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ROAD TEST

Time to take cover

January 13, 2008|Rosemary McClure;

California generally has so little rain during an average year that it's easy for you to forget to take rain gear when headed for places more apt to have stormy skies. But an easy-to-pack poncho or coat can make a big difference when you're surprised by a monsoon -- or even a spring shower. A few weeks ago when we decided to test women's rainwear, Southern California had been dry for so long that we thought we'd need to wear the items in the shower to get an accurate picture of their effectiveness. But wet weather was just over the horizon. So each of the five items listed below was put to a definitive test: Could each withstand a half-hour outdoors in a downpour?

-- Rosemary McClure

PERT IN A STORM

First look: Our first entry, a nylon/polyester Mycra Pac Donatella raincoat, is featured in the Kaehler World Traveler catalog. Wear it on one side, it's iridescent bronze; reverse it for black. The coat is lightweight and packs in its own storage pouch, which doubles as a matching tote. A pleated, crinkled hood can also be worn scrunched around neck. It has a double button closure at neck and waist; gathered cuffs have a single button. Machine washable.

Likes and yikes: This smart-looking coat wins the style award. It drew several double takes from other pedestrians during a walk around downtown L.A. on a showery day. Good for business travelers and for big-city or European travels. The coat's ankle-length keeps legs dry, the hood keeps hair out of the weather. Downside: It takes awhile for wrinkles to ease out after it comes out of the pouch. Also, it is truly lightweight; don't expect it to add any warmth.

The 411: $218; available online or by catalog, (800) 314-2247 or www.worldtraveler.com.

GOING TO LENGTHS

First look: Travelsmith's line of raincoats comes in several lengths and colors, and can be customized with optional Thermolite liners to add warmth. We tried a red, double-collar, dress-length coat. Like the others, it owes its waterproof abilities to microfiber construction with sealed seams. Our coat had a zipper front, a hood and Velcro patches to snug up the sleeves against wet weather. Packs into its own pouch, which is lined in plastic, just in case you have to pack the coat while it's still wet. Machine-washable.

Likes and yikes: These versatile coats have much to commend them; the red number we tested gets our vote for best overall. It comes out of the pouch wrinkle-free and stays that way; the hood keeps your hair dry, and the coat itself is a nice buffer against rain and wind. Another feature we loved: a couple of hidden pockets where you can stash money or identification. We weren't fond of the zipper, which took a couple of tries before engaging. And we'd think twice before buying a knee-length coat; the longer versions are much better in wet weather.

The 411: $149 for the short coat tested; other models range from $139 to $159. Available from Travelsmith, (800) 950-1600 or www.travelsmith.com.

A SPORTY SHORTY

First look: This sporty-looking TravelRite jacket from Magellan's is lightweight and packs into its own pocket for easy traveling. It's mesh-lined, has adjustable cuffs and a storm flap to shelter the zipper. The hood can be cinched tightly around the face, and there's a visor to keep raindrops from streaming down your nose in a downpour. A hidden pocket keeps money and ID safe and dry. Machine washable.

Likes and yikes: This coat does a good job of keeping the rain off your upper body, but it's so short that unless you're wearing waterproof pants, the lower half is going to get soaked. And the mesh lining, combined with Velcro closures, doesn't work very well; unless you're careful, the Velcro will rip open the mesh. On the plus side, the visored hood was the best rain deflector we found to keep hair and face dry.

The 411: $89, at (800) 962-4943 or www.magellans.com.

SLEEVELESS SIMPLICITY

First look: This waterproof women's rain cape is an upgraded version of the garden-variety plastic poncho. The cape stuffs into a sack for easy portability. It is made of lightweight polyester with a full front zipper, adjustable drawstring hood and two front pockets. Comes in four colors.

Likes and yikes: This is basically just a big circle of fabric with an added hood, and at $45, it seems overpriced, considering the simplicity of design. There are no sleeves, so if you need to use your arms for anything, they're going to get wet (the flip side to this is that you could shelter a laptop, books or a purse under the fabric). It is 37 inches long and drops below the knees on most women, which helps keep legs dry. The hood is efficient and the fabric is durable, so it isn't likely to rip.

The 411: $45, at (800) 962-4943 or www.magellans.com.

DOWNSCALING IN THE DOWNPOUR

First look: Our final roadtest product is homely but cheap. It's a simple nylon poncho that can be purchased at a neighborhood drugstore. The one we tried is distributed by Totes-Isotoner and is pullover style with side snaps. It can be stuffed or refolded into the plastic pouch it was in when purchased.

Likes and yikes: Pack this when you're reasonably sure that it's not going to rain -- or if it does, that no one will see you in it. It will keep you dry in a pinch, but it's awkward to put on and take off, and the hood tends to blow off in a wind (and when you reach out to pull it back, streams of water course down your arm). You also run the risk of being mistaken for a school crossing guard.

The 411: $6.99, available at Walgreens or other retailers or online; (800) 762-8712, Ext. 8519, www.totes-isotoner.com.

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