30 November 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
Weight: 312 grams
A few years ago an outdoor company asked me to design them what I thought would be the ultimate fleece. What I came up with was designed for active use (walking, climbing, wet running!), and so the fleece was much thinner than most standard weight fleeces at the time (PolarTech 200), which I tended to find were too warm. The material was also crucial, and it needed to have a ‘spiked’ pile interior so that when worn next to the skin, it would feel dry and dry faster than a conventional fleece.
Secondly, I thought that the fleece should work as a stand-alone piece as much as possible, meaning one item could provide some head and hand protection, meaning if you took it on a climb, it would provide much a much higher degree of protection than a plain fleece. It would achieve this by featuring a hood (quite a rarity in fleeces), and long wrist over design, plus it had to be long enough to stay in a harness, meaning the venerable wrists, neck, head and stomach would gain a better degree of protection. Lastly, it had to have a good deep zip so it could be vented easily, and have sleeves that could be rolled up.
The idea was that this top would be light and compact, but when matched with a Pertex top or windproof layer, would provide a high degree of protection, with a third layer going over the top when static.
Was this top ever manufactured? Of course not.
Do you know why? Well, this type of design has been produced several times in the past, with varying degrees of effectiveness by people like Lowe Alpine, Patagonia and Karrimore, but in every case, the piece is dropped after one season and judged to be a failure.
A few years back Patagonia, who’d produced a great hoody design about ten years previously, had brought out a great R1 hoody, which instantly became a cult hit. Then like most tops, it was dropped. This time there was an outcry from the Patagonia climbing team, with almost every one declaring that this was by far the best piece of fleece-wear the company had produced in years. This was a cult item of gear, and those in the know bought up what was left, and just had to grumble at the way the modern market squeezed out any product that wasn’t for the masses - no matter how good. Since then I’ve met loads of climbers wearing that old R1, everyone claiming it to be the best piece of clothing they have, many such as Steve House, Kelly Cordes and Kevin Mahoney keeping theirs locked away for those special occasions.
Why do these products fail, after all, I bet many of you reading this will be saying ‘hey that sounds great - I want one!”. Personally, I don’t think the manufacturer is to blame, or the customer, but the retailer, who more often than not takes the easy road and decides on your behalf that this type of piece is too technical (no such thing in my book), and it’ll just sit on the shelf. This of course is true unless you employ active and enthusiastic staff who will pounce on any active user they spot and say “hey you - look at this!!!”. Super technical products take a long time to germinate, with the germination taking place in the mind of the buyer, who once they realize that they’ve bought a winner, will tell their friends. Unfortunately more often than not by the time the seeds are sown, the product has been discontinued, and low sales will mean it’s gone for good.
But your luck is in, as this year, due to popular demand and badgering, Patagonia has brought back the R1 Hoody, and this review aims to give the product enough of a push so that it stays around a little while longer.
First off the top is made from excellent R1 fleece, which is light, warm enough when active, has good wet warmth properties, and is more breathable than standard lightweight fleece (try out an R1 Balaclava if you wear glasses to see what I mean). This is the perfect weight for active use, either layered over a base layer or worn direct to the skin (for damp conditions).
The cut is for climbing, with a long waist (thinner fleece under harness), and features thumb loops and a long wrist, and a hood with offset zipper. There is one small pocket on the chest, and the zipper extends down further than on most pullovers, increasing venting when pushing it. The overall cut is close, although it’s still possible to pull the sleeves up to the elbow for venting (unless your forearms are really big that is…which of course mine are…because I type too much).
I’ve been using this top for a while now, using a Patagonia Houdini, and I’ve used the combo for climbing, walking and mountain running, in both good and bad weather. The R1 material is ideally suited to tough conditions and works well in a soaking. Very often I’ll take it off, ring it out and give it a quick spin around my head, then stick it back on again and be ready to go.
The hood thing is great and is far better than going for a balaclava as it’s much more fitted (you will need a balaclava as well, as the hood doesn’t protect the face). Hoods look terrible on the rack so people don’t like stocking them, and if its snowing they can fill with snow, so it’s worth getting into the habit of stuffing them down inside the neck when not being used.
Anyway if you’re looking for a fleece I think this is one of the best on the market. Now I wonder if they’ll have the balls to make an R2 version!!!
NOTE: I actually work for Patagonia as an ambassador in Europe, but I hope anyone reading this will know that if this top was shit I’d say so, and if it was made by Mountain Hardwear, Columbia or Tesco’s I’d still say the same thing.