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]

Kiwi Cool: Shopping For New Zealand-Made Souvenirs

When you go to the other side of the world, you want to bring back a few things to show for your trouble. Visiting New Zealand with my 1-year-old daughter, and with nephews at home in America, I became obsessed with finding them something actually made in the country. A stuffed kiwi bird or lamb toy, a merino wool baby blanket, or a fun T-shirt would do nicely, and I wouldn’t mind some jewelry or something small for our apartment either. In all of the cities I visited in New Zealand, I was impressed to find stylish, playful and innovative boutiques and vendors creating beautiful and unique home design, fashion and other Kiwiana. There’s enough Kiwi cool shopping that you might end up wishing you had a bigger suitcase.

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Flotsam & Jetsam (Auckland) – A cross between an antique store and a hipster Restoration Hardware, this collection of colorful and covetable home items will make you contemplate a move to Auckland. Visitors from farther away might find interesting vintage, repurposed and retro home wares from New Zealand and all over the world. Check their Facebook page for details on the latest stock.Nelson Saturday market (Nelson, South Island) – New York City has street fairs and markets pretty much every day of the year if you look hard enough, but all too often, you find the same cheap tube socks, fried cheese and dough concoctions, and hodgepodge of junk. My expectations weren’t high for the weekly market in the arty town of Nelson on the top of the South Island, but after a quick walk through, I was glad I didn’t have too much cash to spend, as there was so much to buy. On a given weekend, you might find model airplanes crafted from soda cans, gourmet gluten-free tacos, and more knitwear than you can shake a sheep at. Local band performances, cooking demonstrations, or even a flash mob add to the festive atmosphere.

Pauanesia (Auckland) – This small shop is loaded to the gills with all things antipodean (a Brit term for a place on the other side of the world), with an emphasis on home textiles such as Polynesian-print tablecloths. If you have a little one to shop for (or just enjoy stuffed animals), consider one of the charming Kiwi “chaps” made from vintage and salvaged fabrics and send them a photo of your bird out in the world. You can also find a nice assortment of Paua shell jewelry, key chains, and other odds and ends much more thoughtfully and well-made than your average gift shop.

Iko Iko (Auckland and Wellington) – What drew me into the Wellington store was a window display of Dear Colleen‘s cheeky “Dishes I’d rather be doing” tea towels with “dishes” like Ryan Gosling and Mr. Darcy-era Colin Firth (get it?). I could have easily spent hours inside poring over the whimsical items, like a kiwi bird cookie cutter, Buzzy Bee cufflinks, or a CD from the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra. It’s full of things you don’t really need but really want, plus fun takes on everyday items.

Abstract Designs (Wellington) – You might call these artisanal cardboard cutouts. Abstract Designs makes creative sculptures and jewelry with a very local flavor. Perhaps you’ll pick up a 747 plane kit for the airplane nerd in your life, a pop-up building replica to remind you of your stay in Wellington, or a cruelty-free moose trophy head for your wall. Their designs are sold in many museum gift shops as well, but there’s a full selection at their Wellington studio and online.

Hapa (Christchurch) – Pop-up businesses have become the foundation for the new Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake. The Re:START mall is the best example, built out of shipping containers and housing a mix of “old” Christchurch shops in temporary digs and new shops. There are several stores in the mall selling New Zealand goods, but Hapa stands out for their many beautiful and clever items, like a bear bean bag chair or a knitted “fox stole” scarf. Best of all, many goods are made or designed in Christchurch, so you can feel good about supporting the local economy.

Texan Art Schools (multiple stores in Auckland) – Don’t be confused by the name, it’s a play on the fact that it carries work from graduates of “tech(nical)s” and art schools. Texan Art Schools acts as one-stop shopping for dozens of Kiwi artists and designers, with an eclectic mix of home items, fashion and jewelry. You’re sure to find something unusual and authentic here like a set of Maori nesting dolls or a retro camper wall clock.

Photo from Auckland’s Queen Street shopping arcade. More “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Unadventurous” to come.

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.

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.