Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Very comfortable, breathable, lightweight, great value, recycled materials.
Cons: Small pocket zipper pulls are hard to grad.
Best Uses: Hiking, cold weather running, cross-country skiing.
Like a fantastic Swing dance partner, the Patagonia Traverse jumps, jives, and jitterbugs with you until the early hours of the morning. Or until the end of your hike, ski, run, bike ride, or walk around town. This jacket moved with our testers' bodies more smoothly and easier than any of the other 19 we tested. It's a brilliant choice for when you need a balance of breathability, weather protection, and unrestrictive fit.
Being lighter and more comfortable than the average softshell tested, the Traverse is perhaps the most versatile jacket we tested; it works well not just in winter, but also in spring and fall conditions. This jacket wins our Editor's Choice Award because it's one of the highest performance softshells we tested and because it's commonly available for around $100. Great jacket + great value = two thumbs up.
Our testing shows that softshells perform well for specific applications. Although the Traverse is top notch, there is no single best all-purpose softshell. Furthermore, our testers view softshells as a luxury layer. They are a relatively poor value. We generally recommend purchasing a hardshell jacket and a wind jacket before a softshell. See our Softshell Jacket Review to learn more about how softshells compare to those type of jackets and how the 20 models we tested stacked up next to each other in our side-by-side tests.
Also, please read on for our report on the Patagonia Traverse's performance.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Weather Protection Versus Breathability: You Can't Have Both
As softshells go, the Traverse is highly breathable and adequately weather resistant. There is a direct tradeoff between the these two attributes in softshells and all other types of outdoor apparel. Manufacturer's marketing efforts may try to convince you otherwise, but you can't have both a weatherproof jacket and a super comfortable, highly breathable jacket at the same time. It's just not possible yet.
The question is: What balance between weather resistance or breathability is best for you?
There are multiple ways to answer this question. One approach is to try to find a softshell jacket that lies in the middle of the breathability-weather protection distribution—find the jacket that splits the pack in the middle. (An example of this type of softshell is the Arc'teryx Gamma MX.) Another approach, the one favored by our male softshell testers because we feel it is the best bang for your buck, is to go with a softshell that lies closer to the highly breathable end of the spectrum. A lightweight softshell.
The rationale for a lightweight softshell is: you likely already own a waterproof rain jacket or hardshell jacket and can use that in frigid cold, high wind conditions because it's windproof. If you don't own a softshell jacket, or a looking to upgrade, we recommend a highly breathable model so you can go outside in greater comfort and not sweat your brains out in your waterproof jacket. The combination of two layers at opposite ends of the weather resistance-breathability spectrum provides the greatest performance for the greatest number of applications—it's the best value.
Now that we've put the Traverse in context with other types of jackets let's dive into how its performance compares to other jackets.
The Traverse scores second to last in this category because it prioritizes breathability over weather resistance. Through more than 200 miles of cross-country skiing, a couple dozen miles of running, some hiking, and jaunts around town we found that the Traverse resists brief (less than one hour) exposure to light rain, moderate exposure to wet snow, and, like all softshells, it easily sheds dry snow. A durable water resistant (DWR) chemical coating allows water to bead up and roll off this jacket. Unfortunately, DWR coatings are not very durable. Treating the jacket regularly (we like to use a spray-on coating such as this) maintains water resistance and breathability.
The Traverse does not have a hood so a hat or balaclava can be useful if it's cold or windy. Although the model we tested has a different color fabric under the arms, the jacket is constructed entirely from the same fabric.
The Traverse is the second most breathable jacket we tested. (The Rab Zephyr scores higher with its superlight softshell fabric.) We LOVED how breathable this jacket is. It's a joyful feeling to be out in a light snow or freezing drizzle and feel completely comfortable—not too hot and not too cold—and watch the precipitation fall off the jacket as move through a landscape.
10 out of 10 points. Need we say more?
It's incredibly comfortable. Super stretchy. Puts almost all other softshells to shame.
This is the second lightest softshell we tested. If you need to take it off and carry it, the jacket takes up less space in a backpack and is less burdensome to shoulder than all of the other softshells we tested.
This is a very simple jacket. It has one excellent feature and one very poor feature. The excellent being the wrist cuffs, which have a clever closure that allows you to curl your fingers up inside the cuff and comfortably leave them protected from the elements. This is a running specific feature that also works well if you're walking around town with your pockets full or if you simply don't want to bother putting your hands in your pockets. The stretchy closure is also effective at creating a seal around a lightweight glove. However, in order to keep snow out, a gauntlet style glove is best for activities like ice and alpine climbing, when your hands are consistently overhead or in the snow.
The very poor feature is the handwarmer pocket zippers. They are tiny and hard to pull, even with thin gloves on. We much prefer zippers that have longer pull tabs or pull cords on them so you can find them easily while on the move and grab them easily with gloves on. The author added a small piece of cord to the Traverse pocket zippers, which largely solved the problem. Although this is a relatively small drawback that's far overshadowed by the Traverse's excellent performance in other areas, we find it disappointing that Patagonia didn't look beyond runners (who might not want the dingle dangle of a cord style zipper pull) when designing this part of the jacket. Consider adding a piece of cord if you find the zipper pulls too small.
Additionally, like many of Patagonia's full zip jackets, the Traverse has two interior drop in pockets. If you need to carry a bunch of things you can slide gloves, a water bottle or more into these. It's not particulalry comfortable to carry heavy items in the interior pockets, but know that it's an option.
See the video at the bottom of this page for more info about the jacket's features.
Very simple aesthetics. Not obtrusive or arrogant. We like it.
The Traverse is amazing for cross-country skiing, and good for winter hiking and running. The more breathable fabric increases versatility because you can add a fleece underneath for super cold days or just wear a thin shirt underneath for aerobic pursuits in cold weather. The jacket works fine for around town, but casual style windproof jackets like the Patagonia Adze are better if around town use is your primary objective.
Softshells are a poor value because we feel it's better to buy a wind jacket and a waterproof rain jacket or hardshell jacket before a softshell. If you have the cash for a super comfortable jacket the Traverse is one of the best value models we've tested. See our Price Versus Value Chart!!
Great jacket + great value = two thumbs up.
The Patagonia Simple Guide Hoody, and Patagonia Simple Guide Hoody - Women's, $150, receive our Best Buy Award, as they are affordable hooded softshells that perform well in a variety of conditions and for a variety of activities.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 22, 2014
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