This has been on my mind for a while. Pockets are a divisive issue, opinions vary widely and affect the outcome of reviews, which will have a knock on effect on sales (I have learned that the power of a review in Trail or TGO should not be underestimated) and therefore design.

Waterproofs with a single pocket are fine, as are those with two, three pockets are good because you get the advantages of the single pocket design with a centre pocket and two at the sides for venting. I’ve even got a waterproof with four external pockets and two inner (still under 600g) which is great if it’s worn all day in winter. So no marks off for anybody really, It’s just that you really only needone pocket in a waterproof. The Haglöfs Oz and LIM Ultimate, and the Montane Air prove the point as they work all year round. These pockets are all high up on the chest of course, waterproof pockets under a pack hipbelt are rubbish. Although, in the days before style was a consideration you could get waterproofs that were long enough to have pockets completely below your hip belt. The jacket would also be long enough to keep you pretty much dry in rain that wasn’t wind driven. Walking up steep slopes you would just unbutton the bottom of the jacket so your knees wouldn’t bunch it up at the front.
No pockets is an option, but it would be a pain in the arse.

Midlayers though, that’s the real thing that’s been bugging me. I’ve got a few test midlayers in and they’re all different, high pockets, low pockets, napoleon pockets, no pockets. Low pockets are supposed to be for dog walkers to keep their hands warm, high pockets are technical and to be expected on a proper mountain piece. This maxim appears to be an unquestioned constant throughout reviews and has been used to condemn potentially good jackets and elevate otherwise average fleecy jumpers.
I got sucked into this and found myself annoyed with low pockets, just because. But, it’s bollocks isn’t it?
I wore the Karrimor Alpiniste Fleece for years, still do on occasion. It has two handwarmer pockets that were covered by a packbelt and two unventing upper pockets for storage. It was a classic, everyone loved it, and rightly so.
Now, high pockets that vent, like the discontinued Haglöfs Triton, are great. But for hand warming they just let the heat out from your core. Tucking your hands into low pockets doesn’t do this. I condemned the Triton’s replacement, the Gemini, for its lower sited pockets. The fact that it’s better cut, longer and had a much better hood didn’t matter as convention said that the pockets were pish.

Fast forward to now and I’ve been using a real mix of jackets over the past while, my own and test kit, and not once have I said “Oh I wish the pocket were…”. Fabric is vital, articulation, long enough arms; these are what I’ve been looking at.
The pocket thing is another stupid bloody widely accepted rule of thumb.
I’m not saying that one style is better than another, both have advantages and disadvantages, but it should be down to what fits best and what you like best. Not about convention saying something stupid again.

Next week: Hobnailed Boots, is your nail pattern acceptable?

40 thoughts on “Pockets”

  1. The only time I seem to use pockets is for venting my waterproof. If I put anything IN my pockets I always seem to lose it! It either falls out or I forget to take it out again and the next time I find it is after it’s been through the washing machine. Doh! I use a chest pouch for storing all those little essential needed-on-the-move items but this presents it’s own problems as it reduces your ability to vent and can get in the way of those pockets that are placed higher up to get out of the way of waist belts.

    The only other really useful pockets are those internal mesh drop-in ones for drying gloves/socks but these seem to be a bit thin on the ground on the jackets I own/desire. Fit and fabric do seem to be the most important consideration. That and colour ;-)

  2. Storage in pockets just gets your gear all soggy as well, the better the fabric wicks and breathes the more sweat gets to your gear.
    I used to carry a map in a map pocket and all that would happen was that after a couple of bad weather trips Landranger 41 would be block of paper mache.
    So I’m the same as you, all my storage is in a chest pouch or rucksack pockets. No condensation on my camera, no chocolate melted in my pockets and the like :o)

    Mind you, you ned the right pack for all this to work. Another thing is that cycle and running wear has been getting waterproof pockets, ie non-breathable, to stop electronics like your phone, camera, ipod getting wrecked by sweat getting through breathable fabrics.

    Will we see non-breathable pockets on mountain jackets?

  3. I use pockets for venting my Paclite jacket. It has mesh ones so works well. I have occasional stuffed a map in the map pocket. Mostly they go in the map case. I always wondered why some jackets have so many. I had an e-vent jacket and missed venting pockets . I really rate them. We all have different needs from kit and I always look now for venting options on a jacket. On mid layers like the TNF warming shirt. Why do they always put the little zipped chest pocket on for? Ever put a thing in it? my car keys always go in the trouser pocket or rucksack.

  4. Daft wee chest pockets? Their only use is keep your lip balm warm and easy to apply.

    Among the worst offenders here must be Rab and Mammut. Some of their midlayer pockets look as if they’ve actually drawn around a Chapstick and used it as a template.

  5. I’m desperately trying to think what I use pockets in tops and jackets for and the only thing I can come up with is my ear-plugs in my microfleece zip pocket when I’m wildcamping, so they’re easily findable (I sleep in the microfleece). I don’t use pockets in waterproofs at all. Which was why I was bemused that GT criticised the Oz in the Trail piece for only having the Napoleonette pocket.
    Of course, this may be why I like rucksacks with mesh pockets on the hip-belt…

  6. I am with you all !
    I never use the pockets on my jackets as thats what rucksacks are for ????
    Unless you have to carry your Ray Mears Survival kit, silk map, button compas etc etc

  7. Not use pockets on jackets!!
    Why do you think the Paramo Velez and Aspira smocks give you that wonderful chest drop-in pocket? Plus that lovely handwarming / gloves and buff-holding tunnel at the hem…. that your hipbelt can go BEHIND! :))

    Oh, and those great little nik-nak pockets high up on the Aspira’s shoulders.

    Chest pockets on mid-layers are only there for your mobile once you’ve taken your coat off indoors ;)

  8. I wasnt too keen on the sleeve pocket on my new fleecy jumper as its only good for some emergency beer money and a car key but then it looks like you have a horrible lumpy arm.

  9. Pockets have a place, put them on jackets and they attract the general public to buy the gear, giving the manufacturers sales, so they produce the gear I need.
    High pockets are useful, Rab get them right, as do Arcteryx, they work with your climbing harness in the alpine/mountaineering environment the gear is designed for, the fact hill walkers use the gear is great for their sales, keep the price down on the specialist gear, Flight & Summit Series TNF, LIM, Neutrino. I don’t overuse pockets, normally stuff bits in whilst moving like food wrappers

  10. All the kit you list there is right on the money. The TNF Flight series is so underrepresented in the shops, no one stocks it and TNF are actually trying really hard with it.

    I was talking to the Arcteryx distributors a while back about some kit, but they hate Trail and by association are suspiscious of me, so we’ll see what happens. The quality is fantastic though, I really fancy their Alpha SV Pullover as it’s just so different. And still on pockets, that’s got a pouch pocket which I like.

  11. Aye, good bit of kit.

    We’re all saying slightly different things here. Has that maybe taken us a degree towards being in favour of the the point about not dismissing something because of a feature that’s supposed to be duff?
    Everything will probably suit somebody.

  12. I’ve always thought of myself as a hardcore mountaineer and even though I only actually stroll up gentle Lakeland hills, I still liked to look like I’m a serious outdoors person.
    This meant that I’d invariably spend my hardcore walks along riversides and through woods wearing waterproofs that were designed for snowy summits: I looked gnarley but wasn’t comfortable.
    I recently bought myself a custom made Cioch waterproof and decided it was time to admit what I am. I therefore got 2 lovely hip pockets put in and because the jacket’s quite long, these sit beneath the hip belt on my pack – they’re perfect for keeping my hands warm and storing my wallet and phone when I nip out to the shops. Sooo much nicer than those horrible stiff pockets that sit just under your chin on those rustly Gore-Tex cagoules.
    My point? Same as PTC’s: it’s all about personal preference and the context in which the jacket will be used.

  13. That’s another good point, knowing yourself and your needs. It takes a while to find that out, and could cost a lot of money as well.
    It’s partly knowling what advice to take, and advice is vital whether you’re a beginner and experienced campaigner because no one knows it all.
    This notion is part of why I put this Pockets post up and the new Poll as well.
    I’m genuinely interested stuff. For example, are folk not buying great waterproofs because there’s no “map” packet or a wire in the hood?

  14. You know me – the hood makes the jacket and if there isn’t wire I get worried. Very worried…

    …but that’s because I go out in winter blizzards and wear glasses. If you don’t then there isn’t a need. My cycling waterproof doesn’t even have a hood for example.

    As people have said above it’s all about what YOU do and people should stop make the mistake of saying that their way is better/more hardcore etc. If you enjoy it that’s all that matters.

  15. Aye, there’s always a notion that less technical means you’re somehow deficient.
    That’s partly why I went lightweight, sick of intrusive gear, marketing hype and unconvincing advice.

    Good grief, I’ve just gone full circle and seen my motivation for all this lightweight stuff from another angle.


  16. People are probably buying their gear based on a few main factors Trail/Country Walking reviews and ‘misplaced’ brand loyalty, I’m sure this is how Berghaus keeps selling their jackets. It is probably part of the reason why lightweight gear is viewed with scepticism, its too light to work or last.
    Best advice is buy it if you like the colour :-)

  17. You’re right there.
    I’ve only just found out how much Trail reviews affect the market. Good review = sales, simple as that.

    Yes, I have purchesed an inferior item based on colour.

  18. My pocket gripe is for trousers (or pants as they seem to be called these days). Why do they ‘need’ so many pockets, particularly those ubiquitous cargo pockets? For active use surely they are uncomfortable when stashed full of stuff. Thats whats great about the current generation of rucksacs – lots of external mesh pockets on hip belts, side and back that minimise the need for pockets on clothing.

    The excess of pockets has put me off many a pair of trousers (including the otherwise great looking Haglofs trousers). And then there is the design… I have two pairs of trousers that are plenty warm enough and windproof outside sub zero conditions, but have mesh pockets that don’t have a zip closure (so strong cold winds cut right through – not nice).

    Back on topic, I too get nostalgic about handwarmer pockets in old-style fleeces, in my case the ME Ultrafleece mountain jacket (which had some useful Napoleon pockets as well). Nowadays it is a Haglofs Dual Jacket – the other end of the spectrum (no pockets at all, unless you count the on eon the arm), but really light and great fit.

  19. Trouser pockets are another thing aye. I’ve got from pocketless powerstretch leggings to multi pocketed combat pants that I wear at different times.
    If the pockets are well designed then sticking stuff in them doesn’t annoy me for regular walking and backpacking. I walked half the South Glen Shiel Ridge with a 750ml Camelbak bottle in my cargo pocket so could be sure I didn’t lose it out of my pack pocket like my other one (the full one!).
    But your right, my packs take all the stuff I need to hand no problem.

    The old ME Ultrafleece was a cracker, Montane did an almost identical Alpine Fleece (I’m going to dig that out and feature it on here).
    The did an interesting version later on with a powerstretch hood.
    All the good stuff gets discontinued.

  20. Best pockets I’ve used are those on my Montane Extreme Smock, more like this please, manufacturers. Trouser pockets are the worst offenders, the cargo pockets on the thighs would be a perfect place to stash a map if only you could get a map in them. I can never get the top closed when it’s in there.

    I suspect the type of person that buys kit on the strength of a Trail review is the type of person that doesn’t actually do much walking. Therefore, they have no idea what it is that they need. We’ve all seen them on the hill, kitted out like they’re going up Everest to take the dog out for a ramble. Hopefully, manufactures are also paying attention to the reviews written by us internet junkies that live with the kit. I fear though, that most would rather sell units by making products to a magazines ‘perfect’ spec than take a chance and make kit that real walkers want to use. Apologies for being a terrible cynic.

  21. Cynical/realistic? Somewhere in the middle?

    Some companies are very aware of the power of real testing and review by whoever, be it magazines or internet. Some don’t give a shit and are happy to rely on the chance that GT or CT give them a thumbs up. And it’s not predicatable either, some big companies are glad of real feedback, some wee companies think they’re rock stars and act like twats, and vice versa on both sides.
    It’s been a real eye opener for me since I’ve got more involved.

    I’ve always fancied an extreme smock, it’s much better than the Buffalo equivalent I think. Rab made a decent version a few years back too, but it’s bread and butter to
    Montane as they seem to have got it spot on and sell shed loads of them.

  22. All this talk of Ultrafleece forced me to dust off my very old ME top (the one with the kangaroo pocket and flap over the neck zip in bright red). It is now keeping me nice and toasty in the draughty old building that passes for my office.

    As I type this I have remembered why I no longer wear it on the hill though. I have an XL and it only just covers the top of my trousers – I normally take M or L!

  23. Funny thing is I wore my extreme smock to work today !
    Awesome bit of kit but I ont wear it that much as its so bloody warm !
    ME sizing has a lot to answer for, I bought a pair of trousers and had to get a XL to fit a 34 waist and even at that they were tight !

  24. Ultimately what works for me, won’t necessarily work for you, and they won’t work for the next guy. We all use our gear in slightly different ways. Until Arcteryx, Haglofs, etc. have made to measure departments aren’t we all slightly compromised with our gear.
    That’s part of the reason we have stacks of gear, several waterproofs, assorted base and mid layers, sleeping bags, we all are all different shapes and sizes. That is part of the reason I find magazines saying this is best or that is best, pretty laughable

  25. More-On, I have dug out the Montane fleece also, purple and navy blue :o)

    Bobinson, yes it’s warm but before the week’s out you’ll have bought something with Primaloft in it, you know this to be true.

    DNF, aye nothing is perfect. The only constants I have through seasons and weather are my packs and underwear.

    When I’m talking about gear on here I think my personal preferences are probably obvious, and hopefully folk can tune them out if they want to. In my Trail column and mini reviews the same probably goes for the tone.
    But for the bigger reviews like the recent trail shoes and upcoming stuff I had to try and see it from a Trail readers perspective. What is a Trail readers perspective?
    Well, that’s the thing…

  26. Ah purple…

    my 3 year old daughter picked out a purple Sigg bottle for my Christmas present this year because it looked ‘good’…

    out of the mouths of babes etc.

  27. Hip belt pockets on sacs and bum bags solve most jacket pocket issues for me.

    Don’t even need a chest pocket now I have stopped smoking :)

  28. Ha, good lad!

    Aye, packs pockets are genius. I genuinley don’t know how I managed in the old days before hip fin and bottle pockets.

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