After a spell of silence on the hardshell front, Patagonia’s release of the Pluma for the 2017-2018 season was, in our opinion, worth the wait. Weatherproofing is excellent thanks to the premium Gore-Tex Pro construction, the jacket is fully featured including pit zips and a cinchable hood and hem, and it weighs in at a very respectable 14.6 ounces. I put the Pluma to the test over a season of backcountry adventures in the Pacific Northwest, and found that although it lacks in breathability and has other minor shortcomings, it’s still a top-notch all-around hardshell. Below we break down the Pluma’s weather protection, breathability, durability, weight, fit, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best hardshell jackets.
With a 3-layer construction, Gore-Tex Pro membrane, and taped seams for added insurance, the Patagonia Pluma is a serious hardshell by design. As such, its weatherproofing is impressive: it kept me dry and comfortable all winter and spring, even on a couple of particularly cold and blustery days that dipped down to -5°F (-20°C). I primarily sported the Pluma while ski touring in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, both on day trips and overnights. It performed admirably at keeping wind and precipitation out, even while skinning across exposed ridges and spindrift-ridden summits. I do have one considerable gripe, though: after only about three weeks of use, the DWR coating had begun to wear off in higher-use areas like the cuffs, shoulders, and back (more on that in the durability section below).
In terms of coverage, the hood’s high collar went all the way up to my nose, and its three pull cords made it easy to cinch down tight when I needed protection from the elements. In cold and snowy conditions while ascending slowly or skiing down, I usually paired the Pluma with a light midlayer. For higher-output skinning, I was comfortable with only a baselayer underneath—a true testament to the Pluma’s wind-blocking abilities. Specifically intended for alpine use, the Pluma doesn’t come with a powder skirt found in many ski-specific hardshells, but the jacket was plenty long and I was happy to save the weight and bulk. Even in deep powder or while digging out snow shelters, the Pluma’s cinchable hem kept snow from creeping its way up my torso.
The Gore-Tex Pro membrane works wonders at keeping moisture out, but it isn't the most breathable material (Gore-Tex Active, used in jackets like the REI Co-op Drypoint GTX, is superior in this field). Even given its Micro Grid Backer Technology inside, the Pluma just wasn’t a standout in this department. I consider it comparable to the Arc’teryx Beta AR, which I opted for on particularly harsh and cold days due to my tendency to run warm. The Pluma’s two pit zips did allow me to dump heat quickly, but I got frustrated with them on more than one occasion (when pulling up on the stiff toggles, they tended to take the entire jacket with them, requiring a two-handed adjustment). I’d say the Pluma performed best on breezy days, even in above-zero temperatures. For example, on a trip up Mount Baker, the wind picked up at around 10,000 feet and allowed the Pluma to work its magic. But when the sun rose higher and the conditions calmed, I overheated in a hurry. I kept the jacket on for the summit transition but found myself sweating as I skied down in the sunbaked spring corn.
Despite its thin materials, I was impressed with the Pluma’s ability to withstand my brutal (and often abrasive) winter testing. The Pluma’s 40-denier shell and 15-denier interior woven backer have held up remarkably well with no signs of any fraying, delamination, tears, or stitching issues. And despite being constantly subjected to a heavy pack, there are no signs of wear in any heavily-stressed areas, but only time will tell. Some other companies have chosen to reinforce their hardshells with higher-denier fabric in certain spots, like the Arc'teryx Beta AR’s 80D Gore-Tex Pro that covers the hood, shoulders, elbows, and forearms. But so far, so good with the Pluma. As mentioned above, the only issue I’ve had is with the compromised DWR finish, which gave out surprisingly early in high-use areas. I expected a bit more from a such a pricey hardshell, but there are ways to revive it.
My medium-size Pluma comes in at 14.6 ounces, which is solidly mid-pack and very respectable for its feature set. It’s more than double the ultra-minimalist and ultra-thin Patagonia M10 Anorak (7 ounces), but the jacket is lighter than more comparable options like the Arc’teryx Beta AR (16 ounces) and Black Diamond Sharp End (16 ounces), both of which also use Gore-Tex Pro. Plus, with pit zips, a cinchable hood and hem, adjustable Velcro cuffs, and four pockets, Patagonia didn’t skimp on features to shave weight. And although the Pluma doesn’t stuff into one of its own pockets or come with a stuff sack, I was easily able to compress it into its hood to the size of a Nalgene.
Key Design Features
The Pluma’s hood fit snugly around my mountaineering helmet, but was a bit too tight for comfort with a bulkier ski helmet. Notably, some other Gore-Tex Pro hardshells have the same issue, including the Black Diamond Sharp End and Montane Alpine Pro. While Arc’teryx hardshells (like the Beta AR, Beta SV, and Alpha SV) offer larger, ski-helmet-compatible hoods, the Pluma’s was fine for alpine use. As noted above, it can be adjusted in three places: one embedded cord lock sits at the back of the head, and two sit below the collar on the front of the jacket.
The Patagonia Pluma has just enough storage to stow vital gear and supplies without added space that would bulk up the jacket. Its two large and watertight hand-warmer pockets were super useful for stuffing maps and folded skins for fast transitions. But although they are intended to sit above a harness or waist belt, that unfortunately wasn’t the case for me—my pack’s hipbelt overlapped with the bottom of the pockets, limiting their usefulness. A small left chest pocket fits a couple of snacks perfectly, and the single interior pocket can stow small electronics easily.
Adjustable Cuffs and Hem
Like many other hardshells, the Pluma has added features to improve its waterproofing and windproofing. The hem’s two adjustable cord-lock toggles extend into the hand pockets, keeping them out of the way, while the adjustable cuffs have inner polyurethane liners that keep sleeves in place and grip gloves quite impressively. These two features clearly were well thought out and added to the impressive weather resistance—crucial for sustained exposure in harsh conditions.
Though billed as a “regular” fit, the Patagonia Pluma was tighter than expected. While I normally wear a small, I had to size up to ensure I could fit a midlayer underneath. The Pluma also was a bit long on me (I’m 5’9”), especially in the arms, which fell mid-palm. But the jacket never rode up, which definitely is the more important consideration with a weatherproof hardshell. Comfort-wise, the next-to-skin feel of the backer was welcome on days that I needed to wear only a short-sleeved baselayer underneath.
What We Like
- Excellent wind and water protection, which kept me comfortable and dry during a range of winter and shoulder-season conditions.
- Lightweight yet fully featured with pit zips and big pockets.
- Aside from the DWR issue, the jacket is extremely well built and showed basically no signs of wear and tear after heavy use.
What We Don’t
- While Gore-Tex Pro build excels in weatherproofing, it's only average in terms of breathability, which caused me to run hot on warmer days.
- The DWR treatment started to break down in high-use areas after only a few weeks, which was surprising at this price point.
- Unlike some Arc’teryx hardshells, the hood is quite tight over a ski helmet.
- The pit zippers are stiff and proved difficult to operate with one hand.
|Patagonia Pluma||$549||14.6 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D||Yes||4|
|Arc'teryx Beta AR||$575||16 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D & 80D||Yes||3|
|Outdoor Research Optimizer||$399||12.9 oz.||Gore-Tex Active||20D||No||4|
|Patagonia PowSlayer||$699||19.3 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||40D||Yes||6|
|Black Diamond Sharp End||$549||16 oz.||Gore-Tex Pro||70D||Yes||4|
The Pluma was Patagonia’s answer to the highly-regarded Arc’teryx Beta AR, an all-around workhorse that has been popular for years (read our Beta AR in-depth review here). Both use 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro, are similarly priced (the Pluma is $26 cheaper at $549), and weigh within about an ounce of each other (the Pluma is listed at 14.6 ounces while the Beta AR is 16 ounces). The Arc’teryx does add beefed-up panels of 80D nylon in high-use areas for protection from ski equipment and pack straps (the Patagonia is 40D all around), and we also found that the Beta AR’s hood fit much more easily over a ski helmet, while it felt forced with the Pluma. All things considered, both are top-notch and versatile hardshells that are at or near the top of the pack, but we give the nod to the Beta AR.
Outdoor Research’s new Optimizer, while not nearly as well-rounded as the Pluma, offers a nice contrast and capitalizes on its weaknesses. The OR stands out in terms of breathability (it uses a Gore-Tex Active membrane instead of Gore-Tex Pro), is lighter at 12.9 ounces, and costs quite a bit less at $399. On the flipside, the Optimizer lacks some of the things we love most about the Pluma, including pit zips and durability, and its 20D shell pushes our comfort zone in terms of fabric thickness. We think the Pluma is a more durable, versatile jacket for those willing to dish out a little more cash, but the Optimizer is an interesting lightweight option for active use.
For those looking for a more specialized, ski-specific jacket, Patagonia’s PowSlayer fits the bill. Using a similar 3-layer 40D Gore-Tex Pro construction and adding features like a powder skirt, more pockets, a laminated visor for added visibility, and a RECCO reflector, the Patagonia PowSlayer takes the Pluma and brings it up a notch. But at $150 more and coming in at 19.3 ounces, the added features are nice but not for everyone. Additionally, the Pluma's trimmer cut is more comfortable while climbing. In the end, the PowSlayer makes sense as a freeride and resort ski shell, but the Pluma is more alpine-centric and versatile off the slopes.
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