Breathable Insulated Vest
Patagonia Nano-Air Vest
$199, 8 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
If I had a buck for every day I’ve worn a vest outdoors over the years, well, I might not have to rely on a blog as the source of my wealth. But with the recent advent of breathable insulation, the classic vest, in its various iterations, faces serious competition. Curious to see whether a new-tech vest with breathable insulation could still measure up among today’s diverse array of versatile insulation pieces, I wore the Nano-Air Vest on Idaho adventures from July through October, including dayhikes and backpacking trips in the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains and a five-day whitewater rafting and kayaking trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It may speak volumes about this vest to say that I wore it a lot.
I found it the most useful on an early-October backpacking trip in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, when it stayed on me not only through cool evenings and mornings in camp, but also while hiking with a full backpack uphill, off-trail, in temps in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit, with intermittent wind. While my body’s heat output varied with the terrain, and we were frequently in and out of the wind, I didn’t have to adjust layers: The vest stayed on over a midweight base layer, keeping me at the right temperature. It performed similarly when I hiked the first few uphill miles, in cool, morning fog, of a 12-mile dayhike of Thompson Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooths in July.
With highly breathable, synthetic insulation, this vest is built for high-exertion activities, as well as acting as a versatile layering piece in any season. The fit is close, but the nylon ripstop shell fabric has four-way, mechanical stretch, making it feel like an outer layer of skin, as well as a DWR (durable, water-repellent treatment), so it sheds light rain. Even the synthetic insulation has mechanical stretch, so the entire garment moves with you. The tall collar keeps your neck warm, and the vest has a functional feature set with one zippered chest pocket and two zippered hand pockets, plus a drawcord hem.
Patagonia’s Nano-Air Vest has all the traditional advantages of a classic fleece vest—adding a bit of core warmth with exceptional breathability, while keeping your arms uncovered so you don’t overheat. But it raises the bar on thermal efficiency for its weight and packability, and it sheds light precipitation. This is a highly versatile, year-round layering piece for all but the warmest trips.
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See also my stories “My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews,” “Buying Gear? Read This First,” “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?”
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.
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