Since it’s officially winter, I figured now is as good a time as any to review the First Gear “kit” that I’ve often mentioned. Last summer I started searching for some better winter riding gear. At the time, my best winter gear was a textile, three-season jacket with liner and sweatshirt, which simply couldn’t cut it. Several of my friends pointed out that if you want to ride year round, you need a good waterproof outer layer. As it turns out, one of those friends was looking to part with an aging Firstgear Rainier jacket, which I wasn’t about to pass up. Considering that the Rainier jacket joined me on the vast majority of the 17,000 miles I put on the bike this year, I feel it’s fair to assess the jacket’s seasoned experience.
For longtime followers of the blog, I’ve mentioned the flexibility of the Firstgear jacket a several times. While I tend to be of the school of thought that there is a given tool for a given job, a rider could feasibly wear this jacket year-round. The included thermal liner with a long-sleeved shirt will easily get you through the coldest months, while the outer layer breathes well enough you can wear the jacket on long rides throughout the summer. It does however get a bit toasty above 75F when you’re sitting at stop lights, but there’s no reason to worry about being hot on the freeway.
My Firstgear TPG Rainier jacket is actually a 2009 model; I’m under the impression that Firstgear has a newer, revised, version out right now, I assume with improvements on any complaints I might have with the older model. The Rainier jacket has a “waterproof”, Hypertex, outer layer. I’m betting that “Hypertex” is trademark technical term, but I can attest that the outer layer, despite being six years old, is still in fact waterproof. For those that have watched the video review, I use the term “waterproof” jacket in quotations; you will occasionally get wet in the hardest rain, but this jacket does keep out, let’s say, 95% of the water. Like similar jackets with zippered vents, it has the potential to leak at the zipper joints. Thus far my jacket has only leaked at the zipper connection on the forearm in heavy downpour (or all-day rain), which is pretty tolerable considering my shirt doesn’t get wet (A zipper “garage” might help this on newer models). I find that under layers wicking water elsewhere is typically the big offense among “waterproof” gear, which this jacket has not done. I do have to admit, there have been a couple times where the armpits of my T-shirt have been damp, as the chest vents are not the typical waterproof zippers, but the fabric folds do a good job of routing the water away. From what I can tell, it’s a real challenge to find a vented jacket that’s also 100% waterproof; the vents may seal initially, but the seams wear out over time. In the end, if you’re looking for four-season flexibility, you have to accept the potential threat of getting wet if you also want direct ventilation (so I’m told…).
If you like keeping stuff in your pockets instead of in your motorcycle luggage, this jacket is for you. With over 10 pockets in the outer layer alone, storage space in the Rainier jacket is virtually never a problem. I prefer to have a jacket that is snug, but not tight, keeping the armor in place. Thus, I don’t usually fill up the pockets because I feel it somewhat impeding when I’m riding; however, for folks that plan on getting on and off the bike frequently during the day, it’s convenient to have items in those big pockets versus getting into the panniers at every stop. As shown in the video, the left front hand warmer pocket has a pass-through for the heated gear rheostat. Despite riding in mid-twenty degree weather, I’ve yet to have a need for a heated vest or jacket, but I do wear heated gloves almost religiously when it’s near freezing. That pass-through is really convenient, making it so I don’t have a bunch of wires to hassle with at each stop. Despite the plethora of options available, I generally find myself only using the cell phone pocket and the two lower pockets. The chest pockets would probably be good for maps etc. but I tend to keep things in the tank bag for easier access.
The coyote desert tan color is probably not desirable to most, but as an army guy, I see it as a kind of modern “camo” for the urban motorcyclist. I also like that the reflective panels appear very subdued in daylight, but are actually very effective at night, which is nice touch. If I were shopping for a new jacket today I would estimate that I’d be looking to purchase something in Hi-Viz yellow, but I believe Firstgear also has this jacket in a black grey combination.
As far as air flow, the wrist vents are by far the best airflow of any non-mesh motorcycle jacket I’ve had. I find that the most uncomfortable part of being hot on a bike is the feeling that the sleeves are sticking to my bare skin from all the sweat, which is why those vents are so great. The chest vents on the Rainier jacket seem somewhat static, but I think it’s just because of the placement. The chest vents are also not waterproof zippers, so I suspect that placement is related to waterproofing. I find that on other jackets, chest vents are often designed for more direct airflow, however I fear rainwater slipping through the seals is more prevalent. The rear exhaust vents on the other hand are waterproof and offer a noticeable cooling effect, especially if air runs up the arms of the jacket. If it’s raining, I don’t often find myself sitting still in traffic on the bike, and thus far, I’ve not encountered any leaking from the exhaust vents. After six years, the seals are still in really good shape, and I suspect that the zipper “garage” really helps keep the water out. Ultimately I don’t feel a significant difference in the chest vents being open versus closed, but there’s no doubt they work. There have been a few times I’ve left a chest vent open by accident while riding in winter; cold at the end of my ride, I’m slapping my forehead when I discover I left one open.
Overall I really like the fitment of the jacket. In the past, I’ve had several “budget” textile jackets with excess material that tends to bunch up in the chest and stomach, which forces the collar to ride up and choke you; very annoying. Other reviews have suggested that the Rainier jacket is cut for a more “athletic build” similar to other European manufacturers, but at 5’10”, 185 pounds, I’m no gym rat, so I wouldn’t be scared off by the “athletic” term; I personally would suggest the Rainier fits “correctly”. For guys rocking the keg in lieu of the six-pack (it happens…), I still find the jacket roomy, and there is a bit of adjustment in the waist, but you may also want to look at something like the Kathmandu jacket. Admittedly, the arms do feel a bit snug with the liner in place, but almost loose with liner removed in summer, even when I have adjustments at their tightest. When I say “snug”, it’s usually when wearing a long sleeve shirt under the liner, it’s just that it gets tiring when trying to change channels on my helmet Bluetooth, but while riding it’s still very comfortable. The jacket also has a taller collar with integrated hood. The collar is a lifesaver in the winter, keeping out the cold, but also behaves itself in the summer when it’s not buttoned, not chafing my neck on the hotter days. The integrated hood is really great for rain, a hard lesson I learned riding down to the Dragon Raid last year; a hood is mandatory equipment if you want to keep your T-shirt dry. On the other hand, the hood can be a bit aggravating in the winter; if not positioned properly in tandem with my neck gaiter, the material tends to bunch up and make my neck tired.
By far my favorite part of this jacket, after keeping me warm, is the D3O armor. For folks that don’t know, CE rated D3O armor is made of materials that behave like non-Newtonian fluids. Sounds complicated (watch the video), but ultimately the armor is flexible under resting conditions, but stiffens up to protect the rider during impact. Firstgear has been integrating D3O on their premium gear for some time now; having ridden with D3O for so long, I’m not sure if I can ever go back to CE rated foam armor. On my ’09 Rainier jacket, the back pad is just foam, but elbows and shoulders are both D3O. According to Firstgear’s website, the new jackets also include a D30 back pad. For whatever reason I’ve been holding off, but if you’re looking to purchase a D3O back pad, it’s only about $25. Thus far, I’ve not been forced to test the jacket’s protection in an “off”, but I’m told it also has Kevlar-reinforced Teramid panels in the impact zones. While I do dress for the “slide”, I’m still hoping I don’t need to find out.
The before mentioned thermal liner is an awesome spring/fall jacket on its own. I would compare the liner to a Columbia fleece jacket for early fall, however I suspect that there is also some “waterproofness” to the liner as well.
The jacket liner also has significant number of pockets, including a sizable cellphone pocket on the outer chest. Along with the pockets, there is also a zippered pass-through opening for the zipper connection for the matching Firstgear Escape pants. The liner also has vents positioned directly behind the jacket chest vents, however I’ve never felt a need to have the liner installed with the vents open. I have heard mixed rumors that the newer jackets do not include a liner; obviously I don’t sell motorcycle gear, but I admit I’m concerned that without the liner, it might be difficult to comfortably stretch such a jacket through all four seasons without piling on layers.
Looking on the web I see that the Rainier jacket is going to cost your nearly $500 at full retail, however I’ve seen some deals around $425. Admittedly, you get a lot for the money, but I can see the concern with shelling out around $800+ on a jacket and matching pants considering that starts to push you into Aerostich territory. As mentioned, I’m 5’10” at about 185 pounds wearing a size Large. I also struggle a bit with sizing as I’m on the cusp of Medium and Large in most jackets (same with helmets, 22 cm head… always between Small & Medium). To me, the biggest highlights of this jacket are definitely comfort, storage, and the D3O armor. It’s also important to note that the Rainier jacket is probably targeted at long-distance, and all-season riders; it’s really not a tavern to tavern jacket. Having worn the jacket all year, I’m at the point that I don’t even pack rain gear unless I expect to ride the entire day in the rain. In addition, riding in as cold as 24F, I can attest this jacket is excellent in the winter, with only a long sleeve shirt on underneath. I don’t see a need for a heated liner as long as temperatures are above freezing. On the flipside, I’ve worn this jacket in the mid-80’s; while not always ideal, it’s completely comfortable as long as you keep moving. Again, it may be a bit pricey for newer riders, but as you can see, I’m definitely getting my money’s worth and I would recommend this jacket to anyone.