Sailing Jacket Review: Buy a Paddling Jacket Instead

ria_redWhen duck hunters head out for the marsh at 2:00 AM, they usually face a ritual question: “got your gun and your waders?” because whatever else you might forget, you’re not hunting if you don’t have both of those.

A good sailing jacket is almost as important when sailing on the Bay where chop and splash sometimes soak the crew up on the rail (which, by the way, is the best seat on a boat), and everyone on board is liable to be hit with at least some spray on the windy days.

The sailing clothing industry is fairly large with several extensive lines made by various companies.  The catch is that the pricing befits the stereotype of affluent sailors while the features offered are often 5-15 years behind the features found on the apparel manufactured for sports.  I’m not sure exactly why this is.  Perhaps buyers in the sailing world are considered captive consumers who don’t have ready alternatives.  In any event, the result is that features such as pit-zips which are pretty much standard on rain/water gear in all other sports are almost never found on sailing jackets. And the price points for the outdoor gear in other sports are much better, perhaps due to the fiercer manufacturer competition in those markets.

The way out of this first-world consumer dilemma is pretty simple: abandon ship and start searching through the gear made for other sports, in particular: paddling, bicycling, and skiing. These manufacturers make gear that has better features, lower prices and stronger designs that perform and hold up just as well (if not better and longer) than sailing gear.

Why pay $350 for a pair of sailing bibs when you can find the equivalent ski bibs on sale every spring for $100?  Why pay $450 for a “sailing” splash jacket, when you can buy a better jacket, a “paddling” jacket from a kayak-oriented manufacturer, for $250?

After looking around recently for a modestly-priced splash jacket, I ended up going with the Ria Jacket by Level Six, a paddling jacket, and I couldn’t be happier.  The fit is close but the cut is smart, making movement easy to get around the lines, fittings and shrouds on a boat.   The jacket has (of course!) pit zips and great pockets. Waterproof features everywhere. There is a hood with a drawstring to hold it in place when you turn your head, and a built-in visor. And the price is right.  So, no sailing manufacturer logo for me.

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