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Zhik’s New Doubleheader

Zhik's newest smock and salopette combination are packed with refined features for sportboat sailing.

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Dinghy and coastal smocks and salopettes have always been the peanut butter and jelly of dinghy, small keelboat and coastal sailing gear.  Individually, they’re good; together, they’re fantastic. So when Zhik introduced their new-for-2022 line of gear and it included the foul-weather-gear equivalent of our favorite sandwich, we jumped at the chance to get a taste.

            I’ve got an older Zhik smock that’s worked well for me, but I never did like the neck closure.  The Velcro tab was too small, and since you can’t see the tab when you’re wearing it, fastening it was done entirely by feel. Especially with gloves on, there were times when I simply couldn’t find it. The good folks at Zhik must have heard my muttering because the new CST500 has a neck tab that seems to drop effortlessly into place, even when wearing gloves. When not in use, it rolls back out of the way and can be conveniently secured to a small Velcro button that keeps the tab from flapping in the breeze.

Zhik CST500 Smock
Zhik’s CST500 smock is a highly engineered spray top developed for both inshore and offshore racing. Courtesy Zhik

            On to the neck seal—a big deal in smocks. I’ve worn smocks with neoprene neck seals and ones with a more traditional fabric seal that used a simple Velcro closure. The neoprene seals did a great job of keeping water out, but there was no way to loosen them when it got hot. Plus, and it might just be me; I don’t like wearing something tight around my neck for hours at a time. On the other hand, the traditional approach was comfortable, easy to open for ventilation, but not great when it came to water ingress.

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            Enter Zhik’s cool new hybrid seal. It’s neoprene, but it still opens up, thanks to the tab, which is neoprene as well. Tighten the tab, and you have a neoprene seal.  Ok, maybe not quite as full-on as a latex drysuit neck seal, but darn close. Open the tab, and you’ve got the ventilation of a traditional setup. Waterproof mode to full-on ventilation in just one movement. Problem solved.  To allow for even more ventilation, there’s a large gusset at the neck, which is closed with a zipper. A small loop at the top of the gusset gives you a convenient handle to pull the gusset into place.

            Another simple but cool innovation is in the kangaroo pocket. Centered inside is a vertical strip of Velcro to divide the pocket into two sections—or not.  You can also lay small items, such as a pencil or lightweight knife, across the Velcro to prevent them from shifting around in the pocket. That’s some clever and subtle engineering. For coastal racing, the left-hand shoulder has another pocket, sealed with Velcro, with a D-ring inside. There are a lot of possible uses for this, including enough space for an emergency personal locator beacon. Velcro closures at the wrists and waist help ensure a good overall fit.  The shell is made from Zhik’s three-layer Aroshell fabric, which keeps it lightweight and breathable. $349.99 

            This past fall, we checked out a half-dozen salopettes, including Zhik’s offshore OFS800 model. While the OFS800 is “military grade” and great for the entire range of racing, the average dinghy and coastal sailor might find it a bit more than what they need. If so, the CST500 might be worth a close look. Great build features, lightweight, and they’re about $100 less than their older sibling.

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Zhik CST500 Salopette
With a lightweight and stretchy top section and seamless reinforcements on the knee and rear, Zhik’s CST500 Salopette is a comfortable and versatile piece of kit, ideal for keelboat sailing. Courtesy Zhik

            The most obvious difference between the 500 and 800 is that the 500 uses a breathable, water-resistant, high-stretch “XWR” fabric from the mid-chest area up, while the 800 uses the three-layer laminate Aroshell material throughout. Is one better than the other? Depends on what you’re after. With the lighter weight of the stretchy top fabric, you hardly know it’s there—yes, it’s that comfortable. And when the temperatures heat up, you’ll appreciate how cool it keeps your upper body. True, it’s water-resistant, not waterproof, but if it’s going to be a wet ride, then you’ll probably be wearing a spray top over these anyway.

            Knee and seat reinforcements are really rugged. Made from Zhik’s patented “Zithane” material, which Team AkzoNobel tested in the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, it’s lightweight and reduces the amount of stitching and seam taping in these prone areas. The result? Very tough, completely waterproof. 

            The front features a two-way zipper, with a large gusset behind, and, sticking with the minimalist theme, there’s only one thigh pocket.  Think about it. When was the last time you were carrying so much stuff that you needed multiple pockets?  $429.99 

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