Gear Guy

Q:

What jacket mixes old-school mountain parka style and modern technology?

What’s out there right now that comes closest to the old-fashioned mountain parka (but with modern fabric)? I've never seen anything to compare with my Madden (from about 1978 or so), but alas it's shrunk over the years and no longer fits me when I wear any kind of insulating layer. Mike Austin, TX

A:

Sorry to say, there’s nothing on the market that is similar to your Madden of 1978. To which I can only say: Saints be praised! Are you kidding me?? In that era (alas, the Gear Guy dates himself—but with age comes much wisdom) I had an expensive (for that time) Ventile cotton parka from REI. It was waterproof in the same way a sponge is waterproof—it could absorb only so much. Once the outer surface was soaked, it would shed water.

The Exposure II Jacket

Today there are SO MANY good choices. I suppose if I were to conjure a “classic" type of shell, I’d go with Patagonia’s Men’s Storm Light ($200). It’s an all-around jacket for mild and damp conditions. Very clean, very functional, waterproof/breathable, all that good stuff. And it’s cut to fit over layers.

Mountain Hardwear’s Exposure II ($200) also is an old-timey-style jacket, with the bonus of a removable powder skirt for snowy conditions. It’s made from their Conduit fabric, which is a good-quality proprietary waterproof/breathable material.

My advice: Break with the past. Chart new territory. Be bold. Get REI’s Shuksan Jacket ($289). A classic all-mountain design coupled with super-new eVent fabric, which is extremely breathable, waterproof, and wind-resistant. And at a great price. This is a great buy on a great piece.

Write to me again in 30 years, Mike, we’ll see what’s a crack-a-lackin’ then.

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