I’ve written an enormous amount about windshirts over the past decade, their importance in a layering system, and the associated subtleties. To recap; outdoor clothing in general and wind layers in particular have over the past decade explored the range of breathability and overall weather protection in a comprehensive fashion. Specific to windshirts, the frontier over the past few years has been in making a breathable fabric which is both acceptably light and acceptably tough, and most significantly does not suck up and retain too much moisture. This last has been the primary liability of the otherwise category defining Alpine Start since in was introduced in 2014.
My 5 year old Alpine Start was getting long in the tooth, with the stock DWR all but gone and a few rips and holes. I wanted to try something different, perhaps from a company with less evil/capitalist overtones. The STP (Stretch Terre Planing) hoody is made from 90 grams/meter polyester, with a 4 way mechanical stretch. Compared to the Alpine Start, which has an 80 grams/meter 93/7 nylon/spandex fabric. 7% spandex is a lot, and all things being equal, poly should absorb much less water than nylon, while potentially (all thing being equal, which they never are) being less abrasion resistant. Dry time and moisture retention was my priority in a windshirt, so the STP fabric had my attention.
Virtues of the fabric put aside for a moment (and it is a really good fabric), the STP hoody has a bunch of virtues that well suit backcountry activities, and a few major caveats. The first and by far most significant downside is the torso volume, which as discussed here is positively huge for the size. I don’t think I could live with the STP without modifying this, making it a big caveat for folks who can’t or don’t care to cut up their new 125 dollar shell. The other caveat is the pockets, which sit right under a hipbelt. They are nice pockets, with the interior side being mesh and the zippers well anchored and smooth running. They are useful any time one is not wearing a pack, and I both don’t find them a problem under a hipbelt (so long as they’re empty) and don’t mind not having pockets on a windshell when I’m using a big pack. Around town, skiing, day hiking, or biking the pockets are useful and useable, so there is the argument for that, and it is a good one.
Otherwise the fit and detailing are excellent. The torso and arm length are both above average. The minimal cuff detailing, with just a little bit of elastic sewn in, leans in to the strength of the fabric being fast drying. The little cord thumb loops, unlike so many shirts, are actually big enough to fit over a (gloved!) thumb, and due to this and sleeve length are both useful and easy to ignore when you want to. The hood is big (not helmet big), and while it lacks a rear draw cord the patterning and soft fabric work to keep it out of your eyes, and the drawcords are external and easy to cinch. The cords are non-stretch ribbon, and the cord locks anchored bits of neoprene. They are not easy to loosen, requiring two hands, but the whole interface is secure, and very low profile. A similar system on a hardshell might go a long way towards solving the dreaded blizzard induced cord end to the face.
Anecdotally the STP fabric has been very fast drying. On colder but not frigid, humid days I get a bit of bogginess in the Alpine Start which has never been ideal. My first attempt at quantifying this difference did not endorse my intuitive conclusion, so I’ll be using the STP as a platform for further investigations there. My assumption is that I’ll use it a ton this spring and summer, and report back.
The counter argument is that pricey, esoteric windshirts like this are chasing minute performance gains which may or may not exist, and that something like the standby, nylon windshirt is the more versatile option and better investment. And it is hard to argue against that. No question, something like the Windveil (or Patagonia Houdini) get too sweaty for a lot of activities, particularly winter activities, when the balance between enough protection to not get chilled but not too much is very fine indeed. On the other hand, when the Windveil gets wet it doesn’t suck up too much water, dries fast, and still blocks the wind. My sense is still that a more breathable option better fits into the performance sweet spot, but there is also no arguing that most if not all of my windshirt acquisitions over the last half decade have been about geekery, rather than strictly about function. My aspiration this spring is to make that idea more objective.