Gear Review: Prophet XPD AP Jacket

Earlier this year, Melbourne-based Brits Pete Fletcher and Tom Hudson took on the challenge rowing unassisted from New York to to the UK, raising money for the McGrath Foundation. A journey of epic proportions, they needed gear that could stand up to the unpredictable elements that they would surely face. Macpac was proud to get behind the boys, ensuring they’d be as warm and dry as they possibly could be as they crossed the North Atlantic in the Macpac Challenger.

All up, it took 98 days for Pete and Tom to reach land at Falmouth. They said their gear lasted well, despite an intense battering from the weather in some extremely tough conditions.

This week, Pete reviews the Macpac Prophet XPD AP Jacket – a mountaineering jacket that went on became a staple item on an ocean crossing adventure. 

When we decided on the Prophet jacket for our North Atlantic Ocean row we received an ominous warning from Gavin, the Macpac Product Development Manager:

“Remember you’re taking a heavy duty mountain jacket across one of the coldest and wettest oceans on earth”.

Gavin not only knows a thing or two about making jackets but, as our Prophet jackets got the work out of their lives, we soon realised that he was also a frustratingly accurate weather forecaster.

Tommy and I liked the look of the jacket straight away because the cut and quality was clearly top notch but we were concerned about a lack of maneuverability, rowing in a relatively heavy jacket.

Surprisingly it felt equally good in the warm New York spring with one base layer underneath as it did during the coldest nights on the ocean with up to ten additional layers stacked up underneath. Sure we lost a lot of weight during the crossing but, thanks largely to the stretchable fabric across the shoulders, this is one flexible jacket.

When Gavin told us that the hood was over sized to allow for a helmet to be worn on the mountain, we initially took it for granted but after the first little blow it became clear just how valuable this feature, together with the high collar, really was.

Any Ocean Rower will tell you that it’s virtually impossible to row into much of a wind so, facing backwards on the boat, any wind is usually blowing directly into the rower’s face or up to 45 degrees from either side. In anything up to about 40 knots it was possible for us to keep the rain out by wearing a baseball cap with a buff over the top to cover head and ears, then pulling the hood down hard over it all with the collar right up above the mouth.

If I had one point for improvement for the collar I’d add a strap across the front to tighten hard beneath the nose but this is a real one percenter as it was only in extreme weather that water got in.

To maintain a proper schedule of rowing 2.5 hours on and off around the clock, Tommy and I quickly realised that things had to be handy if they were ever going to be used and it was impossible to keep items on deck with regular waves coming over.

Fortunately the big chest pockets on the XPD jacket easily housed everything needed to maintain a semblance of health, hygiene and comfort and if ever we needed something to be passed we each knew the drill: Spoon, lighter, electrical tape and blister tape in the right pocket; Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, antiseptic and burn creams in the left pocket. Looking back it seems mad to have had so much on the body whilst rowing but the oversized pockets would have housed even more, so inconvenience was never a factor.

The boys on board the Macpac Challenger

The boys on board the Macpac Challenger

As advertised the zips on the chest pockets aren’t waterproof and, while this started as a minor inconvenience, it ended up an invaluable benefit. Unfortunately our bespoke rain catchment couldn’t contend with the wind and oncoming waves and, with our water maker on the blink after roughly 50 days, we grew perilously low on potable water. A serious 2.5 hour downpour in the Prophet jacket would net a healthy quantity of valuable rainwater in each pocket, none of which ever made it inside the jacket, so the additional water was a major boost.

Anyone who enjoys the outdoors knows that not all zips are created equal and there’s no doubt that the main zip on the Prophet jacket is a daddy of all zips, surviving 98 days at sea without a single hiccup and only a single, preventative WD40 treatment.

This genuinely is no mean feat, especially when we consider how few items of equipment actually survived the crossing. Tommy and I frequently joked that if the clouds ever cleared we may somehow complete the row navigating by stars and steering by shoelaces.

For each of us the Prophet jacket was one of the most important pieces of kit on the boat bar none. Indeed there were many times when severe cold from exposure could have proved critical without it and even its greatest perceived weakness was, in the end, potentially life-saving.

Would we recommend the Prophet jacket, even outside of its intended, terrestrial environment?

Our answer to this question is a unanimous and resounding yes.

This really is a great bit of kit. Thanks again Macpac!

Pete Fletcher

North Atlantic Ocean Rower

New York to Falmouth, May – Aug 2015