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Gear Guy

Is $400 too much to spend on a Gore-Tex jacket?

I enjoy weekend hiking and overseas travel. At the se time, I want to look good when I dress casually. Because of this, I spent $400 on a Patagonia XCR Gore-Tex jacket when Patagonia opened its first branch in Hong Kong last year. It's a very expensive outfit, but I do like it. However, after reading all your gear recommendations, it seems I could have bought something similar or even better. So, I'm now thinking of buying a fleece jacket for cold weather. Do you have any cheaper recommendations? June Hong Kong

A: Nah, you didn't do anything stupid buying the Patagonia XCR jacket, which I think is probably the Ice Nine ($460 in the States; True, it's probably more jacket than you'll ever need, but you'll also get many years of use out of it and always enjoy having it.

But, it's also true that a lot of good-quality jackets cost less. I draw a parallel between the outdoor-gear evolution and the dot-com boom. I recall hearing a presentation two years ago from a major gear maker's PR person about that company's new Gore-Tex jacket and pants. Like the Ice Nine, they were expensive—nearly $1,000 for the set. This is getting ridiculous, I thought to myself. A grand for a rain suit?

I wasn't alone in being skeptical. Since then, gear makers have been trying to simplify their wares and cut costs. It's no coincidence that the best-selling rain jacket around is probably the Marmot Precip, a perfectly good (although not Gore-Tex) jacket that sells for $99 ( Other garments made with Gore-Tex XCR that offer good value include Marmot's Liquid Steel ($375) and L.L. Bean's Mountain Guide Parka ($299; So you see, you didn't overspend wildly.

Patagonia makes fleece jackets that zip right into the Ice Nine, among them the midweight R2 ($149), which is an extremely good piece—it's very light and is compressible yet warm. But, at the end of the day, I don't see a zip-in liner as being all that useful. It adds a tiny amount of convenience, as you can have an insulating piece and rainwear all together. But I almost always pack them separately, anyway. So you don't have to buy a Patagonia piece. In the U.S., REI makes a fine fleece jacket called the Muir Woods that sells for a mere $65 ( L.L. Bean makes a slightly warmer jacket called the Grid Fleece that's $89. These are both extremely good buys.

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