Beta Editors’ Choice: Fox Ranger 3L Water Pants and Flexair Neoshell Jacket
Fox's truly high-level waterproof mountain bike apparel has changed the way I look at the weather forecast. Or rather, don't look at it.
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I don’t mess around when it comes to waterproof gear. But mountain biking’s bro-iest apparel brands definitely do. What brands like Fox, Troy Lee, or 100% have called rain gear over the years has been laughable at best. That’s why when I’m trying to stay warm, dry and comfortable during the long, wet winters in the Pacific Northwest, I turn to brands like Patagonia, 7Mesh, and Kitsbow. Not because I’m bougy (I mean, I am) but because those brands use high-end fabrics and make products to last—and have the warranty to back them. Fox, Troy Lee and 100% make cheap branded garbage bags that last two rides.
Or at least that was the case. Last year, Fox stepped things up several notches and released some rain gear that showed serious promise. Actually the same can be said for much of the latest Fox apparel line, not just the water-blocky stuff. But as I was perusing Fox’s catalog last fall, with the wet season rapidly approaching, the Flexair Neoshell Jacket and Ranger 3L Water Pants were what stood out to me. So despite my quite obvious bias, I clicked the order button.
Fox is already great at tailoring apparel to be comfortable and functional while riding, so I was intrigued to see a brand like Fox commit to putting that knowledge to work on some truly high-end technical apparel. And before it sounds like I’m doing a lot of shit-talking on Fox, I’d like to clarify that it’s probably mostly our own fault that many of these brands don’t do a lot with nice technical fabrics. A large portion of mountain bikers are total dirtbags when it comes to apparel. Other outdoorsy types will drop $300 on a rain jacket without hesitating. They won’t step foot in the forest without their Gore-Tex boots on. They know the importance of being protected and prepared out there. Us? It’s almost like we’re actively trying to be less prepared when we ride. Cotton T-shirts have become so popular to ride in that bike brands are now selling them as ‘jerseys.’ Skate shoes have all but replaced technical footwear. Fewer riders carry any spares, or tools, or even enough water. As our bikes become better at taking us deeper into the wilderness, so many riders are becoming less prepared for what they’ll encounter out there.
It’s no wonder a brand like Fox hasn’t messed around with nice wet-weather gear very much. There’s no getting around the fact that quality waterproof stuff is pricey, and we’d rather have matching anodized parts than stay warm and dry. I for one, really hope enough people buy this stuff for Fox to continue producing it, because a brand like Fox has more insight into a mountain biker’s needs than Patagonia does. Both of these garments prove it. It might be shocking to see a $400 price tag on a Fox jacket, or $175 on a pair of riding pants, but both these pieces are exceptional.
Fox Ranger 3L Water Pant – $175
I’ve never really loved riding in pants, even in the rain, but the Ranger 3L Water Pants have completely won me over. Up until I got them last year, my method for cold, wet days has been wool knickers, tall merino socks and waterproof shorts. Sure, sometimes a new pair of waterproof pants will come out and tempt me to give them a go, but they always just wind up in the donate pile. I don’t like the way they tug on my knees when I’m pedaling, they’re never flexible enough, and they always seem to have the wrong fit. I can never just throw them on and go for a ride without thinking about and futzing with them the whole time.
But the Ranger 3L Water Pants are different. The waterproof/breathable material that Fox uses doesn’t have a name brand attached to it like the Polartec Neoshell fabric used on the Flexair jacket, but whatever the three-layer material is, it works. Rather than being a rigid, crispy rain shell, the fabric Fox chose is soft to the touch, quieter than a typical waterproof shell, and has just the right amount of stretch. Like most soft shells, the material is also a heavier weight than a simple shell, so the fabric hangs, flows, and moves with less bunching and wrinkling.
It isn’t just the fabric, though. Fox nailed the fit. This pant comes in seven sizes, from 28 to 40, has a sporty but comfortable fit that can accommodate knee pads underneath, and has a cycling-specific taper at the bottom with an elastic cuff that fits perfectly over my Shimano waterproof shoes. Fox did a great job of tailoring the knees and butt so that the material is sort of in its neutral, resting position when you’re sitting on the bike, knees bent. It’s hard to explain just how important this is. I’m certain that the tailoring is one of the biggest factors in the Ranger Water Pant’s ability to pedal comfortably without the material constantly tugging back and forth over the knee every pedal stroke.
Between the articulated leg and the fabric’s ability to stretch, these pants feel more comfortable than most of the non-waterproof pants I’ve tried—but of course, they’re totally waterproof and seam-taped. They kept me clean, dry and warm on countless sloppy rides last season and several so far this fall. And they stay in place hours into a ride, even when they’re weighed down mud and water, thanks to the moto-style ratchet closure. This is by far my favorite type of closure system. It provides secure closure and waist adjustment all with one super quick and simple ratchet, and the design gets rid of the need for a zippered fly as well. It’s perfect.
The pockets use a sealed zipper that’s course enough to prevent mud and grime from clogging it. And while the sealed zipper does do a great job of preventing moisture from getting to your skin through the pocket, you won’t be able to keep a phone dry in there. The pocket liner is mesh, which is definitely more comfortable than if the whole pocket was lined with waterproof fabric, but the sweat coming off your body can definitely create enough moisture to compromise non-waterproof electronics. That isn’t to say that the pants aren’t breathable. They do an impressive job of wicking moisture from the body given how well they keep water out, but if you’re sweating hard or you misjudge the weather like I did one day this fall, they’ll get a bit rainforest-like inside.
They’re by far the best performing waterproof pants I’ve ever ridden in, though, and they’ve made me a true pants convert. I’m also pleased to report that they are holding up incredibly well for how much I’ve worn and washed them. Heading into season two, they still look practically new. I suspect I’ll have to Nikwax them at some point this season, but that’s typical for any waterproof garment.
One of the biggest annoyances about riding in the wet is the cleanup process. With my old method, I’d roll home with muddy socks, knickers, shorts, and shins, all of which required an outdoor rinse with the hose before heading inside. These pants cover all that stuff up, so I don’t have to stand outside hosing myself off in rain anymore. And if I’ve driven to the ride, I don’t have to worry about getting the car muddy. Pants come off, and I’m clean underneath. That in itself is pretty huge.
Pants, huh? What a time to be alive.
Fox Flexair Neoshell Jacket – $400
This is a technical rain jacket that can confidently stand with the likes of Patagonia and Arc’Teryx. It uses Polartec’s most breathable waterproof material, called Neoshell, it’s totally seam-taped throughout, has sealed zippers with little garages for the zipper pulls, pit zips, an articulating and adjustable hood, smart venting, and every other bell and whistle you’d find on a top-level rain jacket. And, it’s made to be ridden in.
The material choice itself is ideally suited for a high-intensity activity like riding, because of how breathable it is. Neoshell is also a soft-shell fabric, so it’s quite a bit cozier and not as crunchy and noisy while you’re moving around in it as typical rain shells are. The one bummer about the soft-shell material, though, is that once the DWR treatment starts to wear off, it holds more water than, say, Gore-Tex Pro does. So, it tends to gain more weight during a long wet ride than hard-shells do.
It’s also a bit heavier when dry, and less packable as well. I have a 7Mesh hard-shell that’s made with Gore-Tex Pro, and I absolutely love it. It’s my favorite all-purpose rain jacket, the best in a total deluge, and the one I’ll grab if the weather is going to change and I’ll have to stow it. But for some reason I reach for the Fox Flexair a lot more often.
I love how soft and comfy the material feels, and the way it stretches and articulates with me as I move makes it feel more natural and overall less noticeable. Almost every rain jacket out there constantly makes itself known—it’s either crunching, or you can’t see with the hood up, or it’s too hot, or the sleeves are tugging at the shoulders or elbows.
Not the Flexair Neoshell. Between the material itself, the perforated neck area and back venting, and the long pit zips, there’s plenty of heat management for high-intensity workouts. And, the fit is dialed, too. The torso has the perfect amount of tailored fit and roominess—definitely not a slim-fit, like too many cycling jackets. The sleeves are the same: roomy, but not baggy. And, they’re nice and long so that the cuffs fall at the wrist when your hands are on the bars. The same fit carries over to the length, where it’s nice and long, but not snowboard jacket-baggy, with a slightly dropped tail for coverage when crouched over on the bike.
I think what I love most about this jacket, especially being that it’s quite expensive, is that the fit is neutral enough that it can be worn everywhere. I use it on the dirt bike with armor underneath, and skiing with warm under layers. I wear it hiking, and around town, and while chopping wood in the rain. Because of the way it’s designed to fit, it’s not just a riding jacket. But the helmet-compatible, fully adjustable articulating hood, course, grime-resistant main zipper, long sleeves, dropped tail, and extra attention to ventilation all make it the perfect riding companion.
When it’s stormy out and I leave the house wearing the Flexair Neoshell Jacket and Ranger Water Pants, I feel invincible. I absolutely love sliding around on my bike in the mud, but it’s not always easy to motivate to head out in it. With this stuff at the ready, knowing I’ll be warm and dry, there’s a lot less hesitation.