Gear Box: Polartec Gear

I recently got my hands on some really great items from several gear manufacturers that incorporate Polartec fabrics to enhance performance and keep us warm. Thanks to a couple of recent cold snaps in Austin, Texas, I’ve also had the opportunity to put the gear through it’s paces and see how it performs.

L.L. Bean Mountain Sports Fleece: I have to admit, that I’ve mostly dismissed L.L. Bean products as “yuppy gear” in recent years. Most of their stuff hasn’t done much to impress me, and I’ve generally seen the brand being worn by people around town who haven’t seen a trail n years, if ever. But after wearing the Mountain Sport Fleece Jacket, my opinion has changed.

From the moment I first put on this jacket, I was immediately impressed with it’s quality and design. It’s easily comparable to other, more expensive brands, and offers a great fit that is snug, without being restrictive. It’s also warm and wind resistant, yet remains breathable, thank to the Polartec Thermal Pro fabric.

This jacket is designed for hiking, trail running, and mountain biking on cooler days, and it performs perfectly in those functions, but is also stylish enough that you can wear it around town as well. The jacket has a list price of $89, and I can tell you I’ve payed more, for less, from other name brand manufacturers. This is a great fleece jacket that I highly recommend. Very nice!

Kokatat OuterCore Long Sleeve Top: This mid-weight fleece layer shirt is designed for surfing or paddling. I’m not a surfer, as there are few opportunities in Austin, but I am a paddler, and there are plenty of places to kayak in the area. Usually, it’s sunny and warm here, and there is no need for something like this, but adding the OuterCore shirt from Kokatat to my gear closet meant not having to wait out the cold snaps before getting back out on the water.

This shirt uses a new fabric from Polartec called Power Dry, which is made up of 65% recycled fabrics, and is designed for use as a base layer. The OuterCore is incredibly comfortable to wear, even with a PFD or drysuit on over top, and doesn’t restrict your movement in the least, making it easy to paddle in.

I was impressed with how warm the shirt kept me while paddling in cool temperatures, even when it became wet. The quick drying outer portion kept the soft, interior velour free from moisture, which translated into a more comfortable day on the water in colder conditions. I’d definitely recommend the OuterCore for anyone who needs cool or cold wether paddling gear. It’s one of those pieces of gear you didn’t know you needed until you’ve added it to your closet. (MSRP: $72)

The North Face El Cap Shirt: Probably my favorite piece of gear that I had the chance to test out was the El Cap Delta base layer shirt from The North Face. This shirt also uses the Power Dry fabric from Polartec, but in this case the entire material is 100% recycled, an indicator of North Face’s commitment to being more “green” in their approach. Designed to be a base layer in colder weather or a stand alone item on warmer days.

I put the El Cap Delta through it’s paces on a series of runs, both on and off road, during some cool evenings, and each time I wore it, I was more impressed. The shirt did an amazing job of keeping me warm and dry, something that is very important when the temperature begins to drop. Comfortable and light, the El Cap is superior to any other article of clothing that I’ve used at wicking away moisture. It hasn’t been cold enough to pair this with a jacket, but I’d imagine it would work wonderful under those conditions as well. I have little doubt that this performance shirt/base layer will become one of the most used items in my gear closet. It’s versatile enough for just about any type of activity, and is of such high quality that it’ll last a long time. It’s hard not to be impressed with the El Cap. (MSRP: $65)

Polartec fabrics have a great reputation and these three very different gear items show just how amazing it is. Great gear for a variety of uses in cool and cold temperatures. Big thanks to Ian over at Backbone Media for sending me all this great stuff.

Kraig Becker

5 thoughts on “Gear Box: Polartec Gear”

  1. I am tall 6’4′ with 37″ sleeve length. While I will concur with your assessment of LL Bean gear as being trendy they have also made some quality stuff that is legitimately tall.
    In addition to the fleece jacket you reviewed I have tall Mountain Guide Pants made from Scholler Dryskin that have seen 4-season duty and still going strong. I have a hooded primaloft jacket that is a winter camping mainstay. Unfortunately both of these are discontinued.
    It seems the ‘real’ gear must not generate enough income to remain in their product line.
    It is hard finding winter camping gear for tall people.

  2. I’m on the tall side too Jim, and agree with you, it can be tough sometimes finding gear that fits, especially in my arm length.

    And yes, I’ve definitely reassessed my thoughts on L.L. Bean. While much of their stuff is not meant for the trail, but instead for around town, I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed with this jacket. Enough so that I’ll look at other gear from them in the future.

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