I need a really, really warm fleece for a trip on the Pacific Crest Trail this coming season. I'm having a hard time deciding on the right fleece, especially with all the soft shells on the market to muddy the picture. I own a soft shell, which is great for when I'm actually walking with a pack or up a hill, but otherwise it doesn't really keep me warm at night or when I'm just getting moving. Gear Guy, what is this fleece I seek? Do you know its ne? Sarah Santa Barbara, California
Monkey Woman Jacket
If you're looking for something warm for those slower moments, though, you might think a little outside the box. It's very hard to beat a light down sweater for its weight/warmth ratio—sweater in this case really meaning jacket, though not essentially weighty enough to be a tried-and-true jacket. Get it? Gear-marketing semantics aside, Patagonia's Down Jacket weighs a mere one pound, stuffs down to the size of a grapefruit, and is far warmer than any fleece jacket out there ($199; www.patagonia.com). Probably too warm to hike in, and not a good rain piece, but if you can bear lugging a little extra gear it would prove to be an extremely useful piece. Heck, you could make up the weight by packing a lighter sleeping bag and using the down jacket as a nighttime warming piece. Marmot's Women's Down Sweater is a tad heavier (one pound two ounces) than the Patagonia piece and about the same insulation rating, and sells for $160 (www.marmot.com). Either would keep you extremely toasty.
For more PCT-worthy apparel and gear, check out Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.