All-Season Shell Jacket
Patagonia Pluma Jacket
$549, 14 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XL, women’s XXS-XL
For two straight days trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc in July, rain fell much of the time and strong gusts of wind seemed to hit us from all directions, while the temperature remained stuck in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit. On the long, grinding ascent of nearly 3,000 feet to the Grand Col de Ferret at 8,323-foot (2537m), walking straight into a wind-driven tempest, I could focus on making sure my family and other companions were doing fine because I stayed completely dry—and thus warm and comfortable—in Patagonia’s new, all-weather super shell, the Pluma Jacket.
The Pluma also kept me dry and comfortable through afternoon thunderstorms and morning showers during a three-day, 39-mile backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range in mid-September. Patagonia’s only alpine shell to use the 100 percent recycled nylon, 40-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric with a 15-denier Gore Micro Grid backer technology, the three-layer, seam-taped, fully featured Pluma fended off hours of hard, wind-driven rain. Breathability and ventilation were good enough to keep me from overheating at a moderate pace hiking steeply uphill with a 30-pound pack. Wearing it over a lightweight, synthetic T-shirt, I alternately opened and closed the pit zips—which are adequately deep, though not as long as on some jackets I’ve tested. The fabric is a bit crinkly, not the softest or most supple out there, but certainly less noisy than many hard shells. The “regular” fit hits a middle place—neither trim nor bulky, with plenty of space for warm layers without the jacket inhibiting a full range of motion, although it hikes up slightly when I lift my arms overhead.
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The helmet-compatible hood sports two-way adjustability: a rear drawcord that controls most of the volume, wrapping the hood cleanly around my head when I wore no helmet; and two front drawstrings below the collar for making micro adjustments affecting visibility, as well as pulling the collar in closer to my neck, keeping wind out when I put the hood down. With the jacket fully zipped up, the hood’s sides protected my cheeks, and its brim, while flexible, protrudes at a downward angle over the eyes, which not only kept rain off my face when hiking straight into the wind-driven tempest, but helps keep precipitation off eyewear—an asset when wearing ski or glacier goggles. Even more uniquely, the hood’s fit and stretch allows me to pop it up and down with the jacket fully zipped (and no helmet on)—not something you can do with many shells.
The Pluma nails it with features you want in a severe-weather alpine shell, too. Two hand pockets are positioned above harness and hipbelt level and spacious enough for climbing skins or drying spare winter gloves. Water-resistant zippers on those pockets, the chest pocket, and in the armpits move smoothly. The zippered inside pocket fits a large phone. The hook-and-loop cuff straps are slightly beefier and more durable than found on lighter jackets. The Cohesive cord locks, embedded in the fabric of the hood and hem, allows one-handed adjustments even with gloves on.
In severe conditions, wearing soft-shell pants that got soaked in front and didn’t dry until the rain broke, this jacket was the only thing standing between me and hypothermia. The combination of superior weather protection, good breathability, and an outstanding hood make this a true four-season, all-mountain shell that weighs in at a reasonable 14 ounces and packs down to the size of a cantaloupe.
For alpine climbers and backpackers who often find themselves in nasty, hitting-the-fan weather, that’s protection you can count on to help you get home again. But beyond performance justifying the price, its versatility quite literally pays for itself if you’re a four-season recreational athlete, because it eliminates the need for a second shell for winter conditions.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Patagonia Pluma Jacket at patagonia.com or rei.com, or the women’s Patagonia Pluma Jacket at patagonia.com.
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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.