably expect from something so light, so can be carried whatever else you plan on taking with you. We have taken them pretty much everywhere we've been recently, whether carrying a full rucksack or just a tiny bag. Weight is particularly important with these jackets, as they are probably going to spend more time tucked away in your bag than being worn. Fingers crossed, anyway.
We took them to Spain recently and flew out with the lowliest of budget airline hand luggage options, all our belongings having to be stowed under the seat in front. I can't really think of anything that would have been better for that purpose – they took up minimal space in our bags and added minimal weight, and we wore them whenever there was a breeze or light rain.
Both Vectis and Fen jackets are made using 100% polyester HydroDry 2.5 Stretch fabric. This is a lightweight, breathable waterproof and windproof material, and though it commands less of a premium than the various versions of Gore-Tex that tend to dominate the market, I can't say that at a walking kind of pace we have noticed any drawback in terms of breathability. The stretchiness is apparent and means it can be used for fairly dynamic activities. There is a PFC-free Durable Water Repellant (DWR) finish, making it quick drying. It's also wind resistant.
Both jackets feature hoods with semi-elasticated openings and a short section of wire in the peak to keep it fairly rigid. The peaks have performed well in windy conditions and the hoods have always remained comfortable, even when being worn for hours on end. Obviously, if you're out in conditions that mean you have to wear a hood for hours on end, you probably wouldn't describe yourself as completely comfortable, but you can't blame the hoods for that. There is a rear adjustment cord and toggle at the back of the hood, meaning it can be tightened or loosened easily and effectively, and there won't be an annoying toggle bouncing into your face in stormy weather.
The front zip is an area where waterproofs can sometimes cause problems, but the Vectis and Fen jackets both have robust zips with a thickened piece of waterproof material – the internal storm guard – underneath. The zip can be fastened up to mid-face height and with the hood tightened up, only a small part of your face will be exposed to the elements. And you want to be able to see, don't you.
The mesh-lined pockets are large, with a good quality zip and with sufficient waterproof material on the outside to protect them from the rain. Placed high enough that they can still be used when the rucksack's hip belt is being worn, they are big enough to hold wallet, phone, keys, sunglasses etc.
The cuffs are semi-elasticated, which means they are slightly less adjustable than Velcro cuffs, but lighter, and given the remit of the jackets you probably won't be wearing big thick winter gloves with them anyway. We have found the cuffs comfortable, and they give a good seal to stop rain from dripping down your sleeves. The hem is also semi-elasticated. Again, to save weight there is no drawcord but the hem sits well against the waist and gives a good seal.
Ethics and environment
Sprayway seems to be an outdoor company that cares about social and environmental responsibility. The DWR is PFC-free. PFCs are chemicals that accumulate in the environment and cause harm, and while most DWRs are PFC-free these days, it is always worth checking. While the latest PFC-free alternatives are a definite advance in environmental terms, they do not perform as well for as long as the old-school toxic treatments, so modern shells do need to be washed and reproofed pretty frequently.
The jackets are made in China, but Sprayway is a member of Fair Wear Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation that works to improve labour conditions in garment factories.
These jackets are clearly not intended to be used for seriously harsh conditions; if you're winter mountaineering, take something else. They are, however, just what you want for reasonably warm days of general use in the outdoors when weight matters and when the weather could change at any minute. They're commendably light for their price, and take up hardly any space in your bag, so whether you're heading out for an hour or two or planning a multi-day backpacking trip, having these with you is something you'll appreciate. For their weight, the wind resistance and breathable waterproof qualities really are excellent. And at £100 apiece, they represent excellent value in a market where you could spend considerably more.