Name: Mark Verber
Height/Weight: 5'10" (1.8m) / 180lb (82kg)
Region: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Date: January 22, 2003
Review Item: 2001 Patagonia Essenshell Pullover - Size M
Weight as delivered: 340g (12.0oz)
Cost: Discontinued. Listed for $135US.
Unlined Softshell hooded pullover with with a 2/3 length zipper. This shell is water-repellant thanks to the use of EncapSil (aka Nextec EPIC) which is a durable water repellant fabric, very breathable, and pretty windproof. There are two large pockets.
Looks like your typically pullover shell. The hood is large enough to accommodate a helmet (or a large hat) and is adjustable with a single pull which is located at the back of the neck. There are two large pockets formed with a soft mesh. The pockets are placed high so they don't interfere with a pack waist strap. Leaving the pockets unzipped can help venting a small bit which is good since there are no pit-zips or other ventilation mechanisms. There is an adjustable elastic hem, and the sleeves have elastic w/ velcro loops. The Essenshell is cut generously. I normally wear a large jacket, but a medium fits me well while providing room for layering. The jacket packs up pretty small is an reasonably light. The fabric doesn't feel "bombproof" but but the jacket doesn't show signs of wear after a year which included numerous encounters with brush while going cross country and a slide down a rock field.
This is the first shell I have owned which I could use for all almost all my activities. I tend to overheat easily, and really hate feeling damp from my own sweat. I have not found any waterproof/breathable jacket I am comfortable wearing when the temperature is above around 35 F when I am engaged in aerobic activities. I can comfortably wear my Essenshell over a light shirt around town up to around 60 F, backpacking 50 F, and skiing 45 F. The jacket is reasonably windproof. Better yet, this jacket is extremely "water resistant". Water balls up and rolls right off. When I filled up the hood with water, it took almost an hour before the liquid started to appear on the other side. A quick shake, and most of the water was gone. In late September 2002 I hiked up to McCabe Lake in Yosemite. During the day temperatures were between 45-55 F, with conditions varying every 30 minutes between overcast/windy, drizzle, and rain showers. If I had been wearing a light-weight Gore-Tex shell I would have been swimming in my own sweat. Instead I was mostly dry. The jacket breathed well enough that I wasn't wet from my own sweat. When I took off my backpack after wearing it for four hours I discovered that the locations where the backpack was in constant contact with the jacket (shoulder straps and a few contact points on my upper back) the Essenshell had started to wet through. Under those locations my shirt was damp, but only those locations. I believe the combination of the backpack's open cell foam padding holding water against the shell (e.g. the water couldn't roll off) and the pressure from the backpack gave the water time to soak through. Once the backpack was remove, the shell completely dried in about two hours. Note: While very water resistant, you should not think of this jacket as waterproof. In an extended shower, it will wet through. My experience was it took around one hour to completely wet through in a moderately severe rainstorm, though I have read reports about people wetting through faster than that in really nasty storms.
I have found that the combination of this shell, a Patagonia R.5 base layer, and a old-style puffball vest keeps me warm when I am sitting down in 25F degree temperatures, yet is comfortable when I am alpine skiing with temperatures reaching 40F at the bottom of the hill.
I did a lot of backpacking from 1972 through the '80s. I started by going to various destinations in Ohio, West Virgina, and Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Destinations expanded to include sections of the AT, the PCT, the Rockies (Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Tetons), The Big Horns, and various destinations in Canada. In the '90s my outdoor activities slowed down to make room for other aspects of life. Nearly all my backpacking was heavy-weight style. In 2001 I started seriously backpacking again... mostly in the Sierras. Over the next three years I switch from a heavyweight to ultralight to lightweight style. My three season base weight is now 8-11 lb (3.5-5 kg). Full carry weight including food and water is typically 15-25 lb (7-11 kg) depending on the length of the trip. Winter trips run a bit heavier.