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First Look: 'Checkered' Fleece Wind Shell

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With a pattern of micro-fleece squares checkered inside a thin sheen of nylon, the Lt. Breeze by Brooks-Range got a lot of attention at this summer’s Outdoor Retailer convention in Utah, including a nod from Gear Junkie. Slated to release in spring of 2015, we got an early test to see if it lives up to the hype.

To preface the use case, Brooks-Range says the jacket is not made for highly aerobic activities and it isn’t designed to wick moisture. Rather, the company notes it is a wind jacket that keeps the nylon away from the skin via those little squares of fleece.

In addition to much normal wear over the past month, I also put it through a solid aerobic test anyway, including on early fall morning runs in the mid-40s and climbing at City Of Rocks in Idaho. —Steve Graepel

The Gear: Brooks-Range Lt. Breeze Wind jacket

Price: $120

Available: Spring 2015

Where To Test It: Rock climbing, alpine climbing, running

Who’s It For: Climbers, backcountry skiers, hikers

Important Specs: Fabric: 20d lightweight Nylon, laminated with paper-thin, 1/4-inch fleece squares. Average weight: 5.5oz in a men’s medium.

Materials: The key differentiator between the Lt. Breeze and other wind shells is its checkered micro-fleece square pattern inside. The 1/4-inch inch squares are laminated in a regular pattern to one side of a nylon fabric. The entire jacket is constructed from this material.

Two chin-level shock cords cinch the hood around the face. A single vertical chest pocket zipper can be inverted to stow the jacket. A cord is sewn inside the pocket that can clip the jacket to your harness.

The sleeves have a soft 1-inch-wide nylon cuff that snugs around the wrist. Two drawcords can cinch the bottom hem to the hips. The full-length zipper is backed by a nylon flap that wraps over the zipper to protect the chin when fully zipped.

Made In: China

Awesome! If you don’t like the feel of Nylon on skin, the micro fleece squares are a soft touch. The jacket has a nice athletic fit. I loved the soft stretch cuffs around the wrists. The checkered micro fleece liner may even provide a small boost in warmth.

Flaw: After about 20 minutes of running, the micro fleece dots saturated with sweat, compromising its comfort and ability to keep the jacket off the skin. While the shell didn’t stick to my skin, the wet squares soaked up moisture and were clammy to the touch. This isn’t a flaw with this jacket as much as its simple physics. You work hard enough and you will out-sweat any jacket’s ability to transport moisture, and sweat will condense on the inside.

Those luxuriously soft, fleecy cuffs… they also soaked up sweat after about an hour on the trail. I also didn’t like the hood; when pulled tight it closed in around my eyes.

First Impressions: In my opinion, a wind shell is to serve as a second skin, slowing evaporative heat loss between you and the outside world. It works best when paired with a highly-breathable layer against the skin that wicks moisture out and away from the body where it can then evaporate through the jacket. This mimics the body’s thermal gradient, gradually dropping the temperature from the skin to the outside. Brooks-Range nailed this with its Brisa, a nylon wind jacket with a moisture wicking liner for cold temperatures.

Brooks-Range says the Lt. Breeze is not a technical shell, but rather it is intended to feel more comfortable when worn against bare skin in moderate conditions. It’s not intended to be breathable nor designed to wick moisture. So if you start sweating inside the jacket — like you would on a run, hike, or climb — it’s asking a lot from the laminated micro fleece checks.

While providing a (small) space for a thermogradient to occur, there’s nowhere but the micro fleece for moisture to collect; they soak faster than they can wick sweat. In my experience, it’s a compromise with mediocre results. Would the concept work better in cooler temperatures? Maybe, but I’d then pair it with a lightweight long sleeve shirt anyways.

If Brooks-Range continues to keep the design, I’d suggest the company use it in the arms only. It’s unnecessary (and adds weight) in the hood and torso, where you will likely have hair, a hat, or certainly a shirt against the jacket.

Brooks-Range took a creative risk with this innovative design. But I’m at a loss as to why. If the jacket is made merely to block the wind and keep the feeling of nylon off cool skin, then at 5.5 ounces there are lighter wind jackets on the market. But the Lt. Breeze fits good, looks sharp, and is priced right.

Who Should Buy It: People who are interested in the latest technical trends.

Contact Brand/More Beta: Brooks-Range

—Steve Graepel is a contributing editor.

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