Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Plight of the Puffy (and some griping)


Ode to the world of medium and all you medium occupants, all you averaged-sized people with your averaged-sized dimensions, with your average needs always accommodated by the average world around you.  I see you, well, the top of your heads mostly.  I see you chipper and upbeat when you enter your favorite outfitter because you know if your pockets are deep enough that every pack, sleeping bag, tent and apparel item will fit you just fine.  I see you stretched out and fast asleep on airplanes as my knees are in my nose and my shoulders are a significant distance above the headrest making even the slightest hope to crane my neck to catch a glimpse of sleep an impossible fantasy.  I see you in wide-eyed enthusiasm in every store you enter because you know, without a shadow of a doubt, anything in the store you desire to be yours will be available in your size in every color it is offered (I get black).  I see you average-sized people who can walk with ease through a ceiling fan store without your heart skipping a beat and don’t even notice doorways which in one colonial home long ago broke my nose.  I see you averaged-sized people joyfully hopping in your car while I feel like a St. Bernard squeaking through a pet door and knowing full well that even the slightest accident will be a major catastrophe to my sausage body undesirably pouring throughout the car.  I see you invisible in a crowd lacking the eyes on the back of your head burning through your brain from those standing behind you whose sightline has been grossly perverted by what is interpreted to be an eclipse by people like me who don’t fit snuggly into your Gap-Abercrombie- medium-world.  I hear your sighs and see your look of hopelessness when I share a pew or bench with you and I am compassionate to your overwhelming fear when your little one strolls a little too far away from your watchful eye as I’m flopping along in my sizeable crushing gates with all the grace I can muster.  I see you. 

And yet for those of you who make clothing for the masses, you rarely see me.  Leaves and fig leaves be damned, but you leave me little alternative.  God watered my feet a little more than yours – it’s not my fault, yet those of us in the member’s only club of being one-size-too-big are treated like the last pretzel at a dinner party which had been fondled by all the party goers, like the two last squares of toilet paper on a nearly naked roll destined to be hastily thrown in the trash.  Yet when dusting on top of the refrigerator is required, when the shelf above your head needs tightening, when the bully would get more encouragement to go home by looking at my chest than directly into your eyes, when you’re picking sides to a basketball game and need someone to rebound your poor attempt at jock-hood…that’s when you call me, that’s when you call us, just to be discarded again once our usefulness is over.  Me and my 52 extra long frame (not just “long”) have no choice but to take my ball and glove and go home.  We do this reluctantly mind you, but we go.  The alternative is that we’d probably eat you if we got fed up enough, but you’d be nothing more than a pile of Calvin Klein anorexic medium bones quenching only to those with a medium appetites.  So we go.

So here’s to you, you manufacturers of clothing.  I offer you the one finger salute, the “read-between-the-lines” evaluation of your sizing chart and willingness to deviate from the medium world of mouth-breathers, the clear reflection of you being “number 1” in my book.   I bring you, the PLIGHT OF THE PUFFY!!

(Exiting soapbox stage left…)

So my dear readers, I wanted a hooded down jacket, a puffy, one for everyday use but one which was appropriately designed for my lightweight backpacking lifestyle if desired.  Uberlight would be nice, not a necessity, but closer to lightweight than heavy.  The usual suspects were addressed: Patagonia, Montbell, GoLite, Eddie Bauer and those without even a mild reference to XXL or tall were not (which included everyone else).  With over $1,000 on my credit card to test and hastily ship back those of epic failure before the bill comes due and willing to eat the hefty return fees, I gave trying to find a puffy the best shot I could.  The exercise of buying and returning is a common theme in my house.  Usually by the time I find something that works, I’ve paid for it twice.  Stores don’t have what I need and my birthday suit is likely as unappealing to you as it is to me, and not very warm either.  We’ll call that “Plan B”.

As my wife so eloquently put it, “you look like a woman”.  If I wanted to look like I was wearing my son’s shirt (he’s 4), this would be the one.  Costly, tight and featureless.  Less warm than the cheaper Montbell and poor DWR.  Fail.  Returned (burning would have been more desirable).
 
Likeable, enticing and high quality from a company with a known commodity, proactive environmentalism, and granola-factor.  But, absurdly expensive, too tight, and short pretty much everywhere.  May be a good option for you if you don’t mind spending all of your kids’ college funds. I hope you have short arms though. Fail. Returned.

Best size-offering from Patagonia for us knuckle-draggers.  This is one of Patagonia's staple products that only gets better with each revision, but Patagonia still doesn't offer enough room under the armpit which is more common with European manufacturers than American.  It is heavier than both my New Balance Fugu and BPL Cocoon and not as warm.  A little tight, a little short, and absurdly expensive.  Fail.  Returned...but put in the "maybe" pile when Patagonia has one of their 40% off sales.

By the way, I understand Patagonia offers varying "fits" (relaxed, fitted, etc.).  This has nothing to do with height (i.e. offerings for tall folks) but more along the lines of whether you want their garments to hang on you or be fairly snug.  This is all well and good, but wouldn't the sleeve length remain consistent throughout?  Three Patagonia garments, none of which remotely close to one another when it comes to the same sleeve length in the same size item.  FAIL!

Best weight-to-warmth ratio, a standard in the lightweight backpacking community.  Excellent “lightness” and construction, very economic price in comparison to just about everything else.  But, entirely too tight compromising warmth from compressed loft and not long enough or roomy enough in all dimensions.  Fail.  Returned.  (Old picture without hood of one I current have...same problems, but look at how much more loft there is than the Patagonia Down Sweater...the most puffy of those in this Patagonia comparison....)

Pricey and poor reviews regarding down containment which I can now agree with.  The zipper caught on just about everything and it seemed tighter in the chest than in my midsection which is backwards from how it should be designed.   Long enough, but entirely too tight around my upper ribs and my experience leads me to believe that there isn’t a realistic amount of down throughout (some areas like behind the shoulders are devoid of down entirely).  This wasn’t on par with Patagonia anyway which fit better.  I must say, Eddie Bauer has fallen a long way.  Fail.  Returned.


Roomier than the Microtherm, but guilty of the same poor reviews concerning down containment and once again I could see down floating around but I was a bit distracted by loose threads too.  Equally tight around my upper ribs and entirely too heavy and expensive.  It has a lot more down which was obvious, but not quite what I was looking for as I have quite a few other jackets with more down than a goose factory.  This reminds me of a down jacket I could by at Costco or some other warehouse site where jackets are turned out in mass without much thought to anything other than having two arm holes and a head hole.  Patagonia remains a better option and Eddie Bauer is nothing like it was a couple decades ago when it was the go-to manly-man shop.  Fail.  Returned.


Attractive and from a company that once held a foothold in the lightweight backpacking industry and now offers “good enough” stuff with a heavy dose of inspiring eco-consciousness.  Andrew Skurka didn't complain, so why should I?  I'm guessing you've never heard of this jacket both because it is new and because its price tag is a laughable $375 when in all its full priced glory.  At that price, I sure hope it gets itself up in the middle of night, pees for you, and brings back a glass of warm milk with a cookie.  But, it is made of top notch high end materials which are great for fondling and marketing.  For a $375 jacket, I was shocked to find a couple of things.  First, there is NO hood adjustment.  Instead, it's a well-made hood which I'd say would fit properly on a basketball.  It's just too big towards the back of the head.  If it is singularly meant for those of us who wear helmets, I'd say that this kind of design choice is a terrible one considering there are far more outdoor enthusiasts in every other venue than climbers.  For reference, I wear a 7.5 hat.  If you take a look at the picture above, you can see that I can literally pull the top of the hood down to the bottom of my chin.  Seriously, that's WAY TOO BIG!!!  The baffles on the front and back are in varying sizes which make it look like a Batman costume and  my wife felt it looked like I was wearing a big garbage bag.  Because the larger baffles are on the belly area, it emphasized the very part of my body that I want emphasized the least.  It weighed slightly less than the Patagonia Down Sweater which was appealing especially for such a high quality jacket, but I was absolutely shocked to feel my back shoulder area cold when I went outside on a breezy 40 degree day within seconds of opening the door.  I mean seriously, how often do you say "my back is cold" (me, never, literally until now)?  I suspect this means that the design and insulation in that area must be utterly terrible for that to be even remotely noticeable.  This jacket has a lot going for it though because it is nice in just about every way. Barely roomy enough and long enough arms, a little tight under the armpits.  I compared it to my Montbell UL Down Inner and it was exactly the same size, which wasn't good because I think my Montbell is too tight that it degrades the loft and ends up not warming me up.  Top notch material and manufacturing with great features.  But the con's weighed heavily on me (terrible hood...which is the whole reason I was looking for a hoodie, entirely too expensive, goofy baffles, and cold (?!!?!!) in the back).  So yes, FAIL.  Returned.

If I were you in the world of medium, where of course I'd be eternally happy because the world would be my oyster and about the only thing I'd need to worry about is putting one foot firmly in front of the other without falling down, I think money would be best spent for the warmth, cost and quality of Montbell.  As for me, I guess I'll be wearing what I have and adding a hat.

On on the heels of how nothing seems to fit, there are a few cottage manufacturers out there who dare to roll the dice whether it be for apparel or gear.  These leaders of men make an effort even when it means not catering to their "core market demographic", you know, you medium folks.  These are the amazing few for whom I generally must seek out and solicit.  In honor of one of them, I'll show off a remarkable new bivy in the coming weeks which makes the world of sleeping under a tarp and in poor conditions a bit happier for people who spent a little too much time in their mom's belly like I did.

Now go back to your medium world before I eat you.

UPDATE - February 1st 2012
Unwilling to pay $350 to get a custom jacket, I decided to try one last option - the Mountain Hardwear Nitrous.  I personally love Mountain Hardwear gear and I have no idea why I don't have more of it as normally it is made well and is usually dimensionally bigger than its competitors. I compared it against the GoLite Bitterroot above and found it was lighter (had an ounce less down) but fit better (2" or more wider).  Under the arms was still a little tight and there was still no hood adjustment.  Instead of black, I was able to get green (!!!) which is important when your trail name is Jolly GREEN Giant.  It's made of polyester and not fancy Pertex, but it has received great reviews for its ability to block water and rain.  Likely the other deciding factor was that I got it on sale for $130 and of course it was of great help to have Ben over at GooseFeet agree to put a cinch cord in around the hood.  So........the saga is over, for now, and no one will be eaten, for now.

15 comments:

Redwood Outdoors said...
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Jennifer Day said...

I always suffer from the same issues, I'm 6'5" and broad shouldered - but the good news is I work for L.L.Bean, and most of the time, a XXL tall works perfect. I did get a puffy from them which fit pretty well - not perfect, but pretty well. The reason is that the puffy is meant to be snug. And once you get to our size, the margin of error is higher. But I would try the L.L.Bean puffies next time you're looking.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Hey Jennifer - Can you send me your email (I won't publish it). I wanted to have a brief exchange with you about L.L. Bean and Maine. Thanks.

The Black Fox said...

I've had a lot of luck with Nau's down shirt - sleeves are actually almost too long.