Clothing is armor against the elements. As long as humans have cloaked themselves in protective garments, the goal continues to be essentially the same–make something stronger or warmer, more resistant to outside forces, that is also lighter and better fitting. We are spoiled with our options in this modern age.
I certainly appreciate that I can throw the Patagonia Micro Puff jacket over a T-shirt and be confident that this simple, lightweight synthetic layer will keep me comfortable in a range of temperatures and conditions, from slightly warm and arid to chilly and damp. If I’m mostly sitting or walking, this means I’m comfy in temperatures of about 30F to 60F. And if I’m wearing a warm long-sleeve baselayer underneath the jacket, then I’m fine down to about 20F (and I consider myself a bit of a wuss in the cold). With its wind- and water-resistant nylon shell, the Micro Puff also holds up pretty well in damp conditions.
I wore the Micro Puff on a nippy big-wall last October, and then I wore it everywhere through the winter. I wear it to the crag. I bring it on hikes. I walk downtown in it on the weekends. The Micro Puff jacket is going everywhere with me lately. Whenever I want to carry just one extra layer, it’s likely I’ll pack the Micro Puff because it’s so versatile. I actually try to use it less often, to spare it from needless wear and tear (more on that in a moment), but often I can’t resist the easy choice…
The Micro Puff weighs just over a half-pound (264g) and compacts down to the size of a large, compressible beanbag (roughly 10″ x 5″ x 4″). Conveniently, it stuffs into the left zippered pocket, which is complete with a clipping loop. The simple elastic trim of the hood fits well either under or over a helmet (a front zipper that goes all the way above my nose is partly what enables the range of this snug fit of the hood; the zipper only goes to my chin if I’m wearing it over a helmet). The sleeves and body are sewn together in a way that allows unhindered movement–ideal for climbing. The two outside pockets have zippers and the two inside ones have elastic openings–great pouches for stuffing a hat or gloves out of the way. In other words, the jacket is simple but it includes all the details I like: no more, no less. The Micro Puff is also available without a hood ($249).
The company is touting the PlumaFill insulation as being highly competitive with down feathers in terms of weight and performance. The synthetic fiber strands are designed to mimic feathers in the way that feathers provide loft and trap air, plus one better–when wet, the PlumaFill retains warmth much better than down. I’ve preferred down to synthetic insulation since I was a teenager, but I have to admit, it’s nice having all these qualities in addition to not having the hollow shafts of the feathers poke through the fabric.
About the weaknesses of the Micro Puff: the ultralight ripstop nylon (10-denier shell, 7-denier liner) is strong for how light it is, but it is light. I avoid wearing it near campfires, and I don’t wear it skiing, when a pine bough might rip the fabric and threads.
The threads. There are many stitches and threads that run all the way through the shell and liner–a “non-continuous quilting technique that locks down the insulation,” according to the Patagonia website. This quilting is not so different from down jackets that have baffles sewn in to keep the feathers evenly dispersed inside the garment. But all the separate threads and stitches translate into a few loose ends bristling here and there from the surface of the coat. (I suppose if it’s not feathers poking out, it’s threads, so this might be a fair tradeoff.)
One thing I’ve yet to test is how well the insulation holds up after washing the jacket. Feathers are so finicky in this regard that I don’t think it’s that difficult to find something with less maintenance involved. I suspect the PlumaFill will be fine with proper washing, as the company promises it will be.
Frankly, after wearing the Patagonia Micro Puff for much of the last seven months, I’ve found that it lives up to the hype.
Derek Franz is the digital editor for Alpinist.com and wrote a feature story titled “Glimmers in the Dark” for Alpinist 61 in which he remembers his friend Hayden Kennedy during a solo adventure on Prodigal Sun in Zion National Park shortly after Kennedy’s death.
Nylon shell is wind and water resistant
PlumaFill synthetic insulation holds up well in damp conditions
Elastic hood fits under or around a helmet
Left pocket turns into zippered pouch with a clipping loop
Four pockets total–two outside and two inside
Non-restrictive fit in the sleeves and shoulders is ideal for climbers
Non-continuous quilting technique involves many separate stitches that sometimes unravel a small amount, resulting in a few loose threads poking out here and there
Lightweight nylon is more vulnerable to tears and melting