The stand-out feature on the Levitation is the “Variable Conditions Cuffs.” The cuffs have a wrap around elastic fabric that tapers slightly toward your wrist. This means that if you put your gloves on and then put the jacket on, the glove/cuff interface is nice and snug to keep snow out.
However, my favorite aspect of the cuffs is how comfortable it is to go sans gloves. The elastic fabric is very soft (unlike the cuffs on most shells which are full of seams and velcro) and doesn’t need to be re-adjusted every time you take off your gloves. Plus it keeps out snow and wind at the cuff better than a traditional cuff when you’re not wearing gloves.
The Levitation also has many of the features of a standard shell: two zippered handwarmer pockets; a napoleon pocket; internal wind flap on the main zipper; three-way adjustable hood, etc.
There is one feature, however, that I simply don’t understand at all.
Most jackets (including this one) have an adjustable drawstring hem. This is an indispensable feature, and all but the most minimalistic gram-counting pieces have it.
Patagonia calls their adjustable hem design “Flat cinch, no bunch,” which is actually the exact opposite of what it is.
Most shells make the channel for the drawstring at the hem by cutting an extra inch or two of fabric at the bottom of the jacket, then folding that extra bit under and sewing it — creating a little tube for the drawcord. This technique works great, which is why 99% of jackets are built this way. It is simple and easy.
In an attempt to eliminate the bunched together fabric that sometimes occurs when this standard design is cinched down hard, Patagonia has sewn an additional piece of fabric to the bottom of the hem to stiffen it up. This would, in theory, make it more difficult for the fabric to bunch.
And the “flat cinch” technology does make it more difficult to bunch—but it also makes it more difficult to adjust the hem, which is the entire purpose of the feature in the first place. Not only that, but if you need to adjust the hem tight, it results in bunching that is far worse than a standard hem; since the hem on the Levitation is so much stiffer than a standard one, the bunched fabric causes a huge mess.
This is no improvement over a traditional hem drawstring.
Breathability on the Levitation Hoody is excellent. As a thin softshell piece without a membrane, I expected good breathability, but I was quite surprised by just how well the Levitation breathes. It breathes like a lightweight mid layer more than a softshell. I only really find myself taking it off when the temperatures climb, as opposed to most other shells that I take off when output goes up as well.
But now lets circle back to the point I glossed over from Patagonia’s description: “resists wind and weather.” I said the Levitation breathes like a mid layer, it has similar weight to a mid-weight mid layer at 16 oz, it stretches like a mid layer, it has a soft touch just like a mid layer and guess what? It blocks wind about like a mid layer. Which is to say: not very well. The fabric is thin and lacks a membrane. The face is very soft to the touch (unlike many “harder” softshells) and breathes like crazy. The easier hot, wet air can get out, the easier cold dry air can get in. The Levitation blocks very little wind.
In gale force winds, the Levitation blocks essentially zero wind. It goes straight through. In moderate strength winds (20-30 mph) the Levitation blocks about 30-50% of the wind.
Light winds (10-20 mph) are the Levitation’s sweet spot—it blocks about 60-80% of the wind at this strength. Below 10 mph, just about everything is blocked.
The only place where the softshell fabric separates itself from an analogous mid layer is in water and abrasion resistance. I’ve weathered a few decent spats of rain and snow in the Levitation, and have been happy with how dry the DWR and hard(ish) face kept me.
I also don’t worry about the jacket getting torn on rocks or worn by heavy pack straps, or ski carrying on my shoulder like I do with most of my mid layers. However, it still feels more fragile than a NeoShell or Gore Active piece.
The Levitation Hoody is essentially a mid layer with many of the features of an outer layer. It is the best breathing shell I have used, while also being by far the least protective in wind. The fit is excellent, and it has all the features you need (and some you don’t).
Having said all of that, I still grab this piece often. If the weather is solid and predicted winds are low, I grab this as my shell and count on my puffy insulation to block any unexpected wind on the summit. It breathes so well that I rarely have to take it off on the ascent, and it fits well.
Yes, I do wish the hem had a normal drawstring, and that the fabric blocked a bit more wind. But overall, this piece does a good job if the weather forecast doesn’t call for 30 mph+ winds or sustained snow or rain.