Mountains are unpredictable places and I’ve been caught by a surprise squall more times than I care to count.  I vividly remember the first one I was in — poor Kevin hadn’t bothered to pack rain gear and now he was dug out underneath a juniper tree being pelted with July hail at 8,000 feet.  Don’t be that guy, pack rain gear.  Patagonia advertises the Super Cell Jacket as perfect for this sort of thing.

Patagonia Super Cell Jacket Features:

  • 2-layer nylon GORE-TEX® fabric with Paclite® Fabric Technology repels moisture and packs down to nothing
  • Helmet-compatible, 2-way adjustable Optimal Visibility Hood™ with laminated visor provides good visibility in poor conditions
  • Touch Point System™ with embedded cord locks in hood and hem for quick-and-easy adjustment
  • Microfleece-lined neck and wind flap for next-to-skin comfort
  • Full reach gusset panels under arms let you reach without raising the body of the jacket; watertight, coated pit zips offer ventilation
  • Harness- and pack-compatible pockets feature supple watertight, coated Slim Zips that reduce bulk and weight
  • Low-profile gusset cuffs create a tight wrist seal
  • 2.7-oz 40-denier 100% nylon GORE-TEX® fabric with Paclite® Fabric Technology and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish
  • 383 g (13.5 oz)
  • MSRP: $269

Patagonia Super Cell Jacket Review

Super Cell Delivers Light, Packable Protection

Patagonia’s Super Cell jacket is a waterproof/breathable backcountry shell designed to be light enough to toss in your pack ‘just in case’ you run into inclement weather.  To that end, it’s loaded up with Gore-Tex Paclite technology and, despite weighing just 13.5oz, is cut from the same vine as full-featured, big mountain jackets.

Kevin Glover tests the Santa Cruz 5010 Alloy

The Super Cell is jam-packed with some very thoughtful design touches from the wizened gnomes in Patagonia’s design department.  I particularly like the Touch Point system for adjusting the helmet and hem of the Super Cell – it’s really just a new, clever take on an existing system.  These are simply flat tabs that you squeeze to release tension in the shock cord, but they’re much easier to use than traditional clunky mechanisms.  The Touch Points are located on the hood, collar and hem of the jacket and are designated by contrasting fabric colors.  It sounds like a little thing and, indeed, it is – but it’s nice not having to fumble with a tiny little plastic contraption.

Note the microfleece and the Touch Point tabs in the trapezoidal areas of darker fabric

Despite the Super Cell’s low weight, we see a lot of alpine design in the jacket.  The helmet-compatible hood is fully adjustable and the visor offers good visibility, though I found it too weak to stand up to significant wind.  The zippers Patagonia selected are slim and low-profile which slide easily while still helping the Super Cell to pack down small.  The pit zips are generously sized and pull fairly easily, but crucially they don’t cause any chafing or discomfort in your armpits.  Naturally, Patagonia placed the twin hand pockets high on the jacket to work with a harness or backpack waist belt and the pockets are sealed and taped so that no moisture can get into the jacket.

The Gore-Tex Paclite fabric has been around in various incarnations since 1998 and the latest version is low on weight, high on techyness.  The two-layer fabric features a Gore membrane bonded to Patagonia’s 40D nylon, leaving the membrane exposed on the inside of the jacket.  To combat performance degradation, Gore treated the inside of the fabric with a special chemical called a fluorocarbon that repels skin oils and water.  The result is a fabric that’s slightly more susceptible to damage yet is lighter and less massive to pack down small – squashed into the hood, the jacket squishes to an 8″x6″x4″ package.

photo 2

In practice, the Patagonia Super Cell provides consistent performance without blowing anyone’s socks off.  Let’s be clear here – the jacket is well-designed and highly functional, but most performance qualms are going to be leveled at the Gore-Tex Paclite.  This fabric is Gore’s least-expensive laminate and it lacks both the durability of Pro Shell and the breathability of Active Shell.  In many ways, it’s designed only to be worn occasionally and, then, won’t perform well in extreme conditions.  Patagonia’s design minimized the fabric’s performance limitations by including large pit zips and, crucially, designing the Super Cell to have enough room inside for air to circulate.  Additionally, it’s worth noting that Patagonia included a touch of microfleece on the neck to protect the Gore-Tex from oils, and there’s also a patch of fleece on the chin for comfort.  In its defense, I would say that durability is superior than the average ‘just in case’ offering due to Patagonia’s 40D nylon and high production standards.

The upshot?  The Super Cell has bomber waterproofing thanks to the trifecta of dense 40D nylon face fabric, Patty’s Deluge DWR coating and 100% sealed seams – not to mention the Gore-Tex itself.  However, when I got aerobic I was soon creating a microclimate with all sorts of condensation inside the fabric; unlike other comparable shells, though, the fabric doesn’t feel clammy against your skin even when there’s condensation.  Another plus is that the Super Cell did a great job at resisting wetting out – even the insides of my elbows beneath MTB elbow guards didn’t saturated the fabric.

photo 1

The Good

  • Touch Point System is better than any other design
  • Helmet-compatible hood moves well, adjusts easily
  • Roomy cut allows for air circulation
  • Sealed zippers are light and flexy for easy packing
  • High hand pockets are sealed to keep water from getting in the jacket
  • 13.5oz is a competitive weight at this price point

The Bad

  • Gore-Tex Paclite performance is unremarkable by today’s standards
  • Hood visor fails under high winds
  • Fairly expensive

The Bottom Line: Good Design, Paclite Underwhelms

Patagonia’s Super Cell hardshell delivers a whole lot of brand-name punch in one package — the combination of Gore-Tex and Patagonia’s superior build quality guarantee a piece that will last for years.  I’m not blown away by Paclite’s performance and it’s a whole lot of shell for a ‘just in case’ piece, but the Super Cell still has a whole lot going for it.  Overall, Patagonia’s superior alpine-centric design wins out in the end.
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About Author

Kevin Glover is an outdoorsman living, climbing and biking in Spokane, WA. Originally from the Nevada high desert, he moved to the PNW for its mild winters and allergen-free summers. He has guided throughout the Cascades and Enchantments for Peak 7 Adventures.

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