12.06.11

Travel gear reviews: the seventies are back

Posted in Reviews, Travel at 9:00 by RjZ

In the 70’s, kids in California would wear these nylon ski-jackets during our ‘freezing’ winters. I mean, hey, there would be frost on the cars and it might even get sort of near freezing sometimes! Those jackets were striped in bold earth-tones and stuffed with primaloft, a synthetic down-like material. They were fine for a sixth grader in southern California, but not usually considered “gear” for the modern hiker.

As most folks with some outdoor experience know, layering is key. You need to be able to adjust what wear based on activity and weather and having a variety of layers makes for an adaptable set of clothes; ready for everything without carrying multiple different jackets. I’ve always gone with the classic: a water proof shell + a fleece mid-layer for warmth. On previous trips, though, I noticed a problem. My fleece just isn’t warm enough. A fleece jacket works great hiking around in the Colorado mountains. It fits under the wind- and water-proof shell, and you can unzip it if things get too warm. Traveling is different than hiking though. More often than not, you’re not in such a rush to get anywhere, maybe even trying to avoid working up a sweat at all (that next shower might not be convenient tonight). Unfortunately, though, all my tried and true hiking gear which has held up to minus 20 grad snowshoeing doesn’t actually keep me warm when all I’m doing is strolling around and taking pictures.

Of course, I could just get a thicker fleece, but now we start to bump into another travel constraint: bulk. On this recent trip to Patagonia, I expected to be cold in the southernmost city on the planet, Ushuaia and hot in late spring Buenos Aires. I’d have to pack that bulky fleece into my tiny backpack for half of the trip. Another alternative is a down jacket. Nothing beats down for warmth and packability, and, in fact, a down sweater would have fit the bill perfectly on this trip, so if you already have one of these, you can quit reading. Probably.

It doesn’t rain much in Colorado and things dryquickly, but one concern I had about in the maritime climate of Ushuaia was that once down gets wet, it doesn’t work at all. If I leave the rain shell in the hotel room and my mid-layer got wet, I’d be out of luck. Primaloft, on the other hand, continues to provide some (clammy) warmth even wet.

I went with a light primaloft nylon jacket not terribly different than the one I had in sixth grade except minus the strips and earth tones, to repkace a bulkier, warmer fleece and I couldn’t be happier. The jacket actually looks pretty good (or at least not like much of anything at all) and packs to almost nothing during the day if you need it only for a chilly evening without stopping back at the hostel. It’s windproof and it still weighs much less than my windstopper fleece. About my only concern was that maybe this jacket, with its lightweight nylon shell, won’t stand up to much abuse. That’s true for your fancy down sweater too, and at least these new primaloft jackets are much cheaper down if you do rip it. The only real problem I had was that, thin, light, and packable as it was, the thing was actually a bit too warm!

On my trip, the threat of rain was always more severe than I predicted, so I never actually left my rain shell back in the room. The shell protects the jacket beneath, but would do the same if it were down. I gave up the absolute best in packability and weight of down, but primaloft has successfully replaced my fleece for travel, and even for cold weather hiking and backpacking. I hope it can stand up to all the extra use it’s going to get.

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