MSRP: $299 (reduced from $499)
This winter I’ve gotten the chance to experience living off the grid in a cabin that overlooks El Capitan and Half Dome. The proximity to El Cap meadow–merely 20 minutes from my front door–comes with plenty of advantages that include climbing whenever I want as well as a convenient, inspiring home base from which to work (write). The cabin comes with its challenges, too: It’s a cold, un-insulated space that is often below freezing, and when I can’t get the propane heater to light, there’s no warmth at all. Water that I use for cooking sometimes freezes at night. And when it rains, snows and the wind blows, I experience that (full on), too.
I call this setup “glamping” but my peers don’t agree. They say living in a tent that’s so drafty I can fit my arm through the doorframe is anything but glamorous. But it sure beats sleeping in a ditch or cave, which I’ve done (in other areas) over past winters. This winter I’ve adjusted to wearing lots of layers 24 hours a day and sleeping in my clothes, especially when nighttime temps drop.
This is why I’ve lived in the Patagonia Micro Puff Storm Jacket (530 g/1.17 lbs.) since November. It’s compact enough that it fits in my cragging pack without taking up all the available space and it’s filled with synthetic PlumaFill, so it retains its insulating properties even when wet. It also uses lightweight two-layer H2No Performance Standard, Patagonia’s breathable, water-resistant shell fabric that’s designed for damp, chilly conditions. Additional features include an internal, “mini snow skirt,” helmet-compatible hood, wicking features and a DWR finish to shed moisture. The Micro Puff Storm has two oversized internal mesh pockets and two oversized external pockets.
Patagonia markets this jacket–more accurately a winter coat–for climbing, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding. I’ve found it strikes the balance of all-day warmth without making me feel like I’m walking around in an arctic sleeping bag with arms.
For the past several months I’ve taken it climbing throughout Yosemite Valley, from chilly crags that don’t see the sun all day, to the sunny south-facing Washington Column, which bakes like a solar oven. I also used it while ice climbing in Ouray.
Over the years I’ve used other medium weight insulating, breathable jackets that are similar to this one and they all have the same cons as the Micro Puff Storm Jacket: they’re too bulky for climbing in, the hood is too spacious for use without a helmet, and they’re too warm to wear during high-intensity activities. Regarding the hood that Patagonia says works equally well with or without a helmet–I don’t agree–to keep the Puff Storm from flapping over my eyes, I roll the visor up like I’m rolling up the cuffs on my jeans. The manufacturer says the hood adjusts with a gasket and single-pull adjustment.
Keep in mind, Yosemite doesn’t get bitter cold like many other areas, and temps rarely gets below 15. I’ve cragged in this jacket when temps were between 25 and 50 degrees. Conditions were similar when I used it in Ouray.
When I wore the Puff Storm up a moderate ice flow in the Ouray Ice Park (over a long weekend when afternoon temps were in the 40s) I reached the belay so completely overheated that my face turned bright red. Though I was climbing with the front zipper completely open, once I reached the top I had to immediately take the jacket off so that the condensation that had gathered in the back and in the sleeves could dry. The jacket is so spacious (generously sized) that I felt like I was climbing in a cape when I left it unzipped.
Thanks to the double zipper in the front, it works as a great belay jacket.
As a lightweight version of a winter coat, it doesn’t weigh me down, but at the same time, it’s not ideal for intensive activity. For that, I prefer layers in a different category (as in athletic fitting, active insulation) such as The North Face Ventrix or Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody.
However, the Puff Storm is great for standing still and belaying in the cold–which I’ve done plenty of this winter–and also when it’s worn on top of several layers, especially when it’s wet out.
It’s the perfect everyday piece but it’s just not something I like to wear when climbing.
[Patagonia has discontinued the current version of the Micro Puff Storm Jacket for sustainability reasons and reduced the original price of $499 to $299. Corey Simpson, a representative for Patagonia, told Alpinist: “For Fall ’19 we committed to having all of our waterproof items be made with recycled materials or be 100 percent recycled. The Micro Puff Storm’s outer shell fabric could not be converted to recycled without losing some performance. We will not make sub-par items so we, heartbreakingly, decided to drop the Micro Puff Storm from the Fall ’19 line. However, it will come back into the line for Spring ’20, with a recycled face fabric that performs as well as it does now.” –Ed.]
Chris Van Leuven is the former digital editor for Alpinist. He lives off the grid in a canvas-walled cabin near Yosemite Valley.
Packable synthetic insulation
Mini snow skirt
Double zipper works great for belaying
Generously sized (fits like a coat), which makes it great for layering but a poor choice as an active performance layer
Hood bobs over my eyes unless I roll it up out of the way