Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco Jacket - Rain Gear
Test Series by Hollis Easter
Initial Report - 23 October 2008
Field Report - 10 January 2009
Long-term Report - 22 February 2009
The Cyclone Eco Jacket is a hard-shell jacket built using environmentally-friendly manufacturing techniques.
Image courtesy of Sierra Designs
Name: Hollis Easter
Height: 6'0" (1.8 m)
Weight: 205 lb (93 kg)
Sleeve: 36 in (91 cm)
Waist: 38 in (96 cm)
Hips: 44 in (112 cm)
Email address: backpackgeartest[a@t)holliseaster(dah.t]com
City, State, Country: Potsdam, New York, USA
Backpacking Background: I started hiking as a child in the Adirondack Mountains
of New York. As a teenager, I hiked my way to an Eagle Scout award. I
love winter climbing, and long days through rough terrain abound. The
peaks have become my year-round friends. I hope to return to multi-day
I am a midweight backpacker: I don't carry unnecessary gear, but neither
do I cut the edges from my maps. I hike in all seasons, at altitudes from
sea level to 5,300 ft (1,600 m), and in temperatures from -30 F (-34 C) to 100 F (38 C).
Manufacturer: Sierra Designs
Year of manufacture: 2008
Location of manufacture: Indonesia
Size: XLarge, also available in Small, Medium, Large, and XXLarge
Listed weight: none
Actual weight (size XLarge): 19.2 oz (544 g)
Color: Black, also available in Gris, Craisen, and Midnight Blue
MSRP: $149.95 US
Product features (from Sierra Designs website):
- Fabric: recycled double-ripstop polyester (3.01 oz per yard / 86 g per m2) with solvent-free laminate
- YKK Aquaguard zippered chest pockets
- Large internal pocket
- Single-hand adjustable hem
- Internal zippered stash pocket
- Fast Pack HoodTM (see below)
- Conversion chart
- Armpit vents with 2 way zippers
- Adjustable Velcro cuffs with custom tab
- 2 zippered hand pockets
- Fully-taped seams, accomplished without PVC
- Waterproof and breathable
Sierra Designs also sent the following note with the Cyclone Eco Jacket.
The Cyclone Eco Jacket is Sierra
Designs flagship jacket built with green materials. It uses PVC-free seam tape, solvent-free waterproof breathable laminate, and recycled face fabrics to reduce the use of fresh water (our most precious resource) and harmful chemicals during the production process. It is designed to use green materials without sacrificing performance.
Initial Report - 22 October 2008:
When I was chosen to test the Cyclone Eco jacket, I placed a phone call to Sierra Designs to ask about sizing. I was impressed by the speed of their customer service: I was talking to a human 10 seconds after finishing their phone tree, a total of 38 seconds into the call. They deserve praise for answering so quickly.
The bottom hem area
After some discussion with their customer service representative, I ordered the larger-sized XLarge jacket, thinking that it would be a better choice for layering. The question arose because I'm between the Large and XLarge sizes on their sizing chart: my chest is size Large; my hips between Large and XLarge; my sleeve length size XLarge.
I'm told that the jacket I'm testing is the Cyclone Eco model, an updated version of the previous Cyclone models. However, the jacket in my possession is somewhat different from the one on the website. In particular, and most disappointingly, my jacket lacks any evidence of the "Fast Pack Hood" advertised on the website. My jacket is labeled "CYCLONE" in several places inside; the word "Eco" never appears. Sierra Designs appears confident that this is the jacket it wants me to test, so I'll go for it!
The jacket is made of Drizone Green 2.5L waterproof/breathable laminate. Sierra Designs says: "This 2.5 Layer, Drizone Green fabric is comprised of solvent-free laminate, texturized double ripstop 100% recycled polyester face with a dry touch back." The jacket also features PVC-free seam tape and is listed as having 10,000 mm waterproofness and 8,000 g/m2/24 hrs breathability. Surely those numbers mean something to someone who is not me.
The fabric is surprisingly thin and is somewhat noisy when it brushes against other materials. It features a faint ripstop pattern on its outer surface; the inner surface is white with a raised black diamond pattern. I've been told that the raised pattern (the 2.5th layer) is to keep liquid sweat from overwhelming the breathable laminate, by channeling it away and holding the fabric away from the skin.
I notice that the inner surface of the fabric develops quite a lot of friction against other materials, to the point where I wonder whether it'll tear before releasing. This makes putting my arms through the sleeves, and removing them again, a bit of a production.
The Cyclone has a separating main zipper with a single pull. I would have preferred a double-pull zipper, so that I could open the bottom of the jacket. The zipper moves freely throughout its range and is easy to start. For added security, there's a metal snap at the base of the zipper.
It's a well-known principle that lips plus zips equals rips in the lips. I
hate having a zipper rubbing against my lips. Sierra Designs has thoughtfully
accommodated obsessive folk like me by stitching a soft tricot lining across the top of the zipper. This lining extends 5 in (13 cm) down the inside top of the jacket, which is nice. When fully zipped, the jacket covers my mouth up to the bottom of my nose, which is a big plus, since I often climb mountains in the winter with winds in the 40–50 mph (65–80 km/hr) range.
Drawcord behind skull
The entire zipper is protected by a storm flap that's fixed in place by several Velcro fasteners. Minor complaints are that the Velcro is so strong that it sometimes resists my efforts to open the jacket's zipper, and that the top Velcro patch is placed where it catches on the tricot lining. Sierra Designs deserves credit for nice little touches, though: the Velcro patches have neatly rounded corners that don't poke me.
The Cyclone's hood fits well and has three independent adjustments. Two
elastic drawcords, placed on either side of my face, allow me to cinch
the hood down across my forehead. I imagine that I'll use them in tandem,
but it's worth noting that they adjust independently, which allows me to
pull one side of the hood down while leaving the other up. This affords the
sort of jaunty pirate-climbing-mountains look I so enjoy. Cordlocks are
situated between pairs of grommets on each side, with pulls resting near
my shoulders. Another subtle point: the grommets and drawcords are placed
between the outer ripstop layer and the inner membrane, so the grommets
don't allow water to drip directly onto me from outside the jacket.
More subtlety: the cordlocks all feature tiny bumps on their outer surfaces. These increase friction so much that it's easy to grip the cordlocks, even when my hands are soaking wet. I've never seen this design of cordlock before, and I heartily approve it.
The hood also has a drawcord running laterally around the back of my skull, placed around my eye level. This drawcord, which is tensioned with a cordlock behind my head, allows me to control the depth of the hood. This is important for preserving my peripheral vision and for keeping the hood's brim from falling too far forward across my eyes. Speaking of the brim, it's nicely stiffened, and seems to work well.
Since my jacket does not include the Fast Pack Hood feature, the hood is permanently deployed and rests against my neck unless I'm wearing it.
Hem adjustment cordlock
I'm pleased to say that the Cyclone includes large and well-placed pit zips (or as Sierra Designs calls them, "armpit vents"), with low-profile zipper pulls at either end. Storm flaps fully cover the pit zips.
There's a Napoleon pocket on the jacket's left breast, closed by a YKK Aquaguard zipper. I find the zipper a bit stiff, such that I need to hold the jacket with one hand while operating the zipper with the other. The pocket fits my hand up to my wrist.
There are pockets on both sides for my hands, again with the ubiquitous storm flaps. My hands fit comfortably inside the pockets. Inside each pocket, I find the capped end of the elastic hem drawcord, which runs from its channel in the waistband into the pocket through a grommet. Pull on the drawcord and the waistband tightens, due to a cordlock that's hidden next to the main zipper inside the jacket. This makes it possible to tighten the waist hem without opening the jacket, and while I can't think of a situation when that would be a life-or-death advantage, it could be useful. Unfortunately, it won't be useful to me because of the sizing issues I describe later on.
I've used the word "subtle" several times so far, and I think it does a good job of describing different aspects of this shell. Continuing with the subtlety, I greatly appreciate the fact that Sierra Designs has avoided plastering its logo all over the jacket. I want to look like a hiker, not a walking billboard, and this jacket lets me. It features a few small screen-printed logos that are barely visible against the black. I like it.
Internal zippered pocket
Moving inside the jacket, there's a zippered mesh pocket on the jacket's right breast. This pocket features a buttonhole-like stitched loop for a portable music player's headphone cord to slip through. This pocket is slightly smaller than the external chest pocket, but still fits my hand up to the wrist.
By my left hip, there's another mesh pocket, this time open at the top. Sierra Designs has stitched its "Conversion Chart" to the mesh fabric of this pocket. It's not possible to read it while I'm wearing the jacket, but it's there. The chart describes how to convert between Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures and also provides a visual temperature scale with the same data. It also offers conversion factors for various lengths and areas, weights, volumes, and a visual aid covering elevations from sea level to 26,000 ft (8,000 m). Astute readers will note that the elevation conversions are somewhat inaccurate, but I don't normally require my jacket to provide precise numeric conversions.
The jacket packs down quite small. I will probably invest in a small stuff sack to carry it since I prefer keeping my rain gear in stuff sacks for easy access.
An annoying omission is that the jacket lacks a hang loop for drying it in the field. This is also irritating at home, since it means that I have to hang the jacket on a hanger in my coat closet. The jacket's material is thin, and I don't want to stress it by hanging the jacket by the hood from a peg. I have no idea how I'll hang the jacket to dry in the field.
I really like the zipper pulls on this jacket. They're some sort of molded plastic, and seem very easy to grip. There's a larger one on the main zipper and a smaller sort, of different design, on the pit zips and external pockets. Initial tests with gloves have been very positive. I also note that the zipper pulls are girth hitched onto a thinner section of the zipper, which keeps the cord strands close together. This is worth noting since I do a lot of bushwhacking; as Chip Rawlins points out, catching a zipper pull on trees merits at least one Cougar Scream.
Fit and Initial Use
For the sake of disclosure, I will mention that I measured my waist and hips repeatedly with two different measuring tapes, made by different manufacturers. I also had a friend measure, just to make sure that I wasn't doing it wrong. Our measurements all agreed: 44 in (112 cm).
The jacket fits my upper torso very nicely indeed. It's unusual to find a jacket with long enough sleeves to fit my arms comfortably, and the Cyclone fits well. The cuffs can be tightened with Velcro tabs, made easier to grasp with small plastic inserts. Related to the sleeves is a real boon: the jacket doesn't creep up when I raise my arms over my head.
I have to say that, at least in the larger sizes, the sizing chart is not accurate. The XLarge jacket is somewhat tight on my hips, despite being designed as an outer layer for someone with larger hips than mine. I can get the jacket closed, but it's a bit tight, and when I sit down while wearing it I need to pull the jacket's hem up to my waist. My waist and hips are smaller than those this jacket is designed to fit; it should not be tight, especially as an outer shell.
Since the jacket is already tight across my hips, the single-hand adjustable hem feature is useless to me.
Smaller zipper pull on pockets
The hood fits well when it's on my head. Because the jacket lacks the Fast Pack Hood option, the hood just hangs out behind my neck. When I zip the jacket all the way up while leaving the hood down, it has a tendency to choke me.
I've worn the jacket several times around town, and I'm impressed by its ability to repel water. So far, water just beads right up on the surface without wetting it. I haven't done any heavy activity wearing it, but I've found it comfortable to wear during light activity, and I haven't noticed it making me sweat. When I've worn it directly atop my skin, it has sometimes had a slightly clammy feeling, but that's minor, and I think it's more due to temperature differences than anything else.
All in all, this looks like a nice hard-shell jacket. I'm disappointed by the tightness around my hips, the use of a single-pull main zipper, and the lack of the advertised Fast Pack Hood, but impressed by the design. In particular, I like the fact that the jacket doesn't ride up when I raise my arms over my head, and that the sleeves are long enough for me. With the exception of the missing hood pocket, the build quality is very high, and I look forward to using this jacket.
Field Report - 10 January 2009
Cold and snowy on Phelps Mtn
During this period, I wore the Cyclone Eco jacket during five field days. I also carried it on several other trips where it wasn't necessary, and wore it for 20-30 days around town as a raincoat and light shell before the temperatures fell.
I wore the Cyclone Eco jacket while hiking the Stone Valley loop trail on November 9th, 2008. This is a 7 mile (11 km) hike that passes many historic sites in the Raquette river gorge near Potsdam, New York. The river falls precipitously through the gorge, leading to some fairly interesting terrain. When we started walking, the temperature was 44 F (7 C), but it cooled off throughout the day. Soon it started raining, and the rain continued for much of the day. I was carrying the Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco raingear; while I didn't use the pants, I wore the jacket for most of the day.
Although the jacket seemed to wet out after a while, I stayed dry underneath. To clarify: when the rain began, the raindrops beaded up on the surface of the jacket, and could be easily shaken off. Over time, the outer layer of fabric seemed to get wet, and the droplets merged and could not be removed. Despite this, I didn't feel wet inside the jacket.
Mt. Marcy from Phelps Mtn
I next wore the jacket on November 22nd while climbing Phelps Mountain, a 4,161 ft (1,268 m) mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks. We took the Klondike Notch trail from South Meadows, the bushwhacked up the north side of Phelps from the Klondike Lean-To. Mileage was 8.14 miles (13 km) and total ascent was 2,104 ft (641 m). It was very cold, with air temperatures of 6 F (-15 C) at the bottom of the hill, and reported wind gusts up to 35 mph (56 km/hr). There was a fair amount of snow on the trees, which made me glad for the hard shell jacket.
I wore the jacket while climbing Jenkins and Little Jenkins mountains on November 29th. We walked trail to the base of the peaks, then bushwhacked up the west side of Jenkins, down into the col between the peaks, up Little Jenkins (very steep!), and back out to the road. Total distance was about 9 miles (14 km), with a total ascent of 1,800 ft (550 m). Temperatures reached a high of 25 F (-4 C) with winds about 10 mph (16 km/hr).
I wore the jacket while ice climbing in Cascade Pass in the Adirondacks on December 20th. It was pretty cold, with air temperatures of 5 F (-15 C) and winds up to 10 mph (16 km/hr). Cascade Pass funnels wind from the surrounding ranges, and I was very glad to have such an effective wind-shedding garment. I wore the jacket while climbing, and added the Merrell Atlas fleece jacket on top while belaying. I found that the hood fit well over my helmet, although it sometimes popped off (I'm not clear on why that happened). I really appreciated the well-made sleeves while reaching high overhead to place ice tools.
Climbing ice in Cascade Pass
I climbed Phelps Mountain again on January 10th, 2009, this time during "official" winter climbing season. We did it by the trail this time: 9 miles (15 km) of hiking, with 1,982 ft (605 m) of elevation gained. It was extremely cold, with parking lot temperatures at -19 F (-28 C) and winds at 5 mph (8 km/hr).
The Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco Jacket works flawlessly. I can wear it all day, in varying conditions, and stay dry. I tend to leave the pit zips fully open, and adjust the main zipper to suit my current warmth level. I note with pleasure that the hood will stay up even when the jacket is unzipped, which means I can protect my head from the snow that thumps down off the hemlocks and spruces as I pass beneath. I used the behind-the-head skull adjustment to set the hood's shape, and have not needed to adjust it further except when wearing a climbing helmet. The hood stays out of my eyes even when I'm moving around.
I have found that the tightness across my hips isn't as much of a problem while I am hiking, because I pull the jacket up a bit before buckling my pack's hip belt.
Mt. Colden from Phelps Mtn
The jacket's pockets are not very useful for backpacking, because they're low. They're covered by my backpack's hip belt, so I can't get into them; I'm also wary of putting anything in them, since the pressure from the belt might abrade the thin fabric of the jacket.
The jacket has stood up to the rigors of Adirondack bushwhacking so far, with no visible damage. I have washed it once or twice; the fabric has lost some of its initial stiffness but seems otherwise unchanged. I can't find any damage from the ice climbing, either, despite the near-constant deluge of ice blocks.
The Velcro panels on the storm flap bug me sometimes: they're very grippy, and they can make one-handed zipper adjustments impossible. It's a relatively minor problem on the jacket, though. It continues to irk me that there's no loop for hanging up the jacket.
I like that, despite its trim fit, I can comfortably layer the jacket over several other insulating layers, which gives tremendous versatility of layering.
I just love the jacket! It comes on every trip, and I rely on it.
Long-term Report - 22 February 2009:
In Skylight Brook
During this period, I wore the Cyclone Eco jacket on three long hikes and several days around town when it was snowing heavily. I also took it to Mississippi for a board meeting, where I used it as a light outer shell (and would have used it as a raincoat, but it didn't rain).
It has remained one of my favorite pieces of gear. It's light, it fits well, it keeps the snow off of me, and it stuffs down small in my pack when I'm not wearing it. I am really glad to have it.
January 17, 2009: Mount Redfield
|-18 F (-28 C)
||up to 10 mph (16 kph)
||4,606 feet (1,403 m)
I climbed Redfield from the Upper Works trailhead on a day that was nasty and often devoid of views, although we did see a very feisty pine marten. Total distance was 18 miles (29 km) of trail and bushwhack, with 2,900 ft (890 m) elevation gain. Although the wind speed was low, it was very cold, and I appreciated the way the Atlas shed the wind.
January 24, 2009: Mount Marshall
|-10 F (-23 C)
||gusting to 60 mph (97 kph)
||4,360 feet (1,328 m)
We attempted Marshall on a blustery day that was forecast for terrible weather. A front moved through, leaving us with an unexpectedly clear but gusty and cold day. A number of the hikers on the trip were underprepared, which led to a group decision to turn around shortly before reaching the summit.
The hike wends its way through Avalanche Pass, across Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. These all run southwest right into the teeth of the prevailing winds, and the local terrain acts like a giant wind tunnel. Total distance was 16 miles (26 km) of trail and bushwhack, with 3,400 ft (1,036 m) elevation gain. Wind chill was reported at -55 F (-48 C).
February 21, 2009: Allen Mtn
|14 F (-10 C) (base) to 0 F (-18 C) (summit)
||up to 10 mph (16 kph)
||4,340 feet (1,323 m)
We climbed Allen from the East River Trailhead on a day forecast for clouds and snow. We found that, although the Opalescent River's bridge had been destroyed by vandals, we were able to cross safely on the still-frozen ice. From there, the trail winds across a valley with beautiful views of Cliff, Redfield, and Allen mountains. It departs onto a hard path that climbs a shoulder of Redfield before diverting to Skylight Brook.
We then climbed, off-trail, up Allen Brook, which ascends 2,000 ft (610 m) in about 1.5 miles (2.4 km). We had fun going up the relatively steep slide near the summit. Our total distance was 19 miles (31 km), total climb was 3,400 ft (1,037 m), and hiking time was 11.25 hours. The snow was deep, our company was good, and the weather opened out into a beautifully clear day!
How I feel about the jacket
Normally, it's quite easy to give a balanced report on a piece of gear: virtually everything has both strong points and weak ones. The Cyclone Eco jacket has made me work hard, because I have almost nothing but praise for it. I love it.
I've used it primarily as a hard shell in the mountains to keep snow from sticking to me. During this test period, I've paired the jacket with the Merrell Atlas jacket (also under test at BackpackGearTest.org), which is a somewhat fuzzy windproof fleece jacket. I've been bushwhacking a lot this year, which means proceeding through and around trees covered in snow. I rely on the hard surface of the Cyclone Eco to keep that snow from sticking to me, and it does a fantastic job.
When ascending, I'm usually quite warm, so I often remove all insulating layers and just wear the Cyclone Eco to keep the snow off me. I cannot rave enough about the length of the sleeves: it is FABULOUS to find a jacket whose sleeves don't ride up on my arms. It gets bold and capital letters because it's that important to me.
I usually leave the hood down while ascending, since my head overheats pretty easily when I'm working hard. Although I'm disappointed that the jacket doesn't have its advertised Fast Pack Hood pocket for stowing the hood, it turns out not to be a big deal. There's also a silver lining: when the hood is resting behind my head, it does a good job of sealing off my neck against falling snow.
When descending, I often wear the jacket all zipped up, hood on, to keep me warm and protect against the high winds that we often find on Adirondack peaks. I liked the way the jacket didn't flap around when I was plunge-stepping down a steep slide on the west face of Allen Mtn this past weekend.
I've gotten used to the Velcro patches on the storm flap. Although I'd prefer that they be smaller, I can handle them the way they are, and I've discovered a great use for them. During this same period, I've been testing an insulated hydration bladder for BackpackGearTest.org, and I've sometimes needed to tuck the bite valve into my jacket to keep it from freezing when the weather's really frigid. However, those same conditions make me want to have my jacket zipped up! The Cyclone Eco offers a neat compromise: I zip the jacket halfway, tuck the bite valve in, then close the rest of the jacket with the Velcro storm flap. No muss, no fuss! It's very convenient.
Ice near Avalanche Pass
I've put some very hard use on this jacket, including some high-speed collisions with trees on steep terrain. I can't find any evidence of wear anywhere on the jacket, so I'm pretty impressed by it. The hard finish of the jacket makes it easy to brush snow off, and I wonder whether it has an effect on the durability, too.
A few small gripes still exist. I was sent the black jacket, so that's what I tested, but I probably would have chosen a different color. In bright sunlight, the black fabric really soaks up the heat. Normally, I'm warm enough and this is a slight annoyance. However, there have been a couple of times when I got seriously chilled and found that the jacket helped me to warm up quickly in bright sunlight.
The fabric surface is somewhat slippery, so I sometimes need to buckle my pack's sternum strap to keep the shoulder straps from sliding off my shoulders. Buckling the sternum strap fixes the problem.
I leave the pit zips completely open, which means that I sometimes put my hand through them (rather than the sleeve) when trying to put the jacket on. This is easily remedied, and is a minuscule annoyance.
The Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco jacket is a truly outstanding piece of gear. It's light, easily packed, durable, comfortable, and flexible. It works with all my other gear, including my climbing helmet and harness. It has an attractive design that other hikers have commented on.
Basically, I love it. My other shell has languished in the closet since I got this one, and it's probably going to stay there. If I lost it, I would buy a replacement immediately. I am truly grateful to Sierra Designs and BackpackGearTest.org for offering me the chance to test this jacket.
- Excellent customer support
- Environmentally-friendly construction
- Nice zipper pulls
- Tricot lining where my lips touch the jacket
- Jacket covers my face well, when needed
- Excellent water resistance
- Seems breathable so far
- Pit zips are well-placed and large
- Sleeves are long enough to fit my arms!
- Jacket doesn't ride up when I raise my arms
- Hood fits over my climbing helmet
- Comfortable fit
- Velcro storm flap lets me warm my hydration tube in cold weather
- Fabric is durable and stands up to bushwhacking use
- Fabric allows snow to slide off
- Sizing problems around hips
- Lacks a hang loop
- Tricot lining gets caught on Velcro
- Advertised Fast Pack Hood is missing
Read more reviews of Sierra Designs gear
Read more gear reviews by Hollis Easter