Gear Army: Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Ultrasoft Shell Jacket

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Think fast: Name three personal items you can’t live without while on the road. Running shoes? iPod? Journal or camera? What makes the cut? How do you decide?

I’m not suggesting the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Ultrasoft Shell Jacket ($160) bump anything off your list. But you should consider it a viable standby option, perhaps for climates below the 60-degree mark.

I place the jacket so high on my list for two simple reasons: function and form.

It kept me warm for two weeks while gallivanting through Ireland and Scotland in November and December. It was a cold time to be there; wintry, which I expected. But the wind along the water and daily pissing rain could have broken my spirit. The breathable windproof and waterproof fabric made it possible to withstand the elements, and when the weather turned for the worse, the Ultrasoft Shell Jacket made for a fine mid-layer. 

None of this is unique to any soft shell on the market.

What makes this jacket standout is that it doesn’t wear like the others. It doesn’t wear like a Kevlar overcoat common to other name brands. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Mountain Hardwear Alchemy soft shell jacket. But it feels and looks like it could withstand a bullet fired at close range.

The Pearl Izumi Ultrasoft Shell Jacket, however, feels like it was made by material pilfered from a Build-A-Bear workshop. Not having packed a travel pillow, I used the jacket as my headrest on long bus trips and my flights to and fro.

It also doesn’t have the typical “look” of a soft shell. No bright colors or obvious industry logos announcing your outdoor proclivities. It only comes in black or brown, so you’ll blend in on the trail or street, cabin or pub.

The Ultrasoft Shell is a crossover piece, appropriate for many locations. Just like you.

–Ken Derry can be see at left on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland's County Kerry in 2009. Most of the time, though, he's jogging the trackat Yankee Stadium thanks to his job: He's the managing editor of thebaseball team's in-house publication.

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