I grew up in Arizona; rain wasn’t something I’d ever even given a second thought. Our monsoon season, in the middle of summer, is more known for its wind- and dust-storms than for its precipitation. Even on summer days when it would rain, it rarely lasted more than 20 minutes. I never owned an umbrella or bought a raincoat. Even forced out into the rain, the desert rat in me relished getting wet. It just didn’t happen often enough for concern.
On my first multi-day hike along the Mogollon Rim in summer, I thought I had everything I needed. My pack fit fine; I had a sturdy pair of trailrunners on my feet and a steady stream of the Dirtbag Diaries pumping through my headphones. I hiked all day and watched the sky as the clouds rolled in. No matter; my clothes were some sort of quick-dry poly blend. I set up camp that first night just in time. The heavens opened up as I secured the rainfly on my tent. I threw my gear inside and tossed off my shirt, thinking I’d out-smarted Mother Nature.
More time passed on the trail, and my days ended earlier and earlier as the afternoon rain came sooner and sooner. On my last day, the rain came hard and heavy at 10am. Too early to set up camp and my car and the trailhead still some miles ahead. Before long, I was wet down to my socks. My pack was soaked and getting heavier by the minute as the water seeped into my gear. Then the chills came. After an hour or so, I decided to stop. I threw my pack in a spare garbage bag, and sat on a rock and waited. I waited three hours.
Lesson learned. And now I find myself in sub-tropical Taiwan. The rainy season here is… unending. That is, it ends… and then it becomes typhoon season. A hard shell became a necessity. Moreover, I wanted a jacket that was lightweight, packable, and could stand up to frequent hiking. Enter the Patagonia Torrentshell. I’m the first to admit I’m not an expert in this area. I did some quick research on Gore-Tex, Omnitech, eVent, H2No… My first inclination was to buy the Marmot Precip, but I had a hard time finding their gear in Taipei. The Patagonia store near Taipei Main Station was easily accessible and carries the full range. I’m also a big fan of their Repair, Reuse, and Recycle campaign as well as their commitment to fair labor practices and environmental responsibility within their supply chain.
I tried the large first because I wanted a bigger size for use with a fleece mid-layer for an upcoming winter trek I have planned. I was swimming in the large. Honestly, the small fit perfectly; stylishly almost. Once I had it on, it was almost painful to take it off and grab the medium that would better suit my needs. The shoulders sit a bit wider than I’d like and the cut is somewhat “pedestrian”. There’s an excess of fabric around the mid-section that could be removed for a more athletic fit. Looking online, many reviews state that the sleeve are much too long; they aren’t wrong. With my arms straight out, there’s another four inches of fabric that extends past my wrists. The adjustable Velcro wrist straps are helpful, sure… but with that much slack in the sleeve length they become absolutely necessary.
Fit criticisms aside, I actually very much like the look of the Torrentshell. I initially sought out black, but took a liking to the Rusted Iron color I ended up buying. The dark blue Patagonia logo is understated and nearly invisible to my colorblind eye. The black zipper pulls and adjustable hem cords keep to the understated theme, while the white-patterned lining provides some contrast and breaks up the serious look when worn around town with a pair of jeans or khakis. And that’s one of my favorite parts about the Torrentshell: it looks like a perfectly normal wearing it on a walk to the grocery store. There’s nothing that gives it away as technical, or worse “techni-cool”. Even the pit-zips are disguised behind a stormflap. It’s just a plain, dark red rain jacket when I want it to be.
Yet, it performs like exactly like I’d expect a technical piece of clothing to perform. Water beads off this thing better than any umbrella I’ve come across. It rained here this Sunday, and just for the hell of it I spent all day outside trying to get wet. It didn’t happen. My shoes were soaked, my jeans were bleeding indigo, and nothing made it through the jacket.
Again, I don’t have much experience here. Maybe this is how all these hard shell jackets work. I sure as hell hope they do considering the cost of many of them. Breathability wasn’t perfect. I found myself sweating a bit as I walked vigorously in 68 degree Fahrenheit weather, but then, I run hot. Opening the aforementioned armpit zippers and relaxing the fit on the wrist straps seemed to help quite a bit. Just make sure you’re wearing a dark layer underneath to preserve your look.
The hood is very adjustable and bill and a chin flap for extra weather protection. It took some fiddling to get the fit right. The hood is a bit big, which is nice for use with a helmet, but can reduce visibility without it cinched tight. Keeping it loose will preserve your hair, but your face might end up a bit wet. I found the main zipper can catch on the double stormflap, particularly the inner edge, but this has reduced over time as the fabric breaks in.
Happily, I won’t have any problems bringing this piece of gear home with me when I finish my time in Taiwan. It packs down to around the size of a softball and stores itself in one of the front pockets, making it an easy piece to stow in my shoulder bag or pack or my limited luggage when I finally head back home.
I’m happy with my purchase. After nearly three decades without a second thought about the rain, I’ve finally learned my lesson. I’m looking forward to keeping dry this wet winter by taking the Patagonia Torrentshell with me where ever I’m headed next.