Ian Tarbox-Recon Line Review
The snowsports industry saw some very cool new waves for the 2015/2016 winter season. One of these swells was the rise of touring-specific outerwear. Patagonia dropped the Reconnaissance jacket and pant, a product line with the backcountry recreationists as their main focus and a few of us lucky gear testers at Splitboard.com got to sample the goods. Among the latest outerwear offerings, Patagonia’s Reconnaissance jacket and pant takes the cake as the most progressive touring specific line with its hybrid softshell/hardshell design, which incorporates both textiles’ strengths into one garment. After thirty-plus tours with these puppies, I can say without hesitation that the Reconnaissance jacket and pant offer a fresh option for the gear junky looking for the optimal tackle for the skin track and beyond.
This is Ian’s tenth season on a splitboard and fifth season testing gear. Ian began his backcountry foray in Colorado but it was the Tetons that stole his heart and reared him into the rider that he is today. His past experiences with outerwear have been strictly rooted in hardshell garments from Burton AK, Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardwear, TREW and Patagonia. Standing 5’11” and weighing 185lbs with a jean size of 32×31, Ian wore both Reconnaissance jacket and pant in Medium.
Testing Grounds: From the balmy summits of Taos to the dark and narrow couloirs of the northern San Juans and windy approaches of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, the Recon line was thoroughly put through the ringer this season.
FIT AND DESIGN
Size medium in the Recon jacket fit like a glove! The height of the hem (bottom of jacket) was RIGHT ON, falling somewhere between Patagonia’s baggy Untracked jacket and a shorter Arc’teryx top. Hem height is very important to me. The last thing I want to be thinking about when descending an unadulterated blower couloir is jacket wedgies: when the coat rides up too high causing a feeling of vulnerability and visions of kooks from Texas. Not with this jacket!
Instead, the jacket hem sits plush at your upper thighs, just below the pocket of your pants, and has a skinnier cut for optimal hold when coupled with the synching ability of the Minimalist Cohesive Cord Lock System (MCCLS). Woah, what a name for such a solid drawstring… Along with the drawstring is an elasticized strap that attaches to the Recon pants right above your tailbone, keeping your outerwear in place so you stay dry when you tomahawk.
The slim(ish) fit extends up the torso of the jacket, allowing enough room for a mid-layer or light down jacket for cold predawn mornings or long safety meetings. As a “big legs and little chest guy” when it comes to muscle mass, I found the sporty fit at the torso offered an appealing, well-bodied look. This was later confirmed as two pretty blondes have complimented the outerwear set on separate occasions. Righteous!
The jacket boasts articulated sleeves that remind me of an Arc’teryx sleeve: sleek and narrow, almost ninja like. The hood, also stealth in design, does fit a ski helmet when exposed on a knife ridge or high summit and you need extra protection from the elements while protecting your dome. Interestingly, the single synch on the hood leaves no room for improvement as it does an excellent job covering all parts of the face and neck. Less is more ~
Medium in the Recon pant was a little tight but thanks to the stretch fabric of both shell fabrics, I experienced the most freedom of movement that I had ever felt in a ski pant/bib.
This pant sports a belt to keep your drawers on (or not if you are familiar with the BN in the Game of Gnar). The Recon’s snow-seal gaiters are quite possibly the tightest pair I’veever put on. It was unbeatable when it came to keeping snow out of my boots (Fitwell backcountry and Salamon Malamute) when swimming up bottomless couloirs or postholing in variable snow/layers on ridges.
The small vents/zips on these puppies are found behind the hamstrings of the leg. I absolutely dug the locale of the cavity but found the zip to be a little small in the warmest of afternoon tours.
Finally, this jacket and pant do NOT make you look like a skier as does most other competitors’ performance-oriented outerwear. I’ve struggled with this problem for too long and it’s quite refreshing to see slim-ish fit, articulated outerwear that doesn’t scream “forty-year-old teleskier.”#splitboarderproblems = #splitboardsolutions
STRETCH AND MANEUVERABILITY
The Recon fit is unlike any other outerwear I’ve ever ridden in because of its ability to stretch. Both the lightweight double-weave polyester softshell and three-layer hardshell possess ultimate elastic capabilities. This allows the rider to enjoy a slim “sporty” fit without feeling stiff or confined while performing your favorite steep kick turn, slash or floater. When it comes to style, I dig tighter-fitting outerwear. The Recon line offers unparalleled range of motion and maneuverability thanks to the elastic qualities of both soft and hard shells while keeping it slim and tight. Nowhere was this stretch felt more than in the pants for this dude who has large legs and a rather colossal buttock.
So far so good! The Recon jacket and pant have crushed through nearly every walk of life in the mountains. Long approaches and short, steep jogs. Frigid cold missions with dark-30 starts and warm, playful afternoon jaunts (February this season in the Rockies, blahhhh). Nearly every single form of precipitation has been observed; from gropple to PUMPING swell with the fattest flakes and everything in between. The heaviest tour for me this season was in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado where 1.5+ inches an hour fell consistently over a nine-hour tour in temperatures just below freezing. Those heavy flakes definitely left the exterior of both the soft-shell and hard-shell soaking but the interior somehow kept dry and warm.
The Recon’s impermeable ability to repel penetrating snow during the most horrific wipeouts was incredible. After wearing bibs for the last five seasons, it was a little worrisome to dive back into pants, especially with the absence of a powder skirt inside the jacket. Yard sale after yard sale, the minimalist synch system, elasticized strap and pant belt kept snow OUT completely.
The recipe for water repellence with a soft-shell body lies within the Recon line’s genius design. Patagonia has masterfully designated a three-layer H2NO hardshell garment where moisture falls directly: the hood, shoulder and arms. Everywhere else consists of a very thin polyester softshell textile that does not soak up precipitation, as does an ordinary softshell due to the DWR coating and thinner nature of the material. All the while, both garments enjoy fully taped seams to keep your junk dry. RIGHTEOUS![Note: After every 5-10 days on snow I washed the Recon outerwear and reapply a spray on DWR before drying to best care for the gear and its water resistance.]
Patagonia NAILED IT when it comes to pocket placement for the Recon Jacket. Two sizeable but compact breast pockets provide a perfect place for a KIND bar or some Gentleman’s Beef Jerky when easily accessible fuel is required. If you are like me, you dig convenient eating on the go instead of longer pit-stops where you just get cold while digesting and these pockets were ideal.
Within the left breast pocket is a smaller zippered “stash” compartment with a headphone jack. I don’t keep electronics on my person other than a beacon, in fear of signal malfunction. Instead, I use this pocket for season passes, an ID and beer money. Per usual, the Recon jacket offers dual hand pockets above the waist and a larger stretch drop-in pocket inside the coat. All great places to keep a beanie (toque for you Canadians), a pair of touring gloves or some glacier glasses.
Last but definitely not least, the Recon jacket incorporates a sleeve pocket at the left bicep, ideal for safety meetings. With all the weight-added features Patagonia has done away with for this ultra-simple touring line, I absolutely LOVE that they kept this accessible and very important pocket!
The Recon pant embodies the essence of “minimal” when it comes to pockets. Two strategically placed pockets line the outside of both quads just above the knee. I like to keep my beacon on the left (I’m goofy foot and dig the bulk on my back leg), and trash or smaller backcountry gadgets like an inclinometer on the right. Both pant pockets are constructed with three-layer hardshell textile in order to keep your stuff dry.
The two-tone blue and lime green set I wore was very SAFE, allowing my partners good visual while riding in a forest blanked in white. Sure, I got some strange looks by some of the rough and weathered locals in backwoods western towns… but that’s a small price to pay to have “eyes on” in the backcountry.
The weight of the Recon line tends to fall right in the middle of the pack when compared to alternatives. The jacket weighs 20.2 oz and the pants come in at 17.5 oz. Compare this to TREWs Wander jacket at 18.8 oz and Roam bib at 23.4 oz or Arc’teryx’s Rush coat at 19.5 oz. and Sidewinder jacket at 20.6 oz.
What is more important than weight? Packability!I have no accurate way of measuring the mass of the Recon line but I can tell you that this outerwear reduces to a very tiny package when properly packed. The Recon line is obviously designed to wear when touring/riding but if you feel the need to shed a coat (or pants if you play the Game of Gnar) they do not take up much space.
If you’re counting ounces as much as I am in the backcountry, I highly recommend taking a peek at Patagonia’s Refugitive jacket. This three-layer Gore-Tex ripstop coat shaves off an enormous 5.2 oz. Check Colin’s review of the Refugitive jacket here.
WARMTH AND BREATHABILITY
Back sweat dude….
Before this, I had never utilized softshell garments for touring, and wow, I am blown away. Quite literally, as the softshell allows air to flow through. Like most of you, when I tour, I try to move at a consistent pace without breaking a major sweat. The Recon line allows the rider to seamlessly travel through the mountains as one unit from the truck to the summit and back to the truck. Just make sure to pack an extra mid-layer for the summit.
The stand out performance of this review goes to the breathability of the pants. With the strategic placement of the softshell garment near and around your junk and inner thighs, these pants will keep you cool! Seriously though, sometimes a little too nippy, as when swimming up a very shadowed and cold couloir in January. Be bold, start cold!
The feel and appearance of the Recon line has held up very well after the thirty plus days on snow. Sure, there are a few cuts, bruises and tears but C’est la vie [Continue reading below to see more of what I am getting at…] All seams and zippers are in working order and the cinches are tight. Exactly what kind of fine craftsmanship you expect from Patagonia.
Jacket: $279 (marked down from $399)
Pant: $244 (marked down from $349)
The Recon line is competively priced, especially if you pick it up NOW.
Here we go, this is where I tell Patagonia how to make this jacket the “go-to” jacket for splitboarding….
1. NO Ripstop = less durability
As pictured above, the three-layer nylon hardshell tore. Along with that tear, I found some very interesting mouse-bite-sized holes in the hardshell. Both areas of concern were easily self-repaired with McNetts Tenacious Repair Tape. The tear was not on a seam, making me confident the default was not on the factory or craftsmanship but due to contact with a sharp splitboard edge. I would recommend Patagonia incorporate Ripstop (a reinforcing technique in the weave to protect the shell from tears) as they did in the Refugitive Jacket in order to further protect this very thin hardshell.
2. Reinforce the Velcro!
I have noticed this problem on almost every Patagonia shell jacket. Double stitch, triple stitch, quadruple stitch (WTF), those Velcro patches at the cuff!
4. No Pitzips?!
Seriously? I understand that this jacket is breatheable but I NEED pitzips.
5. A little chilly…
I could feel every breeze in this line, especially in the pants at the groin. Leave these pants at home if you are riding arctic chairlifts ALL DAY or swimming up bottomless couloirs.
6. The Final Conundrum
Here’s the deal. I dig the idea of wearing a jacket full time but I run hot while ascending. When it’s sunny, thirty plus degrees and I’m huffing and puffing below tree line with minimal wind, this jacket is too warm. There I said it. Lose the jacket and join me in my base layers on the way up brethren!
THE NITTY GRITTY
With its hybrid design, The Reconnaissance outerwear line from Patagonia was manifested with the hard-core splitboarder in mind. This line is perfect for the rider who tours in cold, high elevation climates and does not want to be slowed by frequent changeovers. I HIGHLY recommend the pants, as they were the best thing that happened to me this season on the skintrack. The jacket fits great, looks rad and does a great job of preventing back sweat, but in the end, I found myself touring in my capilene or merino wool base layers far too much.
All bitching aside… The price is right, the ladies love it and the range of mobility gained through the stretch fabric are out of this world. I will continue to tour with the Recon line as my go to, opting for the Refugitive jacket or Powslayer bib for booting couloirs or the coldest of days (more on those here.) Head over to your nearest Gucci retailer and check the Reconnaissance line out to get dialed in for your upcoming spring epics.