Gear Guy

Can you help our mountain rescue te pick out a fleece?

I a member of Vail Mountain Rescue Group and have been nominated the "gear girl" in charge of finding a good windstopper fleece jacket for our te. We are looking for something comfortable, flexible, and warm, but that's not too bulky and stands up well in the cold (one of our members complained that the Lowe Alpine version gets very stiff in the cold). Any suggestions? Leslie Vail, Colorado

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The idea behind a wind-blocking fleece jacket (many use Gore Windstopper, others proprietary materials) is that there are many times when you need to stop the wind from blowing through your fleece, but don’t want to get out the waterproof-breathable jacket to pull over the insulating layer. The downside is that the same fleece (or pile) will be much less breathable, yet heavier and bulkier. So, as always, life is full of trade-offs.

Myself, I lean toward wanting more breathability, so I’m not terribly keen on the wind-blocking fleece jackets. Malden Mills makes a “super fleece” called Wind Pro, which by virtue of its construction is extremely wind resistant, yet very breathable. It’s also softer than wind-blocking jackets that have a solid membrane laminated within them. Marmot uses Wind Pro in a garment called the Soft Rock ($200). It’s a lovely all-around garment—light, trim, comfortable.

Patagonia, meanwhile, still makes garments with a windproof layer built in, and they’re very nice. The R4 Regulator Jacket ($215) is their flagship piece. A similar jacket is the Arc’teryx Sigma LT ($190), which uses Gore Windstopper (the Patagonia uses a Malden Mills material). A little more snugly cut than the R4, but warm and comfortable.

You might also consider one of the new-generation “soft shell” jackets, which combine insulation with water and wind repellency. They usually cost $250 and upwards, but REI recently introduced the One Jacket ($198). It uses Polartec Powershield, a fabric that has become my favorite soft shell material. Put it on over a light wicking layer, and it’s all you need in an amazingly wide variety of conditions. Plus, it looks pretty good.

Good luck! And keep up the good work with Vail Mountain Rescue.