Jackets aren't gear really, more outerwear, but I am sure some of you are looking at your options out there. I live in New England and we get pretty brutal winters, so I have what my wife calls my Nanook of the North jacket (great movie BTW). But for those slightly less painful days or in the long falls and springs that visit New England I wanted a lighter jacket.
One of the bits of new fabric tech that has come out in the past five years or so is called DWR (for durable water repellant material). It is also known as a "softshell" jacket (as opposed to a fleece jacket or another kind of jacket the "hardshell" jacket, like Gortex jackets). They stretch like neoprene gloves but have better water resistance. They also usually have an integrated or "bonded" fleece interior. All in all, they make great jackets for fall and spring.
I have one now, from North Face, and it works quite well, but it lacks one crucial ingredient--a hood. So after two hoodless years, I decided to find a softshell hoodie. Well so did about 10 million other people. The range of options out there is staggering. You can go all high end and grab a Simm Softshell Hoodie or an even pricier TAD Gear Stealth Hoodie. And then there is the famous or infamous Condor Summit Softshell Hoodie. It is infamous because it is, well, a straight rip off on the Stealth Hoodie and costs about a quarter of the price. It is the $25 Gucci handbag of the Softshell Hoodie market. Then there are the bevy of choices from the standard outdoor companies--Columbia, North Face, ArcTeryx, and the others.
But here is the problem: I don't have a need for the $400 ArcTeryx jacket as I am not a mountain climber and I really, really don't want to look like GI Joe which rules out the TAD Gear and Condor jacket. I mean really, take a look:
Guy in a TAD Gear Jacket Pretending to be Snake Eyes:
Note the similarity in the collars as well as other silly things.
Seriously, I know there are people out there that need and fully utilize all of the gee whiz features of the TAD jackets and the Condor jacket, but I am not one of them. I also have a sneaking suspicion, based on the fact that the sites that sell the Condor jacket are almost exclusively airsoft places, that a lot of the people that bought these jackets get them for more SIM and less MIL applications. In other words, for the vast majority of people these "tactical" jackets do more to usher them into the Mall Ninja Hall of Fame than shelter them from the wind. If you used one to kill OBL then more power to you (oh, and you have the thanks of a grateful nation and me), but I think it is unlikely that happened.
So what to do?
Well, we went to the LL Bean Flagship store in Freeport Maine this past August and I can honestly say that their stock as a company skyrocketed in my eyes after that. They simply do things the right way. They have so many charitable offshoots (like the bus service that runs all over Mount Desert Island and throughout Acadia National Park) and they have transformed that small town into an economic engine. They also have a great return policy and they seem to do well in terms of business ethics and employee treatment. Plus, their stuff seems to strike the happy medium between junky looks-only stuff and Mall Ninja gear. So, I decided on a Navy Pathfinder Hoodie and it is really nice. It is cut well, it is simple in its appearance, and the zippers are nice. I also find the hoodie is just the right size.