The kids are back to school, cyclocross action is heating up, dead skunks are littering the roadways, and my wife’s apple crisp has threatened to spike my caloric intake by the thousands. That means summer’s door has officially slammed shut and autumn is upon us. This is my absolute favorite time of year to ride. There’s nothing like coasting through the woods or smashing some backcountry gravel miles with that crisp air and spectacular tree colors surrounding you. What better time to offer up a few fall clothing options here at Fat-Bike.com to get you thinking about the transition from summer to fall. It’s time to ditch those short sleeves for base layers, wool, and other sartorial must-haves to keep your pedals turning through the changing seasons. Last week my mailbox was stuffed to the rivets with some awesome samples from GORE, Kitsbow and Showers Pass that you might want to consider adding to your fall (and winter) repertoire.
Midwest temperatures can be unpredictable this time of year casting doubt on how to dress for success. Deep behind the Cheddar Curtain in northern Wisconsin you might experience a forty-degree temperature swing from dawn to dusk. It might be in the high 30s in the morning and 70 by the time you’re back at the trailhead quenching your thirst. Layering is critical under these conditions. I’m a huge fan of merino wool for its natural fibers, breathability and odor-free-for-days usability. Two new-to-market items hit the streets this fall that I really like.
Both items are amazing options for that mid-layer partnered with a jacket in the morning, or as a stand-alone for afternoon trail ripping when the sun warms up. While I haven’t had the chance to put the Kitsbow sweatshirt through the wringer yet, I did grab the Showers Pass Henley for a trip to Lake Tahoe last week. I could tell right away by the fit and comfort that this going to be a go-to piece for me. What I like about both of these long sleeves is the ability to transition from the trailhead to the taproom. Technicality and cross-functionality are always a winner in my book. The Showers Pass Merino-Bamboo Henley at $95 comes in a standard and sport version. The difference is largely in the breathable panels on the underarms and athletic fit found in the sport model. Like most Kitsbow items, the Front Range Sweatshirt’s price point reflects their commitment to high-end materials, made in the USA craftsmanship, and a rock-solid warranty and return policy. The Front Range Sweatshirt is made of a merino, nylon, spandex blend that moves with you on the bike. The nylon blended face provides durability against trail slappers and other mishaps, while the merino inner is soft and extremely comfortable. Additional features include Schoeller 3X arm and shoulder patches to fend off angry squirrels and unexpected sprinkles. Do I really need a $150 sweatshirt? Yes, you do. Take comfort in knowing you’re getting one of the finest pieces available so treat it with respect and it will last a good long time. It will also tell your friends you have impeccable taste.
This time of year, you might need something lightweight to keep the chill off in the morning but won’t bog you down when you need to shed it when the sun warms up. I recently had the opportunity to try out a few light to mid-weight jackets that fit this category. The Wind Jacket ($180) from Kitsbow, GORE’s Infinium Hybrid Jacket ($229), and the Showers Pass Refuge Jacket ($295). As you go up in price you go up in features and level of weather protection. Let’s break these down.
Kitsbow Wind Jacket
The Kitsbow Wind Jacket takes the prize for lightweight packability. The DWR treated jacket stuffs into its chest pocket for easy stow away on the fly when you don’t need it. Unlike heavier soft shells, this jacket is designed to disappear when you don’t need it. The first true test was light rain in 50 degrees. It was a perfect companion matched with a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers. After 90 minutes it held off the drizzle keeping me warm and dry.
I appreciate the special touches Kitsbow put into this jacket. The main zipper has an asymmetrical design that comes across the body from the center of the hem to the top of the collar just to the side of your Adams Apple. This is a smart design to keep the zipper from clacking your teeth when you’re bombing your favorite downhill run. Other features include reflective highlights on the back to fend off those texting heathens drifting into the bike lane, a chest pocket to stash the goods, and laser perforated holes for ventilation under the arms. One unique design feature I’m still getting used to is the side “Napolean” zippers. Like it’s cousin the Wind Vest (see my preview here on Fat-bike.com), the jacket version utilizes a vertical zipper up the sides to access your back pockets. To be honest the jury is still out on this design feature for me. I found it difficult to pull the zipper up while on the move without the whole jacket hem coming up with the zipper. It almost always requires two hands, kind of defeating the purpose.
I ordered a medium like I do in most athletic wear but had to send it back for a large. For reference, I stand 6’, weigh 165 pounds and wear a size 40 smoking jacket. The medium jacket sleeves were too short and the shoulders too snug. Kitsbow responded quickly with a large which felt better across the shoulders, but the arm length can still use a half-inch. The size up sacrificed more fabric across the midsection and overall torso length. Nobody’s perfect, right? Overall this is a well-designed, super comfortable, feather-light jacket. We will see how it holds up over time.
The GORE C5 Gore-tex Windstopper Infinium jacket
This is the first GORE item I’ve had the joy to wear. And when I say joy, I’m talking kittens and balls of yarn joy. The fit is amazing. And the detailed features are impressive. I like things to fit well and move when I do. I ordered a medium despite their, “our sizes run a little small so check our size chart before ordering” warning. It’s advertised as a slim fit and that’s exactly what I got.
If you prefer a looser fit, definitely level up from your standard size per their website directions. The detail that went into the Infinium Jacket was well thought out. First to catch my eye when I put it on is the elliptical sleeve hem that ensures coverage during wet conditions. GORE rates their products on a 5-point scale on their website to better serve your decision making. With so many products to choose from, I appreciate the info to help people select the right garment to fit their needs. This jacket scores a 4/5 on their waterproof durability score, 5/5 for windproof, 3/5 for insulation, and 5/5 for breathability with a 41-59 temperature rating. It is designed for cycling. But it is also good for “fast hiking” according to their web site. I will attest to its function off the bike. I wore it during multiple hikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains recently and it performed extremely well.
On the bike I found this jacket to excel under light rain conditions with temperatures in the low 50s. Given the initial positive experience with this product, I’m looking forward to really testing this jacket out in the weeks ahead.
Showers Pass Refuge
I’m pretty sure you can withstand a fire hose in the Showers Pass Refuge Jacket. Seriously…this thing is made for monsoons. Not only will it keep you dry under extreme weather conditions, but it will also easily serve as an all-mountain hard shell for any all-mountain winter activity as well. Out of the box, the jacket is stiff and a little unforgiving. I am interested to see if the fabric loosens up over time. Despite my initial reaction, the Refuge offers incredible weather protection and breathability. I recently rode for two hours in a steady rain. I stayed high and dry with the front vents open. I mentioned the zippered chest vents, let’s go over some other details. The Refuge is considered a hard shell and has the feel of a mountain guide jacket. Similar to GORE products, Showers Pass uses a 5-Star scale to rate their products. Five being the highest level. The Refuge jackets earn a 5 Star rating for waterproofing and breathability. It receives a 4 Star rating for visibility due to the 3M reflective piping all over the jacket. Other features include a detachable hood, YKK weather-sealed zippers, warmer hand pockets, and a drop-down skirt to protect from road spray and sitting on wet benches at Lambeau Field. The skirt tucks away through the magical power of magnets when not in use.
Each jacket fills a niche and represents some of the finest available in their respective classes. The Kitsbow Wind Jacket is ideal for warmer fall days and cool summer mornings compared to the GORE C5 Gore-tex Infinium Jacket, and Refuge from Showers Pass. To be perfectly honest, it’s not really fair to compare these jackets side by side. It is obvious that Kitsbow was aiming to make a super light-weight packable jacket. It is designed for minimal weight. And let me say Kitsbow excels in that effort. I started a three-hour tour of the St. Croix River Valley this week with the Kitsbow jacket on. By mid-afternoon, the temps got into the high 50s and I started to overheat. No problem. I had it stuffed into its pocket and stored away in my frame bag under 30 seconds while riding. After another hour I forgot I even had it with me. The GORE Infinium is a better option for fall riding when the temps are in the 40s and low 50s. However, you can partner this jacket with a midweight base layer, long sleeve jersey, and/or thermal vest to confidently defend the first days of winter and beyond. The Showers Pass Refuge Jacket is best suited for heavy-duty year-round commuting, tropical monsoons, and deep winter forays worn with 2 or more layers. Given the technical features and weight of this jacket, I expect it will be in heavy rotation for winter excursions along the St Croix River, mountain playtime, and deep woods fat bike adventures come January.
You can discover more on your own from each of these fine purveyors of riding gear here: