With a total weight of 7.5oz, the Cloud Airshell and Pants system lets you know exactly what it’s built for; ultralighters who aren’t interested in frills. The innovative people at Sierra Designs created this incredibly light rain suit with the admonishment “Designed to only be worn when it rains.” Created for people to whom rain is a special occasion, the Cloud system removes the angst of packing a rainshell when the forecast is clear.
Sierra Designs Cloud Airshell Features:
- Fully-Taped PVC-Free Seams
- Pants have adjustable Lower Leg Vent with Storm Flap
- Pants have waist Adjustment
- Pants stuff into pocket
- Jacket has attached hood
- Jacket has partial binding at cuff and hem
- Jacket stuffs into included jacket
- Attached Hood
- Pants: 3.5oz; Jacket: 4oz. (Large)
- MSRP: $125 (Top); $79 (Bottoms)
I live in Northern Nevada and do the vast majority of my hiking above 9,000 feet; Nevada isn’t known for its torrential rains, but everyone knows that weather in the high mountains is unpredictable and dangerous. Since I don’t usually expect to encounter rain, I’ve occasionally taken trips without any kind of rain gear; before I learned my lesson, I also got caught in a few mountain squalls. The Sierra Designs rain suit is made for people like me, not for people who are regularly pulling on their Gore to ward off the constant drizzle.
The Airshell system is made of incredibly light, translucent nylon that is treated with a DWR to help repel moisture. In practice, it’s pretty fair to say that the fabric will resist moisture for most mountain storms; mind you, I said resist moisture. Each time I wore this product in the rain, I got a little bit damp – never enough to cause significant discomfort or to put me in danger or having to deal with wet layers, but water definitely finds its way inside of the product. Remember, though – the whole suit weighs just 7.5oz. That’s like a big handful of trail mix. It’s important to keep in mind that this product wasn’t meant to be a stop-all, but more of an emergency layer for unpredictable mountain weather.
The pants are well designed and the adjustable cuffs easily slide over boots. Sierra Designs sacrificed some ounces by putting zippers and Velcro closures on the cuffs, and the waist band is adjustable through an elastic cord. The whole pants compress into an attached inner pocket and, when they’re all packed, could easily fit inside the butt pocket of my hiking shorts.
Sierra Designs included some rather clever weight-saving ideas on the jacket, such as only having elastic on part of the way around the hem and the hood opening. This partial elastic performs largely the same function as a fully elastic waist band while shaving precious grams off of the overall weight. The Airshell has no pockets but does have a full-length zipper, which seems like a bit of an odd choice when a half-length zip would reduce weight even further.
The cut of both pieces is roomy and each are clearly designed for emergency use; they look positively dorky but odds are you won’t mind as you’re huddling under a tree and trusting the Airshell to protect you. I was initially concerned that the incredibly light Illusion nylon weave would prove to be too flimsy for backcountry use, but during my testing I intentionally abused the fabric to see how it would fair. I pushed through brush (albeit rather delicately) and came away unscathed; while bouldering in the pants, I fell and skinned my knee. To my surprise, the pants were undamaged even when I put enough friction on them to scrape my skin underneath. Plus, it’s nice and stretchy so you can still move comfortably in the suit.
- Lightweight, purpose-built protection against wind and rain
- Jacket has a full-length zip
- Stuff sack included for jacket; pants stuff into attached pocket
- Pant hems are adjustable and slide easily over boots
- Advertised as water proof, but in reality water resistant is more appropriate
The Bottom Line
The whole thing to keep in mind with this product is that it’s designed to be ridiculously lightweight, so we really can’t expect the sort of performance that full-featured jackets give us. With that in mind, I think the Sierra Designs Cloud layering system is a valuable addition to the gear closet of any backpacker who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the rain. At just 7.5oz total weight, the whole system really puts the kabosh on the gram-counter’s agonizing over whether or not to take a rain shell. It won’t keep you totally dry, but it won’t let you get very wet – if that suits your needs, Sierra Designs’ Cloud Airshell and Pants won’t disappoint.