Saturday, September 7, 2013

Luke's Ultralight Gore-Tex Limited Edition Shell

When I was growing up, I was always at the front or back of the line in school when headed out for recess.  When picking sports teams, especially basketball, I was always picked first.  When someone needed help moving, I was always reluctantly volunteered.  When it came to family photos, I was always in the middle/back.  When ordering airline seats, I always look for an emergency exit or front row.  When renting cars, “compact” has never been an option.  When shopping for clothes, anything trendy was meant for the rest of the world.  My mother in-law constantly asks me to dust on top of her refrigerator.  People often feel uncomfortable when I stand too close to them in elevators, buses or trains.  Ceiling fan stores make me feel uneasy.

Being a big person in a medium-world is a bit of a challenge.  Manufacturers of, well, most anything plan their products by the rule of averages to appeal to the masses.  For that reason, most of life doesn’t quite fit me.  Backpacking is no different.  Most everything I own for backpacking is either custom-made or fits to the degree of “barely” or “uncomfortably”.

I’ve been looking for a lightweight rain jacket for, I kid you not, about 8 years.  I feel like I’ve tried just about everything and spent a bundle on expensive fabric and imports from all around the world.  I have a closet full of stuff that has been relegated to “around town” apparel and a bank account drained from return shipping costs.

It is with this in mind that I make the following statement:  Luke, of Lukesultralite, is my hero.

I heard of Lukesultralight a few months ago from some forum chatter.  As more companies move towards gear for lightweight backpacking, I’ve recently noticed quite a few more small cottage manufacturers popping up than in past years.  The problem is that not all are quality.  I made the mistake of ordering essentially garage junk many times over the last 10 years from well-intended cottage manufacturers and my maturing attitude (and stuffed gear closet) has only recently caused me to be a little more careful with my purchases.  I’m pleased to say quite clear that Lukesultralight is a quality shop.

Luke made me a custom Gore-Tex Limited Edition shell from Pac-Lite.  On his website, this shell is listed at $99.  Read that again - $99 for Pac-Lite.  The fee to customize it to big-boy size was quite reasonable.

I already own shells constructed of multi-layered Pac-Lite, eVent, various silicon-impregnated nylons, micro porous Dri-Duck materials, DWR coated options, and just about every house-brand proprietary waterproof fabric you can think of to include WPB Cuben fiber made by Zpacks.  Without offending anyone, none of these were significantly any better than others.  Sure some were cheaper, some were more durable, some were lighter, some packed smaller, some were sized better, etc., but all merely made me hot and sweaty, most were clingy and uncomfortable to wear, and most were far more expensive than I liked.

What Luke is selling is an ultra-simple hooded lightweight Pac-lite fabric with waterproof zippers, elasticized cuffs, and adjustable waist cinch and optional pit-zips.  Seam taping is an extra $15.  It also comes with a nice stuff sack made of the same material.  In medium without frills, the jacket comes in at 7.2 oz.  mine was a shade over 10 which is entirely fine by me as my Dri-Ducks is over 8, fits poorly and has nearly zero durability.

I ordered my shell via e-mail with direct conversations with Luke.  I knew exactly what I wanted, to include dimensions, as I’ve played this game before.  I knew what I needed even though typically what I requested from other custom manufacturers wasn’t always what I received.  Luke was quick to respond, clear in his communications, excessively polite, easy to work with and left me with the impression of – this guy gets it.

Most custom gear I order generally takes 6 weeks or more.  In fact, I’d argue that 6 weeks is probably on the early side as I’ve waited up to 4 months for other gear before and most things are somewhere in the middle.  Luke wrote me an e-mail within a little over a week to say that the jacket was ready to ship.  A few hours later, I got another e-mail apologizing saying that he didn’t feel the jacket he made entirely met my specs after measuring it and didn’t feel comfortable sending me a product that wasn’t exactly what I wanted.  After a little more than a week, I received another notice of shipping and a few days later the package arrived.  Luke even mentioned he was going to send me a free cuben stuff stack for my inconvenience, even though I felt no inconvenience and was merely happy that he cared enough about his product to ensure that I was completely happy.

In the package was an excessively neat and small pouch with my jacket inside.  As an experienced backpacker familiar with how small all of my clothing packs, this jacket easily packed smaller than any other shell I had.  It was also very light in my hand.  I immediately felt like my purchase was going to be worthwhile when I noticed how well the stuff sack was made and it even included a little mitten hook at the end of the cinch which is a nice touch and helps it become a multi-use item.  Stitching was clean and there was even a little eyelet for the stuff sack cord to ensure the fabric wasn’t damaged while adjusting which is a step 99.9% of other cottage manufacturers don’t take.


This shell was already just fine in design as-is and needed only tweaking for big-boy size and a drop tail which I desired.  It layers excessively well with cold weather gear or hangs loosely in the warmer months which is entirely what I wanted.  For options, I elected for armpit zippers and taped seams.  Naturally, as my trail name sake suggests, I went with moss green.  After putting it on, despite it being fairly warm, I immediately felt like it was breathing.  After ensuring the armpit cuffs, waist cinch and wrist cinches were open along with the collar, it felt just fine to me and better than most every other option in my gear closet.

I honestly can’t say enough nice things about this product or the service from Luke.  Hands-down, this is my favorite purchase for 2013 and my favorite apparel item.  It’s outstanding to finally have exactly what I wanted and even at a fair price.  Kudos to  Highly recommended.