Patagonia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I’ve been lucky enough to test out some of Patagonia’s range of clothing recently. This has been almost exclusively for mountain biking trips, because I wanted to check out its credentials as a suitable accompaniment to single-track days out and bikepacking adventures. How did it test out? Here’s the short answer: WOW! From the Capilene Cool Merino short sleeve, via the Dirt Craft bike shorts, and on to the Micro Puff hoody, Patagonia’s gear lives up to the hype and is outstanding on the bike. Want more details? Yeah, of course you do, so read on and see how I’ve tested this clothing and how it performed.

Now, when I was planning out this article, I had the idea to theme it around a classic Clint Eastwood movie. Trouble was that, whilst the ‘Good’ section was extensive, the ‘Bad’ was virtually empty, and the ‘Ugly’ was non-existent. But, rather than let a lack of suitable material get in the way of a creative theme, I’ve just decided to Go Ahead and, if you like it, it’ll Make My Day.

So, instead, I’ll be diving In The Line of Fire and investigating the Good big stuff about the Patagonia company, the Good small stuff about Patagonia’s clothing, and I’ll throw in a couple of little not-very-Ugly niggles along the way, which will hardly make a ripple. Like a (very small) plane landing on the Hudson.

Along the way, I’ll be weaving in plenty of Eastwood references. See if you can spot them all**.

Anyway, I need to catch The 15:17 To Paris this afternoon and there’s no time to lose, so let’s dive right in and take a look.

**In case you were wondering, no, Clint Eastwood has never starred in or shot a movie in Patagonia. Well, that’s not strictly true, actually. The Outlaw Josey Wales was filmed partly in Patagonia. Patagonia, Arizona that is.


What I’ve been testing out:


The ‘Ugly’ niggles

If you try and search for bad things about the Patagonia company and their gear, you’ll struggle to find anything at all. Persevere though, and you’ll eventually manage to come up with two things. “Aha!”, you’ll cry in triumph, “Now I’ve got them on the ropes!”. But, you haven’t. Not at all. In fact, all you’ve found are comments about pricing, which go along the lines of, “Yeah, Patagonia clothes are spendy, but I love them and wouldn’t wear anything else”. I’ll talk more about pricing in a moment.

You’ll also get some references to “Patagucci”, “Fratagonia”, and a trend of donning outdoor gear for those arduous trips around campus. This strikes me as hardly being fair on Patagonia – it’s not their fault if a group of people decides to wear their technical gear in non-technical situations, is it? And, in fact, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard said way back in 1991 that he didn’t want “a company making ‘outdoorlike’ clothing for posers”.

Like I said, the ‘Ugly’ column looks kinda sparse, so let’s push on to the ‘Good’ stuff about Patagonia, the company, before we then take a look at their apparel.


The ‘Good’ Big stuff

The more you delve into Patagonia, the more you realize that there are more important things to founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his team than making a fast buck. In fact, profits are something that appear to be purely a means to an end for Chouinard. And that ‘end’ is a slightly loftier goal than rewarding shareholders and pleasing venture capitalists. If I tell you that Chouinard changed the company mission statement in 2018 to “We’re in business to save our home planet”, you’ll get some idea of what’s most important to them.

But, what does this even mean? Is it something that just got scrawled on a flip chart at a management awayday, then typed up and tacked on every company notice board…and promptly forgotten about? Apparently not. The seeds of this philosophy were sown in the very earliest days of the company, before it even became ‘Patagonia’. Chouinard originally started up in business by buying a second-hand forge, an anvil, a few blacksmithing tools, and then teaching himself how to make climbing pitons (a metal spike which is hammered into a rock face as a climbing anchor), which he would then sell to climbing friends. Fast forward a few years, and with A Few Dollars More in the bank, Chouinard had a thriving company (Chouinard Equipment), which was one of the largest suppliers of climbing hardware in the US. He also had a problem. Those pitons, which were a significant part of the business, were responsible for causing major damage to many of the popular climbing routes in America.

Whilst many companies would have just said, “Oh well, we’ll plant a few trees to offset the damage”, Chouinard took a gamble. Introducing a new type of aluminum chock that could be temporarily placed in the rock face, and then removed without damaging the climb, he then promoted this (and what he called ‘clean’ climbing) in the company’s 1972 catalog.

The result was that sales of the original pitons, which had been 70% of the company’s total revenue, tanked and, at the same time, the new aluminum chocks took off big time. It was a huge risk to take but showed that Chouinard was concerned about bigger issues than mere profits.

So, ‘saving our home planet’ clearly became the way forward for Patagonia, before it even became Patagonia and before it became a mission statement on a staff noticeboard. Let’s take a look at a couple examples of how Patagonia are putting this into action.

1% for the planet

Over time, Patagonia have put more than a Fistful Of Dollars (are you still counting?) where their mouth is. And one of the biggest examples of this is the 1% For The Planet initiative. Co-founded by Yvon, the project aims to match corporations with environmental non-profits that align with their values and commit to donating 1% of their annual revenues to those non-profits. We’re not talking about the odd Million Dollar (Baby) here, in fact Patagonia alone has already donated $140M since it began this.

It’s worth noting that the commitment here is to donate 1% of total revenue, as opposed to 1% of profits. That’s important because it means that Patagonia and all the other companies involved in the program will continue to donate Every Which Way But Loose: throughout the profitable good times and also the loss-making bad times. You’d be Unforgiven for thinking that it might just be smaller companies that Yvon and his colleagues have persuaded to be a part of 1% For The Planet. And, whilst there are many smaller companies and individuals who have signed up, there are also some 800-pound Orangutans who are also taking up the challenge, such as Honest Tea, New Belgium Brewery, and Klean Kanteen.

Worn Wear

Unusually for a clothing retailer, Patagonia have a long history of attempting to discourage folk from buying their gear. A well-known example being the full-page ad they took out in the NY Times on Black Friday 2011 telling readers “Don’t Buy This Jacket”. The point they were making was that any new garment should be a carefully considered purchase – don’t just buy something because it’s on at a hefty discount. Instead, buy only items that you really need because the effects of mass-consumerism can be devastating to the planet. Two Mules For Sister Sara might well be a deal that’s hard to pass up. But, buying a new rain jacket when you already have a perfectly good jacket in the closet and just fancy one in “this season’s colors” isn’t a great deal for the earth.

The Worn Wear program began life as a small repair service that Patagonia provided, whereby they’d set up camp at various events and repair people’s outdoor clothing free of charge. And, it wasn’t just Patagonia clothing that they’d fix. If you’d torn your AN Other brand ski jacket coming down the slopes of Heartbreak Ridge, the team would tell you not to Cry, Macho man, then patch it up and send you on your way. Out of this initiative has come a full-scale used apparel business. Worn Wear now has various resources online to help you care for your gear. If it gets damaged, they’ll repair it for you. They’ll buy back used gear that’s in good condition, and at surprisingly good rates, giving credits towards their used or new gear. They’ll also take in clothing that’s not usable anymore and turn this into new one-of-a-kind pieces as part of their ReCrafted collection. Whilst other companies are now adding these sorts of programs, Patagonia has been doing all this for years in their efforts to stop clothing from going into landfill.


The ‘Good’ Small stuff

On a big scale, then, we know that Patagonia is doing great things. What we need to look at now is how that T-shirt or jacket that you’re thinking about buying is going to perform when you’re out in the backcountry. The short answer is that their clothing is good. Very good. The longer answer is that each of the items of Patagonia gear that I’ve been testing has some fantastic features that make it ideal for a range of activities and, in my case, mountain biking and bikepacking. Let’s take a look at each of the items of clothing I’ve been testing.

Capilene Cool Merino Shirt

It would be fair to say that I’m a sucker for merino wool. I actually only found out about merino for the first time this year and now I’m rarely to be seen without at least one item of clothing in this magical fiber. In fact, as I type this, I’ve realized that I’m currently attired in merino T-shirt, merino shorts and a rather fine pair of merino cycling socks.

So, yeah, I like merino wool. But, if you’ve never heard of it before and wonder why I’m so in awe of it, then let me give you a little detail.

Firstly, merino clothing hardly ever needs washing. To put this in perspective, I’ve been wearing the Capilene Cool Merino shirt for 43 days straight. During this time, I’ve put it through the wringer: mtb days out with some very sweaty climbs, multi-day bikepacking trips with no other change of clothes because I’m trying to keep the luggage weight down. I’ve even worn it for meals out with my inlaws. 43 days later the t-shirt looks and smells as fresh as it did when I first took it out of the 100% recycled Patagonia shipping packet. Less washing means less requirement for water (good for the planet) and less requirement for detergents (good for everything that lives in our oceans). It also means that I can duck out of even more laundry days than I used to do in the bad ol’ pre-merino days.

Merino clothing is also incredibly soft. Now, I hate wooly sweaters. I even hate the thought of wooly sweaters. Wool, generally, seems to be guaranteed to make me start itching and wriggling like I’ve got Fire(fox) ants in my pants. But merino is different. The merino fibers have a smaller diameter (in some cases, much smaller) than a ‘standard’ wool fiber and that gives a much softer feel, even on next-to-skin garments such as the Capilene shirt. If I tell you that those merino fibers are stretchy and retain their shape better than cotton – so you can ditch the iron and not worry about your shirt going baggy over time – you’ll understand why I’m refusing to give this tshirt back to Patagonia Read more+


Dirt Craft Bike Shorts – 11½”

It’s clear that these Dirt Craft bike shorts have been well-thought-out by Patagonia.

In terms of construction there are many features that you’ll likely appreciate about the shorts. The 11½” drop sits just above the knee on me (I’m 5’8” and 180) which feels comfortable and doesn’t snag on knee pads. There’s a contoured waistband which is higher at the back (to avoid that chilly slice of lower spine that you often get when hunched over the bike wearing a normal pair of shorts). The waistband is also adjustable with a low-profile buckle on each side locking into a webbing ladder for the perfect fit, whether you’re pre- or post- that bowl of pasta you’ve been fantasizing about.

Pockets are roomy and I’m a particular fan of the leg pocket. This is zippered, so can be used to stash all those items that you really don’t want to leave scattered along the trail behind you. Cash, credit cards, and car keys spring to mind. All of which I’ve inadvertently handed out to other MTBers at various times in the past. The aspect of the leg pocket that I love the most though is that it sits to the side of your leg rather than on top of your quad muscle. Because there’s nothing more painful than feeling a sharp key fob dig into your leg with every pedal revolution.

The liner shorts are a welcome feature and help prevent the Rawhide that you’d otherwise get. Padding in the liner is comfortable to wear for extended periods and dense enough that it doesn’t disappear when you sit down on the saddle. In a nod to Patagonia’s eco commitment, the liner shorts are made from 79% recycled nylon, which has come from old fishing nets and discarded carpets, amongst other sources.

A little extra detail that I want to highlight, because I’m so damned sick of stitching these back onto other clothes, is the button on the waistband. Unlike most shorts/pants/shirts that you see which have buttons which are stitched on, the button on the Dirt Craft shorts is held on with a loop of webbing. This gives a much stronger hold on the button, with no fear of a thread coming loose and the button popping off. Look closely and you’ll see that the webbing loop also allows a small amount of lateral movement for the button (about ½”). Which, again, come in handy for the pre-/post- pasta thing.

I think that the most useful comment I can make about the Dirt Craft shorts is that, when I’m wearing them on the bike, I completely forget about them. And that’s saying something because I’ve got many pairs of mtb shorts and liners where they’re the ONLY things that I’m thinking about. Digging in here, chafing there, etc. An all-round great pair of shorts that will likely become your new go-to when you’re Drifting across the High Plains Read more+


P-6 Logo Responsibili-Tee

Now, this is an exciting tshirt. At first glance, it’s a standard shirt: wide color range, comfortable fit, bold Patagonia logo on the rear, great for wearing post-bike-ride-whilst-relaxing-by-the-camp-fire-with-a-chilled-and-wonderfully-frothy-craft-beer-whilst-watching-the-sparks-dance-up-into-the-sky-and-the-bubbles-drift-lazily-up-the-glass. Do you know what I mean? Excellent shirt. Very versatile.

Look under the hood, though, and you’ll see what’s really special about it. And, in fact, the clue comes in the name of this shirt: Responsibili-Tee. Because, unlike a Man With No Name, this shirt actually does have a name and it tells you a little about Patagonia’s ethos and a lot more about what this shirt is made from.

A typical tshirt is made from 100% virgin cotton. Lots of water used to grow it, lots of energy to harvest and process it, lots of waste cotton fabric on the factory floor. The Responsibili-Tee, on the other hand, is made from:

4.8 plastic bottles, and
0.26 lbs of scrap cotton

Instead of 100% virgin cotton, this tee is 100% recycled. That means that 96% less water and 45% less CO2 is consumed in making it vs a standard cotton shirt. Those are impressive numbers and, I suspect, the process of getting this recycled fabric produced and made into tshirts has not been an easy or straightforward one for Patagonia. Stetson tip to Yvon and his team for this Read more+


R1 TechFace Hoody

Cycling midlayers are, for me, tricky to get right. Warm but not too warm. Not bulky either so that you’ve got room for them between baselayer and jacket. With the R1 Techface, I think that Patagonia have hit the nail on the head.

I’m going to offend everyone at Patagonia when I say that the inner fabric has a waffle fleecy pattern to it. Sorry guys! But this is the best way I know to describe it. Despite the woeful name I’ve pinned to it, this fabric is fantastic. It holds enough heat in against your base layer/skin to keep you from freezing at the start of your rides but, once you’ve got going and made it up the first ascent, it seems to let through enough of your body heat that you don’t end up feeling like you’re sitting in a sauna. I have no idea how they do it, it’s possibly trail faerie magic. But, whatever it is, it works.

And the outer fabric is no less magical. It’s abrasion resistant (handy for dragging in and out of backpacks) and, with its DWR finish, is water-resistant. That’s not something that you see in many midlayers because, obviously, they’re designed to be worn with a waterproof jacket over the top. Unfortunately if, like me, you take one look at the sky before you start pedaling and say, “Nope, ain’t gonna rain today”…and then it does, when you’re miles away from any kind of shelter….then you’ll be pleased and relieved that you’ve got the R1 Techface with you.

The construction of the hoody is also solid with bike-friendly features. There’s a slightly dropped rear hem, an adjustable waistband and stretchy cuffs, and an adjustable hood with a short stiff peak that won’t droop down into your eyes, and the entire hood fits easily under your helmet. The fabric is stretchy in all the right places, so I don’t feel like I’m constricted when I’m on the bike (and flailing about madly trying to keep my balance on slightly technical sections of singletrack…) Plus, there are roomy pockets for stashing all your important gear – hand pockets for, well, hands and other stuff. Also a useful zippered pocket inside the left chest, an essential for all those items that you constantly have to pat to check they’re still there Read more+


P-6 Logo Organic Cotton Crew Sweatshirt

Everyone needs a solid crewneck sweatshirt in their post-ride arsenal and the P-6 crewneck might just be the perfect tool for the job.

You’ve been out for the day’s riding, you’re back at camp or on the porch watching the sun go down, you’ve got a light beverage, maybe a couple, your bike gear is mucky and you need something comfy and cozy to throw on instead. That’s the perfect situation for the P-6 Logo crew.

The sweatshirt is soft inside and out and not too thick, so it’s ideal for three seasons, four if you layer it with a jacket. And because it’s a midweight sweatshirt it’s great for layering up, making it easy to adjust your body temperature as the bigger logs get added to the campfire.

I found the raglan-style sleeve construction to be a real bonus for ease of movement in the shoulder (you, know, for stretching over to the cooler for the next beer…) and the sleeve and neck cuffs are soft and comfortable. All told this is a sweatshirt that feels like one you’ve had, and washed repeatedly, for years. But, unlike that sweatshirt, the P-6 Crew isn’t threadbare at the elbows from overuse Read more+


Micro Puff Hoody

When I first saw the Micro Puff, I thought it was a down jacket. Now, I’m a big fan of down jackets, but I’m always a little concerned about them on two counts. Firstly, it’s my personal concerns about cruelty to animals – harvesting down is not necessarily a pleasant experience for the ducks involved. Secondly, whilst down is great at providing insulation when it’s dry, it’s next to useless when it gets wet. So, I was intrigued to find that the Micro Puff wasn’t down at all. It’s actually got a 100% polyester filling called PlumaFill, which still performs well when it’s wet and clearly doesn’t involve harming ducks. I say that it performs well when wet, but actually it’s pretty difficult to get the filling wet as the outer shell is Ultralight Pertex, with a water-repellent DWR finish. It feels like down but is superior to down and doesn’t leave me feeling guilty.

That PlumaFill is incredible at delivering a high warmth-to-weight ratio – it’s feels slim and not bulky and you’re left wondering how on earth it’s going to keep you warm. But, then the mercury plummets and you continue to feel snug and toasty whilst you look around the campfire and notice that everyone else is huddled up with multiple layers that are so thick they can barely move their arms. The hood has a close fit around your head and under your chin. This works well in the standard post-ride situation, and I’ve also found that it works really well for chilly bikepack mornings where a roomier hood would flap about and not sit well under your bike helmet.

On my kitchen scales, the Micro Puff weighs in at 10.2oz /289g for the Large size hoody and stuffs into its own pocket, giving a packed size of roughly 6.5”x 10” x 4” (16x25x10cm). Though, keep in mind that this is the uncompressed packed size. If you really need to squash the jacket down you can take it much smaller than that – useful when you’re running short of saddle bag space.

The Micro Puff is a good place to dive into pricing as it’s one of Patagonia’s pricier items of clothing at just shy of 300 bucks. At the checkout this is likely to feel like a significant sum of cash, and it is. But, buy the Micro Puff and you’re likely to keep it for 10 years, 20 years or even longer. Let’s say you keep it for 10 years, well that’s an investment in keeping you warm and dry of only $30 a year. Work it hard for that decade and it’ll pick up some scars and a little character – some of this you’ll get repaired (maybe via Patagonia’s Worn Wear) some of it you’ll want to keep to help illustrate the stories you’ll tell around the campfire (“this rip came when I was attacked by 3 bears, 2 tigers, and a llama ON THE SAME DAY as I was hiking through Canada”). And, at the end of the 10 years? Then you’ll maybe take it along to a Patagonia store and trade it in for credits against some new gear, whilst they take it away to be ReCrafted into something else. Is Patagonia gear expensive? I’m not so sure it is Read more+


Conclusion

At the outset of researching this article, I’ll admit that I didn’t know a great deal about the Patagonia company and its gear. Now? Now, I’m impressed with both.

This clothing isn’t just a pair of great bike shorts, or a stink-free merino tee, or even a duck-friendly hoody. It’s a challenge, from Patagonia, to get beyond campus, get out of the City Heat, cross the Bridges Of Madison County (or wherever you happen to be) and go explore the wild places. Test out the limits of the gear (as you test out your own limits). Head out with your friends and go make some memories that you’ll talk about around the campfire, under the stars, with cold beers, for years to come.

Our lives are meant to be lived at the extremes, where it’s tough, a little scary, very muddy, and a whole lot of fun. Patagonia clothing will take you through it and beyond.

Go get Dirty, Harry.