Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cabela's XPG Outkross hybrid jacket

As part of my birthday in January, I got a bunch of gift cards to Cabela's, and I picked up a bunch of clothing.  One of the items I picked up was the Deep Sea Cabela's XPG Outkross hybrid jacket, pictured here.  I hardly needed it; I've got a lot of jackets, but it was on sale for $65—normally $130, and I liked it, and I had the gift cards that I had to spend on something anyway, so... I picked it up.

Hybrid jackets are all the rage for active outdoorsy outerwear these days.  Hybrid can mean many things; in this case, what I got was a high-tech fleece jacket in side panels, sleeves, and along the bottom hem, with puffer jacket construction for most of the main torso, collar, and top half of the sleeves.  It's got fairly light 60-gram Primaloft Silver insulation in the puffer section; a relatively light weight for the loft, but one that comes with a bunch of nifty technical features, offering high warmth per weight ratio, and the ability to maintain loft even while wet.  The jacket also has a water repellent chemical finish.  Although I haven't taken it out in prolonged or hard precipitation, I certainly noticed that water beaded on the surface in light rain, and did not penetrate.  So it purports to do a lot of things all at once; but again, that's the appeal of a hybrid jacket.  It does not purport to be a really warm jacket, for wearing while sitting in a tree stand in freezing weather for hours, or anything like that, but for the active—backpackers, backcountry skiers, etc.—well, that's what it was specifically designed for.

A little bit of context.  Cabela's is, of course, well known as an outfitter for hunters and fishermen, mostly.  Backpackers and other non-sportsman outdoorsy types have typically turned to other brands like REI, Marmot, Patagonia, etc.  The North Face and Columbia and a few other brands also qualify, I suppose, but since they have become such a trendy brand for non-outdoorsy folks, it's hard for me to take them seriously—which is a shame, since they make good stuff.  If pricey.  Other more indy companies, like Rail Riders, Outdoor Research, Arc'teryx, and others also are go-to in reviews sections of backpacking blogs, magazines and whatnot.  In part because of this exact same wilderness chic that has propelled The North Face, Columbia, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and many others into big sales, and in part because Cabela's thought that they could probably sell to their existing customer base that already does more than simply fish and hunt while outside, they created the XPG—Extreme Performance Gear—brand, who's purpose is to compete head-to-head with the list above.  This is mostly, although not exclusively, a story of apparel.  Non-clothing gear includes a couple of backpacking tents, a sleeping pad, and some flashlights.  I'd already picked up some of their hiking boots, and quite enjoyed them last year while hiking in the High Uintas Wilderness of remote northern Utah.  But it's their technical active wear and outerwear that really bulks up the XPG brand.  The Outkross Hybrid jacket fits here.

The first thing I noticed when I picked the jacket out of the box—it's a lot greener than it looks in the picture online (which, as you'll notice, doesn't really appear to be green at all.  I'm OK with this, as various shades of olive and piney green are my favorite colors, but Deep Sea as a description isn't terribly descriptive and the picture online looks black, so that was surprising.  And for someone else who doesn't have green as his favorite color, potentially quite disappointing.

The next thing I noticed: the fit is extremely athletic; most likely smaller than you are expecting.  I was on the fence about XL vs. 2XL, and I went for the 2XL opting to use this more as an outer layer that should be a bit baggier, but there's no way I could have ever worn an XL.  2XL fits me about like what I expected an XL to fit.  Again; because I was on the fence, that wasn't a problem for me, but again, it wasn't what I was expecting either.  But the fit is more than just general bulkiness; there are thumb-loops on the sleeves, for instance, but if I try to put my thumb through the thumb-loops, then the sleeves fit a little too tightly.  Either I have long gorilla arms, extra broad shoulders, or again—the fit is just a little bit too small for most, and you need to order a size up.

I was surprised by how light and thin the jacket is, and yet, I've found it's surprisingly warm.  If it's going to be cold, it needs to be part of a layering system; it's not sufficient by itself, but I've been out in temperatures in low 30s for some time with a warm base layer underneath it and been perfectly fine.  If it's significantly below freezing, or if I'm going to be outside for a longer time, I'd put a lighter fleece jacket on underneath this and over a warm base layer, and expect to be just fine—in fact, I've done that for a while already.

I haven't tried to pack the thing up yet to see how small I can compress it, but given its general lightness, I have no doubt that it packs up pretty small.  I also haven't tried to put my rain jacket over it for really prolonged downpours, but for light rain and for wind, it seems to do a decent job.

A curious fact.  Previous Cabela's XPG products I've bought (like my boots) said Cabela's XPG as their brand.  This one simply says XPG; you only see Cabela's on the inside when it's off.  I was in the store recently trying on some shoes for work, and I got into a conversation with a guy working there, where I mentioned that.  He said that people claim not to want to be a "walking billboard."  He thought this was kind of funny, as these same people were openly wearing their North Face or Columbia jackets.  The branding of XPG, which minimizes Cabela's, is supposedly to avoid that.  But let's be honest.  These guys don't care about being a walking billboard; they simply don't want to be one for Cabela's.  Not that they don't love Cabela's.  But why then?  Because Cabela's is a hunting store, associated with guns, hunting, rednecks and the political Right.  And people don't want to be a walking billboard for that because we live in what has basically become a crowd-sourced police state.  It's pathetic.  And yet; I can't completely fault them.  It's easy to just say, "man up and don't be a coward," but if you're not substantially anti-fragile in your career and in your social life, the consequences of falling victim to one of those viral two-day hate fests that liberal "social justice warriors" oh-so-bravely engage in from afar with the backing of their mob of rabbits.  Too many of our people are afraid, or at least unwilling, to confront that, so they just don't wear their Cabela's brands in public if they can help it.  I tend to do the opposite; I'd wear nothing but Cabela's brand clothing if I could get away with it.  But my shoes, my socks, even my jeans being Cabela's brand doesn't really matter if they are discrete about their branding.

But, sadly, that gets to my final point.  Literally just a day or two after I bought this jacket, I was with my wife at Meijer, a Midwest big box that is like a slightly more upscale version of Wal-Mart, and we were looking at their winter wear clearance to get a new jacket for my sons.  I saw a New Balance hybrid jacket that looked very similar in design and styling to this XPG jacket I just bought.  And even though I bought this jacket at nearly half-off clearance pricing, the New Balance jacket was a fraction of that price: only about $25, if I remember correctly.  Now, perhaps you can argue that the Primaloft Silver filling is better than the filling in the New Balance (of which I'm doubtful that you could tell a difference in the field) the cost differential would make it worth it.  I bought one for my son, and I was really tempted to get one for me, even though the only one in my size was not the color I preferred.  My wife talked me out of it, pointing out that I just got this Cabela's jacket, and I already have more jackets than I need anyway.  But it made a great point: as much as I like Cabela's; you can usually get the same performance at a better price.  Looking for deals or sales at Target, Meijer, Kohls, etc. gets you the same stuff at an order of magnitude less money, and it's usually not chump brands either: C9 at Target is by Champions, New Balance is a serious brand, and they've got Ascics, Avia, Columbia, etc. stretching your dollar farther.