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Patagonia Puffball Vest Owner Review (Revised)

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  • Jeff Widman
    Below is the revised version of my Patagonia Puffball Owner Review. I changed a few items in the report, but mainly just updated it to match the new standards
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2002
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      Below is the revised version of my Patagonia Puffball Owner Review. I
      changed a few items in the report, but mainly just updated it to match the
      new standards of the Survival Guide v. 302.2
      Please let me know any comments, critiques, or anything that I messed up on.

      Item being tested: Patagonia Puffball Vest (Pre 2001 model)
      Report Number: Owner Review

      Name: Jeff Widman
      Gender: Male
      Height: 6'3"
      Weight: 164 lbs.
      Age: 15 yrs
      Area of Residence: Bellingham, WA (two hours north of Seattle.)
      E-mail address: jeffwidman@...
      Date: 3-8-02 (revised 4-27-02)
      (Please see end of report for a short biography of my backpacking exploits.)

      Manufacturer's Website: http://www.patagonia.com/

      "Unlike down, Puffballs don't need constant pampering to keep them dry;
      they retain their insulative qualities even when wet. They're also
      lightweight, compressible, wind resistant and add warmth to any layering
      system. The slick polyester shell and nylon ripstop lining slide easily over
      or under layers. Both garments (vest or pullover) stuff into their own
      vertical zippered chest pocket and take up very little room in your pack.
      Imported." - From the manufacturer's website.

      My Puffball vest is size medium, and red. I purchased my used vest this
      winter (January of '02,) from another backpacker online. When I received the
      vest, it was in like new condition, so being pre-owned should in no way
      affect my review. Synthetic filled vests/pullovers are extremely warm for
      their weight, light, compressible, and dry noticeably quicker than down. I
      originally started looking for an insulation layer to replace my old wool
      sweater, and since I did not want to spend the extra money for a down vest,
      my search was rapidly narrowed to fleece versus synthetic filled garments. I
      eventually picked synthetics because they provide approximately two to three
      times the warmth of equivalent weight fleece garments. I purchased the
      Puffball vest over alternatives for three reasons. 1. I preferred the half
      zip anorak style to the full zip style vests/jackets because the full zip
      adds (for me) unnecessary weight. 2. I preferred a vest to pullovers/jackets
      because a vest is slightly more weight efficient. 3. I found a pre-owned
      (but never used,) Puffball for $30 online.

      Test Duration/Location/Conditions: I have not yet gone backpacking with the
      vest, but I have done extensive testing on day hikes, standing around
      outside, playing basketball outside, and light jogs in very cold weather.
      The weather has ranged from 25+ mph winds at temperatures below freezing, to
      nice sunny 60-degree (Fahrenheit) afternoons.

      Price: I purchased my Puffball vest, used, for $30 online. It normally
      retails for $89, but can occasionally be found on sale for less than $60.
      (Update 4-27-02: Patagonia is apparently discontinuing Puffball vests. They
      can be found on the Internet for around $57.)

      Weight: My Puffball weighs 226 grams (7.97 oz.) However, my vest is a year
      or two old. Patagonia was making the Puffball series (vest/pullover/
      pants???) in 1.7(??, maybe 1.3 or 1.5, I'm not sure) oz ripstop nylon shell
      and lining. They have since (from either 2000 or 2001 models forwards) been
      using a 2.3 oz mini-ripstop polyester shell combined with a 1.7 oz ripstop
      nylon liner. This has resulted in vests weighing 1-2 ounces more while
      having a slightly more water-resistant shell material. Patagonia currently
      lists the vest at 9.5 oz.

      Convenience/Ease of Use/Performance: I have been very impressed with this
      vest. It has approximately a half-inch of loft. I have found that it
      normally adds around 7 degrees (F) to my layering system (This is a totally
      non-scientific off the wall guess. Take it to mean whatever you want it to
      mean. :-)) Because the vest has a windproof nylon outer, it blocks the wind,
      adding significantly to the amount of warmth it provides when used without
      another wind resistant shell. I have been very impressed with the design.
      Some might find the half-length zipper cumbersome, but I have no problems.
      While full length does allow for slightly better venting, these garments are
      not meant to be used where venting is a concern. The half-length zipper
      saves some weight without noticeably affecting the performance/ease of use.
      The vest has a full length collar, which is quit nice. I often wear a
      lightweight balaclava, and put the neck portion of the balaclava under the
      collar of the vest. I have found that this combination of vest/balaclava
      with a Coolmax T-shirt and shorts can take me down to approximately fifty
      degrees while standing around. One thing that I do appreciate about this
      vest is the pocket. It is approximately 6 inches deep (varies between 5 &
      1/2 - 7inches) and seven inches tall. I have found it quite convenient for
      sticking my knife, light, and either a pair of light gloves, or a
      lightweight balaclava. The garment also stuff into the pocket, a feature I
      seldom use, but still appreciate. I also really appreciate the windproofness
      of insulated garments. On a gusty day, the wind resistance is very nice. The
      armholes and waist are made of Lycra, and provide a nice tight seal. This is
      a size medium vest, and fits me pretty well. I am quite skinny, built like a
      beanpole, and this garment is slightly too large in the waist. However,
      being 6' 3" complicates things, and having tried a size small (in a store,)
      I prefer the medium. I have a size small Patagonia R1 Flash vest, and while
      I prefer the R1 vest in size small, a size small Puffball would be a few
      inches to short for me.

      Maintenance/Durability: The light nylon ripstop shell/liner is more than
      sufficient for my needs. If I intend to be bushwhacking, I will wear a
      heavier jacket over the vest to prevent damage to the Puffball. All the
      seams are well sewn/placed. My ancient 21-oz REI down anorak has some of the
      seams on the inside just poking out weird, not sewn down flat. The Puffball
      is very well constructed. Synthetic filled garments have a limited lifespan
      of approximately 5-10 years, before they start to lose their loft. I have
      yet to notice any loss of loft in the Puffball, and I do not expect to
      notice any for a few years to come. I have worn the vest for approximately
      48 hours total (time actually worn) and it still looks like new.

      Drawbacks: Some would consider the half-length zipper a drawback, but I
      consider it a plus. The only drawback that I can find is Patagonia's
      decision to use a heavier shell material. Yes, it is slightly more
      water/tear resistant, but it adds another one-two ounces to the weight.
      Patagonia should seriously consider reverting to the old shell, as this vest
      is aimed at minimalists, what with the half-length zipper, single pocket,
      and 'puffy' insulation.
      The other main drawback is the price. Feathered Friends often sells their
      Helios down filled vests for $80 (on sale on their website.) I would
      definitely choose the Helios vest over the Puffball, just because down is
      better than synthetic insulation (as long as you keep it dry, but that is
      another topic.) I would normally purchase MEC's Northern Light pullover or
      vest, just because they are less than half the price of the corresponding
      Puffball pieces (vest/pullover.)

      Customer Service: I have had no experience with Patagonia's customer
      service, nor do I expect to. Their stuff is very well constructed. Patagonia
      has an excellent guarantee.

      Possible Modifications/Improvements: See the section entitled "Drawbacks."
      The only two possible improvements are reverting to the old shell material
      and dropping the price.

      Overall impressions/Quality:
      The Puffball vest is an exceptional piece of equipment; sure to find its
      way into my pack whenever I go day hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, or
      just when I might need a little more insulation. The vest is the most
      thermally efficient piece of clothing in its class (excluding down, or
      synthetic filled garments weighing a pound or more.) If it were cheaper, it
      would be the bargain of the year. As it is, I would say that Mec's Northern
      Lights series is a better buy. The Puffball gives you a little more for the
      weight, but at a significant increase in price. If you are one of those
      people who need the best, go with the Puffball.
      I have found that the Puffball, coupled with a lightweight balaclava (which
      is stored in the pocket until needed) is one of the lightest, most flexible
      three season insulation systems around.

      About the author (me): I have spent around 15 nights actually backpacking.
      During those three trips, I have covered close to 100 miles actually
      carrying a 35+ pound backpack. However, my parents (especially my dad,) have
      been enthralled with the outdoors since long before I was born. As my three
      younger siblings and I have grown, we have day-hiked over 1000 miles as a
      family. Over the past year and a half, backpacking has become a natural
      extension of day-hiking. The summer of '01 was the first summer that my dad
      really started taking my siblings and I backpacking. For this coming summer
      ('02,) we have already tentatively planned another 15-20 nights (125+
      miles) of backpacking.
      On another note, I am a very analytical person, more commonly known as a
      gear freak. I have spent many tens of hours learning about gear on the
      Internet. I have also spend many hours testing gear, returning some gear,
      keeping other gear, as I continually strive to achieve that perfect balance
      of weight-function-durability-cost. My current shelter is an old Sierra
      Designs tent, but I have been seriously considering either a hammock or a
      modified tarp design (ID Silshelter, HS Tarp Tent, etc.) I live and backpack
      mainly in the North Cascades. I have day-hiked in the following National
      Parks: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Yellowstone,
      Glacier, North Cascades, and quite a few others that I am forgetting. My
      family currently averages between 2-3 mph while both day-hiking (faster,)
      and backpacking (slower.)
      Our average day-hike is approximately 10 miles long. Currently, our favorite
      backpacking trips are 4-6 nights long, and approximately 50 miles long. My
      current base pack weight is around 25 pounds, depending on conditions.
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