Review: Patagonia Reconnaissance Jacket & PantsGear
PRICE: Jacket £280
STYLE: Hybrid shell
ACTIVITY: Backcountry skiing
STYLE: Snow pants
ACTIVITY: Backcountry skiing
STYLE: 30-litre day pack
ACTIVITY: Backcountry skiing
Written by Daniel Wildey
March in Chamonix. One day I’m lumbering through the murk, struggling to connect shallow patches of snow via the merest of icy lines on the skin track of Les Houches, the next day I’m sweating above the cloud en route to fresh tracks.
But that’s the mountains for you, offering simple lessons; be prepared and be versatile. Which is why we’re obsessed with our gear.
I suspect versatility is exactly what Patagonia had in mind when they designed their range of ski-touring-focused clothing. I was testing the Reconnaissance Jacket and Pants, as well as the SnowDrifter 30l pack.
The clothing is of the ‘hybrid’ category, mixing breathable softshell with strategically placed H2No waterproof hardshell to protect the areas most exposed to precipitation. In theory, it should cope admirably with the changeable conditions of early spring in the Alps.
So the first test was the murk of Les Houches. When the weather precludes a tour in the higher mountains of the Mont Blanc massif, Les Houches offers a picturesque skin track through the forested lower slopes that is atmospheric in low cloud and magical when the snow falls. Being blanketed by cloud, and at a relatively low elevation, the temperatures were far from cold, and the exertion of skinning uphill was a real test for the breathability of the Patagonia kit. It probably coped as well as other jackets would and I have to concede my level of fitness was probably a huge factor – panting and perspiring as I was – but the jacket was stashed in the roomy pack quite promptly. On the other hand the pants went unnoticed for the whole ascent, so they get a big tick for breathability, even with winter-weight merino leggings underneath.
Another plus point is the styling. Patagonia have eschewed the athletic fit that might appeal to finely tuned skimo warriors, and gone for a more relaxed freeride fit to appeal to the new wave of ski tourers. It might not be entirely conducive to more hardcore ascents involving steep ground and crampon work where excess material might get caught.
Despite the relatively loose fit, the clothing is noticeably lightweight to the point where I was concerned how much protection it would offer from the snow and wind. Later in the week after a heavy snowfall my concerns were allayed – faceshots and wet, heavy flakes were brushed off, as were stray branches as I charged through the woods. The only slight compromise was on cold, windy chairlifts when I began to miss the cosseting effect of a full covering of hardshell. But compromise is the appropriate word here; whether the increase in breathability is worth a minor downgrade in weather protection is a personal choice.
The second test for the breathability came at a much less cardio-friendly 2,500m, high above a cloud inversion and in baking sunshine. The other face of March. Again the pants performed well regulating my temperature, and again they went unnoticed. But no jacket could have coped with that combination of sun, altitude and exercise (I actually tried a Pertex windshell for five minutes and was soaked in sweat immediately) and it was back in the pack. Luckily the SnowDrifter 30l is very roomy for its stated capacity.
The safety gear pocket in the SnowDrifter 30l swallowed my shovel and probe as well as bulky skins, ski crampons and a light synthetic jacket. And this still left the main compartment empty. Handy, as I had to fit in a DSLR in its shoulder bag and a spare lens, plus goggles, lunch, Nalgene bottle and sundry other requirements. And there was still plenty of room to stash that jacket when the going got hot.
The tapered shape of the pack, wider at the top, along with the full zip back panel access make this very close to perfect for a ski-touring photographer. The taper is very convenient for the shape of a camera bag, the back access is a staple of more specialist photography packs, and the shape allows unrestricted movement while keeping the weight where it should be – higher up your back.
The top of the pack is quite flat, however, and in the damp, heavy snow showers it was prone to wet out; that may add weight. That said, I didn’t notice any moisture seeping through – and I even put some tissue in the goggle pocket to test that. The pack also lacks hip-belt pockets, helmet carry (although that is easily improvised) and has a small hole through which a hydration hose is meant to fit. The latter is not a problem if, like me, you favour a bottle in cold weather.
Despite several minor gripes, the pack has immediately become my go-to ski pack. Few bags can swallow so much gear and remain unobtrusive in use, and to my mind that demonstrates great design in terms of a pack’s fundamentals – missing pockets, helmet carry, etc., are peripheral concerns.
The pocket issue is more than made up for in the Reconnaissance clothing; I’m not convinced by the current fashion to remove pockets from lightweight clothing, so to see a good variety of pocket options on both the jacket and pants is refreshing.
Hybrid clothing is meant to be the best of both worlds, soft and hardshell, but it is also a compromise. On the plus side for the Reconnaissance range, its compromise works well for a range of conditions, so for anyone looking for versatile ski clothing, these pieces will cover most bases and perform above average in breathability, weight and functionality. Everyday ski gear with a touring bent, rather than specialist skimo-wear.