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Gear Review: Polartec Jackets

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This winter, as snow piled up and the wind whipped on trips from northern Minnesota to the Sierra Nevada Range, I took occasion to test three new jackets made with Polartec fabric.

Based in Lawrence, Mass., Polartec LLC is often associated solely with “polar fleece,” its ubiquitous synthetic wool product that’s used on everything from hats to long johns. But the company (www.polartec.com) is a large textile supplier that offers outerwear manufacturers hundreds of fabric types designed to keep active people comfortable in the outdoors.

Polartec Jackets a la 66 Degrees North, Backcountry.com, and Arc’teryx

My test — which included outerwear from Arc’teryx, 66 Degrees North, and Backcountry.com — spanned a wide geography and several winter weather conditions, from 20-below zero to above freezing and drizzly.

First up, Backcountry.com’s Shift Welder Jacket is a neat softshell assembled with Polartec’s Powershield fabric. Though it looks like a Gore-Tex shell, the Powershield fabric gives some stretch to the Shift Welder, which has better breathability than most “hard shell” jackets I test. Powershield provides a bit of insulation as well, and the inside of the Shift Welder is soft and fuzzy. (I wore the jacket with just a single base layer top underneath to about 20 degrees some days.)

The Shift Welder is touted as “highly water resistant,” meaning it will work in all but the wettest conditions. Sleet or rain seep through eventually if persistent.

But on most winter days, the Shift Welder, which costs $280, will be more than adequate. It easily stands up to snow and it has the right features for a day in the mountains, from a highly-adjustable hood, to warm hand pockets, to a headphone-cord-compatible inside compartment.

Backcountry.com’s Shift Welder Jacket

The Shift Welder looks slick, but its athletic cut may fit tight on some body types. I am 6’1’‘, 180 pounds, and the jacket in size large is borderline too trim on my frame.

Second in line on my test, 66 Degrees North, an Icelandic apparel company (www.66north.com/us), offers an original Polartec top in its Mosfell jacket. This cozy mid-layer — or outer layer on warmer days — has a fur-like face of Polartec Thermal Pro Velour, which is soft and luxurious to the touch.

The jacket is cozy and comfortable — Polartec touts the fabric as having its “highest warmth-to-weight ratio” — though wind and moisture penetrate it easier than with a smooth-face jacket like the Shift Welder.

I liked the Men’s Mosfell jacket, $188, layered under a hard shell jacket on cold days. Its high loft trapped body heat, and the jacket was comfortable and unrestricting while on the move.

66 Degrees North Men’s Mosfell jacket

The Mosfell is available in men’s and women’s styles and comes in a hooded sweater as well as the jacket.

Finally, the Arc’teryx Gamma SV is an updated version of a coat the company (www.arcteryx.com) released 10 years ago. Made of varying thicknesses of Polartec Power Shield, the Gamma SV is more insulating in the torso and shoulders to maximize heat retention. The arms and the hood have a lighter sheen for better movement and breathability.

This softshell, which costs $350, feels like a premium product. It is extra warm, requiring only a couple layers underneath for activity down to zero degrees. The fit is looser than with the Shift Welder, and its use is more broad — the Arc’teryx is at home backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, or ice climbing.

Arc’teryx Gamma SV

Wind bounces off the jacket’s face. Water beads up. But like the Shift Welder — and most of Polartec’s offerings — you can’t bank on the Arc’teryx Gamma SV as doing double duty as a rain coat. Liquid precipitation (but not snow) will work through after a couple hours of persistence.

But in cold and snowy places, the Gamma SV is a versatile performer. It’s the kind of coat that leaves you without an excuse — even on the worst days. Now, zip up, pull on the hood, and trek out into the white.

—Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

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