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Product Testing: Soft Shells Weather the Storm

Adam Bradley  /  March 27, 2009  /  8 Min Read  /  Design

Adam bWe test our gear on a variety of levels. Our athletes and ambassadors are responsible for putting the latest designs and fabrics through the paces before we'll add a new product to our lineup. But just because something reaches our shelves doesn't mean testing is over. Once a new item shows up in our catalogs, our Customer Service staff gets busy ground-truthing the latest offerings. They know the questions our customers will be asking, and turn that attention to our gear.

Product Report: Wool 3 Zip Neck, R1 Pullover, Capilene® 1 Bottoms, Ready Mix Jacket, & Backcountry Guide Pants
Activity: Winter traverse of the Carson Range (2 nights, 3 days) – Tahoe City to Sky Tavern 45+ Miles
Elevation Lo 6,300 ft Hi 9,500 ft – Temps 28°F to 45°F
Tested by: Adam B., Patagonia Customer Service


Wool 3Shelly and I left Tahoe City on about 3 ft of snow.  It was warm leaving the car so I pretty muchsnow-shoed all day in a Wool 3 Zip Neck and Capilene® 1 Bottoms with a pair ofBackcountry Guide Pants [Ed note: At time of publication, only Women's Backcountry Guide Pants remain available for this season. Look for Men's availability in late August 2009.] Wool 3 is a really good weight for me – not too warmthat I end up overheating, but warm enough when I need it at night in camp [closest current equivalent is the Wool 2 Zip Neck]. Ilike the vents on my Guide Pants as well. The gaiters on the pants have workedwell for me this winter.  I also like allthe pockets on the pants for chapstick, extra batteries, map, etc. When Shellyand I topped out on the ridge we got some nice views of the Squaw Valley area.We found some deep untracked powder following the rolling ridge over to PaintedRock.  That was fun being in the deepsnow in the shady side of the ridge. I practiced a new trick at lunch today:take fresh snow add it to what water you do have and sit it on a black rock for30 minutes and presto! more water. This is for the most part a waterlessstretch, so any water I could get without melting snow is a good thing (don’twant to carry too much fuel).

Shelly headed back from Painted Rock and I continued onto within a few miles of Brockway Summit on a combo of snow machine/ hikingtrail. Toward 6 p.m. I found a patch of dirt to set up on at about 7,000 ft. Iwas very warm under my shelter lying on dirt instead of snow.  It was 37°F after dark, so I could comfortablysit out in just my Cap 1 Bottoms, Wool 3 Top and R1 Pull-Over.


AscensionistThat night at about 4 a.m. it started to rain. I stayedplenty dry in my SupahFly shelter (13.8 oz 2-person pyramid). I had felt nauseain camp that night, so I didn’t melt snow for the next day, I had just wantedto get a little bit of electrolyte in me and some refried beans. In the morningI spent about an hour melting snow—what a time-consuming chore and it consumeda lot of fuel, too. I did feel better though, and I needed the water anyway asit was to be another long, waterless stretch to Gray Lake (15 miles).

As I was breaking camp the rain turned to snow. It was awet snow coming down hard as I packed away my wet tarp and my hands and myupper body were soon cold. Since I was wearing a Ready Mix Jacket [Ed Note: the closest currently available equivalent is the Ascensionist Jacket] over my Wool3 my back felt a little damp; however, once I was up and going I liked that thewool kept me warm even when wet. I also appreciated how well the Ready Mixbreathed in these damp conditions. As I descended down a logging road I spotteda mountain lion lurking on its edge. The encounter couldn’t have lasted morethan 10 seconds, but I clearly made out its long tail, long torso and slinkingmanner as it left the road. I went over and checked out its tracks. It ispretty cool how much wildlife one can sneak up on with snowshoes.Backcountry guide

I finally got below snow level over near Brockway Summit(7,300 ft). Even though it was now raining I was warm and comfortable inside myReady Mix and Backcountry Guide Pants. From here I knew that once I got back uparound 8,000 ft I would get back into the snow and dry off a little. On theclimb up, I spotted a coyote trotting down the trail at me.  Again all the wildlife is out today in thebad weather, but no people. From 7,500 – 8,000 ft. the snow was really stickyand wet, meaning a lot of work to break trail. I could hear the wind howling upon the ridge so I battened down all the hatches before getting up there.

It must have been gusting about 35-40 mph between 8,000 -9,000 ft. It was a combination of rain and snow so my right side was coated inice, including the thigh vent zippers. Again I was happy in my Ready Mix andGuide Pants. All the hard work paid off though, as it was much dryer up on theridge and the mixed powder/wind-blown snow conditions where fun. When I droppeddown into Gray Lake there was about 2ft of fresh snow that had been depositedon the north-facing slope. I learned one valuable lesson setting up camp in asnowstorm: don’t set anything down in the snow as it will be covered and lostin a hurry. I use titanium V-stakes as my deadman anchors for my tarp forwinter, and though they work awesome and are light, they’re hard to find indrifting snow. But I didn’t worry about that too much, just put in a waypointon the GPS to come back and look for them in the spring. I only lost 3, butlosing anything weighs heavy on me. 

I got a bomber camp dug down into all of the fresh snow,and ended up being happy for it, as that night would end up being one of mywildest as far as storms go.  With windsconsistently gusting to 35-40 mph, it sounded like a jet engine roaring downthe canyon.  The up-side is the stiffwinds kept snow from collapsing my shelter. There was so much blowing snow thateven inside the tarp I had a lot landing on me. Still, I was impressed with my13oz. shelter in these conditions. 

Cap1bottomsAt night at 9,200 ft at 30° I had on Capilene® 1 BottomsWool 3 top and my trusty MontBell Down Inner Parka and Down Pants. These twopieces of gear along with my Integral Designs Hot Socks are some of my bestwinter purchases. I am amazed at how warm the Parka and Pants are for less than1 lb. The Hot Socks are killer too. Very light, compressible and cheap. I cansleep with the socks in my bag and they dry overnight so they are all warm andready in the morning.

There was nough fuel for dinner at night and I crashedout at 8:30PM pretty bushed, and happy to have my 6oz bivy to get into combinedwith my 2lb Western Mountaineering Versalite. The bivy was a must as it allowedme to zip completely into it, keeping drifting snow from landing on my face. Italso kept my bag completely dry. I woke up every couple hours and shook thetarp to keep the snow from collapsing it.


Up at 6AM thismorning, with enough fuel to blast two batches of warm drinks. I was slowgetting going as the temperature had dropped to 27° and everything I had forouter layers was pretty frozen. The metal snap at the ankle of the BackcountryGuide Pant can be difficult to snap once frozen. It was still blowing andsnowing hard out, and I broke camp slowly and resolved to only heading to SkyTavern. There was so much fresh snow just from last night that I was to bewallowing through 4 new feet of it back up to the ridge above Gray Lake. Ittook about an hour just to climb 500ft [Ed note: For reference, Adam joinedyours truly on a recent outing and knocked out a 1300’ climb in ½ hr]. I wasworn out and definitely counting my climbs left for the day. I was also happyto be heading out as steady-blowing wind wears on my mind after a while. Therewas much less snow on the south facing slope. I safely traversed over to aridge above Ginny Lake and found killer powder dropping off this ridge. I sawsomething cool over here, too – a virtual snow fountain. The wind was gustingso hard against a granite boulder that it sculpted a waveform out of the snow.As the wind continued to blow drifting snow against the waveform, it made thewind-blown snow spout like a fountain. When I walked up at first it I couldn’tfigure out what was going on, I have never seen snow behave in that fashionbefore. 

R1 flashI tanked up on water out of a ditch over here and gotwore out on the climb back up along 2nd Creek; it was like climbing throughmashed potatoes. Once I topped out near Snow Pond I was happy it would beall-downhill to Sky Tavern, and once over at Sky Tavern I had my secondcasualty of the trip: I lost my Tom Harrison Tahoe Rim map. It has been througha lot with me and has gotten more use than any map I have ever owned. It wouldhave kept trucking for several more years, but when I unfastened my waist belton my pack it fell out of my jacket and blew away in the wind. Looks like it istime to purchase another. I arranged for transport from Sky Tavern and set outagainst the ski area sign as a little windbreak. I was comfortable at 8,000ftin 35 mph gusts at 35° for 45 minutes in just my Cap 1 Bottoms, BackcountryGuide Pants, Wool 3 Top, R1 Flash Pullover and Ready Mix Jacket.

Patagonia Customer Service Rep. Adam Bradley is steadily refining his light-weight trail technique. He's currently training for a new record unsupported speed attempt on the Pacific Crest Trail. He's generously provided a copy of his Gear List for those who might be looking for tips on how to lighten their loads.

Download Ultralight Gear List

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