Weight (advertised): 11.0 ounces
Weight (As Tested): 11.2 ounces (Size Large)
While I was deployed to Iraq, Cedar Tree, owner and designer for the Packa, wrote me an e-mail saying that he wanted to give me one of his jackets as a gift, thanks for serving in Iraq. I had never really paid too much close attention to his jacket since I was happy with a pack cover and a jacket (for the most part). I got the jacket, but didn't get to play with it until I got back from Iraq about 6 months later. It has taken me almost a year of using the Packa to really appreciate the design.
The Packa is a sil-nylon rain jacket with pit zips - nothing overly special about that. What is cool is it combines a pack cover with the rain jacket!
"Yawn." Yes, I heard it. "So what?" you say. "Big deal, a pack cover and a jacket, so one piece instead of two. Clever, but I don't see an advantage." I know, I am hearing you think it now as a type.
Consider this: sil-nylon is waterproof and fairly rugged. It will keep you dry in the rain, and it doesn't even attempt to trick you into thinking it is going to magically breath while keeping you dry. So in that respect, the Packa functions just like a good coated nylon or sil-nylon rain jacket that only weighs 11 ounces. Add to that it has a well designed rain hood, a loose fit and LARGE pit vents to help with air flow. The jacket functions about like a poncho for breathing while maintaining the serviceability of a jacket in the wind.
But, here is the thing about most jackets, normally your pack goes over the jacket, and your straps close off small sections inside the jacket to create pockets of air that don't circulate at all. You pack straps get soaked, and since most of them are made with foam - you have wet sponges for shoulder straps until they dry out. Your pack cover only covers the back of your pack, if you wear a rain jacket and a pack cover, rain can still go down your back and get the part of your pack next to your back wet.
Now think of this - the Packa keeps all of you and your pack under it just like that poncho I mentioned. There is no exposed straps or gap between your jacket and pack cover. Your straps are all under your jacket so air still flows normally, albeit inside a sil-nylon cover. Are the advantages starting to sink in?
My initial tests were in a shower. I simply put a pack on and donned my jacket, then stood in the shower to test the waterproof ness of the system. Something about the design that did concern me was the lack of a zipper cover, the zipper is exposed, but it has not leaked so far. It was waterproof. Something worth mentioning is the seams are not seam sealed, which did concern me, but after talking to Cedar Tree, I decided to test it "as is" since that is how he suggests using it.
I also found it very easy to pack in the big pocket that the jacket has - simply turn it inside out into the pocket and zip in closed, plus this pocket acts as another vent if left open! You can also put the pack on your pack like a normal pack cover and tuck the "jacket" parts inside so it looks and carries like a normal pack cover until you need the jacket.
I have used it on numerous hikes since I first tested it. What I have found is it does tend to keep some moisture in, because it is sil-nylon after all, but since the fabric cannot saturate, I can simply shake the moisture out of it when I get under a tarp or in a shelter. Since the air flow inside the Packa isn't restricted by straps cutting off sections from the outside, the generous sizing and pit vents really do help keep you from overheating in the thing, more than just a jacket would.
This Packa isn't magical, it wouldn't eliminate perspiration on a warm day - no jacket will in my experience. But it does make it a little more comfortable to deal with on the mild days. On cooler days, you can vent to your desired comfort level. The Packa is also long, almost like a poncho again. I can wear a Packa with shorts and the jacket covers far enough down to keep my shorts mostly dry. I have also found that the length is enough to sit down while wearing my Packa and still keep my butt dry.
Something I did find slightly annoying was a spot right between my shoulders and the pack creates a dip that catches rain water. Whenever I bend over, a small stream of water shoots over my shoulder! In one way this sort of proves the functionality of the Packa because if that is happening, that water would be down my pack and back otherwise. Because of this pooling, and a seam that exists right along that spot, I have decided to take the precaution of putting some seam sealant in there to avoid a problem cropping up later.
Something that did bother me at first is the fact you lose the option to leave your pack covered while you wear a jacket. Since you are wearing you pack cover, or your pack is wearing your jacket, sometimes you have to make the decision which is going to get wet if you need to take your pack off in a storm. Say you want to set up camp in the rain, well you will need to take your pack off and get your tarp out. With a normal pack, you still have your jacket on while you do this. with a Packa, you will have to take you pack off with the jacket at the same time, then either uncover your pack and put the jacket back on, or leave the pack covered while you move around the rain setting up camp.
Because of this, I was leaning towards making the Packa a mild to warm weather only rain jacket. But after using the Packa a few times in the cold fall and winter of the Smokies, I have found that this issue was largely in my mind as a problem. Sure it still can happen, but it didn't end up being as big a factor as I thought. Since then I have always put the Packa in my pack as my main rain gear.
But it isn't just me. I have loaned out my Packa to some others that were impressed with the jacket, and one or two of them later told me they ordered one!
First off, I would like to than Cedar Tree again for this gift. I appreciate the unsolicited "support" he showed by giving me the jacket. I would never have thought to even look into it myself.
About the only thing that is holding the Packa back in my opinion is the price. $110 is steep, but you figure he is making these right in the USA and he is trying to cover his patent costs (yes, he patented the idea). I hope that someday he can afford to bring the cost down because I think they would take off if there were in the price range of some other jacket options.