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Hot Winter Gear: Must Haves from Patagonia

Like most folks around these parts, I’m outside a ton. I work as a guide, I pass most of my free time frolicking in the mountains and when things are going my way – I spend more nights a year sleeping under the stars than under a ceiling.

I’ve gone through a lot of gear since I fell in love with the outdoors almost 20 years ago and one of the companies whose commitment to quality has stayed consistent over time is Patagonia.  Countless times over the past years, I’ve glanced at myself before heading out the door only to realize that I am dressed hat-to-shoe in Patagonia garb. It doesn’t matter whether I’m heading to yoga class, to meet a friend for coffee or to the start of an epic month long backpacking trip in Gates of the Arctic National Park – chances are I’m wearing something, if not multiple things, from Patagonia. Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed to be clad in homogenously branded attire, but I rarely want to change to remedy the problem. There’s a reason that Patagonia is a leader in the outdoor industry and it’s the same reason I return to their stuff again and again: their products are innovative, dependable,  rarely fail and are backed by an ironclad guarantee… how can you go wrong?

I guess I must have been especially  good this year because Santa hooked it up. A couple weeks before Christmas, a package I wasn’t expecting arrived on my doorstep from Reno. I immediately busted into it and found a few things that I’ve had my eye on since seeing their latest winter line. I’ve put these products through the ringer over the past month and they’ve definitely lived up to my expectations so far. For installment #3 of this winter gear series, I’m going to introduce you to Patagonia’s brand new Northwall Jacket and remind you of an old favorite: the tried and true Alpine Guide Pants. (Check out installments # 1 and 2 if you missed them: Kahtoola Snow Systems and Killer Kicks).

The Northwall Jacket 

Here’s me enjoying the warmth of the Northwall Jacket on a recent trip to Tomichi Lodge.

The Northwall Jacket is a new soft shell that just hit shelves this fall. I’ve never had a soft shell with insulation and for someone like me who is always cold – this piece is awesome. I’ve climbed a few peaks on cold, windy days and the insulation-shell combination proved perfect for the ups, downs and in-between times. I didn’t freeze during snack breaks, but I also didn’t sweat a ton on the steeps. One of the coolest features is the inventive and patented Touch Point System that makes it a cinch to adjust the jacket hood and waist when you want to keep snow and rain out. When the weather turns or the wind howls, just tug on the cord locks in the hood and at the hem and you’ve got added protection. This simple design is a welcome change from the old spring system that often required fumbling and exposing hands to freezing temps.

Not only is this jacket durable, but it is also extremely comfortable and allows for unhindered movement making it good for many activities like ice climbing, mountaineering and skiing.  Patagonia says this jacket is “functionally waterproof in all but a deluge. ” Although, it did shed snow on a hike up a 14er a couple weeks ago, I haven’t tested it in truly wet weather yet and I think I’d still want to have a waterproof shell in a real rain.

Overall, I think this jacket rocks. It will perform well in the backcountry and in-bounds and, depending on what you’re up to, this could be the only jacket you need for winter adventures. However, there are a few things to consider.  When I first saw this jacket in the store, I saw the price tag and backed away slowly; it retails at a whopping $449. Other considerations include bulk and weight. Because it’s twice as warm and burly as most other shells, it’s also twice as bulky and heavy weighing in at 25.8 ounces.  Although the price and size may seem hefty at first glance, I think you’ll decide it’s worth it, just like i did….especially once you are warm and unaffected while standing in the midst of a maelstrom on Kelso Ridge or being buffeted by 80 mile an hour winds in the Tetons. Given its extra insulation, the fact that it could replace the need for a couple jackets and Patagonia’s awesome business practices, I’d say this is a must have for the true winter adventurer.


The Alpine Guide Pants 

My hiking partner wearing Patagonia’sGuide Pants (and – it just so happens – a Capilene Zip Neck from Patagonia, too).

Since I got my first pair in 2001, some form of Guide Pants have been my go-to for a wide range of  activities including trekking,  backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and climbing. Right now, I’m rocking the Alpine Guide Pants  almost daily and I can’t imagine not having them.  Spending day after day in these pants is not a problem because the brushed interior feels like a pair of comfy sweats and the soft shell exterior allows for total mobility while keeping you protected from water and wind.

They breathe well, have abundant pockets and a cuff with an adjustable setting and a tie down loop. The best thing about the Guide Pants is their versatility; not only will they get you through summer backpack trips and stints on winter ice, but they also do well in town if you need to head straight to dinner after an epic journey or if you need to pack light on an international adventure.  They are extremely durable, but reasonably lightweight for the warmth and protection they offer and they are made of recycled polyester – all part of Patagonia’s efforts to decrease their footprint andgo greener in a number of ways.

There’s so much good Patagonia gear out this winter that I could write for awhile, but I’ll stop here. The Northwall Jacket and Guide Pants are my must-haves for 2012 because they are high quality, simple, versatile and state-of-the-art.  Check ‘em out and stay tuned for more winter gear reviews. Next up:  Pumped up Packs.


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