Six things I’ve learned after more than a month of wearing the Garmin Vivoactive 3

This post was last updated on July 20th, 2020 at 09:55 am

I’ve been wearing my Garmin Vivoactive 3 for about six weeks now, and I thought I’d summarise a few things I’ve learnt that have taken a bit of time to figure out, and therefore weren’t covered in the initial review. Some are things I’ve learnt about the device, others are things I’ve learnt about myself.

My stress levels are a bit lower at the weekend.

This is probably the least surprising learning on the whole list, but it’s interesting to note that the Garmin’s ‘stress’ detection is at least accurate enough to differentiate between a working day and a weekend.

However…

They are much lower when sleeping in my own bed. In fact, a good night’s sleep has the biggest impact on average stress that day.

This is actually far more noticeable than the weekend thing. I spend a lot of time away from home at the moment, and my average stress levels are far lower when I’m sleeping in my own bed (which is extremely comfortable, the right temperature, and in a quiet room) rather than in an airbnb which may have a fairly uncomfortable bed in a noisy room that is often too cold or too hot.

The thing is (and I think this is perhaps somewhat a flaw, from a certain point of view) the Vivoactive measures ‘stress’ levels while you’re asleep which, don’t get me wrong, is both valid and interesting (as the next point will show, since there is a considerable difference between an un-stressed sleep and a stressed sleep. However, the problem is that since you spend roughly 1/3rd of the day asleep, this has a massive impact on your average stress level for the day, and therefore slightly distorts the figure that you are probably more interested in, which is how stressed were my waking hours. I’d prefer to have the sleep-based stress level kept out of stress as a whole and incorporated into the sleep views, which are in fact not nearly detailed enough about quality of sleep as opposed to quantity.

Anyway, the point is that a really good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed can compensate for a pretty awful day at work, which I suppose is a good insight. Whereas…

I sleep really badly when I’m drunk – and that’s part of the problem.

As you can see from the graph above, it’s really noticeable how ‘stressed’ my sleep is when I go to bed drunk. We all know that, no matter if we fall into a deep drunken sleep for ten hours, we’ll probably wake up feel wretched and be tired all day after a big night, and this partly demonstrates why. I may get eight, nine or even ten hours sleep after a heavy night, but the quality of sleep is awful. I’ve actually found having this presented to me so clearly a little sobering (if you’ll excuse the pun) and it’s definitely made me think twice about how often and how much I drink during the week.

The ‘move’ notification is a bit pointless

Maybe this is just me, but I don’t find the prompt to ‘move’ every hour very useful. The problem is that it takes a lot of movement to clear it – like a 3-4 minute walk, something that is hard to achieve in the office. If I could clear it by getting up and walking to the kitchen, or something, then I would. However I’ve realised I can’t, so I now tend to just ignore it, and let it clear itself a few times a day when I would be walking anyway – out to lunch, or to the train at the end of the day. The result is that it becomes completely pointless. I think one (or both) of the following two changes are needed:

– Make it easier to clear the notification. Getting up every hour and walking to the kitchen would be beneficial, so I feel I should be encouraged to do so, whereas since this isn’t good enough for my Garmin, there’s no motivation to bother.
– Track how much time I spend each day with an ‘uncleared’ move bar. This would be interesting and would motivate me more to try to clear it regularly, even if I didn’t quite manage to do so every hour as the Garmin would like.

Both my Garmin stress score and heart rate are far higher when I’m hungover

 

Yes, a lot of my learnings relate to alcohol. But hey, wearing a watch like this is all about the healthy lifestyle choices. And yes, it’s very noticeable not only how ‘unhealthy’ I feel with a hangover, but how objectively unwell I actually am according to the Garmin stress score. Again, it’s another motivation not to drink so much, when the data is presented so coldly – after all, a resting HR some 10-15bpm higher than normal is pretty striking.

Although I didn’t screenshot the graph, I noticed similar stats for a 48hr period when I was extremely unwell with D&V. What I haven’t yet (fortunately) had, is the kind of slow-onset and slow-recovery illness where having these sort of metrics might be useful for making educated decisions about when to stop training and when to start again.

You need to plan when you charge it.

The vivoactive is at it’s best when you wear it all the time, but of course it still needs to be charged, at least once a week and potentially more frequently if you use it a lot for workouts. Fortunately it charges incredibly quickly – usually from close to 0% up to 100% in under an hour – but you still have to think about when to stick it on charge. Doing it overnight seems obvious but is a waste of all that lovely lovely sleep data, so I tend to put it on charge when I’m in the shower, when I don’t like wearing it (though it is waterproof of course – you can swim in it), and occasionally for an hour when sitting around the flat if it needs more charge. I tend to feel that the loss of that kind of data is pretty irrelevant. That said, I’m often showering after a workout, of course, and so tracking my recovery HR might be useful… but no system is perfect. It’s just something you’ll need to consider.

Interested in buying this watch? Check out it at Amazon, where you’ll find a selection of models to suit your needs.

Rab 50l Kit Bag Review: The ideal travel and carry-on bag

This post was last updated on September 29th, 2020 at 10:30 am

I’ve started to do a lot of travelling for work and am regularly away from home Monday – Friday, sometimes staying in a couple of different places during the week. I needed a bag that could comfortably contain everything I needed for the week, including trainers and at least five sets of gym/running kit. I had previously been using a 40l Mountain Equipment duffel / kit bag, very similar to the famous North Face ones. With a wide opening that unzips on three sides, a boxy interior that does a reasonable job of keeping clothes flat and neat, and a hardwearing waterproof construction, this was not a bad solution for living out of a bag for a week.

However, I had two issues with it. Firstly it can be carried only in the hand or with a shoulder strap, neither of which are especially comfortable for long periods, especially if it’s heavy. I really wanted something that could function as a backpack.

Secondly, 40l was just a little bit tight for a full week’s worth of clothes and phys kit, plus wash kit, books, chargers and so on. Especially so if I need a towel, which I frequently do either for the gym or because of the type of places I’m staying.

So I decided I needed something a bit different. I’m a big fan of Rab equipment, owning a number of Rab jackets and a Rab Ascent 700 sleeping bag. I’d also seen someone previously with a Rab 50L kit bag and really liked the look of it – the advantages of the Mountain Equipment bag but with added backpack straps. And, as it happens, available in 50L, giving me that bit of extra space to make packing easier.


The bag is made from tough 600 denier polyester fabric, with a TPU film laminate and a double thickness base, and has triple-stitched seams and bar-tacked straps. All this means that it is extremely hard-wearing, water-resistant, stain resistant, and more than up to the task of lugging around heavy loads without straps breaking or stitching coming loose.


The inside of the bag is pretty simple, a big, roughly cuboid hole into which you can pack anything you like. The only real ‘feature’ internally are two zipped pockets in the mesh on the inside of the lid, which are handy for passports or anything else that needs to be kept accessible. Any other internal division is up to you to do, if you wish; I personally like the individual zipped containers to help keep my clothes organised, but that’s a matter of taste.


On the outside, there are a few more features – standard carry handles as well as the two backpack straps. The backpack straps are adjustable at top and bottom, and fully removable which could be useful for air travel. At each end of the bag is a big handle which I know from experience is a massive help for manhandling it in and out of luggage racks, or just quickly grabbing and moving it in a hurry.


Each end also has compression straps to make the bag a bit neater when it’s not completely full, and on the side are tie-in loops to help in securing the bag to a vehicle.

Despite all this, and the rugged material, the bag feels light at only 1160g, so it doesn’t add a lot of weight to whatever you put in it. It’s relatively comfortable to carry even when heavy, but of course bear in mind that it’s not a ‘proper’ backback so a) it doesn’t have a mesh back, and will get sweaty as hell if you start lugging it around for a long distance and b) any lumpy/hard/sharp items at the top of the pack will dig directly into your back.


Overall I’m delighted with the bag. 50l is plenty of room for a week of clothes plus gym kit, a towel, other bits and pieces and even a full bag of Huel… It could easily do for a two-week holiday or personal kit for a longer adventure where daily changes of clothes and lots of fresh gym kit is less of a priority.

Using the Rab 50L kit bag for carry-on

People may want to check the dimensions of the Rab 50l Kit bag, to know if it’s suitable for airline carry on. I’ve measured it as best I can, and it seems to be 31cm wide, 29cm high, and 55cm long. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I’ve taken it as carry-on on BA, Air Canada, Alaskan Airlines and Norwegian without issues, although in some cases it wasn’t packed absolutely full, so it could be squashed down a bit. It actually makes for a brilliant carry-on bag because it’s compressible, robust, and easy to put on your back when getting on and off the plane.

Six reasons I’m not convinced by the Apricoat

This post was last updated on September 1st, 2020 at 10:44 am

Some of you may, like me, have been identified on Facebook as the kind of adventurous go-getter who would be in the target market to see a million adverts for the Apricoat, a kick-starter project to design a new coat. But obviously because it’s a kickstarter project it’s not just any coat, it’s the world’s most innovative coat designed by a man who nearly died and then decided to make a coat.

Great.

It might be a brilliant coat, and I might be slightly biased against it having been pissed off by seeing their crappy clickbait adverts one too many times on Facebook, but whatever. I watched the video (see below) and here are six reasons (with quite a few sub-reasons) I’m not going to be funding it.

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SOFREP Crate Club – July Crate Review

This post was last updated on September 1st, 2020 at 10:38 am

Yesterday I received the July SOFREP Crate. Yesterday, just to be clear, was the 8th of August.

So, yes, to get this out of the way – the crate was ridiculously late. More annoyingly, I received absolutely no communications from SOFREP about the fact that it was late, or why, or when I would get it, until after the following things had happened:

A) The end of July had come and gone.

B) I had sent an email asking for an update on where it was.

C) I had been pre-billed for the August crate.

D) I had sent anther email asking for information about my crate.

E) I had cancelled my subscription out of irritation.

F) I had opened a dispute with PayPal.

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Rab Sleeping Bags: The Ultimate Guide

This post was last updated on September 7th, 2020 at 12:58 pm

I absolutely love Rab kit and I’ve owned a couple of Rab sleeping bags. The issue I have is that, like most outdoors companies, all their gear comes in multiple ranges, and then usually a few different weights within the ranges. While their online shop is reasonably good at explaining each item, and giving you a ‘heavier’ and a ‘lighter’ option, it’s not great at providing a clear overview of what the differences between everything are. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the sleeping bag range, which is initially a bit baffling until you really start reading into it. To hopefully help out people who found it as confusing as I did, here is the most comprehensive summary I can manage of their range.

So, Rab sleeping bags come in eight varieties, and within each variety are various models which refer to the weight of down fill in grams (except for the last two, which are done differently, and I think refer to ‘seasons’). All things being equal, of course, more down equals more warmth and the same amount of down equals the same amount of warmth. Clearly that is not the case, however, and different ranges emphasise different factors, whether that’s warmth, weight, price, or weatherproofness, leading to the variation that makes selection so tricky.

All the temperatures given are the ‘Rab Sleep Limit’. Rab helpfully provides various temperatures, including in many cases the new European Standard Comfort/Limit/Extreme ratings. Which one you take note of will depend on your use and experience, but it doesn’t matter as for comparing bags you just need to use the same figure for all of them. I picked the Rab Sleep Limit because it is available for almost all of the bags, whereas the European Standards aren’t.

Anyway, first of all a simple graph showing the different ranges and how they cover various warmth/weight options. Bear in mind, as I said above, that weight and warmth is only part of the story, however it nicely illustrates where the different ranges sit. The further left they are, the warmer they are, and the lower down they are, the lighter they are. You can see how the Expedition, Andes and Summit ranges sort of follow on from each other, and you can also easily see how much lighter the Neutrino range is, and that the Infinity is lighter still.

And, for more detail, here is an overview of the ranges.

  • Expedition.
    • Models: 1400, 1200 and 1000
    • Fill: Down
    • Outer fabric: Pertex Endurance (Good water resistance but breathable)
    • Price range: £800 – £650
    • Sleeping temp range: -40°C to -30°C
    • Weight range: 2,090g to 1,625g
    • Designed, unsurprisingly, for serious expeditions. Relatively heavy (though not that bad considering the temperatures it can be used in) and slightly oversized to allow for wearing of expedition clothes.

 

  • Andes.
    • Models: 1000 and 800
    • Fill: Down
    • Outer fabric: Pertex Endurance (Good water resistance but breathable)
    • Price range: £620 – £560
    • Sleeping temp range: -27°C to -22°C
    • Weight range: 1,625g to 1,410g
    • Similar to the Expedition range, and more or less starts where that range stops, as on paper the difference between the Expedition 1000 and Andes 1000 is tiny. However the key difference is these bags are closer fitting, so less room to wear clothing in them.

 

  • Summit:
    • Models: 800, 600 and 400.
    • Fill: Down.
    • Outer fabric: Pertex Endurance (Good water resistance but breathable)
    • Price range: £310 to £250
    • Sleeping temp range: -15°C to -1.5°C
    • Weight range: 1300g to 875g
    • Sort of picks up where the Andes leaves off, although the Andes gets a lot more warmth for a given fill weight. This is a designed as a good all-round bag for mountain use.

 

  • Neutrino.
    • Models: 800, 600, 400 and 200
    • Fill: Down.
    • Outer fabric: Pertex Quantum (Very lightweight, windproof but not waterproof)
    • Price range: £450 to £220
    • Sleeping temp range: -20°C to 1.5°C
    • Weight range: 1,220g to 580g
    • Designed as a lightweight and minimalist bag, so the Neutrino 800 is almost as warm as the Andes 800 but a good deal lighter. Fewer features but much lighter for a given warmth. Trade off is price and weather-resistance. However, also available at each level is the Neutrino Endurance, which uses Pertex Endurance rather than Pertex Quantum fabric, making it somewhat more weatherproof at a little more weight.

 

  • Infinity
    • Models: 500 and 300
    • Fill: Down.
    • Outer fabric: Pertex Quantum GL (Extremely lightweight, but at some loss of strength and resiliance)
    • Price range: £500 to £420
    • Sleeping temp range: -9°C to -2°C
    • Weight range: 874g to 656g
    • Extremely lightweight bag, though not suitable for extremely cold conditions, and much more expensive per gram of down, due to the technology used to keep weight down.

 

  • Ascent
    • Models: 1100, 900, 700, 500 and 300
    • Fill: Down.
    • Outer fabric: Pertex Endurance (Good water resistance but breathable) for the 1100, Pertex Microlight (Windproof and somewhat water resistant) for the rest. That said, it is possible that the website saying the 1100 has Pertex Endurance is a mistake, since it is inconsistent with the rest of the range. I’ll try to confirm.
    • Price range: £290 to £200
    • Sleeping temp range: -25°C to 1°C
    • Weight range: 1,590g to 840g
    • A more mass-market bag available in a wide range of fill weights for general outdoor use, made (mostly) with the lighter but robust Pertex Microlight fabric. It is a little more spacious than the summit, rather cheaper, but slightly less weatherproof. Check out my full review of the Rab Ascent 700 here.

 

  • Morpheus:
    • Models: 3 and 4
    • Fill: Down upper and synthetic base
    • Outer fabric: 30D ripstop
    • Price range: £230 to £210
    • Sleeping temp range: -14°C to -10°C
    • Weight range: 1,600g to 1,350g
    • Relatively heavy for their warmth, but cheaper than the all-down bags. They are probably more suitable as comfortable bags for camping, especially from a vehicle, than for serious expedition use.

 

  • Ignition:
    • Models: 5, 4, 3 and 2
    • Fill: Pyrotec™ polyester microfibre
    • Outer fabric: 30D ripstop
    • Price range: £170 to £140
    • Sleeping temp range: -12°C to (Not given, but probably around 0)
    • Weight range: 2,100g to 1,050
    • Rab’s only fully synthetic bags, these are pretty heavy, but the cheapest in the whole range. Not really suitable for serious hiking, they would be ideal for use in a camper van or camping from a vehicle.

Note: Featured image in this article is by Vasenka Photography, source here. Used under the terms of CC BY 2.0.

UK Knife law – a guide for outdoor enthusiasts

This post was last updated on July 28th, 2020 at 02:38 pm

A guide to UK knife law wouldn’t be complete without a small comparison between us and our cousins across the Atlantic…

One of the great things about having any hobbies or interests in the internet era is the ability to share views, read information by, and learn from people all over the world. That is especially the case for outdoor enthusiasts like me and, I suspect, many of my readers. To a certain extent the outdoors adventures ‘blogosphere’ is dominated by North Americans which is perhaps not surprising; there are more of them and, let’s face it, they have a bit more wilderness than we do.

All that is fine, and there are plenty of us Brits as well and plenty of British wilderness to be proud of. I raise the point because I think that there are a small number of cases it can be a difficulty and one of those is where local laws are wildly different. Possibly the two main instances where the UK has very different laws to the US, Canada, Australia, much of mainland Europe, and in fact most of the rest of the world are a) wild camping and b) knives. I’m not going to talk about wild camping here because it’s another topic for another day, but the subject of this post is knives. It’s important as a British hiker, hiking in the UK, to understand our local laws and, when reading blog posts and reviews about ‘essential tools’ and ‘everyday carry’ written by non-Brits, to do so with the knowledge that much of it simply can’t be applied here because our laws are so much more restrictive.

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What OutdoorGearLab Doesn’t Understand About the Arc’teryx Atom SuperLight Down Jacket(and Many Other Things)

This post was last updated on July 31st, 2020 at 10:31 am

A Disclaimer

I love OutdoorGearLab. They provide an incredibly valuable service for free – in fact, they are one of only about ten sites which I whitelist from my adblocker… the ultimate internet compliment. Their reviews, when read from a perspective of intermediate understanding and surrounding context, are typically insightful and detailed in a way that few others are. My current bugbear concerns the superlight down jacket category.

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Review: Rab Xiom Jacket

This post was last updated on July 30th, 2020 at 10:37 am

The Rab Xiom Jacket is a couple of years old now and it’s no longer featured on the Rab UK site (though it is on the US one). It looks to me as if it has been replaced by the Firewall jacket which, like the Xiom is a fully-featured, breathable, 3-layer Pertex Shield® jacket with helmet-compatible hood, chest pocket and underarm vents that weighs around 500g (the Xiom actually seems to be a bit lighter than the Firewall, but of course it depends on size as well). However, since the Xiom is still widely available I hope this review will be useful, and even if you aren’t looking at a Xiom, I would guess that a lot of this review will be applicable to the Firewall as well.

The Xiom is considerably heavier than my other shell, the Arc’Teryx Squamish but fulfills a different role, being also much, much more reliably waterproof. Pertex Shield+ is an alternative to GoreTex that is extremely waterproof, at 20,000mm hydrostatic head. That is a test, essentially, of, how much water it can withstand without wetting through, 20,000 is high enough to withstand extremely heavy rain for long periods of time, and is as high as it gets for hiking kit. Though I guess serious sailing gear might go higher, it lacks the lightweight and breathable qualities we need – it’s the 3-layer technology that contributes to this, dispersing condensation in a way that a simple 1-layer fabric, no matter how waterproof, couldn’t.

The point is that this is a relatively ‘bomb-proof’ jacket. It may not be as breathable as the lighter-weight options, but I can be pretty confident that in any conditions I am realistically likely to face, it will keep me dry. That’s a really important confidence and safety issue for hiking in the UK in almost any season and especially in autumn or winter when three days of torrential rain is not uncommon.

In fact, on my summer hike in Brecon a couple of years ago, it poured down for the first day and the Xiom did an amazing job of keeping me dry, without even coming close to wetting out.

The other practical consideration with a raincoat is, once I accept that water won’t go through it, will it go round it. If that sounds like a stupid question, it isn’t – the most waterproof jacket in the world is still a nightmare if water drips into your face, down the back of your neck, off the back and down your trousers, and so on. Well, the good news is that the hood is absolutely brilliant, with a wire-reinforced brim meaning you can keep rain well off your face even in high winds, and plenty of adjustments to make it comfortable. Taped seams, waterproof zips, inbuilt storm shields, a hem drawcord and velcro cuffs also mean there’s not much danger of water getting in anywhere else.

The one issue is that, like most fairly ‘active’ shells, it’s quite short, coming down to only a little below the top of the hips, and very slightly lower at the back. That means that in heavy rain water does tend to pour off it and onto your trousers, but that’s inevitable with any jacket and easily solved by wearing waterproof trousers. I guess if I knew I was going to be in heavy rain for days and days I might consider taking a slightly longer jacket but, like everything, it’s a trade-off with weight, comfort, breathability and so on.

As far as breathability goes, this is hard to measure accurately. It’s not something I’d particularly relish wearing while moving fast up a mountain on a warmish day, but it is about as breathable as you can realistically expect for such a highly waterproof jacket. It does also have long underarm zips to add a bit of extra ventilation, and you can always push the sleeves up to a bit below the elbow and secure them with the velcro cuffs if, like me, you don’t like having warm forearms…

There are lighter-weight (and more breathable) jackets in Rab’s range, and this certainly isn’t really suitable for trail running or fast-packing, but any hiker, especially over here, needs a really serious waterproof jacket and that is exactly what the Xiom is. I would certainly recommend it or, if I’m right that it has been discontinued and replaced by the Firewall then I am sure that is equally excellent.

Review: Arc’Teryx Squamish 

This post was last updated on July 27th, 2020 at 11:20 am

There’s a moment in a lot of hikes and trail runs I’ve been on where you’re moving at a reasonable pace, generating a fair amount of body heat, and your layering system is more or less keeping up warm… except for the nagging icy wind that penetrates to your shoulders and arms especially, chilling you unpleasantly. Just adding a more insulated layer will only cause you to overheat, and may not even cut out the wind particularly effectively if it’s fairly air-permeable, while a waterproof shell will be heavy and insufficiently breathable.

It’s at this moment that you want one of the super-light windroof, water-resistant shells that a lot of manufacturers make. My chosen one is the Arc’Teryx Squamish, an incredibly lightweight (155g) and packable hooded windshell.

Despite being so light as to be almost unnoticeable, both in your bag and on your body, the windproof powers of the jacket are incredible. On my recent Snowdon hike, the wind really picked up as we approached the summit and was starting to bite through my lightweight Rab fleece. As soon as I put the jacket on I had the weird sensation of still being able to feel the pressure of the wind against my arm, but absolutely none of the chill of it getting through. There is no doubt that this jacket does what it says, and blocks even the 35-40mph winds we experienced. With the hood on and the zip done up to the top, I managed to completely shut out the sub-zero winds on the summit.

It’s not designed to be a waterproof jacket, but it does have a DWR coating which, if maintained, will certainly keep you dry in light showers, dense fog/cloud and so on.

To save weight, the jacket is fairly light on features with just a single drawcord at the back of the hood to tighten it, and a soft brim. It also has an adjustable elasticated draw cord at the waist, which is a really nice feature to keep it in place, stop it flapping about, and seal out winds. The sleeves have a simple Velcro fastener which makes it easier to adjust over various garments, or to push up the sleeve which is something I sometimes do when I’m on a run and I’m trying to keep a cold wind off my torso, but want my forearms to be bare.

The jacket is equally good for running – the light weight and breathability making it ideal for trail runs on cold windy days, such as the Pilgrims Challenge run I did around this time last year, on an incredibly windy weekend. Its ‘athletic’ fit and shaped forearms make it comfortable to run in to the point that you barely notice it is there. My one issue when running was that I had the hood down and it kept flapping around in my peripheral vision which was distracting without being a real issue. On future occasions I would just know in advance to bring something along a bit of elastic or even tape or something that I could use to secure it.

Although I don’t have enough experience of other similar products to make a direct comparison (my brother will no doubt at some point provide me with a guest review of his similar jacket from Rab) I can highly recommend this to any hiker or trail runner who wants something light and packable that they can reliably use to keep off the worst winds.

Review: Arc’Teryx Atom LT Midlayer Jacket

Arc-Teryx Atom LT midlayer

This post was last updated on August 7th, 2020 at 05:24 pm

To begin this Arc’Teryx Atom LT review it might help to make some sense of what this jacket is by unpacking where it fits into the Arc’Teryx range. First of all the fact it is an Atom means that it is a synthetically-insulated midlayer, as opposed to the Cerium/Thorium range that are insulated with down. Broadly speaking, all things being equal, down is probably a little warmer for the same weight, while synthetic insulation is better at maintaining its insulating properties when wet. Modern down generally has water-resistant treatments that improve their performance when wet but most still tend to clump and lose loft, so even Arc’Teryx recommends their down jackets for ‘cold, dry’ weather. Coreloft, the synthetic insulation in question, is a significant step up from fleece in terms of insulation but, every decision in hiking being a trade off, a bit less breathable and much less wicking. For more information about the history of synthetic-insulated mid-layers, and a comparison with a similar jacket made using Primaloft instead of Coreloft, read this Patagonia Nano Air review.

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