Purchased May 2016 and replaced August 2017, reviewed November 2017, updated December 2017
One of my rules on Winterbear is that before reviewing a product, I’ll use it outside many times in a variety of conditions. However, occasionally a product is so flawed that I have to stop using it before this condition is met. Unfortunately, Patagonia’s R3 Fleece Hoody is one such product.
Patagonia R3 Hoody: Initial Impressions
I am a huge fan of fleece. It’s light, comfortable against bare skin, and handles moisture far better than down. And it typically lasts forever–one midweight Polartec fleece I bought in the late 1990’s is still in my gear closet and gets regular use.
After retiring the burly R4, the R3 became Patagonia’s heaviest-weight technical fleece. But that’s not to say that it’s heavy per se: the R3’s main fabric is soft, stretchy, and surprisingly lightweight compared with Patagonia’s previous offerings. It includes both thoughtful design elements (such as dual chest pockets and snug elastic on the cuffs) and some that are a little questionable (including an unnecessary “reversible” design that prevents the jacket from employing a flap on its main zipper).
Unlike some of Patagonia’s boxier mens jackets the R3 has a trim, athletic fit that reminds me of offerings from OR or Arc’teryx. My limited impression of the R3 in use is that it’s warmer than its weight suggests, and breathes very well while blocking a light breeze.
The R3 sheds like a neon green husky blowing its winter coat. The jacket left my backpack full of green fibers, and readily shed green fuzz onto my shorts and car seat. A very light pinch of the jacket’s fuzzier side was enough to dislodge a downy clump of green polyester.
The shedding did not slow down after several wears or after washing the jacket. When I found myself picking green plastic fibers out of my food, I decided to call it quits.
When I contacted Patagonia about the shedding, I was told in an e-mail “this isn’t something that happens with a lot of R3’s but we do hear about it from time to time.” Patagonia offered to replace the fleece at no cost. I dragged my heels on the return and didn’t end up receiving a replacement till August 2017, over a year later. I chose a different color, hoping that the shedding issue might have been limited to an older run of one color. Unfortunately the black replacement that I received shed just as badly.
Patagonia has received repeated complaints about shedding in the public product reviews on their website. Even four and five-star reviews cite shedding on their gear and car seats. As one user put it, “…I also wore it on the car ride home and the interior of my car looked like I’d murdered a muppet.”
Just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, I stopped by REI and tried lightly pinching about a dozen fleece coats from other manufacturers. None shed fibers like the R3. Patagonia’s lighter-weight R1, despite looking very similar to the R3, did not shed at all.
Patagonia R3 Fleece Hoody: The Bottom Line
For many years in the 90s and early 2000s, Patagonia dominated the high-end performance fleece market. I admire Patagonia’s apparently genuine commitment to corporate responsibility and their return/repair policies are among the best in the business. Patagonia makes some excellent products–I’m a lifelong fan of their Capilene base layers, for example. However, a product as obviously (and obnoxiously) flawed as the R3 hoody never should have made it through the most basic quality control. Even good companies make mistakes, but the fact that Patagonia continued shipping self-destructing R3’s suggests a carelessness that is not consistent with the company’s reputation. Patagonia has put a lot of focus on the lifestyle/casual market: the “technical” fleece category on their website currently includes only twelve products, while there are twenty-one in the “casual” category. Perhaps they’ve simply ceded some of the the high-end market to rivals. In any case, it is very unfortunate that the best thing about the R3 is Patagonia’s gold-standard return policy.