Gear designed for the days at the extremes of weather are given more of an opportunity to show their mettle and prove their worth than gear designed for the in days in between. Let's face it, what you're wearing matters quite a bit less when you're standing on a stream bank, on a bluebird 65 degree with a day pleasant breeze blowing through your hair than it does when you're perched on the bow of a skiff, with the sun pounding down through humid air and the mercury flirting with triple digits or when you're wading through frigid waters, ice flows drifting by and sleet pounding your face. When gear designed for these extremes doesn't perform, it translates very quickly into something almost every avid angler loathes: less time on the water.
Given the price tags that usually come along with most well made gear, it's helpful to think about it this way; investing in quality gear that truly performs in severe conditions means investing in more time on the water. And the equation more money = more time fishing is a lot easier to get behind than more money = jacket that is 'better' than my buddy's, or at least it should be.
I've been fishing Patagonia's 3-in-1 River Salt jacket — which combines Patagonia's River Salt jacket with one of its Primaloft-insulated nano puff jackets — for the last year or so, through conditions that run the gamut from brutally cold days on icy steelhead rivers to windswept days on Patagonian trout streams to days with speeding skiff rides through tropical thunderstorms off the Belizean coast. Through all of it, the River Salt jacket has performed admirably. Most importantly, it's kept me on the water on days when I might otherwise have bailed early; or at least when being without it would have meant ignoring common sense to brave the elements in misery.
This should go without saying, but the Patagonia 3-in-1 River Salt jacket keeps you dry. The jacket is made from the same material that Patagonia makes its flagship Rio Gallegos waders from — its H2No Performance Standard 4-layer polyester microfiber with a waterproof/breathable barrier and NanoSphere® DWR (durable water repellent) finish — and it sheds water just as well as the waders do. It is also surprisingly good at wicking moisture from the inside out, which goes a very, very long way towards keeping you warm on the coldest of days.
The main zipper on the jacket is a YKK Vislon Aquaguard zipper, which does an excellent job of keeping out even driving rains without the need for a rain flap over the zipper, which are still seen on competing jackets from lesser manufacturers. The lockdown cuffs keep water out even when you need to dunk your arm to retrieve a fly stuck on the river bottom or un-loop your fly line from your boot laces.
Profile / Fishability
One of the thing that stands out the River Salt jacket is it's ability to offer up a thin, slim fitting profile without sacrificing storage. Typically, offering lots of storage in a high-end wading/rain jacket brings with it bulky front pockets with velcro flaps that love to snag fly lines. While some manufacturers have gotten pretty savvy at designing their pocket flaps not to grab lines quite as much and others have gone the route ditching storage room for the benefits of slimmer, flush pockets like the River Salt's, Patagonia has managed to offer the best of both worlds in the River Salt. And it's not all about snagging fly lines; personally, I'm an angler that hates fishing with anything in front of me — bulky vests, chest packs and so on — and the River Salt lets me keep it this way.
There's no such thing as a jacket that keeps out wind and rain and is also comfortable to wear in relatively balmy weather, and the River Salt is no exception. That said, there are those that are imminently more wearable than others and that's what you've got here — a jacket that you can don and wear comfortably in even warm conditions and and light rain — even if you'd prefer not to. That's something that can only be said of some of today's best fabrics, such as the the River Salt's 4-layer polyester microfiber and high-end GoreTex.
The nano-puff underlayer and the River Salt outer shell combine to offer some serious warmth that was adequate even on the worst days — such as windy 18-degree days with stinging winds; conditions that might have otherwise caused me to reach for multiple jackets and heavy under layers. With the River Salt combo, a microfiber base-layer was enough to keep us swinging flies as long as I could bear the frozen hands and icy guides.
I'm not a fan of hoods. I can never seem to get them adjusted properly, or seldom even understand how I'm supposed to go about it. Even when I decipher the approach, I usually still end up with something that's too big and bulky and that blocks peripheral vision or that is too tight and restrictive and makes me feel like I'm being detained under the suspicion of mental illness. Patagonia seems to have spent considerable time making the River Salt's hood work, and work it does. It's easily fooled with and can quickly be adjusted to stay out of the way while staying on and keeping you dry.
The 3-in-1 River Salt is one of the most versatile, single product solutions for fishing in tough weather out there, thanks in no small part to its aforementioned breathability and the inclusion of the interior nano-puff layer. Sure, you could make the argument that you could accomplish similar versatility by combining multiple other products — and you might well choose to — but there's an added convenience in Patagonia putting it all together in one product set that is designed to work together (via the nano-puff underlayer's ability to snap into the outer River Salt shell and form one integrated jacket).
Interior stash pockets are standard on every Patagonia wading jacket I've ever tested and a most welcome one that many other wading jacket makers leave out. Stash pockets are very convenient to access, especially in cold weather when accessing zippered pockets means fumbling with glove-clad hands, and allow storage of bulky items like wool hats that would otherwise eat up useful storage pocket space.
What Doesn't Work
The point made earlier that paying high prices is justified for gear that demands it still stands. It is very often money well spent. That said, it'd be nice to get a bit more of a value out of buying the 3-in-1 combo vs. simply buying a nano puff and the standard River Salt jacket from Patagonia separately. Buying the two separately (River Salt + Nano Puff Hoody) would run you $598, while the 3-in-1 runs $589. The separate products aren't exactly the same; the outer shell in the 3-in-1 has different (and nicer) colors and the version of the nano-puff that comes in the 3-in-1 can't be bought anywhere else. Still, despite the different aesthetics and snap-in convenience, it'd be nice to get more than a $9 value by buying the 3-in-1. In fairness to Patagonia, however, it is worth pointing out that there are wading jackets from other manufacturers that are priced almost as high while lacking the inner, $249 valued layer.
I've become a big fan of snaps on my fishing shirts, but not so much on my jackets. The included nano-puff jacket here is a button up instead of the normal zipper found on Patagonia's other nano-puff jackets. This is likely a matter of preference, but I feel the zipper offers more versatility than buttons.
Not Electronics Friendly
This isn't a problem unique to Patagonia's fabric, but it should be noted that because the River Salt shell is designed to wick vapor/perspiration from the inside, the pockets can pick up a bit of vapor moisture throughout the course of the day. While they still stay plenty dry for your fly boxes and virtually everything other piece of fishing gear you want to stow in them, it is not an electronics safe environment. A smartphone, for instance, should not spend hours sitting in a moist pocket.
This isn't even a "con" or failure, but a consequence of a jacket that is designed to keep you dry not only by keeping water on the outside in, but by moving water on the inside out. Still, it is a reality of the design that is worth mentioning here to highlight the point. This is something people should be aware of with any fabric that is designed to wick moisture from the inside out.
High price tags don't make good gear, people do. The people at Patagonia have created an excellent product that is imminently usable and effective and one that will likely buy you extra time on the water on more than a handful of days each year. And, as most anglers will likely agree, that's something worth investing in.