In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind
– Edward Bernays
Find beauty; be still
– W.H. Murray
I rarely discuss outdoors or photography gear because it fills magazines tediously, the internet endlessly, and so called outdoors culture. The term is used differently. It means people enjoying walks, birds, mountains and flowers. It also means an industry like others with related consumerism. You see people talking about the “culture” when actually they mean the industry. There’s too much emphasis on gear, as part of a business model. The real culture is overshadowed, when it means simply going for a walk.
I’ll speak about the Patagonia Houdini wind shirt from a different angle. Not with regard to technical comparisons and performance, which has a place but becomes too train spotting. Not, I might add, the fun moment in the film Trainspotting when the addicts leave the city and alight at Corrour. I’m not going there they say, gazing at the Scottish hills, because “there’s nothing there.” Indeed there isn’t. Or not much, and that’s the beauty and power of hills, which includes the absence of consumerism. Several times I’ve had the opportunity to easily summit another Scottish Munro as part of a walk, but didn’t because the view wasn’t worth it. Similarly, I like reading Nan Shepherd (The Living Mountain) more than tales of conquest.
I’m speaking of train spotting here as the hobby where someone stands on a platform and ticks off arrivals, departures, and times. It’s the mental activity which satisfies. You consume something, know it cerebrally, tick it off and write it down. For a pathological extreme read The Collector by John Fowles or watch Silence of the Lambs with reference to Buffalo Bill. I like reading all the novels of a favourite writer but not if they’re questionable. The enjoyment comes first, not the knowing as such. I like Ian McEwan but would have missed Nutshell if I’d known what it was like in advance. I found Nabokov’s Lolita unbearably awful and never finished it. But he writes beautifully so I may read another, probably Pale Fire.
How to write a wind shirt review then, and not be a train spotter? Keep the technical details brief is a good start. Meander into books is another entertaining idea. The Patagonia Houdini is one of the lightest wind shirts available. You should check the grams of a shirt (I did) but not obsess about it. Twenty or so either way makes no difference and must be seen in relation to performance, utility, and durability. The Houdini has a hood for example, which adds a few, but I find it useful. The heavier a garment is the better the protection but in relation to the fabric, and some are better than others.
Wind shirts are used for an additional layer in the mountains when you might want wind protection or minimal rain cover which doesn’t need Goretex. The best of the latter jackets, or an equivalent, are not as light and breathable as wind shirts. It’s a question of variables. More exertion, warmth, duration, humidity, and you will eventually sweat and feel wet. A wind shirt changes the variables because the starting point is more efficient if – the decisive other variable – the rain is not too heavy. We can understand wind shirts as a rain cover layer and correspondingly useful, in addition to the wind protection.
They’re an excellent extra layer in the mountains making the traditional base layer, fleece, and outer jacket idea more flexible. But what I find so good about the Patagonia wind shirt (although it applies to any other) is how much I use it for local walks. Helvellyn, Cnicht, Liathach, certainly. But I’m not in those places so often whereas I’m at woods, rivers, and nature areas several times every week, sometimes every day. I take the Houdini and use it often because it’s feather light, packs small, and adds sufficient warmth to make a cold day comfortable without needing a fleece or coat.
I wear it under a city jacket (a favourite Harris Tweed) which doesn’t make it tight as would a fleece. The sizes are close fitting which enhances technical performance, but you must have comfort and practicality. Stretch up in a jacket or shirt, as you might when scrambling, and you want freedom of movement. Medium was wearable for me, but large better, and I’ve seen other people make the same observation. You don’t want excess fabric which catches the wind, but large for me doesn’t. I use it as a middle layer but if it starts to rain I change it around and wear it over the jacket. The hood, apart from the rain protection, also serves as a warmth conserving hat. It does the job but not well, because it’s floppy and loose. That’s not a negative comment as such, but in relation to overall design compromise. You could have a pull string for example, tightening the hood around the face, but that adds bulk when the tiny size of the Houdini is important. If you compress it tightly, about the size of a tennis ball. I suspect the fabric would wear with pulling.
There’s not much to choose between wind shirts except a bit of weight, price, pockets, fabric, and hood or not. Personal fit varies with trousers significantly. I like The North Face for example, but find Montane restrictive. This is not a concern with wind shirts. Don’t be train spotting about it, obsessively concerned with grams or anything else. If you think you want pockets, get them. A hood, get one. Decathlon have an inexpensive shirt probably nearly as good as specialist brands, but if you use one for five years or more their price is not relevant. Patagonia are known for good but expensive products. The amount I’m using the Houdini justifies the cost and I buy rarely and keep gear a long time. Around ten years for trousers and jackets. Sandals and shoes until they wear out, between five and ten years. When my Teva sandals split I tried gluing not replacing them. I still use boots which are fifteen years old because I only wear them in winter. I don’t chase industry products. I walk and photograph the hills, and what I like about the Houdini is how it’s useful for my casual walks.
Since I mentioned Trainspotting I’ll conclude with a fun diversion away from gear. What the Trainspotting addicts needed was someone wise beside them at Corrour. My photograph above is a river at Glencoe, not far from Corrour. Click and you see more photographs.
Act One, Scene One. Corrour railway station in the Scottish highlands. Two men disembark from the train.
“There’s nothing there!”
“What do you want there?”
“Why what’s on the streets?”
“Houses, shops, television in the houses”
“But you can go back to them”
“I want them now!”
“I don’t know”
“Yes that’s right, you don’t”
“That’s what your rucksack’s for”
The man keeps talking like this as they walk away from the station.
Act One. Scene Two. One hour later. The sun is getting low. The hills are illumined with light. The addict stops talking and gazes silently as if for the first time. His companion smiles.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.