This is another installment of the “Living The Dream” gear review series, a somewhat regular feature offering nordic skiers of all levels insight into many of the elements that make our sport great. Here, the author and his field-testing crew puts lightweight “summer-skiing” jackets to work in all types of conditions in Bend, Ore.
A few weeks ago, I provided cosmic enlightenment on where you should be right now and hopefully you were able to heed this very sage advice and have since logged copious k’s. Since unlike the rest of you losers, I work for a living, so I couldn’t just sit around Bend skiing, eating pancakes and riding sick mountain bike trails, oh no, even before I left Bend, I was back “on the clock,” tirelessly slaving away for you, the loyal reader. Well, sort of.
Since no one loves you like we do at FasterSkier, we are committed to not only giving you the latest and greatest beta on where you should be, but I’m now about to drop some wisdom on your lean, wirey, nordic asses on what you should be wearing, rocking, rubbing, and rolling on these big adventures.
Since I regularly drive my editors and senior management here at FS crazy with my disparaging comments on goods and services that I find to be inferior even if they are advertisers (in all fairness, my comments still get printed, but it drives everyone nuts), the “powers that be” retaliate by sending every possible wacko, crackpot product my way. I am therefore forced to interact with these half-baked, nut-job ideas on a far-too-regular basis.
While the scope of coverage of this latest review may seem a little staid and commonplace, I can assure you that I have waded through terabits of emails from start-ups hawking foldable shoes, mittens with built in lights, lights with built in mittens, kittens with mittens, smell-proof underwear, miracle vitamins, and all sorts of other really strange products for guys who may be having a little trouble “gettin’ the old Evinrude crankin’,” if you know what I mean. So don’t think for one second that we’re not looking at all kinds of crazy stuff, we are, we just have the common sense and good judgment to pick products that you’re actually going to use, even if a jacket review isn’t nearly as titillating as reviewing “male enhancement” products.
With that out of the way, let’s dive right in. For starters, it may sound crazy making jacket recommendations in June, but remember, this is a skiing publication, so it is our fervent hope that you have been able to get out skiing. And before everyone out there in the sweltering Midwest gets all huffy, not only did I recently give you the ins and outs of how to find snow in Bend in excruciating detail, but if you somehow manage to goof this up, have no fear, as the “snow window” is still open. If you really want to go big, venture up the the “Last Frontier” and mix it up with the big boys (and girls) at APU’s awesome Masters’ camp July 6-9. If your mom won’t let you fly all the way up to AK, my good buddy Matt Liebsch (or “Leaper,” as he likes to be called) also has an epic masters’ camp on Haig Glacier in August, so no excuses, snow is out there, you just need to go get it. How this is relevant in this context is that you’re not just going to want one of the jackets we tested, you’re going to NEED one of these jackets, hopefully sooner as opposed to later, as what better way to train for skiing than, uh, skiing?
Since the unpredictable conditions at our test site at Mount Bachelor have been well documented, we’re going to present the results from coldest to warmest, as nothing makes you ponder the purchase of a new jacket like a ripping, 60 mph wind and whiteout conditions.
For pre-, post- or even intra-ski, the Arc’teryx Beta SL Hybrid Jacket was the clear favorite of the entire test team for very wet, cold, nasty conditions. It offers the most warmth, wind protection and probably the largest comfort range of any of the jackets tested.
In my previous three-week stay in Bend in May, and believe it or not, even in this trip that I am just finishing, we experienced conditions ranging from 20 degrees, blower snow and a howling 50-70 mph wind at Mt. Bachelor to fairly regular 35-55 degree afternoons down in town-ish. I say “ish,” as we were staying a few miles outside of town up toward Mt. Bachelor, (where all of the cool kids stay)…
Now where was I? Oh yes, jackets….. The Arc’teryx was my garment of choice on several backcountry outings, cold runs and apres-paddling/surfing (yes, they have surfing in Bend). This jacket came through with flying colors in every test and in every sport. To add a little firepower and diversity to this review, I recruited some of the young bucks on the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for some additional perspective, and this was the top pick of all of the testers on the nasty days.
Said one tester, “If I could only have one jacket, this would be it, for sure.” Most agreed that it is usually too warm for nordic skiing in most conditions, but it is exceptional in every other regard. I wore it into town on a few rainy nights as well and it does a great job of being cool and stylish without crossing the line into looking like you could be departing for an Everest summit bid at any moment. The only slight dings I’m going to give it is that it is the most spendy of any coat in the test (at $399). It also doesn’t pack nearly as compactly as the others, in particular the Patagonia, but more on that in a bit. If you’re venturing out in very bad weather though, this is your jam, hands down.
One step up the temperature scale is the Salomon Bonatti Pro WP Jacket.
Definitely lighter and more packable than the Arc’teryx, this piece is marketed as a trail runner, but we all found its performance to be quite good on the skis and mountain bike as well. Yes, yes, it’s a big no-no to ride the trail in the rain and no one is a bigger supporter of that rule than the FBD, but since the weather in Bend changes faster than a Kardashian’s train of thought (and trust me, I am using the word ‘thought’ VERY loosely), you are crazy if you venture out for a ride longer than an hour without backup. Since this isn’t my first day on the radio, I had said jacket with me on an afternoon cruiser to Phil’s and she proved to be worth her weight in gold, as naturally, the 45-degree cloudy day turned to 38 and rainy at the farthest possible point from our condo. You’ll only need to get caught in one of these storms and you’d be willing to pay some dude on the side of the road a thousand bucks for one of these jackets for the ride home.
One of my particularly favorite features is the hood. This design is one of the best that I’ve ever seen, as it fits snugly, but not too tight. You can move your head around and it moves with you without feeling constrictive. The importance of this cannot be underrated.
The overall fit is a bit more snug than the other coats, partially due to the cut and I’m guessing partially due to the traditional difference in European sizing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, in particular for cycling, as nothing is worse than donning a jacket and then being forced to do your best kitesurfer imitation as you battle your way home in a storm.
As you might expect, it folds down to a size slightly smaller than the Arc’teryx, yet slightly bigger than the Patagonia.
Don’t let the size fool you though, as it is still quite waterproof, as clearly illustrated here:
Last, but most certainly not least, in a wonderful offering from Patagonia, the Airshed Pullover. If you are in the minimalist camp, or simply are not buying in to my “never summer” philosophy, this jacket is for you. The lightest and most compressible of the group, yet this bad boy still offers amazingly good wind protection for both running and riding, in particular for a garment that will fold smaller than an apple.
What makes this jacket a real winner is it is what I’m calling my “Beckham Jacket.” A few years back, David Beckham was caught having an affair with his young, attractive, sultry assistant. In the court testimony, she disclosed that she always wore very sexy underwear to work, “Just in case,” (a strategy that eventually paid off, both literally and figuratively). The point here is that this is your “Just in case,” jacket. It folds down the smallest of any garment tested, while still offering a lot of protection from Mother Nature’s scorn (she’s particularly upset at us Americans right now, for obvious reasons).
This is also the jacket that is going to give you the most bang for the buck (insert your own David Beckham joke here) in the late spring/early summer months, as the test team found the others too warm for temps over 60 degrees, but this coat kept my entire crew comfortable in conditions ranging from 55 to 70 degrees. Throw this sucker in your jersey pocket, hydration pack or drink belt, and you’ll be covered (see what I did there?) for just about any contingency. It doesn’t have a hood, which is both a plus and a minus, depending on whether or not you want a hood. As you have come to expect from a perfectionist like me, this baby also got the “hose test,” because if you ski with me, you just need to accept the fact that you are going to be sprayed by a hose. Possibly several times. I have issues.
Changing gears a bit (though not as much as you might think), the fine folks in Venture, Calif., also sent their latest iteration of the very popular Nano series for testing, the Nano-Air Light Hybrid. One big reason this jacket even made this review is that it shares the same outer layer at the Airshed, so I thought it would be interesting to add this coat to the mix, even though it is obviously a very different type of garment. The second reason it made the cut is I tested its big brother on Eagle Glacier in Alaska last year, and one of the “OG” pieces in our base-layer test two years ago, and since this entire line has always tested well, I thought it’d be interesting to throw this latest offering into the mix. Yes, this is light insulation, as opposed to wind-and-water protection, but I wanted to cover all of the light to mid-weight outwear bases. If you are confused by any of this, there is nothing more I can do for you: please stop reading immediately go monitor your Great Dane’s “Thousand Yard Stare” before he eats another box of light bulbs.
So, with all of those disclaimers duly noted, I love this jacket. There was simply no better option than this coat after a ski. While the trails at Mt. Bachelor are amazing, the parking lot can be windy as hell, so having this waiting for me in the car was a godsend. Unless you chill very easily, I probably wouldn’t nordic ski in it, but this is a perfect insulation layer for an alpine rip, after a cold surf sesh or just looking good at the dog park. This is particularly important, as the conduct of your aforementioned Great Dane has probably earned you a lot of enemies, so looking good is the least you can do.
Speaking of surfing, since I’m overworked and underpaid, or is it overpaid and underworked (I always get these two mixed up), I had to take a break from all of this skiing and hit Mexico for a little surfing. I realize that this is a bit of a non sequitur, as this is a ski publication, not a surfing one, but since I know at least two other very good skiers who are also good surfers (Andy Newell and Josh Smullin, though it pains me greatly to admit the latter) and by my calculations since I have approximately 5 readers, this represents a solid 40% of my audience, so I’m going to throw in a surfing clothing recommendation — a rash guard, the Patagonia Men’s RØ Long-Sleeved Top. As you might guess, I’ve paddled and surfed in every conceivable size, shape and color rash guard and this is one is my favorites. Unlike Smullin, who has little, skinny, bird arms, the FBD is a big, powerful man, so the flexibility and movement offered in this top allowed me to drop in on more people than usual in my top secret surf spot. Sorry people, I have waves to catch and “Dropsie” (as Smullin insists on calling me) is a bad, bad man.
A few other cool pieces of gear that are heavy in the FBD rotation these days: Petzl offered up their latest-and-greatest headlamp a few months ago, the Petzl REACTIK+ and I’ve been super impressed. If you’re a fan of dawn patrol (or Dong Patrol, as it is known in Steamboat, for reasons that I’d rather not go into), you know that a good headlamp is mandatory. Since I lost my mind years ago, the thought of getting up at 5 a.m. to get the freshest waves or powder seems like not just a good idea, but in fact a great idea. However, in order to do this and not lose all of your gear in the parking lot, you need to have your act together, as even the normally patient FBD gets a little antsy when some rookie can’t find his skins at sunrise while everyone else is standing at the trailhead ready to roll. So organize you gear the night before, get your lazy ass out of bed on time, and bring a headlamp — a good one. And this latest Petzl one is one of the best. It has all kinds of crazy customizable features that are super easy to use thanks to an app you can install on your phone or you can go “old skool” and just turn it on and off like a normal person. Since I am a lonely, lonely man, I have no qualms about spending 30 minutes customizing my headlamp power settings, but that’s me — your mileage may vary.
Whew. We covered a lot of ground on this one. You’re welcome.