This season, Patagonia has rocked the category of breathable synthetic insulations with their own proprietary FullRange insulation.
This past spring I had the opportunity to test FullRange insulation in the newly released Patagonia Nano Air Hoody jacket. I brought the Nano Air Hoody rock climbing, ice climbing and skiing in Chamonix, as well as skiing and mountaineering in the Elk mountains of Colorado. I’ve worn it around whisky-soaked campfires in the cold Utah desert, on the sides of big-walls in the Verdon, and I’ve worn it while balling hard around town.
Over these past few globe-trotting months, I’ve changed the way I think about layering for climbing in the mountains.
The Nano Air Hoody, which also can be purchased without the hood, is warm and light (much lighter than fleece, which is a close cousin in terms of performance). It’s extremely breathable. It dries quickly (due to that breathability). It remains warm (due to the fact that it dries so quickly). And most important, it’s comfortable in an impressively wide range of situations—i.e., the Nano Air is cool enough to climb in and warm enough to belay in. Think of FullRange as a performance mid-layer that crosses well into outer layer territory as well.
People used to wear fleece as their mid-layer, with a W/B shell as an outer layer. But in recent years, I’ve noticed a new (disturbing) trend: light down jackets being used as mid-layers underneath W/B shells. Basically, this is the worst of both worlds! No breathability. Little stretch. Easy to lose insulation.
Climbing in the mountains is defined by periods of active performance (the climbing) followed immediately by periods of rest (the belay). You don’t typically climb in downpours, and unless an ice pitch is running wet, you’re often not in danger of getting fully drenched by the elements.
But you will always sweat. What you really need/want is a single piece that can do it all—or at least, perform well enough to do most of it. And breathe really well.
The Nano Air Hoody is the most versatile alpine-climbing jacket that I’ve ever worn. Period. It’s comfortable and stretchy enough to climb in, and breathes well enough to keep me cool and relatively dry even while active. But it’s also insulated and keeps me warm at most belays. Though if I’m really cold, I’ll throw on a big down puffy.
There are limitations to the Nano Air’s performance: namely, it provides nearly no protection against the wind, and despite its DWR coating, it will get wet if you find yourself in that type of situation. (Also, its DWR repellency seems to wash away in the washing machine after several cycles). But even when the Nano Air did get wet, I was blown away by how quickly it dried. One time I wore it up a dripping ice pitch and got fairly soaked. But by the next pitch, the jacket was literally completely dry. Amazing.
The real solution to the Nano Air Hoody’s few limitations is to pair it with a good waterproof layer that you can shove in your pocket and put on at a moment’s notice. I paired my Nano Air Hoody with the Patagonia Alpine Houdini Jacket—a lightweight woven nylon laminate shell with a DWR finish. It’s fully waterproof (10,000mm), packs down to the size of a small orange, and weighs only 6.6 ounces. I kept the Alpine Houdini shoved into the pocket of my Nano Air Hoody, or clipped to the back of my harness, so it’s always nearby and I can throw it on when I need wind protection, or if I’m about to lead up a wet-looking pitch, or even if it starts to rain or snow.
Essentially, I only wore this laminated jacket when I really need it—which was a lot less than my W/B-worshiping brain expected.
There are number of other shell jackets out there that you could pair with the Nano Air as well, some of which are beefier than the Alpine Houdini (I’d recommend the Patagonia M10). But regardless of which waterproof or W/B shell jacket you choose to pair with your Nano Air, expect it to do a lot more time sitting in your pack, clipped to your harness, or stuffed into the pocket of your Nano Air. Trust me, your sweat glands will thank you.