I discovered Patagonia’s Knifeblade soft shell in typical fashion: I saw one for sale online for a great price, and immediately snapped it up. It has since become my favourite jacket for everything from fall trail runs and cool-weather rock climbing to summer alpine and mid-winter ice. For Fall 2013, Patagonia morphed the Knifeblade Pullover into the Knifeblade Jacket. Same material, easier to put on. The pocket configuration also changed slightly, going from two chest pockets to a single (smaller) chest pocket and two hand pockets, positioned high and out of the way of a harness. The jacket received a slightly trimmer cut in the process.
Unchanged is the fantastic sleeve length and long, butt-covering hem: the Knifeblade Jacket and Pullover are two of only four jackets I have ever used that don’t pull out from under my harness (the other two are Arcteryx’s Gamma MX Hoody and Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody). The hood is big and protective, easily going over any helmet I own and providing good visibility and movement. With the collar fully zipped up while the hood is down, the hood also sits nicely against the back of my head, providing some additional wind and weather protection.
The other awesome thing about the Knifeblades is the fabric. Polartec Power Shield Pro offers 10,000mm of water resistance, blocks 99% of the wind, is stretchy, abrasion resistant and relatively light. I’ve used mine on dripping-wet ice-climbs and remained dry, have been in gale-force winds and stayed warm, and have yet to put a single hole or even a minuscule rip into the fabric — whatever the official stats may be, all I know is that it works. Due to the lack of fleece lining, this soft shell is also incredibly breathable. I’ve used mine, over just a T-shirt, on approaches into the mid-teens (Celsius) and have remained comfortable – though I did have to unzip and open up the pockets (which have a light, air-permeable mesh lining) for additional venting. My size-small Pullover weighs in at 496 grams, while the medium-sized Jacket weighs 509 grams. Very respectable weights for soft shells that offer this much weather resistance and durability! This is one of the very few pieces that I actually cannot find much fault with. The Pullover is a bit annoying to put on, but I prefer its pocket configuration. The Jacket is quick on-off, but the pockets aren’t as useful as the Pullovers’. Both designs have exceptionally long sleeves, deep hemlines and generously-sized hoods. And, of course, both feature that phenomenal Power Shield Pro. The Pullover can currently be found on sale for around $200 while the Jacket retails for $380. A note on sizing: due to the sleeve length and long hem, I can wear either a small or medium in the Knifeblade, it just so happens I could get a small Pullover and a medium Jacket. Pros: exceptional fabric, breathable yet very weather-resistant, very long sleeves & hem, good hood, pocket configuration (pullover) Cons: pocket configuration (jacket), bit of a hassle for on/off (pullover) Overall: The best soft shell I have found. My favourite climbing jacket. Note: Because a few people who have seen me out and about have asked, the jacket colour I have, and is shown in the photos above, is due out for Spring ’14 and is called Folios Green (even though to me it looks more yellow than green).