Gear Guy

Is there a windproof, breathable, and cheap fleece?

I'm looking for a fleece that is both windproof and breathable, for use when cycling, hiking, and maybe skiing. What fleece would you recommend for someone who has just had all his stuff stolen on a bike trip through Poland (meaning: my budget is limited)? Matti Kiel, Germany

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Well, we’re hitting some physical limits in terms of what a fabric can do here, Matti. To prove the point, everyone reading this column must now take off your clothes. OK, maybe not you; your boss is about to walk into your office. Everyone else naked? Great. How do you feel? A little chilly, perhaps? Now, get some mosquito netting—surely you have some handy—and wrap yourself in it. Warmer? Of course. But how can that be? Mosquito netting is just mesh, right? True, but it still impedes air movement, so you don’t feel any evaporative cooling.

The point to this hilarious exercise—hey, YOU, put that shirt back on—is that any material will reduce breathability. And a windproof fleece jacket, while breathable, is substantially less aerated than a non-windproof garment made with the same fleece. Basically, you’re going to sacrifice breathability if you go windproof.

That said, you might look into Mountain Hardwear’s Ozone jacket, which uses Polartec Windpro, a fleece material that is wind resistant by design, not through the addition of a wind-repelling membrane layer. The result is a good compromise of wind resistance and breathability, and the not-too-steep price of $125. REI makes a jacket with the same material, called the Polartec Windpro Jacket, for $100.

After this, it gets expensive because other windproof fleece jackets use that extra wind-blocking layer, adding to the cost. An example is Patagonia’s R4 Windbloc Jacket, a really nice piece that combines a warm fleece with a surprisingly soft windproof layer. But, it’s a bit dear price-wise: $215. Same for the Arc’Teryx Sigma LT Jacket, which uses a Gore windproofing behind a midweight fleece. It’s $190.

Want the best of all worlds? Get an L.L. Bean Polartec Super 200 Jacket for just $69. When it’s windy, put a shell over it. Cheap, and effective.

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