Product Testing - Rafting the South Fork of the American River
We test our gear on a variety of levels. Our Athletes & 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. This June, they headed off to California's South Fork of the American River to raft, camp and well...have some fun. Mail Order Customer Service Representative Laurel Winterbourne files this report:
Patagonia Mail Order's first overnight group field day was a success. No broken limbs, just good times with good friends. Thanks to W.E.T. River Trips and our amazing Pro Team member and raft guide Maggie Mroczkowski we were able to take our crew on a rafting trip down the South Fork of the American River and test some Patagonia gear. Major props to Gary Ghiggeri (“GG”) our team leader, for planning the best field day ever!
We rolled into Camp Lotus, outside the tiny town of Coloma on the western side of the Sierra, at about 6:30. After some unpleasant haggling with a neighboring camper about who got which site, we set up camp. Who knew we could bring so much stuff for an overnight camping trip? But we do work at Patagonia and own multiple tents, sleeping bags, jackets, baselayers, fleece and other random stuff. We’ve learned to always be prepared for snow in the Sierra, even in June. Better to be safe than sorry. The beer was located and the tents went up.
[Team GG checks into Hospital Bar, South Fork American River. Photos: W.E.T. River Trips]
The Western Sierra foothills are known for warm summer nights and our June rafting trip surprised us with some awesome early summer weather. The lows at night were right around low 60s and the highs in the day were mid 80s. The water temp on the American River was around the upper 50s. As we sat around waiting for everyone to arrive, the bugs made their presence known. Many scrambled to find the toxic bug juice or cover up with Capilene or fleece. The funny thing is that those of us who chose to use nasty bug repellent got eaten alive and the people who put on Capilene escaped bug-bite free.
After we set up camp we headed to Marco's for a bite to eat, truly a good time. With a nice little outside eating area, this joint was the perfect place for the introduction of the Leif Law. This is a theory that we were not too familiar with before the night but now understand how it applies. Suffice to say it has everything to do with alcohol consumption. So in strict obedience of the new law that presided over the small town of Coloma for two days, pitchers were drunk, and PBRs legally disappeared.
Back at the campsite, the fire was lit and we sat around discussing how awesome our job is. The temperature had dropped a bit as many searched for warmer layers. Gary, our fearless team leader, stuck with his trusty Patagonia organic cotton tee, Gi II shorts and Flop Alongs and his well broken-in Three Trees Trucker Hat. Mary wore her Duway Capris and the Hotline Top which was comfy enough to set up a tent and cute enough to wear out to dinner. Denise wore her “campin’ dress” aka Margot Dress and later put on her Nano Puff Pullover for some added insulation. Leif wasn’t content with his alcohol to blood ratio so he stayed up late with his trusty R1 Full-Zip to remedy the situation. It’s toasty and breathable without being overly warm. It is a great “overall” piece whether it’s for a baselayer or by itself. Crunch it up and it barely takes any space in your bag. I wore my Merino 3 Pants which are the most comfortable, soft, and best looking casual pant that we make, and a Pinback Top (returns in Spring 11) with a Morning Glory Jacket (no longer available) over it. At this point in the night the beers were the best insulation.
Leif also brought the waterproof Stormfront® Duffel. He was able to fit his tent, sleeping bag, a pillow, clothes, jacket and pretty much everything he wanted to bring. A nice thing about having a waterproof bag is after it gets muddy and dirty you can just drop it on the driveway and hose it off with everything still inside. He also likes the back pack straps it has, just like the design of the old Black Hole Bag. Per Leif Law, the most useful and practical use of the bag would be to fill it with a few cases of beer and ice.
The next morning we got ready for our white water adventure. As we set off down the river we were stoked to be rafting with such a great group of people, and getting paid for it. The first section of river was pretty mild and those of us who were brave enough jumped off the boat at the count of three into the icy river melt to swim the first rapid. All the girls jumped in and as we looked back at the boat the three big dudes were still sitting in the boat. No surprise there.
We stopped for lunch before the gorge to gather our senses and regain our stamina for the upcoming rapids that were adequately named Satan’s Cesspool, Hospital Bar, and Recovery Room. Our guide Maggie was amazing and made sure that we paddled as hard and fast as we could so that we hit every rapid at their highest point and somehow we all managed to stay on the boat. We hit every rapid in the river crashing through them and getting soaked. After we passed through a rapid we looked around and every other boat was looking at us and wishing they could have the fun we did, but it wasn’t possible because we had the best guide on the river that knew every inch and every rapid, and made sure we got wet.
The last section was the best, and Maggie steered us perfectly through every rapid, producing maximum water spray and fun. We were thoroughly drenched by the end and all had huge smiles on our face that we couldn’t get rid of (check out the pics!). Our gear had held up and beside a lost pair of sunglasses from swimming the rapid, everything else had stayed in place.
Now for the gear: Gary wore his favorite pair of Patagonia Board Shorts that are from a few years ago (the material feels different that the ones that we currently make) and on top he wore the Capilene® 1 Graphic Crew, which kept him from getting sun burnt and it dried quickly. Gary’s only gear complaint was the Release Shoes he wore did not grip well to the rocks. He was trying to retrieve something from the raft at lunch and much to everyone’s amusement the lack of grip caused him to fall helplessly into the river. It made for good entertainment. Granted the Release shoes aren’t designed to be worn in the water, but they are still Patagonia and therefore should do everything and then some.
Andy tested a pair of Wavefarer Board Shorts and a Merino 1 T-Shirt (back for Spring 10). Both performed up to expectations. The Merino 1 Tee kept him very comfortable. Though it doesn’t dry as quickly as Capilene and it retains more water, it didn’t cling to the skin when wet and the slower dry time kept him cool under the hot sun. It was the right choice for a hot day when deciding between our two types of baselayers. The boardies were comfortable and didn’t irritate his legs while paddling and sitting all day on the rubber raft. Next time he will try some Paddler Board Shorts to make a comparison. Overall, the Wavefarers and the Merino 1 Tee were a great pick for rafting.
Then we have our token kayaker Mary, who is just a badass. So why did we stop carrying all the cool paddling gear? She wore her favorite board shorts, how unPatagonia of her. However, she’s tried our board shorts to kayak but the back rides too low and skin rubs against the seat back. Icky. Kayakers dress for water temperatures that are -brrrr - snow-melt cold. The Merino 4 is best for those cold water temps. Depending on weather and water temp, she can layer under or over it. Best part - it does not smell - even when the Capilene under it does! Since we don't make dry tops any more, she wore her Kokatat dry top, which she really likes.
Monica, our brave mother of five, impressed us all when she jumped off the raft to swim the first rapid, while the guys sat in the boat. She wore a Surf Brim Hat (back for Spring 11), but ended up taking it off mid-trip because the volume of the hat was too deep so the brim sat low on her head and blocked her line of vision. Other than that it was comfortable. She wore a women’s Long-Sleeved Rash Guard which worked well and was comfortable, but in the size medium the sleeves were too long. The Borderless Pants were perfect for the trip. They provided sun protection, had great stretch and dried quickly. Monica was worried about losing her pants after the stories that Maggie told us, but they stayed on through the pounding rapids.
Denise also wore a Patagonia Long Sleeve Rash Guard (back in Spring 11) on the river. She has worn many other rash guards that have the tendency to not stay in place, but this one was right on the money…she didn't even have to adjust it after swimming in the river and jumping off of rock cliffs. The cut of the rash guard was perfect. Sun protection is so important to a good time and this did a great job of protecting her entire upper body.
Since it was surprisingly warm on the river, Miki wore a pair of Girona Board Shorts and a Capilene® 1 Crew. Both were comfy in the heat, and the top provided enough coverage to keep her from burning to a crisp. When we got drenched, which was pretty often thanks to Maggie’s superb guiding abilities, and our basic ability to row at roughly the same rate, her clothing dried quick. Miki’s only complaint would be that they might have dried a bit too quick. The waves were a welcome reprieve from the heat, and when she was dry it was a little on the warm side.
Leif applied the Leif Law and wore “shorts and a shirt,” but he did wear some oldskool Patagonia water shoes called the CFS that worked awesomely. We definitely need to come out with some sort of water shoe since many of our customers kayak, raft, and just need a shoe that can get wet and grip well.
When we hit the river, I wore a Boucau Halter bathing-suit top and the Adour Bottoms (back in Spring 11). I like that our bathing suits fit really well and stay on through both pounding surf and white water rapids. I do think that the bottoms run a little small in comparison to my other bathing suits, but sizing up solved the problem. The Boucau Halter Top is great because it gives more support that the average bikini top. On the bottom I wore our Wavefarer Board Shorts which are just the right length, hitting mid-thigh, and a Capilene® 2 Zip-Neck on top. When I first started out I thought I would be hot, but once we swam the first rapid and I was soaking wet I was glad that I had a top that dried super fast and was long-sleeved to keep the sun off. Everything functioned really well and kept me as warm and dry as I possibly could be on a white water rafting trip.
We also brought a Stormfront® Pack, thanks to Andy. We put some food and extra layers in the bag and as expected, it proved to be fully waterproof. As long as the zipper is completely closed, not one drop of water gets in it. It’s perfect for kayaking, rafting, floating the river, and Stand Up Paddling. Patagonia does it once again!
All in all, we were totally happy with the way our attire functioned. Things that were supposed to dry quickly did, and things that were supposed to provide sun protection did just that. Two thumbs up for the summer gear. Thanks Patagonia! How did we get so lucky? Thanks again to Maggie and W.E.T. River Trips for the best day we’ve ever had “working”!
[Above & Below: Team GG checks into Hospital Bar, South Fork American River. Photos: W.E.T. River Trips]