Patagonia's Stretch SST Jacket

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This last summer, Patagonia had announced that it was coming out with a waterproof/breathable fly-fishing jacket made of a lightweight, highly compressible stretch fabric. SNEWS® immediately sent one to our resident river fly-fishing geek, who happens to live near Washington state's rain-drenched Olympic Peninsula, and proclaimed, "Game on!"

Our tester subjected Patagonia's Stretch SST Jacket to 45 days of fishing and crabbing. Crabbing involves baiting crab pots with fish parts, throwing them in water up to 80 feet deep and pulling them a few hours later. It is a wet and gritty pastime and has the added bonus of the occasional "hand-shake" with a Dungeness crab. Not to be content merrily floating down rain-soaked rivers, the SST was tested almost exclusively by fishing out of a fast fly-fishing skiff in Puget Sound and Hood Canal. This environment brings with it the element of being pelted with rain while motoring along at 35 mph in search of feeding salmon and hungry Dungeness crab. And as anyone who has been watching the weather knows this has been a banner season for moisture in the Pacific Northwest, with records being set and the sky puking large amounts of precipitation nearly every day.

As a general rule, garments made with the hook-and-bullet crowd in mind tend to be a bit on the heavy side. Not so with Patagonia's new Stretch SST Jacket. It is constructed with Patagonia's new stretch material, which is reputed to be lighter, more breathable and more durable than previous generations. Right out of the box, our tester viewed those claims with suspicion. Would it hold up against more traditional overbuilt pieces? Would it balance waterproofness with breathability? As you can imagine, life in one of the county's wettest places breeds contempt for anything but rubber-coated raingear.

Also of initial concern was the collar's fleece lining. Fleece collars, in our reviewer's opinion, are magnets for moisture, never drying completely before the next day's outing. Sure, they provide great rack appeal, but usually fail miserably in the field.

In short, after 45 hard days on the water, and a few more in town, the Stretch SST Jacket lived up to all expectations. Our reviewer liked it so much that his fly box, tippet material, forceps, tactical light and crab measuring device all took up permanent residence in the jacket. The jacket, in turn, took up residence in our tester's mudroom, and accompanied him in the field and in town throughout the fall and into winter.

The designer of the SST is clearly a user. While most fly-fishing jackets are reminiscent of a walking yard sale with pockets and pull-tabs at every corner, the SST appears spartan by comparison. Anything extraneous is a magnet for catching a loop on your fly line when double hauling (a type of casting technique) or landing big fish. Such occurrences range from mild annoyance to a season breaker if a 20-pound steelhead has just inhaled your fly and is making for the open ocean. The SST still has an ample array of easily accessible pockets, but they are wisely concealed from view, so fly lines, outboard motor pull cords, oars and other things won't snag at an inopportune moment.

The SST's cuffs feature Patagonia's reversed Stretchcoat gussets, which successfully sealed out water and never felt restrictive. The actual over cuffs are somewhat longer than our tester would have liked. Initially, they felt goofy, but the extra length bought an extra 10 degrees of warmth on days when gloves might have been needed.

What really surprised our tester was the SST's fleece-lined collar. In multiple days of being out in nasty weather, the collar stayed comfy and provided a safe heaven for exposed flesh when motoring to another bay or point. The accompanying hood, which was deployed as a function of the review, stayed in place and was unobtrusive. Most of the time, however, our tester's preference was for a wide-brimmed hat, which permitted better auditor clues for surfacing fish.

The Stretch SST provides a genuine technical garment for wet, cold and windy conditions, with the only glitch being a difficult main zipper, which was quickly fixed with some zipper lube. In town, the SST provided a clean silhouette and was never given a second glance when dropping into finer restaurants. For a fly-fisher, especially one who travels and requires double duty of his gear, the SST provides a true multifunction garment that goes from driving rain and sleet to flying first class with equal grace. And for that, we give it our highest rating.

SNEWS® Applause Meter:
5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: $325

For more information:
www.patagonia.com or 800-638-6464

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