We backcountry folk have simple ways. We work hard on the way up and play hard on the way down. On the ascent we need breathability, on the descent, weather protection, and the fact is these are hard qualities to balance in a material. Polartec has taken one giant leap for backcountrykind with its new Power Shield Pro fabric, and UK seriouswear company Rab has crafted a great jacket in it.
The Baltoro Guide, a.k.a. Guide Pro, softshell jacket is built to be epic-proof. On the inside, it alternates high-loft and mid-weight panels that feel plush when you slip it on. The fit is definitely on the trim side; we're normally a solid medium, and the medium Baltoro leaves room for exactly one light or mid-weight layer. Insulation will be going on over the shell as God intended.
The Baltoro Guide hits the tick list with two deep zipped pockets outside, great for venting, and two smaller zipped pockets inside. For adjustability there are the standard hem and hood drawcords and rip-and-stick cuffs. The hood has a nifty little wire stiffener and is helmet compatible even for large volume helmets like Petzl's Meteor III. Articulation is great, and there's a small strap to roll it up. And do we love the pockets! We used to swear by reach-across Napoleon-style pockets, but the Baltoro's deep pockets are the holy grail: great access even when wearing a pack, and you can still use them to stick your hands in, which is not comfortable at all on the reach-across design.
The performance is astounding. Anyone who has ever dug out a tent platform Every. Effing. Day. knows that shoveling is a great test of breathability. Here in Anchorage, we used a few feet of snow dump to test Power Shield Pro's breathability. Hood up and zippers closed, we worked up a head of steam for hours and could not get the Baltoro to clam up on us. Wonderful. And let's face it, soft shells are the most livable jackets and pants out there, as well as dealing effectively with 99% of weather conditions unless you're living in a serious rain zone. In which case move, and find a jacket like the Rab Baltoro Guide made with Polartec Power Shield Pro.
Hits: Tough, plush, uber-breathable Power Shield Pro fabric is trimmed out with deep pockets and a helmet-friendly hood.
Misses: Fit is very trim, almost next-to-skin, so lose that gut or think about upsizing.
Buy It ($200 at Eastern Mountain Sports)
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