Caught on the trail by a sudden downpour. It happens. For some it’s the apex of their run. Rain splashing on your face, mud everywhere, and the scents of the forest waking up all at once. If this is your gig you’ll also want to be prepared. Let’s see if Patagonia’s latest trail specific hardshell is the one you want.
Patagonia’s Light Flyer jacket has been designed for very specific activities: trail running and cycling. And it shows straight out of the box. It has a very minimalist design, a no frills no fuss approach that is adopted by more and more manufacturers. The 3-layer Gore-Tex Active fabric is thin and light. The absence of a hood and the unique pocket on the back will not work for everyone. If you want something more versatile, to take trail running as well as hiking then this is not it. If you want something built to not get in the way of your performance, read on.
Trail running or mountain biking, we can do both around here, summer or winter. So that’s what I did, since we received the jacket mid-august last year until I will have to send it back, very soon. The Patagonia Light Flyer has been with me on short runs in cold, windy but dry weather, on longer runs with showers and mild temperatures. On mountain biking tours with mud, sweat and more mud. On prolonged downpours.
You might have guessed from the Gore-Tex membrane mention, this shell is a rain wall. Active Shell, or just “Active” like they call it now, has some solid waterproof credentials. And to make sure it works to its full potential in terms of breathability, Patagonia made sure to apply a DWR finish on the face fabric and all the seams are sealed. Gore-Tex Active membranes can withstands a water column of 18,000 mm, compared to 28,000 for a Pro Shell for example. Of course the more water-resistant is a fabric the less breathable, whatever the marketing guys are trying to make you believe. Here again the numbers tell us that Active is twice as breathable as a 3-layer Pro Shell.
So how does all that translate in real life? In all the testings in rainy conditions, I did not find any evidence of water getting through the waterproof membrane or the seams. With the DWR treatment brand new, water beaded up nicely on the face fabric. After a while I started to see some areas getting wet out but nothing getting through. The lack of hood means that heavy rain will find its way inside the shell, when it starts to trickle down your neck. Not much that can be done here.
Breathability is similar to other shells in the segment. Not bad when you take into account how waterproof they are but none qualify as “Ultra Breathable” by any stretch of the definition. Patagonia had the good sense to add two vents on the back of the Light Flyer jacket, protected to not let water in. In highly aerobic activities two zippers on the upper arms allow for additional air flow to circulate. Although I found them to work well when vapor was building up inside the shell, they are a real pain to open. Their placement, the fact that the zippers are waterproofed and the shape of the shell in this area are all working against you. Impossible to operate one-handed.
Design, fit, comfort
As I mentioned before, the design is simple. The only pocket, in the lower back, will hold the car keys and a snack. Not a smartphone, head torch or anything else. The collar is lined up with mesh and comfortable on the skin. The hand cuffs have a special cut and length to add more coverage on your hands, Wolverine style. They also fold into mittens if the weather gets colder. A nice idea that worked well for me, specially worn with the Long-Sleeved Thermal Flyer Shirt which has the same feature.
The fit is slim/athletic and the jacket never gets in the way. Slightly broader at the shoulders for maximum movement freedom. The fabric is soft but noisier than what I was hopping for and the lining feels good as well, not like Paclite. And that’s it for the features. Minimalist I told you. The Patagonia Light Flyer jacket weights 245g / 8.64oz in size S on my scale. Talking about size, Patagonia is generally a little too large for me and it’s the case again here with their S having particularly longer sleeves than what I can get with other brands.
Reviewing Patagonia’s Light Flyer has been an overall good experience. I like the streamlined design, and the Gore-Tex membrane used here does a good job. The pocket is too small and the upper arms zippers are difficult to open. The price is a bit steep at £210 / $280 / 220€ but remember that Patagonia is one of the few environmentally responsible companies out there that truly try to make a difference.
[note]The Patagonia Light Flyer Jacket was given to us for the purpose of this review. We try our best to not let this affect our views in any ways. Our gear tests are done in real life, during our own outdoor activities.[/note]