Can you recommend a light soft shell with good water repellency for spring/summer hiking and biking? I take it from your past columns that Polartec Power Shield would be a bit warm. Also, should I look for one with a hood? Christopher Brooklyn, New York
Yes, I have offered the opinion that soft shells made with Polartec Power Shield can be a little warm when temps get above 40 F. Thats not cast in stone; theyd be just fine on days when its 46, misting, and blowing 20 miles per hour.
REI Mistral Soft Shell Jacket
Mistral Soft Shell Jacket
I think REIs Mistral ($139; rei.com) is just the ticket for what you need. The Mistral uses Polartec Power Shield, but its a lightweight version of the stuff (and also has a little less stretch). It has a woven nylon face thats highly water-repellent and nearly wind-proof, and a brushed lining for a little bit of warmth. Ive flogged the Mistral a few times since acquiring one last fall. I used it all winter for nighttime mountain biking in 30- to 40-degree weather, including rain and snow. Id wear only a light or mid-weight wool T-shirt under it, depending on conditions. And, along with tights, gloves, and a beanie under my helmet, Id be extremely comfortable. Ill use it for some hikes and climbs this spring.
A good alternative to what you have in mind is the somewhat more old-fashioned wind shirt." Thats a breathable, wind-proof (hence the name), and somewhat water-repellent piece that has the advantage of being lighter and usually cheaper than a soft shell. Marmot makes an excellent one: the updated DriClime Jacket ($100; marmot.com). Its brushed lining is similar to that on the Mistral and feels good next to skin, not cold and clammy.
Lastly, Id go hoodless. Hoods add bulk, weight, and expense. I much prefer hats.
The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.