Gadling Gear Review: Insulated fleece jacket from LL Bean

Let’s set aside the jokes around polar fleece as the uniform for us Pacific North-Westerners. First of all, I can take it and secondly, dude, polar fleece works. And really, it’s getting better, the fabrics are getting softer and hold up longer and wash better. Even while I’m developing a preference for natural fibers, I’m finding myself pawing the new polar fleece performance clothing and thinking, “Hey, not bad, actually.”

LL Bean has a new line of jackets out that are lightweight and weather resistant and really warm. Bonus, they’re cut with quite a nice mind for style and have some details that make them worth packing.

Heads up — they’re not water proof, they’re water resistant, that’s a different animal. You’ll be fine running for the car or the bus, or in transitional weather, but you’ll want to add a rain jacket if it’s really coming down.

LL Bean’s insulated fleece jacket has all the basics that I look for in this kind of gear. There are zippered side pockets and a zippered upper pocket for your phone or wallet. And yes, there’s a pull through for your headphones. The waist has an elastic pull so you can cinch it in place to keep the wind out. There’s soft stuff where you want it — the neck is lined with a fluffier material and the collar with a slightly smoother fabric that won’t scratch your face when you’re all zipped in against the cold.

Some additional nice details… the sleeves have a narrower cuff, great for keeping the wind out. Also on the sleeves, a heavier, wind-stop fabric. The jacket feels well constructed with double stitching and flat seams. The fit seems true to size, I got a medium, and it fits as I’d expect. It looks nice, too; I’ve had compliments when I’m wearing it. And it comes in a couple of different colors, a cranberry and a teal for women, and a gray, a dark blue and a burgundy for guys.

I’d have liked the black/gray to come in women’s sizes too, I have a personal preference for neutral colors for the travel wardrobe. I’d also have liked to have a two way zip in the front, again a personal preference that helps with fit.

LL Bean rates this jacket as good down to 35 degrees/ -15F. I’ve been wearing it out in 40 degree temps and really liking it — I’m warm without being weighed down. I stayed dry in damp, not quite pouring conditions, and I haven’t felt constricted, it’s great for running around in. A little bit of insulation combined with the Polartec wind-stop fleece seems to be doing its job.

Right now,the jacket is $124.00 directly from LL Bean, down from the original $149.00. Want one? Get it directly from LL Bean.

The Gadling young family travel gift guide

If you are traveling with a baby over the holidays, visiting with children on your next trip, or just hoping to convince a new parent that you don’t have to hand in your passport once the new addition arrives, we’ve compiled a gift guide for families traveling with babies. Traveling light is the best advice you can follow when traveling with a baby (even without a baby, it’s just good sense) but there are some gear and gadgets that make the road a little smoother for family travel.

family travel gift guideBoba baby wrap (formerly Sleepy Wrap)
One of my favorite purchases so far in Turkey is the Cybex first.go baby carrier, unique due to the horizontal infant insert used up until 3-4 months. The lie-flat insert allowed me to set the baby on a flat surface without worrying she’d roll over (with constant supervision, of course), perfect for traveling. Everywhere I went with it, we got comments and questions. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the US, but if you can get your hands on it, I recommend it. My other favorite carrier is the Sleepy Wrap (now called Boba), suitable from birth without any special insert, up to 18 months. It’s very easy to pack in a handbag or tie around yourself without having lots of straps to get tangled in. Since it’s all fabric, it works well for airports and metal detectors, and unlike other wraps, the stretch means you don’t have to retie it after taking the baby out. Choosing a carrier is different for everyone, a good comparison chart is here.family travel gift guide
M Coat convertible winter coat
Leave it to the Canadians to make a winter coat that can stretch (pun intended) to accomodate a pregnant belly, a baby carrier, and then return to normal, while keeping you both warm and stylish. While not cheap (it retails for about $366 US), it’s a good investment that will work for many winter trips, and potentially, many babies. Filled with Canadian down and available in a wide array of colors, it would suit any pregnant or babywearing traveler.

family travel gift guideTraveling Toddler car seat strap
For the first year or so, most car seats can fit onto a stroller, creating an easy travel system. For older babies and toddlers, having a gadget that makes a car seat “wheelable” frees up a hand and makes airport transit easier. This strap essentially attaches your car seat to your rollaboard, creating a sort of hybrid stroller-suitcase. Now you probably won’t want to carry your suitcase on the street throughout your trip, but at under $15, it’s any easy way to get through layovers until you reach your destination. If you want a car seat that can do double duty and then some, our Heather Poole recommends the Sit ‘n’ Stroll, a convertible stroller-car seat-booster-plane seat. It’s certified for babies and children 5-40 pounds, but as it doesn’t lie flat, may be more appropriate for babies over 6 months.

family travel gift guideKushies easy fold baby bed
Most so-called travel beds for babies are about as easy to pack as a pair of skis, more suited for road trips to Grandma’s house than increasingly-restricted airline baggage. Not every hotel has baby cribs available and sometimes you want something that works outdoors as well to take along to a park, beach, or on a day trip. The most useful travel product I’ve bought since my daughter arrived was the Samsonite (now Koo-di) pop-up travel cot; it’s light, folds up like a tent, and takes up less room than a shoebox in my suitcase. The Samsonite cot is not sold in the US, but Kushies Baby makes a similar product for the American market. Their folding baby bed weighs only a few pounds and can be collapsed into your suitcase. It also has mosquito netting and UV-protected fabric for outdoors, and loops for hanging baby toys.

family travel gift guidePuj and Prince Lionheart bathtubs
With a steady set of hands and some washcloths for padding, small babies can be bathed in most hotel or kitchen sinks, or even taken into the shower (beware of slipperiness!). For more support, new babies can lie in the Puj baby tub, a flat piece of soft foam that fits in nearly any sink to cradle your baby. Children who can sit up unassisted can play in the foldable Prince Lionheart FlexiBath, which can also serve as a small kiddy pool. While both products fold flat for storage, they may be too cumbersome and take up too much room in a suitcase for airplane travel, and thus may be better for car trips.

family travel gift guideLamaze stroller toys
The best travel toys are small, attach to a stroller or bag so they don’t get lost in transit, and don’t make any annoying sounds to bother fellow passengers (or the parents). Spiral activity toys can keep a baby busy in their stroller, crib, or in an airplane seat with no batteries required. Rattles that attach to a baby’s wrist or foot take up little space and are hard to lose. Lamaze makes a variety of cute toys that can attach to a handle and appeal to both a baby’s and parent’s visual sensibilities. We’re partial to this Tiny Love bunny rabbit who can dangle from her car seat, makes a nice wind chime sound, and can fit in a pocket as well (we call him Suleyman since he’s from Turkey but I’ve seen them for sale all over the world).

family travel gift guideThis is…books by Miroslav Šašek
Get your child excited about visiting a new city, or just add a travel memento to your library. Originally published in the 1950s and ’60s and reissued in the last few years, these are wonderful children’s books visiting over a dozen cities worldwide (plus a little trip to the moon) as Czech author Miroslav Šašek originally captured them. Fun for children and adults to read and compare the cities in the books to how they’ve changed. Going to Europe? The Madeline books are French favorites, Paddington is essential London reading, and Eloise is a great companion for Paris and Moscow. For more wonderful children’s book ideas published this year, check out Brain Pickings’ Best Illustrated Books of 2011.


family travel gift guideSnuggle Pod footmuff

In a perfect world, we’d always travel with children in the summer while days are long, you can sit at outdoor cafes, and pack fewer layers. Adding a warm footmuff to a stroller makes winter travel more bearable for a small child or baby. While not the cheapest gift, the Snuggle Pod adapts to any stroller up to age 3, and can be used in warmer weather with the top panel removed, or as a playmat when unfolded. It’s also made of Australian sheepskin, which is safe for babies when shorn short and used on a stroller (babies older than 1 year old can sleep directly on a lambskin, younger babies can lie on one for playtime or with a sheet cover for sleeping). A more budget-friendly option is the JJ Cole Bundleme with shearling lining.

Have any favorite gear or gadgets to add to our family travel gift guide? Tell us about your favorites in the comments and happy shopping!

Gadling Gear Review: Patagonia Men’s Lined Canvas Hoody

gadling gear review patagonia lined cavas hoodySo much of the gear that’s out there these days is incredibly technical and specialized. Ski jackets that are impervious to the elements yet breathe so that you don’t sweat too much. Raincoats with 16 pockets and stretchy materials so that you can also scale a rock face while wearing them. These products serve many purposes and are innovative, but they also end up being expensive and including unnecessary advancements that the average consumer doesn”t require. Sometimes you just need a coat that will keep you warm, can handle getting roughed up a bit and doesn’t break the bank. That’s what I was looking for this fall and it’s why I was excited to try out the Patagonia Men’s Lined Canvas Hoody. It’s a seemingly basic coat that’s practical and durable rather than technical.As you can tell from the name, the jacket’s exterior is a heavy-duty canvas, a material often associated with work gear. In fact, at first glance you might mistake this coat for something that Carhartt would produce. Being that it’s from Patagonia, however, its made from organic cotton and recycled polyester (inside the sleeves). It’s a no-frills jacket that’s meant to get dirty.

The coat is incredibly warm, thanks to the fleece lining that wraps your core. The cut of the jacket keeps the fleece close to your body, but also can feel a bit constrictive at first. While it fits properly in the sleeves, the body of the coat can feel tight and narrow.

It’s always nice to look fashionable and have gear that excels in both form and function. In that respect, the Lined Canvas Hoody is a bit of a plain Jane. That said, for activities such as raking leaves, winterizing your home, taking your dogs out for chilly walks and other outdoor chores that come your way as the days get shorter, a useful work coat such as this deserves a place in your closet.

Little details like the fleece-lined exterior pockets and interior breast pocket make the coat even more practical. As does the drop-tail hem, which is needed since the jacket is snug and short. The hem keeps your back covered when you bend down (say to pick up leaves or a pumpkin). What it lacks in space-age fabrics it more than makes up for in durability and usefulness.

The lack of technical advancements and innovations benefits your wallet, as well. As a basic work jacket, the Lined Canvas Hoody is a very reasonable $149.

If you like your gear to be the latest, greatest and fanciest, this isn’t the coat for you. However, if you need something that can handle work – not adventure activities, but real work – or just want a low key piece of outerwear that will keep you very warm, then this coat is perfect for you. And hey, fashion is subjective. Some people like a subdued, almost retro work coat. And there’s no question that this coat will keep you warm and comfortable during less demanding activities such as attending a chilly football game or fall festival.

The bottom line when it comes to the Patagonia Lined Canvas Hoody is this: It’s well-made, practical and will stand up to whatever you throw at it. Sometimes that’s more important than owning the fanciest or most advanced piece of gear.

The Patagonia Lined Canvas Hoody sells for $149 on Patagonia’s website and at other outdoor retailers.

Apoc Neoshell Jacket from Westcomb

At the intersection of breath ability, waterproofing, and lightweight material lies the holy grail of outer wear. It’s the quest for that fabric that brought us Gore-Tex and Triple Point Ceramic and any number of branded fabric names.

Now there’s NeoShell by Polartec, a breathable waterproof fabric that claims to be “100% more breathable than the best waterproof breathable on the market in active conditions”. Westcomb, a Canadian outerwear company is using NeoShell for their not yet on the market Apoc jacket, and at first blush, it looks to be good stuff. Here’s a little more propaganda, directly from the NeoShell site:

Waterproof technology has remained about the same since the very first hard shell. Breathability is achieved through diffusion: moisture and heat create enough pressure that moisture vapor finally passes through the fabric.

Soft shells trade waterproofness for greater breathability by making use of convection: a constant exchange of air allows more moisture vapor to escape. Now, Polartec® NeoShell® delivers the best of both worlds.

I noticed the difference in weight right away — the Apoc is absolutely a few ounces lighter than my Goretex shell, I could feel it. The fabric is slightly softer, slightly smoother, it’s got a little bit more drape. The jacket folds up to very small; you can easily stuff it in your pack or suitcase.

There’s just one thing missing from this very nice jacket. I prefer two way zippers, that way you can open the jacket from the bottom, too. That’s all I’ve got for criticism — I like everything else, the feel of the fabric, the cut of the jacket, the sharp acid green color. Don’t want the green? You can get it in blue, gray, red, yellow, or black.

The rest of the Apoc jacket shows a really nice attention to detail. There are deep zippered pockets for your stuff. There’s a bicep pocket for your lift ticket or lip balm. There’s an inside pocket for your wallet and phone; it includes a pass-through for your headsets. All the seams are taped and lie flat. My favorite detail is that the collar is lined with a very light, fleecy material where it hits your face when it’s zipped all the way up.

Pair this jacket with a lightweight down sweater or shirt, and you are set for almost any weather. It’s not on retail racks yet, look for it as the the 2011 summer wanes.

A Nearly Perfect Mid-Layer: Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt

Patagonia Ultralight Down ShirtMy travels take me to places with unpredictable weather, alpine regions where the temperature drops 20 degrees when a cloud crosses the sun, or coastal zones where the wind comes of the water and it’s not as warm as I’d like it to be. I’m big on the standard platitude of dressing in layers for travel — but I’ve become increasingly exacting over what, exactly, those layers are.

Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt
is an almost perfect middle layer if you’re going to be someplace where the temps can drop or change. For starters, it’s super lightweight and packs down — in its own stuff bag — to about the size of a coffee cup. Or a grapefruit, a big one. You can find room for this in your bag. The shirt is warm, windproof, and water repellent — you will need a hard shell in heavy rain, but a little drizzle or heavy fog won’t soak you. It’s cute, with waffle-y stitching and detailing at the cuffs, collar, and waist. And it comes in good colors — fog (gray), cerise (a pink/red), black, and prickly pear (a springy green). Patagonia makes a down shirt for guys, too — they get a dark blue instead of the cherry pink, and the stitching is in a checkerboard pattern rather than the zigzag pattern on the women’s model.

It wears like a sweatshirt — it’s got a half zip so you pull it on over your head. The fit is good, the sizing seems fairly accurate (a big problem with a lot of outdoor wear, I’ve found). With a good base layer (I like merino wool) and a rain shell, you’re set for a very broad range of conditions, and you’re still packing very light.The only flaw worth mentioning is the lack of pockets. I’d have liked a kangaroo pocket in front or slash pockets in the side or… something, anything, a place to stash a few dollars, the car keys, or to tuck my hands when they’re a little cold. A pocket could do double duty as the stuff sack, as well.
This is an expensive piece of clothing — 250 USD — so it’s not for those prone to sticker shock. I have Downlight Sweater with a full zip down and pockets from First Ascent that retails for almost 100 USD less than Patagonia’s down shirt. It doesn’t have the style that the Patagonia piece has, but for space, the difference is negotiable. Given a choice between the two, I’d go with the full zip with pockets. If Patagonia’s version had pockets, it would be a much tougher call.

Regardless of what style you decide to go with, some kind of lightweight down layer is a useful addition to your travel wardrobe. Get one that works best for you.