After two solid years of year-round fat biking in Colorado, with seasons that seem to change quickly to bitter cold, I have been enthusiastically searching for the Goldilocks of shells to wear while riding my fat bike. My criteria: a lightweight shell that can handle the brutal minus-something cold of the Rockies, but versatile enough to be my go-to jacket for cool fall days. Last season I went to several stores and tried on countless jackets and pants, after making do with my snowboard apparel the previous season. I left all of those establishments disappointed.
Enter the Showers Pass Refuge series. While not specifically designed for fat biking, this jacket and pant are a product of forward-thinking garment engineers who obviously spend a lot of time in the outdoors. The shells are versatile enough to use for skiing or mountaineering, but with obvious cues to cyclists such as the drop down tail and reinforced seat and shoulders.
The Deets, From Showers Pass:
- Featuring fully seam taped, 3 layer EliteTM waterproof-breathable hardshell fabric for exceptional breathablility
- Reinforced shoulders protect the fabric from back pack straps
- Extra long core vents prevent overheating
- YKK Aquaguard Vislon water-resistant zippers
- Ergonomic easy-grip zipper pulls
- 360 degrees of 3MTM ScotchliteTM Reflective Material trim for maximum visibility
- Removable, adjustable hood fits over a helmet and stows in inside pocket
- Double toggle hem cinch for adjustability
- Drop-down tail protects from road spray and wet stadium seats
- Soft, moisture wicking lining at collar
- Locker loop at collar
- Front handwarmer pockets, back pocket and chest pocket with audio port
- Two light loops
- MSRP: $279
- Fully seam taped, 3-Layer Elite™ waterproof-breathable hardshell fabric for exceptional breathability and total weather protection
- Durable reinforced seat is perforated for breathability
- Thigh vents prevent overheating
- Articulated knees with reflective accents
- YKK Aquaguard Vislon water-resistant zippers
- Reflective trims for low light visibility
- Hook and loop cinch straps keep pant legs away from chain and crank
- Ankle zips for easy on-off over shoes
- Thigh pocket is accessible while on the bike
- Suspender compatible
- Women’s specific pant available
- MSRP: $225
The Refuge Jacket and Pant were designed with what Showers Pass calls an Elite 3-layer performance fabric, which is fully seam-taped, stopping rain and snow from creeping into the zippers. This fabric, like other popular brands, is fully waterproof and breathable (not a spray on barrier), with extra-long core vents. These vents are, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the shells, allowing a lot of good airflow in for cooling, with a thoughtful mesh fabric beneath the zippers to keep the zippers from coming open too wide. This mesh also prevents larger chunks of snow from sneaking into open vents. They are well-placed, but the one downside to them is that because of their length and reinforced seam sealing, they can be tough to zip up or down, especially while riding. It is a small tradeoff given the bombproof seams, and I see no way they could have been designed otherwise. These vents are equipped with what they call Aquaguard Vision zippers, and 360-degree 3M Scotchlite reflective trim–perfect for commuters or a ride home in the dark after coming off of the trail.
Another feature I found very helpful was the reinforced shoulders and seat. The saddle rubs 80-100 times a minute into your very expensive (and important) waterproof shell, and a hydration pack can do the same to the shoulders. The reinforcements not only protect the Elite waterproofing fabric, there provide a bit of traction to keep your rear end and your backpack where it belongs.
The Refuge jacket also has an adjustable hood–something I rarely use, but which is nice to have. It’s large enough to cover a mountain bike or a ski-style helmet, which is a bonus to fat bikers or gravity guys who ride with bigger lids when it is ugly outside. Even better, it zips off and stores in the jacket pocket.
The jacket includes two front hand warmer pockets, which are generously sized and placed perfectly if you like to put your hands in your pockets to warm them before or after a ride. There is also a back pocket to store additional goodies like food or a beanie. The chest pocket has an audio port and easily fits a larger smartphone, protecting it it from the muck. The pant only has one pocket, which is over the left thigh, but it is quite large and very easy to get to, even when hammering away.
The pant also has some very handy features, principally zippers that allow you to get them over any fat bike boot or mountain bike shoe (or work shoes if you are commuting) and hook/cinch mechanisms to keep the pant out of the chain. As I mentioned they are suspender compatible, but also have large belt loops that hold them up well.
I was fortunate to get these at a time when I could test them in both cool and cold weather, and with a lot of snow. One thing I love about the Refuge gear is that you can roll them up easily and store them in your pack. I found that when the weather was in the mid-to-low 40s, I preferred a long sleeved wool jersey and just the jacket (not the pants). In fact, it kept me so warm I usually had the vents wide open. I only wore the pants if it was snowing, or if I was riding in temps below the 30s.
I took a nice slider into some deep powder (and frozen ground) while flying downhill and trying to ride a berm, and I can attest to both the durability of the fabric and how well it keeps the snow out. Even in deeper powder, not once did I ever have a problem with snow getting in. I would expect the same with rain, though I was not able to test it in Seattle-esque conditions.
Similarly, I found that these are very breathable, and never had a problem collecting condensation on the inside as long as I layered appropriately–something I credit to the well-designed vents I keep complimenting.
My wife makes fun of me because she says that I own too many jackets. I argue that a man can never have too many jackets if he lives in a place like the Rockies. The Refuge Jacket and Pant, however, might just be the one do-it-all shell for people like me who like to do a lot of different things outside when it’s cold. You still have to layer when it is cold, of course.
It is difficult to find anything I do not like about this set other than the stiff zippers, but that is negligible. Though some may shy away from the price, I think it is very fair considering the versatility and quality of these shells, and I don’t think that anyone would regret purchasing them if they have the means. I have to give credit again to the people who designed the Refuge gear: they really put a lot of thought into these products, and made sure they could cover a wide spectrum of enthusiasts without compromising anything.
Thanks to Showers Pass for providing the Refuge Gear for review.