Product Testing - On Sol Patrol in Africa
We test our gear on a variety of levels. Our athletes and ambassadors are responsible for putting the latest designs and fabrics through the paces before we'll add a new product to our lineup. But just because something reaches our shelves doesn't mean testing is over. Once a new item shows up in our catalogs, our Customer Service staff gets busy ground-truthing the latest offerings. They know the questions our customers will be asking, and turn that attention to our gear.
At first glance the Sol Patrol Shirt in Beach Wood--which is exactly the color of Silly Putty™-- reminds you of something a zookeeper might wear. It isn't the flashiest of pieces, but what it lacks in flash it makes up for in incredible sun protection. I packed the Sol Patrol Shirt as my lone, long-sleeved top for a month-long adventure to Namibia, Africa.
[A bear-shaped rock serves as a reminder of one of the only types of wildlife not seen in Namibia. Photo: Skye Weaver]
After a 30+-hour trip across the pond we emerged from the Windhoek Airport, bleary eyed and ready to get out of the city. We hopped in our 4x4 rental truck, which was to become home for the next month, and immediately headed for our first camp of the night, Mirabib, about 150K up a dusty, rock-filled road.
Once we were out of town we immediately began to see wildlife, a mother warthog and her tiny baby crossed the road in front of us, the fuzzy new baby wobbled uncertainly across the road, wondering who or what the aliens in the big blue truck might be. A few miles down the road we had to wait as 25 Baboons made their way across the road, luckily they didn't throw rocks at the vehicle (I later learned was one of their favorite pastimes).
We rolled into Mirabib as the sun went down in a Bon Jovi-esque blaze of glory. It was one of the most brilliant red skies I've ever seen and as I took in the 360 degree view I knew the month ahead was going to bring some incredible moments.
Now...to the clothes. I changed out of my sticky plane attire and put on my Sol Patrol Shirt and Pants. They were horribly wrinkled from the long plane ride, but Martha Stewart wasn't around to chastise me so I wasn't concerned. It was still hot out, and dry as a bone. The pants and shirt felt nice and cool and I was comfortable despite the heat.
The temperature in the desert drops dramatically at night so I pulled on my down sweater as it cooled down. All I can say is the Down Sweater rules. I wore it night and day, used it as a pillow, slept under it the night my tent flooded and would call it one of my favorite pieces of all time.
I awoke the next morning and put on the Sol Patrol Pants and Shirt again. They felt good in the morning cool, but as the temperature rose the lack of breathability in the shirt really became apparent. I noted this lack of breathability throughout the trip, and I very nearly threw the Sol Patrol Shirt out the window at the border of Angola, the hottest and muggiest place we visited.
The shirt felt like a scratchy, hot, burlap sack against my skin and was not ideal in those conditions. Shortly after this episode I rekindled my love for the shirt when I took a dip in the crocodile infested Kunene River in my Sol Patrol Shirt and some non-Patagonia (shriek!!) shorts. After my swim, the shirt dried in moments, yet the shorts festered in a clammy mass for quite some time. The 40+ UPF in the Sol Patrol Shirt is really nice and I appreciated it even more as my fishbelly white traveling companions turned various shades of fuchsia from the insane sun exposure we got.
The Sol Patrol Pants were the greatest ever. They were my only pair of pants for the trip and I ended up wearing them a lot due to the thick clouds of massive biting flies, mosquitoes, noseeums and other undisclosed bloodsuckers out to get the vulnerable and delicious ankles. The difference in the fabric blends used in the Sol Patrol Pants and Shirt make a significant difference in the comfort of the pieces. The pants are a blend of 71% nylon and 29% polyester whereas the shirt is 100% nylon. The pants felt light and breathable and lacked the stiffness of the shirt. The pants do not repel stains though, and became a canvas for the huge variety of spills endured over the course of the month.
Overall, I would highly recommend the Down Sweater as one of the most versatile pieces we make. It compressed into a tiny ball for travel and kept me cozy and comfortable when the temperature dropped. It also makes a heck of a pillow. The Sol Patrol Pants are much more comfortable and breathable than the shirt, but both provided indispensable sun protection. I'd recommend the pants for any hot travels and the shirt is fine as long as you realize the lack of breathability and prepare to roast in certain conditions.
[Top: Taking advantage of the ideal sock-drying rack. Middle: Swimming one of the only safe sections of the crocodile-infested Kunene River. Bottom: The author samples some of the local wild cuisine. Photos: Skye Weaver]