Q:

Will a windproof fleece jacket keep me warm in Boston?

As a college student in Boston, I spend a lot of time outside in the freezing, windy winters. Will the Patagonia R4 fleece jacket keep me warm around town and on the New England ski slopes? Or do you know of any cheaper, comparable fleeces? Jenny Boston, Massachusetts

Aug 8, 2006
Outside
Outside Magazine
Patagonia Ready Mix Jacket

Ready Mix jacket

A:

Well, the simple fact is that no fleece is going to keep you warm in Boston on a freezing day (which many Bostonians would dearly love to see, given the past two weeks’ temperatures). Most fleece jackets simply allow too much air to pass through them. So while they’re pretty warm under a windproof shell, they’re not very warm at all if exposed to the wind.

True, Patagonia’s R4 ($215; www.patagonia.com) attempts to solve that problem. Its fabric is built like a sandwich, with soft fleece on the outside and a slightly different type of fleece on the inside. In between is a windproof, breathable panel. So in theory, the stuff in the middle resists wind well enough that you won’t always need another shell just because it’s breezy outside.

Windproof fleeces have come a long ways in the past few years. Originally, they were stiff as cardboard and made unpleasant crinkling sounds when you moved. But I’m still not a huge fan of them. To me, they’re not as comfortable as traditional fleece in cool, calm conditions—they’re just too warm. But they’re not so warm that they’ll suffice on their own when it’s very cold and windy, or cold and snowy, or cold and rainy (the fuzzy fleece, in fact, will absorb quite a bit of water). So a Patagonia R4 would be a good starting point for winter insulation, but it’s hardly “the answer." You’ll still need some sort of shell, and maybe more.

Besides, fabric technology has advanced so much that windproof fleece represents an evolutionary branch that is going the way of the Neanderthal. Today’s smart, over-wintering Cro-Magnon wears a soft shell jacket that provides protection from wind and light rain while offering breathability and insulation that keeps you comfortable across a surprisingly wide temperature range. Patagonia’s Women’s Ready Mix Jacket ($199) is such a piece. It’s made with highly water-repellent and windproof polyester knit, has a hood, and has a technical look that’s pretty cool. REI’s One Jacket ($130; www.rei.com) offers similar performance in a slightly less technical piece that lacks a hood.

Soft shells also are trim enough that they still work well in a layering system, so when you go skiing you can throw on a waterproof-breathable shell jacket and stay warm and dry.

You’ve seen our picks for 2006 Gear of the Year, and now the entire 2006 Outside Buyer’s Guide is online. Check out this year’s more than 400 must-have gear items, including a special section on women’s gear.

Filed To: Soft Shell

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