Gear Review: Patagonia Knifeblade Jacket and Pants
Winter Jacket and Pants
Patagonia Knifeblade Jacket
$379, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XL, women’s XS-L
Patagonia Knifeblade Pants
$299, 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s small)
Sizes: men’s XS-XL, women’s XS-L
Skiing up Pilot Peak in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, on a day of clouds, light snow and wind, and temperatures just below freezing, I kept my jacket on—something I almost never do when skiing uphill (unless it’s much colder), because I invariably work up a good sweat. And I did it repeatedly, because of the breathability of my Knifeblade Jacket, which moves moisture so efficiently that it never got more than slightly damp inside. I’m updating this review because the Knifeblade once again impressed me so much on that recent day of backcountry skiing.
Is there an ultimate soft-shell fabric? That question could start a fight in some circles. But I think it’s easier to define it than agree on it. Soft shells excel for their combination of high breathability and resistance to wind and snow (they’re less resistant to rain), making them best for snow-based winter activities like backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and climbing. For me, Polartec’s Power Shield Pro sets the performance bar for soft-shell fabrics very high, and Patagonia’s Knifeblade Jacket and Pants exemplify what to look for in soft shells for winter.
I’ve worn the Knifeblade Jacket and Pants for numerous winter days of backcountry skiing and cross-country ski touring, as well as resort skiing with my kids, from Idaho’s Boise Mountains to Wyoming’s Teton Range, in temperatures ranging from single digits Fahrenheit to the high 30s, and weather ranging from sunshine to below-zero wind chill and a steadily falling mix of wet snow and light rain. Breathability is excellent: The pants only got damp around the waistband when I sweated a lot skiing uphill with a pack, and ditto the jacket when I skied with a pack along an undulating ridge in the sun. And yet, the Power Shield Pro also repelled the strong, bitterly cold wind at 10,000 feet in the Tetons, and falling snow and light rain in a wide range of temps.
The Knifeblade Pants are my new go-to shell for backcountry skiing, most of all because they deliver so much performance while remaining so light and low-bulk, barely more than a pound and about the size of a liter bottle when rolled up. The supple and stretchy fabric and articulated seat and knees allow a range of motion as good as if I wasn’t wearing pants, making them ideal for blasting out quick alpine or telemark turns or stemming and other gymnastic climbing moves. Although the Power Shield Pro breathes so well I never needed to use the partial side zips (which snap at the waist) when skiing uphill even in temperatures in the high 30s Fahrenheit, I like having them for warmer climbs—and they’re unnoticeable, anyway.
The high waist and suspenders keep cold air out without being cumbersome, though many women may not like the suspenders because they’ll have to remove their jacket to pee. The one thigh pocket fits a lightweight hat and liner gloves, and its mesh lining helps dry my sweaty uphill hat (using body heat) when I’m going down; if anything, I’d like to see one more pocket on the other thigh, too. A cuff guard protects against abrasion from ski edges, crampon points, and rocks. And internal drawcords make the cuffs adjustable without those cords ever getting in the way. One caveat: These pants are so lightweight that people who get cold easily may need to wear long underwear in temps warmer than they’d normally expect to in other soft-shell pants.
The Knifeblade Jacket delivers the same Power Shield Pro performance in a jacket that reaches a nice balance of offering important features while remaining low-bulk and weighing in barely north of a pound. This jacket moves with you like a base layer. Sliding easily over a fleece, the jacket doesn’t ride up at all when I lift my arms overhead, thanks to smart sleeve construction and gusseted underarm panels. The helmet-compatible, two-way-adjustable hood never obstructed my vision but did a good job of obstructing wind and snow from my face. Three mesh-lined, outside pockets all sit above a pack belt or harness, and two are deep enough for climbing skins and double as big vents. And the adjustable hem and zipper pulls can all be handled easily wearing gloves.
I expect to get many, many backcountry days of use from the Knifeblade Jacket and Pants—and they may outlive me.
Tell me what you think.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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