EMS Thunderhead Jacket



The Thunderhead Jacket is a lightweight, waterproof,…

Rating: rated 4 of 5 stars
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $99


The Thunderhead Jacket is a lightweight, waterproof, and windproof jacket suitable for use in all seasons. The rollaway hood is easily accessible and doesn't fill up with rain if you'd rather wear a rain hat. Exterior pockets are large and easy to access. Long pit zips help ventilate even in warmer weather.


  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Packability
  • Pit zips
  • Fit
  • Colors


  • Hood is too large without a helmet
  • Dual front zippers would be nice
  • A snap front flap would also be nice
  • No interior stow pocket as advertised

I bought my EMS Thunderhead Jacket about a year ago because I needed a lightweight, waterproof and windproof shell for 4-season use. It's completely waterproof, and the pit zips allow for excellent ventilation in warmer weather — why bother wearing a rain jacket if you'll just get soaked from your own sweat? It's also my outer layer of choice for snowshoeing, even though I'm warm-blooded enough that unless it's very windy or the temp is below zero I'll pack it instead of wear it. 

It has a somewhat loose fit and there's plenty of room for my silkweight baselayer, merino wool shirt, and a midweight fleece like my Mountain Hardwear Octans. I like having a full range of motion, and with this combination of gear any restriction I feel when bending over comes from my midsection and not my clothing! I've read that the newest version of this jacket has a more athletic fit, which may be good if you're wearing it over a T-shirt during a summer rainstorm but not so good if you use it year-round like I do.

I like the zippers, you can zip them up or down without having to hold the fabric on the sides to keep the teeth from snagging. The main zipper is small enough to lay flat under the storm flap, but easy to grab even with midweight gloves on. The pit zips are about 15" long and reach almost from the elbows to the kidney area, and the zippers are relatively easy to manipulate. 

In my opinion the jacket has a number of minor cons, but taken either individually or as a group they don't really detract from the jacket. Implementing at least some of them, though, would make it better. For me, the worst one is the lack of a snap front flap. As I mentioned earlier, I'm very warm-blooded, and even though the pit zips open very wide I'd like to have a little added ventilation by leaving the zipper down and just snapping the storm flap in 1 or 2 places. Barring that, the ability to ventilate more by lowering the top of a dual zipper and raising the bottom one would be nice.

I understand the large hood, nobody wants to have to leave the hood off and have water or melting snow dripping off their helmet and down the back of their neck while climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, or 'boarding. There are 2 adjustments on the hood, one at the back that tightens it up from ear to ear and another that cinches it around your face, so I can pull the hood back far enough to give me good peripheral vision and still keep my head dry. And the lack of a stow pocket is no problem with me at all, but the EMS website says it's there so it should be. It's probably quicker just to make a few folds and roll it up, anyway, and it rolls up pretty small.

All in all I really like this jacket, it does everything I want even when some of those things may not exactly be what it was designed for. The price was very reasonable compared to many of the products from bigger-name manufacturers, and I doubt their gear performs two or three times as well. The extra cost might get me that snapped storm flap and 2 way zipper, but their lack isn't THAT much of an inconvenience to me. I strongly recommend the EMS Thunderhead jacket.


Nice review, Phil. I'd love to see some pictures! :)

10 months ago

Another great product from the growing EMS line. I…

Rating: rated 3 of 5 stars
Fabric: Nylon
Price Paid: $99

Another great product from the growing EMS line. I would say for less than $200 you can't do better than this for a summer outer shell, this is because it's designed to not be used. It packs into its own pocket (about 5"x8") and weighs less than 1lb. That's pretty hard to beat, also considering it does its job as if it were a high end Gor-Tex shell. I take this jacket on any trip from a sunny day trip to a wet weekend or anything in-between.

Update: March 10, 2007

I've had this jacket for three years now and I haven't been satisfied with it, or dissatisfied. Supposedly the system III technology is breathable, I would disagree. It's no Gore-tex or Conduit, but it does keep you dry. I'm not saying this is a bad choice at all, it does what it does. It packs within its own pocket and stays compact and is completely waterproof. It's just not anything outstanding.