Gadling Gear Review: The North Face Radish Mid Layer Jacket

The North Face Radish Mid Layer JacketTravelers always appreciate clothing that is versatile, lightweight, easily packable and performs well in a variety of weather conditions. It doesn’t hurt if it also happens to look good. That seems a rather apt description for the Radish Mid Layer Jacket from The North Face, a comfortable and well-designed piece of performance apparel that is equally at home on a mountain trail as it is kicking around town.

Built from a soft, yet very durable, fleece, the Radish is designed to operate as either a stand-alone jacket or part of a technical layering system. On its own, it has the styling of a form fitting hoodie with an athletic cut that allows it to easily move with the body during vigorous activities. Its fabrics include North Face’s proprietary FlashDry technology, which gives the jacket the ability to breathe warm air while also wicking away moisture in an efficient manner. As the name implies, it also dries very quickly, something that most travelers will be able to appreciate.

I found this combination of qualities made the Radish a great option for travel. I wore the jacket in temperatures ranging from 10 – 50°F and remained comfortable at all times. That was true whether I was hiking, trail running or simply meeting friends for dinner. As someone who is fairly active, I appreciate that North Face designed this jacket to move with the body, not restricting motion in any way. I also appreciated the well-designed hood, which is flexible enough to move when turning my head, keeping my vision unobstructed at all times.As good as the Radish is on its own, it performs equally well as part of a layering system. For those taking part in cold weather adventures, a good layering system is key to enjoying the experience. Those systems generally include base layers, which sit closest to the skin, a mid-layer fleece such as this jacket and an outer shell for extremely cold environments. The Radish operates very well as that mid-layer, where its ability to move unrestricted once again comes in handy and its warm fabrics make an excellent insulator.

The North Face Radish JacketThe North Face has been making performance outdoor gear for decades and that heritage shows through here. There are small touches that aren’t readily noticeable at first but are welcome additions none the less. For instance, the Radish has reinforced fabrics on the shoulders and hips that line up quite nicely with a backpack. Those zones keep the jacket from wearing prematurely while wearing it with a pack. It also features specially tapered seams that keep abrasion to a minimum when wearing it as part of a layering system. Those are the kinds of touches that only come from years of experience and knowing your market well.

Still, there are a few things that could be improved on the Radish, not the least of which is its lack of pockets. There is a single zippered pocket on the left breast, which is nice for keeping small, important items close at hand. But there are no traditional hand pockets, which most people will instinctively reach for when the temperature starts to drop. North Face made the conscious choice to not include more pockets as it helps to keep the profile of the jacket low. This is an important design choice for the active outdoor crowd who don’t want to snag their gear while backpacking or climbing, but for the average traveler it could be a bit of a disappointment.

The other point about the Radish that is sure to give some buyers pause is the price tag. North Face has set the MSRP for the jacket at $230, although it can be found online at a discount. For the average traveler, that may be too much to pay for a jacket of this type, although I believe it is worth every penny when you consider the level of performance it delivers. For the active, outdoor traveler this is very nearly the perfect piece of gear, although not everyone needs that level of performance. Those who do will greatly appreciate what the Radish brings to the table. It is certainly the type of gear I’d want with me while trekking in the Himalaya for instance or backpacking in the Alps. This is a jacket that is so good, that the price should be viewed as an investment. One that will pay dividends for many years to come.

[Photo by The North Face]

Gadling Gear Review: Brooks Range Mojave Waterproof Down Jacket

Brooks Range Mojave waterproof down jacketAnyone who enjoys cold weather adventures probably already knows that down is the best insulator for keeping us warm when the mercury begins to drop. Lightweight and comfortable, down can be used in a variety of products that help us enjoy the great outdoors, even in extreme conditions. But the material has a major flaw that has, at times, limited its usefulness in the past. When down gets wet, it tends to clump up and lose its loft. Worse yet, in cold conditions wet down will freeze solid and become practically useless. That has all changed with the introduction of a revolutionary new water repellant down called DownTek, which is just now making its way into a number or new products.

One of the first products to hit the market that uses DownTek is the new Mojave Jacket from Brooks Range Mountaineering, a company that specializes in creating gear for extreme environments and activities. The jacket features 800+ fill wrapped in durable, weather resistant fabrics and includes an attached hood and high-quality zippers designed for use in cold, wet conditions. In short, it is the perfect jacket for mountaineering, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or nearly any other cold weather activity.

The Mojave was built with active outdoor enthusiasts and travelers in mind and its design reflects this. Some down jackets can be overly bulky and hamper movement, which makes them less than ideal choices for some of our more active pursuits. But Brooks Range knows that its customers are looking for products that will allow them to hike, backpack and climb without restrictions so their products are built to support those activities. The result is a jacket that performs amazingly well while still providing nearly unrestricted motion while on the trail.Of course, all of this doesn’t mean very much if the jacket, and more importantly DownTek, doesn’t perform as advertised. Fortunately, that isn’t an issue here, as the Mojave provides everything you would expect out of a down jacket and so much more. The water resistant fill is simply a revolution in terms of cold weather gear, making this garment far more versatile and reliable than similar products that don’t use this new type of down. Better yet, the same process that makes the down fill water resistant also adds anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, ensuring that even after it gets wet, the jacket remains clean and odor-free, something that any traveler can appreciate.

Those aren’t the only qualities that will make this jacket popular with travelers heading to cold weather destinations. In addition to the Mojave being very warm and comfortable, it is also highly packable. Unlike similar products from competitors, Brooks Range has created a jacket that can be compressed down to a relatively small size so at to not take up much room in your luggage or backpack. That is much appreciated by those of us who like to travel as light as possible without compromising on the performance of our gear.

It isn’t often while testing a product that I realize it is a significant leap forward in terms of performance, but that is exactly what the Mojave represents. DownTek gives this jacket, and the other products that it is being used in, properties that standard down simply can’t compete with. It does add a bit to the price tag of course, but as far as I’m concerned, it is worth every penny. The Mojave costs $299, which isn’t dramatically more expensive compared to similar products without the water-resistant down, but it is more expensive nonetheless.

If you’re the kind of person who wants a down jacket for keeping you warm while you run errands around town or shovel the sidewalks in front of your home, then a standard down jacket may completely fulfill your needs and expectations. But if you happen to be an active outdoors enthusiast or traveler, you shouldn’t settle for a product that doesn’t perform as well as it could. With the Mojave you won’t have to make those compromises and you’ll have a jacket that will keep you plenty warm and dry no matter how bad the weather gets.

Gadling Gear Review: Adidas Terrex Swift Softshell Jacket

The weather has shifted here in the Pacific Northwest and that means a person can’t just throw on any old thing to ride her bike anymore – or go for a hike, or just a bus ride into town for sightseeing or … you know. It’s windy and sometimes rainy, and it gets cold. It’s jacket weather.

Adidas is known for their sports and outdoor stuff, but I’ve never used any of their gear before. I wrapped my stuff in their Terrex Swift Softshell jacket and rode my bike for 16 miles. That seems as good a way to test a piece of gear for insulation and breathability as any, right? Plus, lucky me, on the last two miles it rained. Yes, I DID stay dry.My biggest issue with outdoor brands – all outdoor brands, not just this one – is fit. I wore a large and really, I’m 5’2″ and SO not a large. The jacket has a narrow cut, it’s a little close in the armpits and the sleeves are narrow; the cut is very close. I could not have worn more than a thin shirt and/or long underwear underneath. Once I got going on my ride, I really appreciated things like the stretchy underarm fabric, but there’s no way I could wear this jacket on over a sweater. That limits the seasonal use for it – fine for warmer weather, but once you need to start piling on the layers, it is not so practical.

It’s actually a great jacket for riding a bike in, though. The sleeves are elastic at the wrist and keep the wind out. You can cinch it at the bottom, too. The pockets are flat and roomy and double as vents if you need that. And there’s a breast pocket that’s perfect for stowing your phone. It’s made of windstop fabric, and while it’s narrow, it’s actually a nice cut if you’re not worrying about cold. It looks great and includes the Adidas trademark triple stripe along the sides for the brand conscious.

You’ve probably gathered that I was cold wearing it. I wasn’t insulated enough for the wind from those fast downhill parts of my ride. I stayed very dry in the rain and the tall collar kept the cold from getting down my neck, but the Terrex jacket didn’t quite do the trick for the conditions in which I tested it.

The Terrex comes for men or women and retails for about $150. Get one size larger than you think you need. Pack it if your travels require an outer layer for something sporty in mild fall weather.

[Image credit: Adidas]

Gadling Gear Review: Scottevest Fleece 7.0 Jacket

Scottevest Fleece 7.0Saying that Scottevest is a company that makes jackets is akin to saying Apple is a company that makes cellphones. Both statements are technically correct, but both also fail to tell the whole story. Scottevest puts the emphasis not only on comfort and good looks but also function. Popular amongst travelers and gadget lovers alike, their jackets incorporate numerous internal pockets that keep all of our gear organized and close at hand, whether we’re going around the block or around the world.

Today Scottevest unveils their latest creation: the Fleece 7.0. The jacket maintains the company’s legacy quite nicely while incorporating some new design choices that make it easier and more logical to use. On top of that, this might be the best looking and most comfortable Scottevest ever created. Its stylish exterior does nothing to reveal all of the technology and other important items that are well hidden underneath.

If you’re already familiar with the products from Scottevest you are probably aware of the numerous pockets that line the interior of their jackets. With the Fleece 7.0 the layout of each of those pockets has been re-examined with the expressed intention of making each of them better. For instance, previous Scottevest offerings have included a pocket specifically designed to carry an iPad, and this new jacket is no different. This time out though, that pocket has been redesigned to make it easier to gain access to the device, whether you’re wearing the jacket or not. That same iPad pocket is also now lined with soft fabrics designed to clean fingerprints from the screen as it is taken in and out.

Perhaps the biggest change to the jacket is the placement of a pocket designed specifically for smartphones. That pocket incorporates Clear Touch fabrics that allow users to interact with their phone’s touch screen without having to remove it from the jacket itself. This isn’t exactly new, as Scottevest has built similar pockets into their products for some time, but they’ve now moved that pocket from the chest down to the lower left side of the Fleece 7.0. On the surface this might not seem like much of an innovation, but the new placement does indeed make it much easier to interact with your phone. In its new location, the smartphone pocket isn’t nearly as awkward to access when making or receiving calls, or launching your favorite apps. The new Clear Touch fabrics are more responsive and natural feeling as well, which helps to improve the overall experience too.X-Ray View of the Fleece 7.0 Scottevest JacketIn addition to the smartphone and tablet pockets, Scottevest has woven a host of other pockets into the design of the Fleece 7.0. In fact, you’ll be amazed at just how many pockets this jacket has and how utilitarian they can be. For instance, there is one designed specifically for carrying a small point-and-shoot camera that includes a separate slot just for memory cards. There is also a useful eyeglasses pocket, complete with a built-in soft cloth lens cleaner, which I found to be fantastic for safely carrying sunglasses. Perhaps my favorite storage options, however, was the large hidden pocket that is perfect for keeping your passport, boarding pass and other important documents close at hand.

The jacket also includes what Scottevest calls the Personal Area Network, which conveniently incorporates a set of headphones directly into the garment. The PAN keeps cables hidden and out of the way and even features earbud storage integrated directly into the collar. Considering that many sets of earbuds now include built-in microphones, this means you can easily listen to music, interact with Siri and talk on the phone without ever taking the jacket off or pulling your smartphone out of its secure pocket.

Other nice touches include integrated penholders, a key clasp and an elastic water bottle loop hidden away in one of the cavernous hand pockets. These small, but thoughtful, details help to separate Scottevest jackets from the competition and have made them a popular choice for travelers who like to stay organized and travel light. In fact, as the company continues to refine its product line, you’d almost swear that they have declared war on carry-on luggage. It is quite conceivable that owners of the Fleece 7.0 could go on a trip without the need for any kind of carry-on at all, which says a lot about just how well this jacket performs.

All of these well thought out pockets and other features are the hallmark of a Scottevest product of course, but they aren’t the only reason to be impressed by the new Fleece 7.0. The jacket is made from soft, warm and durable fabrics, which puts it on par with similar offerings from such well-known companies as Columbia or North Face. I found the jacket to be incredibly comfortable to wear both casually around town and on more active excursions and while I haven’t tested it as part of a dedicated layering system yet, I get the sense that it will perform well in that capacity too.

Like most of the other Scottevest jackets, the Fleece 7.0 converts to a vest, adding yet another level of versatility to the garment. This is a great option for those days that start out cool but warm up as the hours pass, allowing the wearer to stay comfortable as conditions evolve. But unlike the Transformer Jacket that we reviewed a few months back, the Fleece 7.0 uses traditional zippers to add or remove the sleeves. The Transformer cleverly replaces those zippers with strong magnets instead, which makes the process easier and quicker. On more than one occasion while wearing this new jacket, I wished that Scottevest had elected to incorporate the magnets as well, as they just simplify the process nicely.

If you’re in the market for a new jacket, either for travel or for the changing weather conditions that fall is sure to bring, then it is easy for me to recommend the Scottevest Fleece 7.0. Even if you’re not a gadget nut, you’ll still love the numerous pockets and organizational options, but most importantly you’ll love how comfortable it is to wear. In true Scottevest fashion, this jacket offers unprecedented access to your smartphone and other tech toys too, making it a fantastic option for trips around the block or to the far side of the globe. The Fleece 7.0 is available today for $160.


Gadling Gear Review: REI La Porte Jacket

La Poste Jacket from REII love it when it’s time to put away the winter gear – that’s sometime around the end of June in Seattle. You still need a rain shell, though, even in high summer so it’s nice to find something that’s not styled like all your other GoreTex foul weather gear. REI’s La Porte Jacket gives you rain and wind protection and some military styling, too.

As for things I like about this jacket – let’s start with the zippers. The jacket has high-quality metal zippers, not the plastic ones that are so common in most outerwear. The front zip is a two-way zip, as it should be, and the snaps are high-quality metal snaps, too. The zippered side and breast pockets will keep your stuff safe, though the top pockets could be a little bigger – they’re not big enough to hold my phone.

There are a lot of nice styling details. The jacket is cut narrow and it’s a flattering shape. There are big snaps at the cuffs; you can roll them up if you want. The belted waist gives you a bit more curve if you want it. And there’s a lot of surface stitching and panels. With the high collar done all the way up, you end up with something of a ’70s crime fighter look and that is not a bad thing. There’s some nice contrasting color on the inside along with some deeper pockets. And the fabric has a really nice texture to it, a little bit like a raw silk, if I had to draw an analogy.

At just over a pound, the La Porte Jacket is lightweight. It packs down quite small – smaller than my Goretex shells, it turns out. I suspect that’s because it doesn’t have a hood. I’m not sure how I feel about this. If I need a jacket for rain, I’m going to want a hood. However, if I’m looking for a lightweight shell to block the wind or to keep off some very minor weather, the La Porte could do the trick.

The jacket comes in two colors: mushroom (a medium khaki) and a pewter green (a dark sage sort of color). It’s cute; it’s light, and looks great with casual city attire. The La Porte jacket retails for $99.50, directly from REI.