Sick of the bulk and crinkle of traditional shells? The doctor prescribes the new bargain-priced Patagonia Ready Mix, an airy dream of silky, stretchy protection that packs down to the size of a pomelo. This sensual soft shell is all you need for everything but the soppingest, most high-impact endeavors, which is why it gets Gear of the Year.
1. Cycling in Portland, Oregon, one particularly nasty day, I was amazed by how the supple Ready Mix thwarted a spanking rain. As I madly pedaled my way to an espresso joint, Patagonia's durable water-resistant Deluge finish kept me dry as biscotti.
2. Spacious chest vents eliminate the need for pit zipsand double as glove compartments, without significantly sacrificing airflow. Plus the Napoleon pocket can easily stash a couple of hoagies.
3. Inside and out, welded seams fuse 3.4-ounce double-weave stretch panels, which are oriented for pitch and yaw to allow maximum freedom of movement. Reinforced shoulder, elbow, and hip panelsconstructed of beefier 5.5-ounce polyprotect chafe points. She may be soft, but she's tough, too.
4. Dig the subtle touches: an offset zip that ends up next tonot underyour chin; a self-cinching hood; a smushy visor that holds its form; Swiss-cheese-like hook-and-loop closures at the cuffs to shave weight; and watertight zips.
5. The smart design of the Ready Mix meshes slinky comfort with serious utility. Like a classic shell, it's fully featured, but its cocktail of unbeatable breathability, easy one-hand cinching, ultralight heft (only 14 ounces!), and windproof fabric shifts the paradigm.