Men Patagonia Micro Puff

Is there such a thing as a four-season parka in the Southeast?

Parka: perhaps we should explain. While not necessarily an antiquated term, it’s not an article of clothing that’s on most hiker’s or backpacker’s gear lists. At least under that name. It wasn’t long ago that if you were headed out into the cold, you wore a parka — a synthetic, usually nylon, coat stuffed with down — “stuffed” being the key word here (as George Costanza can attest). It might keep you warm, but hiking in the bulky beast — let alone hiking with a pack — was out of the question. Besides, there were fleece, shells and other svelter options.

Recently, though, the “parka” has gone on a diet. Today’s parka is both slim enough and light enough to hike in on a cold winter’s day. But perhaps more remarkable, it’s also light enough to ward off a mild chill.

Last summer, we were on a hiking/camping trip to the Standing Indian area of the Nantahala National Forest. After a sweaty day on the trail, topping out on 5,499-foot Standing Indian Mountain, we got back to camp mid-afternoon. Some folks settled in for a nap, others read. Around 6, we got the fire going. Though it had gotten up to 80 during the day, we were camped in a high-mountain valley above 3,000 feet, and when the sun went down, the temperature did, too. When you left the warm embrace of the fire, you knew it. That’s when the Patagonia Micro Puffs® started appearing. A sweat shirt may have sufficed, but the Micro Puff® did so much better.

Micro Puff®
Go long! It’s not just a coat, it’s a camp football.

Now, I’m not a gear geek, so when I read that the Micro Puff® uses 65-g PlumaFill polyester insulation, that its shell and lining are 0.7-ounce, 10-denier 100 percent nylon ripstop Pertex Quantum® with DWR finish, I’m not exactly sure what that means. I’m guessing it all has to do with why the Micro Puff® somehow works under cool, cold and really cold conditions. I have a better idea what it means when I read that the “brick quilting pattern … stabilizes insulation (the fill won’t sink to the bottom of the jacket) or that the “durable thread” aids in “abrasion resistance” (it’s not likely to rip squeezing through a rhododendron hell). 

I also like knowing that the Micro Puff® is windproof (disarming the effects of a 30 mile-per-hour wind on a 20-degree day) and that it’s water resistant. (Lack of the latter helped me achieve a trail running PR on a rainy mountain day in the ‘70s as I sought shelter before getting soaked.)

And I love making little discoveries on my own.  

Like finding that the Micro Puff® has two inside pockets, both deep enough to hold a map, gloves or hat. Or that the left outer pocket can double as a stuff sack. Two advantages here: In stuff sack mode, the Micro Puff® compresses to the size of a youth-league football, taking up minimal space in your pack when not in use. And, it makes for one of the comfiest camp pillows you can imagine.

Did I mention it weighs just 8.3 ounces? That’s not exactly nothing (it’s 8.3 ounces more than nothing). But for a coat, it’s ridiculous. For a backpacker, it could easily replace a good 2 pounds worth — 32 ounces — of warming outer wear. That alone makes it a no-brainer to throw in the pack, regardless of the time of year.

We’re returning to Standing Indian this August. You can bet the Micro Puff® is the first thing I pack for the trip.