Any super successful outdoor adventure hinges on preparedness. Like bringing a tent on a rivertrip so instead of getting rained on every night and sleeping in spider ridden caves to stay dry, you can be rocked to sleep by the pitter patter of friendly rain drops on your beloved fly. Sure, it’s fun to laugh about now, but as I lay in my sandy, wet, clingy sleeping bag painfully awake the entire night, I promise you I wished for nothing more than to turn back time and throw a handy tent into a drybag. The great outdoors can hit you with anything at anytime, so you better come ready for the worst.
Sometimes being ready for the worst means packing a totally unmanageable mound of gear. When you’re doing an activity in which you have to carry all that gear, like backpacking or hiking, lugging around everything you own can be a bit of a challenge. Usually, it’s pretty easy to narrow it down to the essentials, like food and water. But then comes choosing clothing, and more specifically, choosing warm layers.
As all outdoors people do, I own an excessive amount of jackets. If I layered everything I own I’d be sweating in Antarctica. But, bank account, I promise each jacket has its own unique purpose. I have a nano-puff for throwing on in late fall, chilled-air situations. I have a few fleeces because I wear them so often for so many different situations that it would be pretty nasty to just have one. There’s also my rain jacket, ski jacket, vest, half-zip; the list goes on and on. With the possibility of wind, rain, and chilly mountain air, I could use each and every one of them over the course of a long day hike or backpacking excursion, so how do I leave any behind? Thus, I began my search for the one perfect jacket for keeping out the cold on any hiking adventure.
To aid me in my quest, adidas TERREX sent me two new jackets to add to my collection: the Agravic Alpha Shield Hoodie and the Women’s Terrex Swift Softshell Jacket. Now fully armed with a battalion of jackets, I went adventuring. Here are the pros/cons I’ve discovered of each type of jacket, and the ultimate winner of the great jacket race.
Pros: No warm layer is cozier than a fleece, hands down. Anytime you’re feeling a little chilled throw one of these babies on and it’s basically like crawling into bed. There are also different fleeces for different conditions. There are thinner ones for just a chilly but sunny fall day, or thick and fluffy ones for a night around the campfire. Also, fleeces get you hella style points when you’re out on the trail, especially if you can find a fun retro one for $5 in a thrift shop.
Cons: Not a great wind or rain protector. Especially the rain part. I went for a quick trek and only brought a fleece; I was soaked and chafed and no longer warm. I clearly have bad luck with rain. Fleeces are also on the bulkier side, so packing them can be pretty cumbersome.
Pros: Down vests especially make your torso feel swathed by a fluffy comforter. The no arms thing leaves your ligaments more free to move as well. Finally, any sort of mountain-goating on hikes won’t be inhibited by tight jacket sleeves. As far as packability, vests are generally pretty light and compressible.
Cons: Yeah I know I said it was a pro, but I was trying to be positive because I don’t get the no arms thing. They want to be warm too, why you gotta play favorites?
Pros: No way will you be cold. Bring it on snow. Maybe pop your skis and boots on too while you’re at it. Also, probably pretty rainproof, which is a positive in my book.
Cons: So bulky, and you’ll look silly when it’s 60 degrees on a nice fall day carrying that around. Even though my jacket is just a shell, it still is too extra for hiking. It doesn’t breathe very well either. Overall my vote is leave it for ski season unless you’re in full on winter hike mode.
Pros: Wouldn’t leave home without it because it sure does a good job keeping out the rain!
Cons: Unless you’re me and haven’t waterproofed your jacket in two million years and it just seems to get you more wet than when you started. It also doesn’t breathe super well which can sometimes leave you feeling a little sticky…
Pros: Mine is purple and blue, which are my favorite colors, so we can start there. But functionality-wise, it’s super compressible, soft on the skin, insulating, and overall a great basic jacket I throw on just about any day with a slight chill in the air, whether I’m hiking or heading to class. Again, it’s stylish too because it isn’t quite as marshmallow-y as a full down puffy.
Cons: On the other side, a full down puffy jacket would be much warmer. Marshmallows are great anyways. My nano-puff is nice on a brisk fall day for a short jaunt, but add a little wind and lower temps and you’ll be shivering pretty quickly. Guess I’ll have to add another jacket to the gear closet.
And the new additions to my team!
Pros: Sooooo lightweight I can’t even explain it; it weighs less than air. The thin fabric is wind resistant but breathes super well, and the insulted front of the torso adds some warmth without making it bulky. If you put the hood up it’s like you’re swathed in this windproof cocoon, but you still feel like you’re actually outside because you aren’t sweating obscene amounts underneath the fabric while you hike. Or while you run; I’m told this is a running jacket but I’m not much of a runner…
Instead I took this on some great hikes this summer, most namely when I sent it up to Highland Mary Lakes in the San Juan mountains with just this baby in my pack. Bold move with the inconsistent weather up there. During the course of the day spent above treeline, there was blazing sun, cloud cover, chilling winds, and some snow glissading (and tumbling). I’m happy to report I could wear the jacket through all of it. I didn’t need to constantly take it off and put it back on again when the sun went in and out of the clouds, and I didn’t freeze when I fell in the snow piles. Pretty successful, I’d say. Function aside, since it’s all about looks anyways, the jacket also looks sweet and sometimes I even feel like I could be a runner just because of this hoodie.
Cons: I did test this out in the rain, and by that I mean I walked under a waterfall with this on, and it’s not actually super waterproof. I was soaked (what did I expect, really) and the fabric got pretty clingy. Also, definitely not the warmest jacket in my repertoire since it has less insulation and is more about that breathability.
Pros: I’ve been using this jacket every day during the past month of half-winter, half-fall up here in Bozeman, MT. It’s wind resistant, a little water/snow resistant (in small doses, don’t take this one under a waterfall either), lightweight, and soft inside, all of which make it perfect for around campus AND on adventures. Versatility people. I mostly found myself using this jacket camping this summer on chilly nights. The softshell texture just makes you feel like you’re fully protected from the elements.
Cons: I didn’t like to take it hiking as much because it felt stiffer than most of my other jackets. And I get pretty acrobatic when I’m hiking, wouldn’t want to restrict that arm swinging. It feels like more of a “stand by the campfire” jacket than a “hike a lot of miles” one. Also, it is just a shell, so even with the soft interior, I still layer it with my nano-puff when temps start to get real chilly.
So there we have it, every feature I’ve discerned from all my experience with my jackets, both old and new.
Now for the ultimate question, is there one of these jackets that does it all? The one magic jacket I can pack on any trip and have total confidence I’ll be prepared for whatever is going to hit me? Well, in all honesty, no — I’m sure that’s not the conclusion you were hoping for, believe me, it’s not for me either. But in analyzing all these jackets, I’ve realized you need each one for different temperatures, different weather situations, different seasons, different locations, different styles, etc. See, I knew I had a reason for buying them all!
So I can’t say pack just one, unfortunately.
But I can give you this list of tips for how to decide exactly which jacket or jackets to bring based on these factors. At least after all of this I can help you lighten your load a bit, but still keep you as prepared as you should be:
- Is it going to rain? Pack your raincoat. Don’t be stuck in the rain on the river without your body tent. Probably pack your raincoat even if it isn’t going to rain because if you don’t pack it it will inevitably dump.
- Is it going to be windy? Bring your Agravic Alpha Shield Hoodie.
- Are temps going to be lower than 55 degrees? Bring a fleece.
- Is it going to get below freezing? Reconsider hiking. If you’re still crazy, bring your full puffy and your Women’s Terrex Swift Softshell Jacket. Maybe it’s time for the ski jacket too.
- Is it sunny? Go crazy and don’t bring a thing. Jk probably still bring a lightweight jacket like the Agravic Alpha Shield Hoodie, be prepared like your mom always told you.
- Is it sunny now, but you’re in a place where it can go from 80 and sunny to windy and freezing in a matter of seconds? Bring a couple layers, starting with a t-shirt and going all the way up to a puffy depending on temperatures.
- Are you going skiing? Bring your ski jacket.