We all have those favorite items, the ones that, when we don’t think about it, we automatically reach for. It might be a favorite knife, or a hat, or gloves…they’re the ones that fit right, that feel right, that make us feel confident that we can handle any conditions.
I’ve got a row of jackets in the mud room. Light, heavy, insulated, puffy, windproof, you name it. Great products, all of them…and at any given moment, one of them is just right for the conditions. But, when I’m not sure what the conditions will be, I always reach for the GoLite McKenzie Reflexion Softshell, an example of a great softshell parka.
Why? Well, let’s start with the specifics. Try not to yawn…there’s a lot to talk about. The basic material is a DWR treated polyester with a very soft, rich feel to it. Behind that is a Sympatex waterproof/breathable membrane, with the back side treated with Reflexion, a Sympatex aluminum treatment that acts as a radiant barrier. The inner lining looks like a miniature eggcrate, making it soft and comfortable when I want to throw it on over a t-shirt.
Okay, that all sounds great, but why do I keep reaching for it? Other parkas have all sorts of cool stuff, too, but this combination just plain works. In warmer weather, it’s amazingly breathable, keeping me from feeling clammy, and the pit-zips allow me to open up when I’m really working hard. When the rain starts falling harder than I’d been planning for, it keeps me dry (although be aware that it’s not a seam-sealed parka; it’ll keep you dry, but not in a monsoon). When the temperature drops unexpectedly, the radiant barrier adds a level of warmth that I wouldn’t expect at this weight and thickness. The styling is classy enough that I can throw it on for a night out unless a jacket and tie is involved. Urban environments usually include ridiculous winds in unexpected places…on a February Friday night, I can zip it up tight and stay comfortable on the mile-long walk back to the car. Then, the next morning, I can throw a pack on over it and head up a mountain. Interestingly, it retains campfire smoke smell much less than my other “go-to” softshell; and the fewer times I have to wash it, the longer the DWR lasts. Yesterday was one of those infamous New England weather days; 28 degrees in the morning, 50 in the afternoon, with snow, rain, hail, sun, and winds to 45mph during the day, and the McKenzie was the perfect “one jacket” solution.
The McKenzie does have a couple of quirks, however. One is the fit. I ordered a medium; typically, a medium is, if anything, too LARGE on me. Nope. The cut on this jacket is very tight (one of the reasons it looks so chic in an urban environment). At first, I saw that as a significant flaw; I can’t put much on underneath it. After a while, though, I began to see the logic in it. You want a radiant barrier to be as close to your body as possible, to reflect your body heat back with minimal loss. So, even though this is a shell, it’s cut more like a midlayer. I can wear one midweight layer on my arms, and can also put a vest on, and that combination will see me through pretty much any active conditions, regardless of temperature. When I stop moving, though, the key is to layer OVER the jacket, not under it. Paradigm shift time. Because it’s cut so slim, my down puffy fits over it easily, and that combination will keep me warm into the zero-degree range without any problem.
When I need to extend the temperature range of a sleeping bag, the McKenzie is perfect for that; not bulky, breathes well, and the radiant barrier keeps the warmth from getting out into the bag. One more safety net created, without having to carry anything extra!
The other quirk is the hood. GoLite designed the hood to be helmet compatible; this is a serious climbing shell, so that’s necessary for safety. And it’s a great hood, helmet or not…it’s easy to adjust, tightens down small around my face, and of course has plenty of room to pull over whatever hat I’m wearing if the winds start to howl. But, because of the nature of the material and the design, it’s a pretty big, bulky hood. That’s fine when it’s raining, or when I know I’m going to want it on, but it sometimes gets in the way of my backpack and can be a pain in the neck when driving in the car. And…it’s permanently attached. THAT’S the problem. When I want it, it’s there…and when I DON’T want it, it’s there. Now, that may not be an issue for you, and if it isn’t, great. But if it is, there’s actually an easy solution. I took it to my seamstress, and for a whole $28 dollars she took the hood off, installed a zipper, and now it’s perfect. The hood stays in a side pocket on my backpack, or in my car, or in a pocket of the jacket itself, ready for instant deployment at need.
Bottom line: I don’t know of any softshell that I’ve seen or tried that is as useful in as many situations as the GoLite McKenzie Reflexion. If you don’t already have a “go-to” jacket and want a great softshell parka, you owe it to yourself to check this one out!