Patagonia puff jackets are a staple on rivers and streams from coast to coast. Calling them ubiquitous doesn't really cut it. Puff jackets of all shapes and sizes are more common these days on steelhead and trout rivers across the country than flat brimmed hats and beards. They're even regularly found on flats boats, as armor against the morning chill or the long run back home in the evening. Their prevalence is well earned. Patagonia's puff jackets provide warmth, varying measures of protection from rain and snow, pack down well (often exceedingly well) and take a beating. They're true workhorses that some anglers almost never venture to the water without.
The newest addition to Patagonia's army of puff jackets is the Tough Puff, which is, for all intents and purposes, a modified version of the Patagonia Nano Air (the second-least senior of the puff families) built specifically with anglers in mind. Even before Patagonia introduced the Tough Puff, the Nano Air had become a favorite of many anglers due to specific advantages that it provided over other puff families—like the original Nano Puff, the Down Sweater or the Ultralight Down Jacket. Those advantages are all along for the ride, plus several others, in the Tough Puff.
But that's not to say that the Tough Puff offers everything the other puff families do and nothing they don't. While the Tough Puff may be the puff jacket most suited to anglers, it's important to understand what it does and doesn't bring to the table.
Before diving into what the Tough Puff does and doesn't do well, it's important to first talk about the technology built into the jacket. In this case, that technology is the Tough Puff's insulation, which is the driving force behind all of the Tough Puff's strong points. Like it's predecessor, the Nano Air, the Tough Puff is stuffed with FullRange® insultation. FullRange is a Primaloft-like synthetic polyester insulation that was designed by Japanese fabric developer Toray Mills to stretch, repel water (be hydrophobic) and to hold together on its own, allowing it to be layered between two breathable materials. This unique combination of capabilities offered by FullRange is what allows Tough Puff to simultaneously do several things that other jackets can't.
After a full autumn and brutal early winter season, I can confidently report that the Tough Puff is the warmest of the synthetically-insulated puff jackets (read: not the Down Sweater or Ultralight Down Jacket). It isn't dramatically warmer than the Nano Air—both feature 60g FullRange insulation—but thanks to the use of heavier fabrics for both the lining (2.3 oz vs. 2 oz) and outer shell (2.5 oz vs. 1.5 oz), the Tough Puff is warmer than it's sibling, the Nano Air, as well as warmer than the well-loved Nano Puff (the exception here being during times of heavy wind—more on that later).
Warm When Wet
Like the venerable Nano Puff, the Tough Puff (and Nano Air) are warm when wet. Again, this is thanks to FullRange. Like Primaloft, FullRange repels water and thus retains most of its heat-retention capacity even when wet. This is a feature that everyone welcomes, but one that is of paramount importance to anglers for reasons that should be sublimely obvious.
Years back, when we reviewed the Nano Puff, we gave it good marks for repelling water. But, when compared to the Tough Puff, its performance now feels pretty limited. That's not thanks to FullRange, this time, but to improvements in the DWR treatment on the outer shell. While the Nano Puff would best a drizzle or a short spat of light rain, the Tough Puff will take you through times when you'd normally pull out your rain jacket. It's not going to keep you dry in a downpour, but it will keep you dry quite a bit longer than you'd expect it to, in quite a bit wetter conditions than you'd expect it to.
Moves When You Move
Stretch was one of the hallmark features in the Nano Air. Climbers, skiers, hikers and more rejoiced at the freedom of movement it offered. And like it's predecessor, thanks to a shell fabric, lining fabric and insulation that are all designed to stretch, the Tough Puff moves when you move. Spey casting, rock scrambling, rowing, you name it — the Tough Puff is built for activity.
The other and perhaps even more celebrated feature that the Nano Air offered was its breathability, another feature that is along for the ride with the Tough Puff. Despite offering warmth sufficient for seriously cold temperatures (especially when paired with appropriate baselayers), the Tough Puff and Nano Air jackets are often times surprisingly breathable—and if you're a Nano Puff or Down Sweater wearer, you'll remark at how vastly superior the Tough Puff's Capilene lining is at wicking away moisture. I've certainly never encountered any other jacket that can comfortably take you through a Rocky-mountain fishing day with a morning that starts in the 30s and tops out in the 80s.
Warm, warm when wet, water repellent, stretches, breathable ... all this adds up to astonishing versatility. And versatility translates into one less piece of gear you need to carry or one less layer you need to wear.
Fly Fishing-Specific Features
Up until this point, everything we've discussed about the the Tough Puff slates it as little more than a Nano Air with tougher lining and shell fabrics. That's not nothing, but it's only one aspect of Patagonia's effort to build the Tough Puff specifically for fly fisherman. Along with the extra toughness, Patagonia also added a bevy of fly-friendly features: oversized chest pockets designed to hold even bulky fly boxes, longer cuffs with more elastic for sealing out water and keeping in warmth, a DWR coating that extends up the sleeve on the inside of the jacket to help reduce water uptake when you need to dunk your wrist in the river, and a roomier hood to allow extra room for baseball caps and winter beanies.
It can't be all sunshine and roses, right? Of course not. With most design decisions come compromise and the Patagonia Tough Puff is no exception. While FullRange insulation may hold together better than Primaloft and may, in certain applications, retain heat better, it certainly doesn't compress as well. The Nano Puff is virtually a marvel when it comes to packability. I've fit two Nano Puffs into bags that I needed to sit on to get them to zipper before I tried to stuff in two more jackets. Nano Puffs disappear at the bottom of a backpack or even a good-sized waist pack. The Tough Puff? Not so much. While it's by no means a bulky jacket, if you've become accustomed to not even considering how you'll fit your Nano Puff into whatever's hauling your gear on any given day, be prepared to become a bit more of a planner.
All that breathability and versatility comes at a cost, and that cost is in wind-blocking. The nylon inners and outers on the Nano Puff and Down Sweater are particularly good at sealing out the wind. The Tough Puff's layers, meanwhile, are designed specifically to let air flow through. That's good when you want it, but not so much when you don't. That said, through 9 months of testing, we found wind-blocking only to be an issue on gusty days. On your average breezy day, the Tough Puff's extra bit of warmth makes up for its shortcomings in wind-blocking but when the wind's blowing a gale, you're might find yourself reaching for something more airtight.
As the first Patagonia puff jacket designed specifically with fly fishers in mind, perhaps it should go without saying that the Patagonia Tough Puff is the best of the bunch for anglers. When you take into account the versatility of its FullRange insulation-driven design and its features that are aimed specifically at fly anglers, there is simply no other jacket in Patagonia's lineup that offers more. While that design doesn't come without a few tradeoffs, the Tough Puff easily edges out its counterparts when it comes to tackling a wide variety of on-the-water demands.
Those ubiquitous puff jackets on your local river? Expect to see more of them.