I’ve been a fan of Patagonia for years now. It all started with a vest I bought in 1995, a black, wind and waterproof material lined with a blue fabric that I think was Polartec or something like it. I wore that vest for probably close to 15 years, as an outer shell when I mountain biked on the trails in Nova Scotia. It served me admirably, and I eventually passed it onto a friend who needed it more than I did.
There’s more to Patagonia than just gear, though. I also respect their commitment to the environment, their desire to give back to worthwhile causes, and their ethical practices. So, when I was given the opportunity to test the Refugitive shell in harsh winter conditions on the Canadian shield, I leapt for it.
When the jacket arrived, in bright Grecian Blue, I was shocked at how light it was. The Refugitive is a hard shell jacket, made from a waterproof/windproof/breathable 3 layer GORE-TEX® fabric and GORE® C-KNIT backer technology. Those are a lot of technical terms, but the takeaway point here is that this shell is supposed to be light, stretchy, and protective.
It’s designed to take everything that Nature can throw at you, and not weigh you down in the process. I am no stranger to hard shell jackets, but this is easily the lightest one I’ve used. I’m 6 feet tall, 150 pounds, and a size small was sized such that I could fit a down jacket underneath it, and still have plenty of movement in my shoulders.
Sleeve length was spot on, with the cuffs hitting my hands about an inch from my knuckles. Jacket length is plenty long, and finishes below my belt line. There is one small chest pocket on the left side, big enough to hold a cell phone or an energy bar, and two side pockets that are high enough to not be interfered with if you’re wearing a pack with a hip belt or a climbing harness. There is one small inside pocket as well. The jacket has excellent ventilation with pit zips running nearly the full length of the torso and upper arm.
These are all good things. I was eager to test it out, and had a few opportunities to do so. I wore the jacket for a few days during the Rally of the Tall Pines event, as a photographer for the Canadian Rally Championship. It’s a tortuous event, both for drivers and for photographers, with lots of standing around in cold, wet conditions. Many drivers called the conditions this year the worse they’ve ever seen, with lots of wet, heavy snow and rain. Just keeping your gear dry can be difficult, and standing around in the wet weather from before dawn to well after midnight is no fun. The Refugitive performed exceptionally well. It’s a hard shell, and it did exactly what it was supposed to do. The down jacket I was wearing under it stayed completely dry, and I was almost completely happy with how the jacket functioned.
There was just one thing that went wrong. The draw string for the hood, when the hood is cinched down against your head, dangles as a loop of elastic cord in the back of your head. There is no place to stuff this loop of cord, which means that there is the possibility that it will get snagged on branches if you are hiking or walking through dense forest. And this is exactly what happened to me.
I was moving through some low hanging trees to get into better position for photos, and I felt something tug on the cord. The tug was enough to pull the right side of the draw cord right out of the hood, so for the remainder of the test I could only cinch the left side of the hood. It still works, but not nearly as well. I think this is a small design flaw – a small flap or a pocket in which to store the extra cord would have prevented this. I am mulling over ways to fix this now that I am home from the race.
After returning from Ontario, New Brunswick was pummelled by not one but two snow storms back to back. They were early season storms, which meant heavy wet snow and freezing rain, and I gleefully went out in them with the jacket. As I expected it would, it easily dealt with everything thrown at me.
I was generally very impressed with the jacket. I think it lives up to the Patagonia pedigree, and excels as an ultralight hard shell. It blocks the wind exceptionally well, and keeps you dry all day long. Small problem with the hood draw cord aside, I’d recommend the Refugitive to anyone looking for a new shell layer.