Review: L.L. Bean Technical Soft-Shell

November 16, 2011 | By | Reply More

Sean sportin' the Technical Upland Soft-Shell.

Along with the Irish Setter Wingshooters, another piece of gear Sean tested on the Maine trip was the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Soft-Shell Jacket.

No secret Jay and Brendan are big fans of L.L. Bean’s upland gear – because Bean continues to push the envelope in upland gear, one of only a few companies that continue to do so. And Bean’s gear – the stuff we like – is great.

Before this season, no one had tried the Technical Upland Soft-Shell Jacket, which Bean describes this way:

A classic upland style, updated with an advanced performance fabric. The tough, quiet soft-shell fabric is also wind and water resistant. Shoulders and forearms are reinforced with the same durable ripstop nylon fabric we use for our Pa’tridge Vest. Interior is brushed for comfort against your body. Generous front gear pockets have magnetic closures for easy, one-handed operation. Zippered fleece-lined handwarmer pockets are located behind front pockets. Vertical chest pockets won’t interfere with a gun mount and are perfect for a dog collar transmitter or GPS unit. Rear cargo pocket for dog lead, spare collar or other accessories.

Note that there’s no official place for birds, and when we received the jacket we saw why: It’s meant for a slim fit (our impression). But you can jam a couple birds in the back pocket, as long as you’re not talking a couple pheasants.

Also, the jacket was sent to Jay (gratis, for review), who just couldn’t bond with it. It just didn’t fit his beanpole physique. Sean’s impression – and Brendan’s, who wore it on a couple slogs – was different.

Sean’s Experience

Seeing as how I was the only one driving to Maine for the annual Serious Bird Hunting adventure this year, it only made sense that I would bring the gear no one else could cram into their airplane luggage.

So I met Jay at a local hangout to fill the back of my truck with ammo, boots and various other pieces of gear. Jay brought an L.L. Bean Technical Upland Soft-Shell Jacket that he’d received for review, but as it turned out it didn’t fit him, so he asked if I’d like to check it out. Since I’m a big fan of Bean gear, I said sure.

I also already owned a similar upland jacket from Cabela’s that I’d worn for the last 3 years, so I thought I’d have a good baseline as to how a soft-shell should perform while upland hunting.

The weather in Maine was temperate this year. The mornings were in the upper 30s and the daytime highs got into the upper 40s to 50s. This jacket seemed lighter-weight than my other shell, so it was a first choice when getting ready in the mornings.

The first thing I noticed was the fit of this jacket – trim, but not constricting in any way. The fabric moves with your body, has some stretch to it and didn’t restrict my gun mount. It was really comfortable to wear.

Here's the jacket (L.L. Bean photo).

The look of this jacket is something you can bond with or not, I guess, just like everything. To me it seemed modern yet traditional at the same time – I think Bean has done a great job of bridging modern fabrics and technology without losing the upland heritage they are known for. And they are definitely upping the game with there Technical Upland series of clothing.

My normal layering scheme with this jacket was a light wight merino wool top and a Bean Technical Upland shirt (a review on that shirt coming later). This setup gave me great flexibility when it was cool in the mornings and got warmer in the afternoon: all three when it was cold, base layer and shirt when it warmed up, or wool base layer and jacket when it was in between…perfect.

The jacket has several pockets that are laid out well:

> 2 large front cargo pockets with magnetic flaps and 5 shell loops apiece
> 2 zippered fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets
> 2 vertical zippered chest pockets that don’t interfere with your gun mount and that were perfect for carrying my Garmin E-Trex HC
> A zippered nylon-lined cargo/game pouch on the rear of the jacket.

The game pouch isn’t very large so don’t expect to put more than a grouse and a woodcock or two in it. And it’s a rear-loading design that’s hard to use unless you have a buddy nearby to put the birds in for you. That being said, it was nice to have when you finally get a bird and you’re a few miles from the truck, and didn’t want to wear a pack.

> The zippers worked well, never snagged and I had no problem using them with gloves on.
> There are also two drawstrings to cinch the waist of the jacket if needed.

The jacket has plenty of hunter orange so being seen isn’t an issue, and the fabric sheds water better than my old shell: We had several mornings with light rain and the inside of the jacket never got wet – a good thing! It won’t take the place of a good Gore-Tex shell, but is fine for a light rain or some wet vegetation.

During the 6 straight days of hunting we did, I wasn’t able to pull or tear the fabric on this jacket in any way, and after pushing through some of the nasty covers we go through I thought there would at least be some signs of abuse…. Not one.

The bottom line is whether I’d recommend this jacket: Absolutely.

Could it be improved? We all have things we’d like different. But in this case the only thing I’d like to see (that I’m remembering right now!) on this jacket is a larger front-loading game bag. Other than that, this is a great piece of gear.

If you’re in the market for an upland soft-shell, you should take a Serious look at this jacket.

[In case you’re wondering, testing gear can be lots o’ fun – when it does the job, holds up well and particularly when it does better than a similar piece of gear. If you have any gear you think we should know about or would like someone to try out/test, just let us know.]


Category: LL Bean, Reviews

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