WINTER GEAR GUIDE 2017
PT. 1 - CLOTHING
ARC'TERYX NORVAN JACKET - $350
The Norvan Jacket is technically a running shell, but we think anyone looking for a minimalist 3 layer GoreTex shell should give it a look. I love the trim cut of the jacket and it layers well over the Atom SL. I have yet to find the limits of its waterproofness. It's billed as a breathable jacket for high output activities, so think cycling or XC skiing. I can't imagine running in it - maybe you'd rock it in a place with cold winters. The only negatives with ultralight pieces like this is that you give up features like pit zips, pockets and velcro closures at the cuffs. The Norvan only has one internal media pocket on the inside. But a 3 Layer Goretex jacket with this level of performance that is ultra packable and comes in at 7.6 oz. should be on any minimalist bikepackers list for sure. We love the Magma color. It's that toxic red I've been looking for and it's plenty visible without being that basic fluo yellow. Hot jacket!
ARC'TERYX ATOM SL JACKET $229
The Atom SL is one for the fast and light crowd. I've noticed many brands this season with new ultralight/insulated windbreakers. But to call this jacket a windbreaker would be doing it a disservice. The genius of this piece is that it's an extremely versatile mid layer. In milder conditions you could probably wear this piece all day without taking it off. It packs an impressive amount of insulating warmth for how light it is. The key here is that this piece is for high output activities - it's as warm as you need for anything but cold cold winter conditions. The shell fabric does a great job at blocking wind and sheds light rain extremely well. The fit is slim, but in no way tight or clingy. The Atom SL comes in at 9.2 oz. It's a new favorite. Bikepackers should be all over this one.
PEARL IZUMI VERSA SHORTS $100, VERSA PANTS - $125
Pearl Izumi just introduced their Versa Line. Versa is short for versatile and it is that. Versatility is key for us. We love the Versa Shorts, because the look and fit allow us to wear them both TO the gym and IN the gym as well as bikepacking or riding MTB. The fit strikes a balance between loose, without being baggy - I have enough room to wear bib shorts under them if I want. My only gripe is the chunky zippers that close the main pockets. On one hand I can zip up my wallet and know it won't fly out, on the other, the zippers are a bit obtrusive. It's not a deal breaker, though, we still love these shorts. Strangely, the Versa Pants in the same size are snug on me, so if you want the same trim-yet loose fit of the shorts in a pant, I suggest sizing up one size. The pants are great in wet and cooler weather. They seem to provide a bit of insulation, while remaining breathable. They have decent stretch and are very comfortable for commuting. Good stuff from Pearl.
MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR MT6_U PANTS - $100
Since we've been doing so much trail work this year for the Oregon Timer Trail and Trans Cascadia, I've been on the hunt for some pants that are up for the work. Some days involve six miles or more of hiking, maybe running a chainsaw or swinging a McLeod all day. Yeah, you can wear jeans, but I feel better in something like Mountain Hardwear's MT6_U pant. They're designed for alpine climbing, I suppose, but for you and me that just means they have some stretch and let you move in them. Thanks to a stretch canvas (95% nylon, 5% elastane) fabric, you know they'll be durable and somewhat resistant to moisture. Just a note to see if the designers are listening - I won't put my phone in a thigh pocket, so maybe skip that feature. The weight of the fabric is nice, they call it a Fall weight pant. The cut is exactly what I've been looking for - not baggy, not loose, just right! I think I just found my new favorite work pants - oh! and they look good enough to wear around town. There's that versatility word again. Recommended!
SANTINI BASE LAYERS - TECH $80, CYBER LS $98.75, WOOL LS $110
We've talked about Santini base layers before. We're huge fans of their CAR 5, so this season we're looking at their winter options. The “Tech” is a merino nylon blend that Santini says is a high quality merino. We're loving that blue/green color! We've been searching for high quality merino base layers with good stretch, good warmth, and excellent wicking properties. So far, after trying multiple brands, these are the finest. They seems to have more stretch and wicks sweat better than any brand we've tried. All three of these base layers are body hugging and slightly compressive. I'm not sure what Santini does differently, but I think they make the finest base layers and I think all three of these are worth seeking out. The “Cyber LS” is made of polypropylene boasts what Santini calls “body mapping technology” and has an awesome TRON-inspired look! The “Wool LS” is 80% wool 15% polyamide and 5% elastane. I'm confident they'll work just as well for winter sports like XC skiing, hiking, etc.
7MESH STRATA TIGHTS - $150 STRATA KNICKERS - $125
We've been raving about 7Mesh and their attention to detail for awhile now. When they build a new piece they seem to rethink every imaginable detail. The Strata tights and knickers are no exception to that perfectionism. As their copy states, the Strata - “uses micro stitching instead of serged seams to eliminate excess bulk and weight” They move well with the body without bunching and I basically don't notice them, which is the highest compliment. They just work. They're warm without causing me to overheat.
The knickers are nice as well for slightly warmer days when you don't need the protection of full tights or when you want to show off your socks. Both the tights and the knickers have a good sized reflective patches to increase your visibility. Both have removable suspenders - if you're using their foundation bibs, you simply remove the bib straps from the tights or kinckers and clip them to the bib shorts. Being both a roadie and a mountain biker, I appreciate that 7Mesh delivers innovative gear in both disciplines.
7MESH MISSION JERSEY - $200
The Mission Jersey is 7Mesh's take on the old standard - the fleece mid layer. The Mission is constructed of polyester PowerGrid fleece. Also worth noting is that fabric is made of 54% recycled fabric. There are several advantages to this poly material - it's extremely warm for how light it is - industry heads will call that a “high warmth to weight ratio” It's also very breathable - it has openings between the squares that allow sweat vapor to escape. Also notable is the snug fit, which is brilliant for layering. You'll notice the cut and paneling is as considered as every 7Mesh jersey we've tried, which means they fit great on the bike and move with your body. What's unique on this piece too is the 4-way stretch woven fabric (the black panels) used on the cuffs and the rear pockets. That material resists pilling and water/mud spray. Anyone looking for more light/packable warm layers with cycling specific features should definitely give the Mission Jersey a good look. It's already saved me on a couple rides that turned cold. So glad to have this jersey in my pack!
PEARL IZUMI PRO ESCAPE THERMAL BIB SHORTS - $175 ELITE THERMAL LEG WARMER - $55
You owe it to yourself to invest in a pair of dedicated winter chamois like the PRO Escape Thermal Bib shorts. They put my mind at ease and they help get me out the door in foul weather. One thing that Pearl does well - especially on its high end pieces is choose great material that performs as well as it looks. So far the shorts have added great warmth without risk of overheating and shed rain and grime with ease. Breathability is great. The fit is snug as it should be in a bib short without being restrictive. The chamois is extremely comfortable as well - perhaps thicker than most without being squishy.
The Elite leg warmers use what PI calls its new “PI Dry” material, which as PI tells it is a ”hydrophobic treatment used on knit or woven fabrics that makes the fibers repel water without affecting the breathability or the feel of the fabric.” These leg warmers are good companions to the Thermal bib shorts. They fit great, without giving me sausage legs - you know when the top elastic grips too tight and you legs bulge out. I appreciate that. It's the little things.
GORE RESCUE WINDSTOPPER ACTIVE SHELL $199
One more contender for the fast and light minimalist shell that you throw in your pack for absolute peace of mind. The three main reasons to consider this shell: 1. great weather protection 2. lightweight/packable 3. breathability. This shell fits extremely slim to the point where I can only wear a long sleeve wool base layer underneath. My guess is that I should really size up from my normal Medium to a Large. If you're concerned about having room for more layers I would definitely recommend sizing up. The half zip will be a deal breaker for some folks. Yes, you actually have to put it on like a shirt, but think of how much weight you're saving with that half zipper! Much like the Norvan reviewed above, this piece does away with cuff closures in favor of elastic. There are no pockets to jam your hands in. Bacially, it's a tech jacket that won't break the bank. Outerwear that lets you keep working without interior condensation is really a new development. We're grateful that companies like Gore kept pushing for that function!
GORE UNIVERAL THERMO GLOVES - $80
Why is it so hard to find good gloves? Warm winter gloves from Gore Cycling that promise to be decently water resistant and warm at the same time. The Thermo gloves are lightweight and not overly bulky. The use GoreTex Active insulation, which promises high breathability. We'll take these out on the colder days when it drops below 40. Can you ever have enough pairs of gloves?
The Athletic needs no introduction. Launched with the (now) famous airport carpet sock, their socks are now ubiquitous on design conscious cyclists around the globe. We were thrilled to see them upping the ante with new wool socks made it Italy. We love synthetic socks as much as the next guy, but come Fall we're reaching for high quality wool socks, and if they happen to have great colors and cool designs - all the better. $20 is pretty standard for good wool socks, so why not stop by their shop in NW Portland, browse their zines and support a cool local company. “Designed in Portland - Made in Italy. Composition: 70% Merino - 15% Polyamide - 15% Elastane - 100% Stoke”
THE ATHLETIC - LIGHTNING BOLT NECK GAITER - $25
Next to good quality wool socks, the next best piece of gear to improve your winter kit would be a neck gaiter. The Lightning Bolt Neck Gaiter is a recent addition to their very cool Lightning Bolt collection. What, you love lightning bolts? The Athletic have you covered with caps, jerseys, sweatshirts, you name it. We think this design is particularly smart - it ends up looking like a modern take on houndstooth, and fades to white. Why neck gaiter? It's one of the most versatile pieces of kit - cover your face on chilly days, or protect ya neck while bikepacking on a sunny day. They help you keep heat in, and gusts from sneaking in your jersey. You get the idea. $25 well spent, we think.
We're thrilled to have Tori Bortman reviewing women's clothing for the Gear Guide. Tori is a published author and owner/operator of Gracie's Wrench - teaching folks the art of bike maintenance. She's articulate, opinionated, and passionate about riding bikes of all kinds. So without further ado, the rest here is all Tori!
Riding my bike, getting dirty and being outside as much as possible is what I do. I’m not exactly easy on clothes, and if I find something that works—is functional, stylish, and most important comfortable-- I will wear it wherever, inside or out.
I’m also a bicycle mechanic and teacher by trade, so there’s an extra layer of grit that gets into everything I wear. If your bike breaks down on the trail and I’m in the vicinity, I’m there in the dirt with you making sure you get down safe and usually I’ll end up a bit greasier than when the ride started.
· 5’5” tall
· Weigh 145lbs
· Long legs (which means my waist is “short”). If you’re not sure what that looks like, I basically prefer low or mid-rise cuts on pants. For me, a high-rise cut goes all the way over the first few of my ribs
· I sweat. A lot. More than normal. I can squeeze my hair out at the end of rides on hot days and it will drip on the ground. Breathability is important to me.
· My upper back and arms are very broad. This means a bra strap never accidentally slides off my shoulder and sometimes shirts tailored across the back can sometimes be too small for me. I’m a 36B bra size.
· My butt and hips are average, my legs are skinnier than most and I carry my weight in my tummy—so my waist is larger (and as mentioned above, shorter) than average so I appreciate a bit of extra room there for bending forward on the bike.
· I usually wear sized 10 pants (8 or 12 depending on brand) and a 10/12 or large top due to my broad back.
7MESH CALLAGHAN HOODY - $180
I have coveted Dan’s 7Mesh gear for a while now. He tends to look particularly handsome in it because the cuts and colors are so well thought out, so I was thrilled to test this piece out and I wasn’t disappointed. The slim-ish cut is true-to size but tailored enough to not look boxy, and I can easily fit a layer or two underneath it. A warm yet breathable fabric blend doesn’t rack up with that poly-sweat smell even after days of wearing. Real, full-sized (not tiny “little lady”) pockets fit your entire hand plus more and are designed with an extra internal flap on the outer edge of the pocket (7Mesh calls it a “security sleeve”) so even if you bend over to fix that flat or jump around, the contents of your pocket stay put without infringing on your access to what’s inside them. The hood is snug—it really can fit under a helmet if you needed and the high collar is a plus on keeping the wind out. This is a great medium-weight piece for descents on fall days, an extra layer commuting or just to wear out to coffee. “Stylish” and “trail ready” don’t usually go together, but this hoodie is my go-to jacket this fall on and off the bike.
7 MESH GLIDEPATH SHORTS - $140
The 7Mesh Glidepath shorts are slick. Very slick. Designed with just enough room for moving around the bike while looking good without being too baggy. Versatile enough to wear in most any riding conditions and comfortable enough to rock chamois-free for hours. And the pockets. Oh, the pockets. Four functional(!) pockets. Two front hand and two, large (yet understated), zippered, angled pockets with internal, secure-yet-easy-to-access phone slots that make pausing for quick photos when out ripping trail a real possibility. Le sigh. Length falls just at or above the knee and the light-stretch material gives you enough room to flex without it binding around the knee. When wearing knee pads, there is a bit of overlap but it doesn’t cause too much friction. The waist falls naturally but I sized up to a large for more room, even though the material gives just the right amount of stretch for movement. The external waist adjusters make dialing in the fit super easy—even mid-ride. There was enough room in the posterior for getting low and wide in the cockpit but without the “saggy bottom” that makes your shorts get caught on the seat. The Glidepaths are the best women’s shorts I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend a day in. Kudos to 7Mesh for once again hitting the bulls-eye with understated attention to detail and functionality.
PEARL IZUMI VERSA LS HENLEY - $75
It’s the nice touches that makes Pearl Izumi’s new long sleeved Henley shirt extra comfy. It’s definitely a boyfriend cut, but the semi-form fit helps keep your shape. I find myself wearing this Versa piece more for commuting as the breathable, semi-stretchy material and cut transfer well on and off the bike. The subtle reflective stripes at the back hem and lower sleeves make it great for riding or running. And thumb holes. I hardly use them but I really do love them. One downside for my broad shoulders is that material bunches above my breasts if I lift my arms to the sides or reach high. Not a significant problem and it’s got plenty of moving room to gently tug it back into place, but the touted “natural weave” stretch in the shoulders isn’t quite enough for my build. The overall effect is that this is a cozy piece that is what it claims to be: versatile on and off the bike. Nice job, Pearl.
PEARL IZUMI LAUNCH SHORTS - $135
The newest addition to Pearl Izumi’s women’s mountain bike line might be their finest. The Launch Shorts are a nice balance between enduro and all-day trail riding comfort. The feel is bit on the roomy side with a fully relaxed fit but without entirely sacrificing the shape at the waist and tailored a bit at the leg opening. They come with a detachable liner with their “3D Tour Chamois”, which despite its name conjuring an old-school, thick, couch cushion is actually light and slim. Breathability and wicking are also excellent in the rest of the liner material. Falling a bit on the higher side just above the knee, the Launch Short material is sturdy and the construction solid. It’s a slightly heavier material than the Summit Shorts reviewed below, but the shorter cut gives plenty of extra breathability. A few shortcomings, starting with pockets. There are three—two side zipper and one low front cargo. None are very usable beyond chapstick due to size or placement. Pockets which aren't designed to hold things are only slightly better than no pockets at all. There are also waist adjusters, but unfortunately they’re velcro and are on the inside of the waistband. This makes on-trail adjustments impossible without unzipping your fly…and the velcro is a bit scratchy if you’re rocking liner-free for your ride. Overall, Pearl Izumi Launch is a solid pair of shorts that I’m happy to cruise in all day with confidence, and extra kudos for the herringbone pattern that will play nicely with dirt without being too specifically “feminine”, and let my womanly riding speak for itself.
PEARL IZUMI SUMMIT SHORTS - $70
Pearl Izumi’s classic Women’s Summit short is the all-rounder of trail shorts. Affordable with a flattering and functional slightly stretchy material, they come in a few inches longer than the Launch Shorts (above) and are more of a semi-form fit. They’re also treated with water-resistant DWR. The fabric is a bit thin to be heading out on a cold, rainy day, but for extra protection from summer storms or stream crossings, they get the job done. Some of the same shortcomings as the Launch Short apply here, too (small pockets, adjustability only on the inside of the waistband), but these shorts are the affordable workhorse of the bunch. At half the cost of most of the others reviewed here, you can get two and be covered for riding all summer long while looking great on your favorite trail.
PEARL IZUMI VERSA QUILTED HOODIE - $220
By far my favorite piece from Pearl Izumi, it’s just exactly what you want in a sport hoodie. It looks fantastic both on and off the bike with just a touch of sophistication in the design and quilting, making it as easy to wear commuting across town as out to dinner. The fit is nicely tailored to sit just at the hips and the softshell fabric with quilted insulated core is so, so comfortable. While the front pockets are almost too small to fully fit your hands into, Pearl made up for with a roomy zippered security pockets on the chest and lower back. They’ve also added some subtle but welcome reflective patches on the sleeves and lower back which I love. It fits well into their “Versa” line in that it works great as a hoodie, is warm enough to wear as a jacket on it’s own but also trim enough to layer under your favorite down jacket.
PATAGONIA NANO PUFF VEST $149
This has been on my list of items to own for years. My lady friends swear by them - especially for chilly winter days. My friend, Jude Kirsten, owner of Sugar Wheel Works, practically lives in hers. And now I know why. Simple. Durable. Comfortable. Not to mention windproof and water resistant, both that make it a great piece to layer. The cut is only slightly fit but with my very broad back, I probably could have gone up to a large, but the medium fits well enough and retained some of my curves. This is just the kind of piece that gives you a surge of joy to wear. You’d never know it, but this simple vest is a game changer.