BLOG 66. IT'S HERE! A LIGHTWEIGHT, TOTALLY BREATHABLE WIND ANORAK
In February of this year, friends and I canoed 130 miles across the Everglades. It took us eleven days. During that time, we had a 25 mph head-wind that never stopped. A wind like this would be a stopper in the BWCA, but because the Glades are so shallow, waves never got much over a foot high. But the temperature never warmed to T-shirt weather either. I don’t know what we would have done without our wind jackets.
I can’t imagine going on a canoe trip without a wind-shell. I wear one every day over a wool T-shirt, long johns or layered clothing. When it becomes groady, I just swish it in the lake, wring it out and spread it on a pack to dry.
But highly porous wind-shells have largely gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Everyone must now have Gore-tex in the belief that “waterproof AND breathable” are a good thing. They are if it’s raining. They’re not if it’s not. Here’s why: Canoeing is hard work. The pores in Gore-tex are just too small to rapidly remove large amounts of moisture (sweat) when you’re working hard. The choice is to take off the jacket and get cold, or keep it on and enjoy a sauna. Unless you can open the neck and cuffs and unzip the under-arms, there is no middle ground.
A totally breathable jacket is what you want—one that doesn’t have ANY waterproofing. But just try to find one. After hours of searching the web, I discovered just two (L.L. Bean and Outward Bound) that “marginally” qualify. “Marginal”, because while these jackets lack a dedicated waterproof coating, they have been chemically treated to repel water for quite a long time. I tried to remove the chemical treatment with repeated washings (six times!) in hot water. No go. I had the jackets dry-cleaned. Nope. Surely, the chemist who developed this water-repellent treatment is pleased. I’m not. The jackets are too hot to wear when I’m working even moderately hard. Three decades ago there were scores of highly porous wind-shells. But they are gone now because newbies evidently fear that a drop of water could pass through the fabric and God-forbid, get on their skin! Or maybe they think that one garment for wind and rain is a good idea. Yeah, like using the same canoe for whitewater slalom and flat-water racing!
That’s the bad news. Now for the good. For three years now, Steve Piragis and I have been working to develop a better wind-shell. We envisioned a conventional over-the-head design with three pockets (two through-the-body slash pockets and a zippered kangaroo pocket—just like the old models. The chosen fabric (lightweight nylon) would be strong, lightweight and quiet in the bush, and it would have a silky soft, draping feel. The jacket would be cut very full in the body and sleeves—to make room for layering. Zippers would be substantial. The vertical zipper would run high up the neck so drafts could be sealed without having to tighten the hood cords to gather material. Quick-draft sealing is important when you’re fighting wind and can’t put down your paddle to adjust your clothes.
Piragis has offered a wind anorak like this for two years now, but it wasn’t perfect so I never blogged about it. This new model—available in spring 2014 (like right now!) is. The fabric is right—soft and quiet, the zippers are right (not too small or too large), the pockets are right, the hood is right. And the lobster-red color is totally right. I’m excited that we finally got it ALL right. Admittedly, I had a selfish motive for pestering Piragis to develop this old-fashioned wind-shell. My ancient L.L. Bean model had worn thin; the zippers were shot and I couldn’t find a suitable replacement. Now I have one. And so can you. This new Piragis model is much better than the old. It is lightweight and compact enough to fit in a cargo pants pocket; it can be easily washed and dried in the field; it defies wind, and it looks real good. I love it!