Friday, March 8, 2013

Tested: Louis Garneau Power Block Jacket

Back to the product reviews, this week I'm going to tell you about my most-used piece of gear in the last 4 years: the women's Power Block jacket from Louis Garneau.

The red colorway distinctly shows the blocks of fabric.
What it is: A wind- and waterproof yet highly breathable jacket for cold weather cycling that works equally well for running and nordic skiing.

Why you want one: Because you're not going to let a little bit of lousy weather keep you from heading out for a workout, but you want to stay warm and comfortable while you're out there.

Front in black with zipper undone showing logo draft flap.

Back in black - AC/DC not required.

Duration used: Almost 4.5 years now - purchased somewhere around October 2008.

Price paid/purchased from: I paid about $115.00CAN plus tax from Grand River Cycle

You can see the side pocket placement pretty well here.
Glove-friendly pulls on double front full-length zipper.
What rawks: Just about everything. I bought this jacket a size larger than most things I own (LG women's size large - I'm usually a medium, and squeeze into a small sleeveless jersey) so I could wear layers underneath it, but I can generally get away with just a base layer unless it's colder than -12c/10f out. The larger size makes it roomy without being baggy or shapeless, and the shaping to the arms and body keep it moving with me through my full range of motion; it seldom rides up or bunches. The material is apparently 3 ply, but quite lightweight and with lots of stretch; this isn't a piece you'll notice weighing you down, or even notice at all. Unlike some other wind/water resistant materials, this garment is almost silent in motion - there's a slight rustle, but it doesn't sound like you're wearing a grocery bag. The jacket is breathable and well vented, but beautifully windproof and highly water resistant. I'm not going to say it's fully waterproof, but by the time moisture actually starts to soak through it you've probably sweated enough you're not really going to notice anyway, and there is no direct creep of rain in through the seams or zippers. The vents are on the back only, but keep the whole body of the jacket circulating air without permitting direct wind entry; they are furthermore designed in such a way that keeps the brushed interior fabric against your body while employing mesh to allow excellent airflow (and keep bugs out, 'cause noone wants stuff crawling around in their jacket) - I've included some detail photos below that show the construction. If you need to dump more heat, the tabs on the two-way, full-length front zip are easily operated with gloves on, as are the side zips which open to full mesh pocket bags to allow air to your midsection if desired. The pockets are another great feature of this jacket, both in quantity and design: the two side pockets are very high capacity, and can be used either as zippered exterior or drop-in interior pockets (see detail photo below). In either case, each pocket will accommodate a pair of winter-weight gloves. There is a smaller zip pocket on the left upper arm with a hole to internally route a headphone cord, designed to work with the elastic loop on the left hand side of the collar, allowing you to leave your mp3 player in the jacket if you wish. The real boon is the two large drop-in pockets on the back of the jacket; similar to a cycling jersey's pockets, each one is large enough to hold a standard bike water bottle and they're deep enough to keep small items from bouncing out while running while still keeping the contents easily accessible. I usually dump my phone in one of them with zero concerns, and it's a great place to keep a gel flask, extra gloves or multi-function fabric tube - anything you might need to grab while on the move, and you can get to it without removing your gloves. If the rest of these aren't enough, there's even a smaller zippered pocket on the back as well - 6 pockets in total. You have the capacity to carry far more than you'd ever actually want to while running, and could self-support a longer ride than you'd probably want to take if conditions required the warmth this jacket provides. The collar is tall enough to provide excellent insulation for your neck but not so tight as to feel claustrophobic, and its smooth interior (same as the outer material) and zipper garage are comfortable against bare skin. The cuffs are finished very simply with a soft, stretchy binding which keeps them low-volume; they work well with shirts that have thumbholes and it's easy to get a pair of gauntlet cuffs over them to seal out air, but the stretch is enough to keep them snug if you prefer your glove cuffs on the inside. The bottom hem has the same binding, and it doesn't ride up or cause issues, and the longer length (mine hits below the hip, but I have a very short torso) provides additional warmth and coverage compared to some other jackets without being restrictive. It has good-sized reflective accents that still flare as brightly after 4 years as they did when they were new, and from completely soaked and dripping it will dry overnight and be ready for more abuse. It even takes a few wearings before it starts to stink, and washes up perfectly on the gentle cycle in the machine - hang to dry, and you're golden.

Cord management loop at the left side of the collar;
works nicely with interior routing hole from left sleeve pocket.

Interior mesh of the side pocket forms a giant inner drop-in pocket.

Spacious double rear pockets with additional smaller, zippered security pocket.
My fingers are stuck in the back vents, which work brilliantly.

What sucks: The jacket is too bulky to be stuffed into a jersey pocket if you need to shed a layer. While water will bead off the exterior initially, sustained rain or sleet will eventually soak through. The arms could use some additional venting, as moisture can build up to the point of dripping out the ends of the sleeves at times. The cuffs and bottom hem rely their stretchy binding with no way to cinch them up to prevent air entry and there is nothing to prevent it riding up at the waist - I added some vertical stripes of silicone above the bottom hem at the back to keep it in place, though it has never really been an issue unless I did something weird like wear an elastic race number belt overtop. While I find the length very good, it does not have the same long rear flap or dropped back that many running and cycling jackets have - you'll have to look elsewhere for something to keep your butt clean in muddy conditions. The reflective is very bright, but there isn't nearly as much of it (particularly on the back; the part that most cars see while cycling) as there is on some others of its type.

Inner view of the back of the jacket showing the back vents.

Vent construction keeps brushed fabric against your body but the mesh provides great airflow.

What I'd like to see: It could use a little more ventilation on the back of the arms, as moisture does have a bit of a tendency to build up there. Apart from that, I'd just like to see LG bring it back! The replacement seems to be the Enerblock Jacket, but at a higher price and with what appear to be some non-weatherproof panels, plus no drop-in back pockets.

My first race ever! The Slainte St. Patrick's Day 5k in March 2009.

Skiing at -15c with a heavy full-zip sweater and base layer underneath.

What I'm saying: If you need a cold/wet weather jacket and you can find one of these, buy it. It's been my faithful companion for my entire running career and I still reach for it on a daily basis during the three quarters of the year when the weather gets ugly. As you can see in these photos I've used it for just about every outdoor aerobic activity you can imagine, and I've even golfed in it on a cool day before. It has kept me comfortable and dry cycling in rain at 1c/34f and kept me warm while running at -34c/-29f. I seriously love this thing and was losing my mind when a dog tore a hole in it - fortunately I was able to repair it almost as good as new (that's the funny spot at the bottom right side of the first photo up top), and it just keeps taking every bit of abuse I can throw at it! UPDATE Mar 2014: I've actually just bought myself a second one (in the red colourway shown above, partially due to lack of choice but mostly wanting increased visibility) because the original is finally starting to show its age after 5.5 years. The main zipper tab broke, the zipper itself is a bit finicky these days, and some of the stitching is starting to come apart while some of the fabric is showing some abrasion damage. Realistically though, having scavenged a zipper tab from elsewhere it's still completely functional. Tanker - awesome fellow that he is - wanted me to have the red one so it would be slightly less likely I'd be mowed down by a car while out running or cycling in poor weather, so took the minor deterioration of the original jacket as prompting to get me a spanky new one. It's almost as though he likes me or something!

Keeping me warm on the Frosty Trail.

I've even been known to use it for its intended purpose.

For further edification: Other reviews are hard to come by, but there's this one posted on Louis Garneau's website (it's a .pdf - sorry) and this one from a BeginnerTriathlete user - Art's Cyclery also did a pretty extensive product description for it.

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