Sunday, January 27, 2013


The venerable and skookum Patagonia Puff.  

Last week I wrote a piece about how bad I smell and voila!, upon my doorstep arrives a package from a reader containing a couple new shirts and nice smelling hippy laundry soap.  Hell,  if I knew sponsorship was that easy I would have started writing disparagingly about myself years ago!

The truth is an old friend who spent several months living in sauna like Marine barracks with me in Okinawa a few years back knows all to well what I smell like on a daily basis.  Likely Kari felt bad for the predicament of my poor my wife and sent the gift out of sheer pity.  In any case, it got me thinking a little bit about the fact that a couple folks actually read my writing on a regular basis.  I mean some free shit showed up on my doorstep just because a wrote a little anecdote on the interwebs.  Who doesn't like free shit on thier doorstep?  

Maybe if I keep writing someday more free shit will show up on my doorstep? 

In honor of my first sponsorship, I decided that instead of jamming server space with more silly philosophical meanders about conservation, cutting my carbon footprint, and the environmental ethics of recreation, I should hop on the bandwagon of materialistic capitalism and review some of my favorite gear. 

Before I start anything even resembling a gear review, it is important for the reader to know that I am really kind of a cheap bastard.  Not cheap like skip out when it's my turn to buy a round of beers or "forget" to even up on gas money at the end of a road trip,  but cheap like wear the same shorts until my boss at school tells me they are no longer appropriate around children.  Waste not, want not I say.  

That said, when I lay down several hundred greenbacks for a piece of gear, it comes with pretty high expectations.  To me gear should have three qualities.
1)  All gear should function well.  That is, it should do what it is supposed to do.  Rain jackets should keep out rain, packs should carry loads well, stoves should cook your dinner as you wish and beer should give you a buzz without an unreasonable hangover.  It seems like common sense, but there is a ton of gear out there that is about 95% bullshit and 5% function.
2)  All gear should be versatile.  I like to ride bikes. I like like to climb mountains.  I like to ski down  hills in the winter and to climb easy splitter granite on warm sunny days.   I  like to go to the bar and have a beer or two at the end of the day.   My everyday life and the trips I enjoy on regular basis often combine these pursuits, and I need gear that will cover the range.  Gear with a single use is by definition useless to me.    
3)  Gear should be durable.  I might have slightly unreasonable expectations in this department, but to me quality gear should be darn near bullet proof.  When I lay down hundreds of dollars for a pair of pants, I want them to stand up to daily use and occasional abuse for several years.  Additionally, gear should be repairable at a reasonable price and have a quality assurance backed up by the manufacturer.

The Chinook Jargon word 'skookum' delineates a range of positive connotations, among them is useful, good, strong, best, powerful and durable.   I was raised up in a valley where the Jargon is native and I can remember my Dad using the word to describe things that were hard to break; I think I might like it a little more just because of that.
I like my gear to encompass these ideals; I want my gear to be skookum.

The Patagonia Puff

My buddy Darren's kid knows me as Orange Matt.  This came to my attention a couple of weeks ago when I showed up for a mid-week ski at his house and he commented on my once bright orange, now fading burnt sienna Patagonia Puff Pullover.

You've gotten some miles out'a that one, Darren said with the sincerest of strait-faced sarcasm.

Oh, this thing is just getting broken in, I responded with a smirk as I stroked the layers of patches and seam grip around the wrist of my jacket; the resultant impact of many close encounters with wide granite cracks and my camp stove.  

Apparently I wear the garment frequently enough that Darren's two-year old son Owen associates the color orange with me more than my charming personality or the fact that I play a mean game of follow the leader.  I suppose that is the best testament as to how often I wear my Puff, but at least Owen stopped calling me daddy.  

Being an unpaid, unsponsored,  and completely unprofessional gear reviewer, I am afforded the luxury of writing just what I want about any product.  I am therefore going to skip over a lot of the technical lingo that quite honestly numbs me a bit.  I am sure the latest Puff is made of the newest and greatest of plastic fabric on Earth.  You can check it out on their website if that type of thing turns your crank, but rest assured it will all end up concentrated in the food chain someday.  

I will however assure the reader of the following:

1.  The Puff has an excellent weight to warmth ratio.  
2.  The Puff will continue to insulate your body when wet.  
3.  The Puff can be worn as a shell or an insulating layer.
4.  The Puff will stand up to years of regular 'love & attention'.  
5.  The Puff patches easily.
6.  The Puff doubles as a decent pillow. 
7.  The Puff weighs less than my average morning grogan, and I am not rad enough at anything to worry about how much my jacket weighs.

The only thing that might make the Puff a little more versatile is strips of reflective tape across the front, back, and down the arms.  The night visibility factor would go through the roof for a bike commuting/touring piece.  But then again you might end up the guy at the bar wearing a hunter's safety jacket instead of a hip insulating layer, and that could could bit awkward depending on the bar you happen upon in your travels.    

I also recognize that Patagonia historically has an excellent customer service reputation and stands by their products.  Additionally,  the company is doing much more than many of it's competitors are to use their corporate power and influence to enact meaningful positive environment change on our planet.  It makes feel me better about my human condition buying their plastic versus someone else's I guess.  

In any case, more times than not when packing for work in the morning, a day running groomers, a bike overnight or week long trip to the mountains, my Puff finds itself at the top of my pack.  It is a skookum peice of gear and when the last remaining threads of mine fall from my body in a couple years, I will buy another.



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