The R1 Hoody. Ever heard of it? It is a product made by Patagonia which is often the go-to baselayer for late 3 season and 4 season activities. It became particularly identifiable when Richard Nisley mentioned it during a nice instruction he offered on the BackpackingLight forums where he addressed ideal clothing layering systems for backpackers.
My experience with Nisley’s research and findings has been very agreeable. His insight into how wind and head gear affect thermal comfort, especially when coupled with a windshirt, really offers great insight on lightweight and effective clothing systems. Fear of being cold is an emotion many people who enjoy the outdoors have experienced at one time or another and understanding that the answer does not always require you to be dressed up like an Eskimo is enlightening.
The problem with the R1 Hoody is two fold. First, it is $149. YIKES! And second, especially when you spent a little too much time in the microwave like I did before I was born, the R1 Hoody is no longer made in sizes beyond XL. Talking with Patagonia, they indicated even their fall 2012 line will not have an XXL despite offering it in their initial runs.
As a result, I needed to find an alternative to the R1. So who did I ask for guidance after my own research fell flat? Well, Richard Nisley of course.
Nisley offered two suggestions. The first was the E.C.W.C.S Hoodie from Cabelas and the second was the MEC T3 Stretch Hoody.
Needing something to cover my 6’5” frame (a “tall” version), I elected to go with the Cabelas offering. The E.C.W.C.S Hoodie, or “Extended Cold Weather Clothing System”, was originally developed for the U.S. Military and U.S. Special Operation Forces. I have no idea which product came first (Patagonia or Cabelas), but the Polartec Power Dry fabric and design look the same to me. To anyone lacking affluence, a great perk was that this item was $79 in an XXL tall (it is $69 on sale now) which is a whopping $70 less expensive than the Patagonia (or if you need to explain it to your spouse, “half price”). It is also made in regular sizes and non-tall versions. No matter how you shake it, it is simply a far better deal. If you need to see "Patagonia" on your chest to feel good about yourself, I suggest getting a marker and being as neat as possible.
So what’s the big deal? Well, this is a very unique garment. It is constructed to be a next-to-skin baselayer offering superior wicking action. When you look at it closely, it looks like a little checkerboard with high spots and low spots. When holding it up to a light, certain areas allow more light through than others. The beauty of this design is that it will keep you warm and allow for great moisture management because there is still circulation which is really the only chance you'll have to dry your garment. Because it comes with a hood, it can be used to greatly increase your comfort level when you stop or when you get cold. Being able to regulate your thermal comfort without digging through your pack for a hat or something to supplement the system is wonderful. Add a windshirt and there is no reason why this combination shouldn’t keep a moving hiker plenty comfortable in nearly any cold/colder conditions. It is my go-to cold/colder weather garment of choice. All this, and it feels more like a fleece or sweatshirt than the standard scratchy synthetic feel so common with capilene.
If you’ve ever struggled with staying warm or keeping your clothing dry in colder temperatures, this is truly a great innovation. It may also enable you to forgo “sleeping clothing” as you may arrive at camp entirely dry and comfortable. For bigger guys, it is nice to finally have an option that everyone else already had.
While you're shopping at Cabelas, pick up a nice Polar Weight Fleece hat. It's a great weight for winter and Cabelas currently has a sale on a hat/glove combination for $10, or $15 off from the normal $25 price. Well worth it.