The biggest storm should be water off a duck’s back in these rugged offshore oilskins. The YM team put them to the test
A high-end set of oilskins is a serious investment. We put the top makes to the test to find the best
Long gone are the days of plastic oilskins and the steady trickle of water leaking down your neck. Top-end offshore waterproofs are serious business these days, and you are spoilt for choice if you want a suit that will hermetically seal you in against even the foulest weather, so that you can stay dry and, more importantly, warm, wherever and whenever you are sailing.
Technology keeps advancing as manufacturers send their oilskins hurtling around the Southern Ocean on the backs of the world’s top sailors. The most noticeable changes in the waterproofs we tested were in the efforts made to reduce weight, bulk and slowdrying fabrics. Gone, on the whole, are the linings, replaced instead by durable laminated fabrics. Gone are the thick, cosy fleece linings that soak up water, replaced by lighter-weight microfibre fabrics. The outer shells have also lost weight whilst gaining (so the manufacturers claim) improved waterproofing, breathability, durability and flexibility.
New brands are also entering the market and shaking things up a bit. Decathlon, the French one-stop sports shop, has made an asserted foray into the budget end of the market, and with impressive results. Zhik, on the other hand, grew out of an Australian Olympic campaign and is bringing plenty of innovative ideas to the table.
All of this comes at a price. We set an upper limit of £1,000 for this test, and it would have been possible to go over budget on this. Most of these oilskins don’t come cheap, but I’ve never met a sailor who wasn’t glad of every bit of protection they could get in the face of a cold and spray-lashed watch on deck. But do you really get what you pay for?
HOW WE TESTED THEM
On test were six sets of oilskins, in both men’s and women’s versions. As with our coastal waterproofs test earlier in the season, the only way to test them is to don a set and receive a soaking.
That’s exactly what the
YM team did. To put them through their paces, we examined each of them for features and new ideas. We then wore them out on the water, both on our test day for side-by-side testing, and throughout the season in good weather and bad, to get a good idea of what we liked and didn’t like.
For most, an investment of this kind will be expected to last several seasons, not something we could easily measure, but we did pay attention to quality of construction and practicality.
Finally, we subjected ourselves to having a large bucket of water dumped on us from one metre above head height, and a thorough hosing down under pressure to the front and the back for several minutes. That done, we checked the grey t-shirts worn beneath for leaks.
Jacket £170 Salopettes £170
A relative newcomer to the marine clothing market, Decathlon has hit the ground running with their top-end Tribord Ocean 900 outfit. They may be £400 less than the nearest competitor, but these are not some flimsy imitation.
The fabric is slightly lower rated than other products, but not by much. The weather can be sealed out with a high fleecelined, elastic-edged collar and a novel face guard that is integral to the body of the jacket – very secure, though it didn’t roll away quite as neatly. The hood includes volume and side adjustment, a reinforced peak and a drip gutter.
The jacket closes with two storm flaps over the double-ended zip and another storm flap inside. It is reinforced over the seat and includes printed reflective patches. The Velcro tabs for the inner and outer cuffs are joined together via a slot in the outer sleeve, giving a single adjustment for both cuffs; very easy to use, but not quite such a good seal. The jacket has only chest hand-warmer pockets. The women’s jacket we tested has a slightly different design with separate cuff closures, and no face guard, but the collar can be snugged in with an adjuster.
The women’s salopettes did not have a drop seat, but they do have the option of high-waisted trousers. These had a small cargo pocket on the thigh, but no other pockets. We liked the removable padding in the seat and knees; great for deck work and for comfort on watch. The men’s version features a dry-suit zip, eliminating the need for a waterproof gusset. The inner face of the ankles are rubberised to help ensure a good seal to your wellies.
The suit had an amazingly solid feeling given the low price point and would be well worth a try. The suit performed well in the water test, although there was a slight leak at the cuffs. Decathlon has obviously worked hard to incorporate the features of the more established brands into their clothing as well as coming up with some of their own innovative ideas.
The team receives a thorough dousing to finds any chinks in their aquatic armour
great padding, but we found it limited flexibility slightly