It’s day two of 2021 and the dawn has cracked the ice over its eyes to greet an optimistic sun. The forecast is for cold but clear walking conditions on Dartmoor, which is a good excuse to test Patagonia’s Fitz Roy Down in sub zero temps, while discovering a new route taking in an atmospheric waterfall, moss-filled woods and wide open moorland…
The Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Hoodie is pitched to climbers on Alpine day raids, but the combination of packable light weight, deep heat and breathability makes it surprisingly versatile. This morning’s bullet-hard frost and ice makes it an easy choice for this hike.
Our first waypoint of the day is Venford Falls, which is a short walk from the car park on the North East corner of Venford Reservoir. Today’s hardy souls are Pippa, Al-Amin and route-setter Claire as we stroll out over frozen mud with the morning sun full in our faces. Dropping downhill, we follow the hushed burble of Venford Brook downstream along an iced-over path.
As I trek through this frozen landscape, the jacket keeps me cosy without boiling me in the bag, even with my camera pack over it. We soon reach Venford Falls and I can’t resist a scramble down the bank to capture the rushing waters.
Being surrounded by patient moss and startlingly green ferns is like sliding back in time to a mythical past, where some ancient spirit would inhabit the cascading falls. In fact, if you look closely you can almost see its face peering out at you…
It’s may be puffy as promised, but the Patagonia Fitz Roy never seems to restrict my movements, even when I’m squatting in ferns, or sliding about on wet leaves to get the right angle for my photo. It does snag on a few branches, which requires me to recalibrate my movements slightly.
Retracing our steps back up to Venford Reservoir, we walk across the bridge on top of the weir that spans the still, black expanse.
Then we step into an entirely unexpected world. Dartmoor wears many faces and I am always surprised at how the landscape can surprise you at every turn. We find ourselves in an ancient stretch of woodland, where the trees seem simultaneously stunted and full of a hard-won knowledge. They are spattered with blooms of grey/ blue lichen and clad in cloaks of moss.
To the side of the paths slumps a fallen tree holding out a ball of moss, on the spiked end of a rotting branch. The moss is sprouting fern leaves and it looks hauntingly like the last, desperate offering of a falling Treant, to some fantastical god.
The path is heading steadily upwards as we follow the contour of the hill. I’m generating a lot of heat, so I pause to remove a mid-layer. I consider just taking off the Patagonia Fitz Roy instead, but the air temperature is still pretty brutal.
It’s the right call – this jacket seems to have just the right combination of insulation and breathability, even when moving. Moving out from the cover of the trees, we get an amazing view of the rushing waters of the River Dart, swollen by rain and crashing down its rocky course, far below.
We cross a stream strewn with granite boulders and head up into Holne Moor. The skies have directly contradicted optimistic human forecasts for blue, and turned a moody grey.
The threat of rain is on the air as wind breaks free of the trees and sweeps across the open ground. I’m suddenly glad of the Patagonia Fitz Roy’s high neck and wind-defeating wrist cuffs. These are elasticated but grip my wrists without digging in.
The jackets four zipped pockets don’t seem to be letting in anything and are positioned well for stashing various bits, including my lens cap. And they are place high enough not to get blocked by the waist strap of a climbing harness (or camera bag, in this case).
Once we’re up on the moor, the path is broken by ruts and open ground until it opens up into more of ‘a general direction’ than a route. But in the distance I spot another reminder of how this place has been shaped by our ancestors for thousands of years. A weathered medieval marker on the slope up to Ryder’s Hill, called Horns Cross, was carved out of the local granite and still stands exactly at the point where our path turns.
You can imagine seeking this ancient bridleway on horseback, catching sight of the angular edges of the marker in the mists and breathing a sigh of relief. In fact, humans left their traces on Holne Moor dating back to prehistory, 4,500 years ago. The heyday of human settlement on Dartmoor was 2,000 – 1,000BC when farmers cultivated the same regular, rectangular fields that you can still see today.
As we turn to begin the walk across the top of the moor, I look behind us to see dark clouds bunching up to throw great sheets of precipitation down onto hilltops carpeted in bracken. The wind is at our back and I can see that the landscape is about to be transformed, yet again. I pick up the pace, but weather is faster than foot.
Rain follows the wind, accompanied by the realisation that the Patagonia Fitz Roy’s ‘water repellent’ DWR finish is about to be sorely tested. But then it blows colder still and before we realise what’s happening we’re caught in the middle of a snowstorm.
The flakes are fat and white, but this is no high-altitude powder. These flakes are wet and heavy, and as they land their payload of moisture explodes, soaking the ground and sloshing onto our clothing.
Yes, this is a proper test. I resist the urge to reach into my pack and pull out a fully waterproof layer. Throughout the previous light rain, the Patagonia Fitz Roy had held up its end of the bargain – the recycled nylon shell kept me dry with its DRW finish.
But by the time we make it back to the car park my forearms are wet and moisture has seeped in past my bag straps and back. I’m still fairly warm though and the test isn’t really fair – I’ve learnt that there is nothing as wet as Dartmoor snow!
Not that I’m complaining. Gazing into the mirror of Venford Reservoir, through a falling shroud of snow flakes, is a beautiful way to start the year…
Like most of their range, the Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Hoodie has some environmental credentials. The jacket has 800 fill, 100% traceable down, uses recycled fabric in its manufacture (68%) and has free trade stitching (83%). It’s not perfect, but it’s better than many. I’m also a fan of Patagonia’s commitment to repair any garment for free, to extend the life of their products.
This jacket has a great warmth to packability ratio, giving it max versatility for adventurers who like to mix it up. I would use it as a climbing belay jacket, for winter hiking warmth, for astrophotography and more. It has solid fittings and intelligent pocket placements (including an inner pouch for spare gloves).
The only snag is that it does require you to use a layering system, because it’s not fully waterproof and won’t handle ‘proper’ wet weather on its own. That said, you should always carry a waterproof shell, and the Fitz Roy is capable enough that you’ll leave that backup stashed in your bag for most of the time.
Patagonia say that 100% of the goose down that fills the Fitz Roy is certified by NSF International to ensure that animal welfare is ensured. And this jacket’s nylon shell is made from recycled plastic.
The concept behind this jacket is packable, breathable warmth. This makes it ideal to use in a layering system – take it off when you’re very active and use it as an additional warm layer when you stop.
The shell is deliberately lightweight to lean into the packability, but does have a durable water repellent finish to keep moisture off.
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