Here in the Northern Hemisphere, spring is upon us, which means it’s time to shed bulky outerwear for streamlined, multi-functional layers. In the South American region of Patagonia, the climate is even more notoriously mercurial than Colorado. Read: water- and wind-resistant gear is essential year-round.
So for a recent five-day horseback trek through Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, I road-tested Sierra Design’s new Neah Bay Jacket—a compressible, mid-weight garment that weighs in at just 13 to 15.5 ounces, perfect for squeezing into one of the two small saddlebags I brought on my journey. The Boulder-based company—which was founded in Oakland, California in 1965, relocated to Colorado in the mid-90s, and is basically the OG of camping and outdoor soft and hard goods—released Neah Bay late last year as an alternative to heavier garments. The Sierra Designs marketing rep I spoke with said it’s “durable enough to fit into the mid-weight category. It’s a more functional garment for rain wear in waterproofness that offers complete protection with enhanced comfort.”
It’s also good-looking enough to wear out on the town (and I’m the kind of gal who wouldn’t be caught dead in fleece off the trail), shockingly affordable at $89, and features a streamlined, yet roomy cut that allows for easy layering. With two zippered front pockets, a 3-storm flap-locking system center front, an adjustable hood and cuffs, and a drop tail, the Neah Bay has all the features you would look for in a performance jacket. But where it stands out is in its waterproof-taped seams. Made with the company’s patented Hurricane Extend 2L—a “breathable, mechanical stretch polyester rip” that’s comparable to Gore-tex in concept—it’s designed for maximum breathability (and hence, greater comfort).
But enough of the technical talk—let’s get down to performance. We were blessed with remarkably stable weather for most of our adventure (in Patagonia, that means a lack of high-velocity wind at all times and a general lack of rain). I wore the jacket when we set off each morning to ward off chill, and took it off/put it on as needed every time the sun disappeared behind Patagonia’s gargantuan cloud formations. It proved an ideal evening layer as well, in which to chop wood, wash dishes in a stream, and wear around the table in our rustic gaucho’s puesto, or cabin. The pockets were sizable enough to store all manner of gear while riding, from gloves and buff to sunblock, packets of tissues, sunglasses, camera, and hand sanitizer.
Where the Neah Bay really got to show off was on a five-hour hike to a little-known glacier. We left the horses at our lakeside puesto and took a small boat across the water to a trailhead. It started drizzling as we began a 45-minute hike up and over to (yet another) stunning glacial lake. The rain gathered force just as we boarded an inflatable Zodiac boat and zipped 20 minutes through choppy waters to the main trail (en route, I employed the adjustable hood, cinching it tight against the elements). It continued to rain for the duration of our hike to the Laguna Frias glacier and subsequent scrambling about, and while I felt damp—it was impossible not to—there was zero transfer of water to my skin. The sun was shining by the time we headed back across Laguna Frias, so I crammed my jacket in my day pack, where it joined my windproof and down jackets with room to spare.
My only quibble with the Neah Bay is the zipper—a slightly bulky, YYK plastic polymer that doesn’t move smoothly. It’s sticky and sometimes requires a bit of a tussle; if this one feature is remedied, I’d rate the jacket as the ideal spring skiing/recreating and travel companion. Regardless, my Neah Bay is now a permanent part of my recreational wardrobe, but I’ll be just as happy to wear it to my local watering hole on a rainy day, as well.