If you’re serious about a travel jacket, one with a waterproof/breathable membrane laminated directly to a tough outer shell, with taped seams and with some good venting is the way to go. It’s not the cheapest way of making a jacket, but it’s the most effective.
I’ve now done a couple of thousand miles on two US-branded shells: Aerostich’s Darien Light (rrp $577; sold US only; 2.27kg) which has been around little changed for over a quarter of a century. And Klim’s Overland (rrp $430 / £379; 1.97kg) which hasn’t. Some might say Klim’s Latitude might be a fairer comparison with a Darien Light (DL). I looked at a 2015 Latitude a couple of months back but couldn’t see myself owning it, for the reasons explained in the link.
Fyi: these jackets were supplied by Aerostich and Adventure Spec
in exchange for adverts in the forthcoming AMH7
Aerostich Darien Light
A 25-year old, made-in-the-USA design that’s been refined over the years and comes in four or maybe six colours. A longer version of their equally popular Roadcrafter.
• Roomy fit
• Irresistibly practical
• Collar flap magnets
• Ten+ pockets, including massive ones
• Intuitive waist belt cinching
• Customisable plus a range of accessories including heated and thermal liners
This is my third Darien (fourth it you count the same-styled waxed cotton Falstaff). Didn’t get on with the stiff, full-weight Darien and even less with the mucky and ineffective Falstaff, but a Darien Light – made of 200D rather than 500D Darien fabric (losing 30% abrasion ability in the process) has got to be one of the most under-rated round-the-world travelling shells. Light enough to be bearable in the tropics, roomy and adjustable to take extra layers, vented to keep you cool, plus your obligatory Gore-tex membrane to reduce clamminess while resisting the rain.
The fabric may get bonded by the roll in Vietnam, but one good thing about being cut and assembled in Duluth, MN (afaik) is they can do you any number of custom fittings and enhancements if you have special prefs or a non-conventional physique. Very few motorcycle clothing manufacturers offer this level of customisation; you just get what you get in whatever colours they have between XS and XXL.
One all my previous Dariens I ditched the bulky, hard-capped TF3 elbow, shoulder and back armour without thinking. This time I stuck with all except the back pad, but can see why I used to remove it. After experiencing the Klim Overland’s supple slices of orange D3O, the bulky TF3s snag and don’t make slipping on the DL the sartorial delight it should be, especially if you’ve left the arm cinches done up. You feel like a stuntman togging up prior to being catapulted from the battlements.
My advice: if buying an Aerostich fabric suit, upgrade to TF5 armour and velcro sleeves (left). For elbows and shoulders the cost should be negligible. Aero should make this upgrade option more obvious on the DL page, though as it is, the TF3s warm up quickly and once on the move you’re barely aware of the bulk.
Aero tell us that velcro-ing armour pads to the shell (rather than hanging them in a mesh) is a superior but more time-consuming way of doing it. And the velcro (Americans are constitutionally prohibited from using the v-word) does enable useful fine-tuning with the position. If you want to get picky then the outline of the velcro patches glued into the shell’s inside shows on the exterior and spoils the smooth lines.
I suppose the crux is the stuff staying in position as you tumble down the road and the two velcro cinches either side of the elbow will see to that. Perhaps in the baggier DL cut, arm-joint armour is more prone to getting dislodged than on the closer-fitting Overland with D3O. According to this detailed explanation from 2011, while not CE certified or approved (a European compliance standard), at that time TF3 was as good at impact absorption as anything out there. That’s great to know, but things have moved on and while not being a card-carrying ATGATT type, I feel the DL should come standard with TF5 – see the comments below the above linked explanation. I’ve since inserted in some half-price D3Os into my DL’s arms. The orange stuff is nearly 50% heavier (TF3 90g vs D3O 132g) but slips on better and feels less bulky, while almost certainly impacting as well.
Old Men in Black
While I’m whining, it’s shame the DL comes in such a drab selection of colours. It would be great to get away from boring old black – usually the least bad option – without necessarily having to look like this. It’s a safe, conservative and inexpensive option, but I believe there’s a way to make a jacket interesting with shades of dark grey; my ARMR Moto cheapie wasn’t bad-looking. Singularity fans, check out the alluringly noire City Stealth Roadcrafter (right) from Aerostich. Now that’s a black textile jacket I could do business with. Expect to see it in the next Bond movie.
One of the best features on all Dariens is the varied array and size of pockets. For me this ability to compartmentalise your valuables and frequently useables (‘V&FUs’, as the adventure clothing industry calls them) is at the heart of the motorcycle overlander’s key garment.
My 2015 DL has ten plus one: a zip-up on the right cuff, two angled and flapped zip-ups at the hem, two vertical zipped chest pockets which’ll swallow a map, gloves or a bundle of border-generated paperwork. Behind them are a couple of spacious hand-warmers which are a tad too high for comfort. All have water-resistant TiZip-like zips which will need lubing once in a while. There’s also a small, velcro-flap-only chest pocket top left which I found handy for a waterproof point-and-shoot and a Sharpie. There’s a mini snap link inside though I’d actually prefer an exterior D-ring (like on the Overlander’s hem) – somewhere to quickly hang the keys while paying for fuel, for example.
Inside the main shell are two smaller, lighter-load-bearing but deluge-secure wallet-and-phone chest pockets: one vertical entry, the other from the side, both velcro’d; take your pick. You can also velcro on a clear, zip-up pocket onto the left forearm; handy for a compass away from metal influences, I find. I use all of them plus a light, bladder-holding daypack so when I get off the bike I know I have all my compact V&FUs with me.
The DL’s venting comprises of more water-resistant zips which arc up and round the armpit. With that bend and the stiffer zip action, you can barely work them at a standstill, let along on the move. The exhaust vent is a two-way lateral zip below the big back reflector. Riding with them open while on the piste at say 25°C and 25mph saw a nice cooling sensation on the chest, rather than an all-round coolness, but that will do me. It means you’re not gagging to take the thing off even time you stop. Problem with the horizontal back vent is it will get blocked if you wear a daypack or hydrator – vertical side exhaust vents are better in that respect.
I’d have rather had a dark grey shade, but found in wintertime Morocco the passive heat absorption of the black fabric was just right when combined with the vents. Wearing the Overland in similar conditions was noticeably cooler. Get into the tropics or the Sahara in the warmer seasons and I don’t suppose I’d be quite so comfortable in black.
I thought using magnets to secure a folded-down collar might be this year’s gimmick; they’re actually quite inspired. The collar simply flaps down and stays there at any speed requiring no unsightly studs, clips or velcro (though it may set your pacemaker into a nosedive). Another plus is the easy-to-use velcro waist belt: grab either forward-facing band and cinch as desired – very handy for keeping the core warm. The Klim Latitude I tried did the same thing but with backward facing tabs – for me a far less intuitive action. Other adjustments on the DL include side tabs for hip girth, a cinch cord down there, velcro tabs above and below the elbow to cinch down armour or heated clothing, plus a zip and velcro cuffs to help air-off or run gloves tucked in or out. There’s a velcro strap on the lined collar which you can just about use one-handed on the move, fighting the magnets.
As for waterproofness, I’ve not yet had the chance to ride in hard rain – just a few hours of dense fog. I’d expect the exterior pockets to eventually leak, but the shell to hang in there unless it’s really hammering down. Watch for an update.
The Darien is a flexible and versatile do-it-all jacket that, base-level armour apart, doesn’t feel like war-zone-ready clobber. It’s a jacket that, much like the CB500X I’ve been riding, is good for the getting there and the being there.
I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest that Aerostich should capitalise on this adventure biking fad with a snazzier, adventure-style jacket based on the Darien. Something that would appeal to less conservative younger riders whose fathers, I suspect, make up the core of the Darien and Roadcrafter users. The thing is, apart from a bit of flashy detailing here and there, a pouch on the back and bluetooth interconnectivity, it would differ little from what I already have here, the Leatherman of overland-ready jackets.
The Overland is an upgrade on Klim’s entry-level Traverse, with better armour, venting, reflectivity, a new look as well other improvements.
The Overland has a lightweight body with a boxy cut (not waist belt) and textured overlays in high-wear areas. This makes it as light as it can be – the five sections of D3O armour adds maybe a kilo to the weight. I chose the Large knowing it would be on the tight side, but also knew the XL was a big jump. Read my first impressions of the Overland here.
According to Klim’s sizing chart (right) I should have been bang on with an L as usually an American L is XL in Europe. Not with Klim, so with an L there’s just enough room underneath of a Powerlet heated jacket which adds up to three fleeces. It does make a nice change to have a close-fitting jacket for a change, instead of the usual and more practical sack.
The soft, pliable (even when cold), CE certified (not ‘approved’) D3O T5 EVO XT (made in Croydon, no less!) slips unobtrusively into the mesh liner’s pockets and you forget it’s ever there. Unlike the Aero TF3, it doesn’t bulk out the jacket like an American footballer, all of which helps give the impression of a slim, close fit.
It’s all subjective of course but it sure is nice not to have to wear another black jacket and it seems that Klim have toned down the branding on this one. The Overland’s fabric textures don’t come up so well in photos, but in grey it looks less dull than you might think. It’s a boxy fit they say, but then I have a boxy torso, which would yield little under a waist belt.
The reflective patches are minimal but, we’re told, mimic the form of an oncoming rider not a startled deer. It’s the other extreme from Aero’s broad bands of Scotchlite, and you do hear that France now requires a minimal area of reflectivity on motorcycle clothing which I doubt the Overland’s discrete 3M sipes would cover.
Here is where a jacket daring to call itself ‘Overland’ comes up short. If they’d called it ‘Dayrider’ or ‘Happy Shopper’ or even Traverse II, it would have been fine, but then they probably wouldn’t have been so successful.
I enjoy wearing the Overland for short rides but in Morocco when it came to sending one back before riding home in December, I knew I’d be keeping the Darien. Having pockets full of stuff may not give you a profile like a David Beckham underwear advert, but it sure is handy.
Having said that, one good thing about the mesh lining is that it’ll be easy to buy a square foot of the stuff and sew on a usefully large ‘dump pocket’ on the inside (see below), because only inside can you be sure that stuff won’t get wet. And yes I’ve looked closely at the Latitude and Badlands which IMO, both come up short on large-capacity pocketure.
The Overland’s vents have a superior arrangement to the DL and even other Klims: simple zip downs along the side but below the armpit; and matching vertical exhaust vents at the back which won’t get blocked by a daypack as the DL’s transverse back vent does. On any jacket, how all this venting deals with torrential rain remains to be seen, but on a rainy ride back from Amsterdam in 2016 I got home dry.
Even with the back of neck cinch cord loosened right off, I found the collar a tight fit against the front of the throat when done right up. Down at the hem you’ve another cinch cord, but that won’t snug up well against the chill as well as a waist belt. That’s not the Overland’s style but anyway, you can wrap your own belt against the cold or use a daypack’s hip belt. I liked the single arm cinch below the elbow; with a snug fit there’s no need for two as on the DL – less is always better. Cuffs are velcro only, no room to tuck in gloves in, if that’s your thing.
Again, climate change has got to such a state that I’ve been riding near daily across three counties in winter for over a month and have dodged all rain clouds. A jacket, with four apertures and multiple zips isn’t like a submarine, no matter what they all claim. Bring it on, I say, and I got some riding my new WR from Holland 400km in the rain. A certain clamminess; but dry inside.
The Overland in a slick-looking and well-featured jacket that I enjoyed putting on more than the Darien Light, and would be my choice for nipping out on the bike or doing short, fly-in trips. It’s less overkill than the Badlands style as many here think. Overland may be a misleading name but it’s still Klim quality at a great price.
Update: A year in I’m liking the lightness and simplicity of my Overland. Just enough jacket to do the job with good vertical vents when it warms up. And with 50p of mesh I’ve added some big drop pockets to the insides (left0 to make the Overland more useful for overland travel where you end up with piles of documents you want to keep handy.
In 2017 the Klim dropped the Overland. Shame. The new-style Traverse (right) is similar but needs armour.