Topo Designs Fleece Jacket Review

I am a big fan of Topo Designs. I’ve carried and used their Rover Pack almost everyday for well over a year now. So, when I received their take on the traditional quarter-buttoned fleece jacket, I had nothing but high hopes for it. With bigger companies like Patagonia making similar style jackets, is there a place for Topo in the jacket market?

(Note: I received this jacket for review from Topo Designs. However, my opinions in this review are my own. Please contact me with any concerns.)



Material: Polartec 200 and Nylon
Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large
Place of Manufacture: USA
Price: $129


The jacket came only with the same tag that all Topo Designs products come with.

There is a sticker on the back of the tag with a barcode, item name and price information.


The jacket has been produced in many different colors throughout the years.

Besides the color of the fleece fabric, design of the jackets are almost identical except for the buttons, which come in both a shiny silver finish as well as a blackened finish.


The fleece jacket is a quarter-buttoned style. There are three snap-closure buttons that extend up through the high collar. The buttons are mounted on top of nylon strips that run up and down the opening. The collar itself is also lined with nylon all around.



The large breast pocket is also secured using a snap-closure button. The pocket is very large and can hold my 5.5 inch screen phone with ease. The pocket is entirely nylon and overlays the fleece. The inside is a bright neon yellow that greatly contrasts with the rest of the jacket. There is a thick red tab on the top of the pocket. While I think it might have been designed to assist with opening the pocket, I have not found it useful.


The sleeves are tightly cinched with elastics at the wrists. On the forearms, there are nylon patches that extend from the elbow to the elastics. They are positioned so that they face away from the body when the jacket is being worn


There are a few tags on the jacket including a Topo tag, a “MADE IN USA” tag, and a size tag. There is a small nylon loop for hanging the jacket.


Fit and Finish


The stitching is uneven in some places. By this, I mean that the stitching sometimes doubles over and the ends are not that pleasantly finished off. Since the threads used are the same color as the fleece, these issues are quite hard to see. However, I have not had the stitching fail in any location and the dimensions seem symmetric.




The buttons are firmly attached and feature the words “TOPO” stamped on them. They take a bit of force to snap together, but it is easy enough to do it with one hand. My OCD-self has a bit of an issue with the button on the pocket. It is rotated about 10 degrees or so. It does not affect the functionality, but it is an annoyance.

Being Polartec, the fleece fabric is consistent throughout the panels. I have washed the jacket once and there does not appear to be any thinning.


The jacket wears quite well. It sits well on the shoulders. The sleeves are a bit on the longer side, but the elastics prevents them from becoming an issue.


IMG_20160509_171716If anything, my one complaint is with how high the jacket sits. I don’t wear my jeans low, but the bottom edge of the jacket still exposes my belt loops.


I often push up my sleeves and have noticed a ridge and crease pattern on the forearm area. The elastic on the wrists also seem to loosen a bit over time. However, the crease pattern disappears and the elasticity goes back to normal after a wash.

Since the collar is so high, they can either be left up or rolled down. It has the natural inclination to stay away from the neck when unbuttoned, so when left high, it is not a bother.IMG_20160430_005133

The tag on the inside of the jacket gives information on the materials used, where the jacket was made, and, most importantly, how to clean it. As with most fleece products, I buttoned the jacket up and turned it inside out. I set the washer to a warm, gentle cycle and then let it air dry overnight. There was no deformation or thinning that I could detect.

The fabric used in the jacket, Polartec 200, is not rated to be highly wind resistant. I found this to be true. Unless I wore some sort of shell on top of it or wore a thicker layer underneath it, I found my forearms to be a bit chilly.

On some cold days, I wore the jacket indoors and found the softness to be super comfy. It was difficult to tell myself to take it off before bed. It is also great for layering. I wore it under a rain jacket and a hard shell and found myself walking to class in the last snow storm without shivering.IMG_20160430_005431

The jacket is compact and folds up quite well. I wore the jacket during mid to late spring where chilly mornings led to warm afternoons. I rolled up the jacket and slipped it in my Rover Pack. It didn’t take up much internal volume from the backpack at all.

How does the jacket compare?

The jacket is of a very similar style to the Patagonia Snap-T Series.

The Patagonia comes in many different forms but is, on average, around ~$10 cheaper than the Topo. It has more buttons in the front, which can allow for some more flexibility as well as elastics on the bottom edge to help prevent wind from getting in.

Having tried on the Patagonia in a store, I can say that their in-house fleece material is of the same quality as Polartec’s.

The Topo jacket has a few notable advantages over the Patagonia. The pocket is bigger (alas, for some it might be an eyesore) and the elastics on the sleeves are better than those on the Patagonia. The buttons are mounted on nylon instead of the fleece itself which may help the fabric last longer.


I love my Topo fleece jacket, but it is important to remember what role it has in a wardrobe. It will not keep one warm on a windy day if you are not properly dressed underneath or on top. It will, however, be very comfortable to wear on a mild spring day or as a layer during the winter. The quality is, as always, above par and I have no doubt that the jacket will be a staple in my wardrobe for years to come.

Palomino Blackwing Pearl Review



I have a thing for nice white pencils. Not just any ol’ white pencils. They have to be good writers, but with a good look. The Palomino Blackwing Pearl, while not the iconic 602, stands out when you see it. The gold ferrule and shiny white body shimmer in the light and it looks like no other. But what about the writing experience and the ergonomics? Read on to find out more.


Place of Manufacture: USA
Price: $25 for a box of 12


The Blackwing Pearl comes in a silky smooth finish. There is a shimmer in the finish which can only be seen when the pencil is held at an angle.


The lettering is black, providing a deep contrast with the pearl white barrel. “PALOMINO” is written in a thinner and wider font than “BLACKWING” and “PEARL”, which appear to also be bolded.

The ferrule is gold colored and houses a black eraser. As with all pencil in the Blackwing line, the erasers are easily replaceable. I have had a few people ask if I swapped out the eraser on this pencil, due to the existence of a white eraser, but the pencil came with the black one. While I have no objections with the black eraser, I might try out a white one at some point purely for style.

Fit and Finish


I general have pretty good experiences with Palomino products. I purchased this particular Blackwing Pearl at the Maido in Santana Row. I was unaware at the time, but the paint is partially chipped near the ferrule. However, on my other Pearls, this problem is not seen.


The lettering is not as sharp as I might expect from Palomino. I believe that this might be because the lettering is printed, instead of foiled, on the pencil. The corners are a bit rounded and there are pseudo-sherifs due to smearing.

On the Pearl that has the chipped paint, the ferrule is not oriented correctly. This makes it a bit annoying to rest the pencil on a desk as none of the hexagonal sides are aligned with a flat edge of the ferrule. This problem is not seen on any other pencil. Though it is a possibility that the problem is only with that particular pencil, it brings up some questions about quality control.



The pencil is a joy to write with. Its hardness is supposed to be midway between the Blackwing MMX and the Blackwing 602. I find this to be mostly true. The line is quite dark, although not as dark as the MMX, while the lead wear is almost the same as the 602.


Writing with the pearl feels much like the 602. It glides like rubbing a marble on a sheet of paper. The body is slick, but it is easy enough to get a good grip.

I believe that the wood is the same cedar used in the MMX and the 602. Sharpening is a breeze with my hand sharpener, electric sharpener and knife all gliding through the wood.


Erasers can easily and completely erase any but the heaviest marks made by the pencil. As always, the Blackwing eraser on the back does an all right job, though not the best.



I’m a fan of the pencil, when it doesn’t have the manufacturing problems. A perfect example has a nice feel in the hand and performs well. However, a defective pencil can ruin the magical experience. At ~$2 per pencil, I’ll inspect each pencil in a box before I buy them and add them to my collection.

IBM Electrographic Pencil



The IBM Electrographic pencil looks like a advertising pencil, but it was not meant for the general public. Though it was made with a specific purpose in mind, this pencil has become quite famous in the pencil collecting world for being a great writer. Does the price and lore behind this pencil hold up to how it performs?


Place of Manufacture: USA
Price: ~$10 (new), ~$5-8 (used depending on length)

Brief History

The IBM Electrographic pencil was developed in the late 1930s to be used with the IBM Mark Sense technology. These pencils had to make marks that could be read by scanning machines. The cores of these pencils were made in an electric furnace that produced a graphite that produced a shinier and and darker line, as we’ll see below.

Fit and Finish


The ferrule is a plain silver ferrule that is poorly attached. While these pencils are all vintage and used, the looseness of the ferrule is quite unique in comparison to other vintage pencils.

The eraser feels supple, but does not erase. Instead, it produces an ugly red smear on the paper now.


The graphite and the wood are superb. The wood sharpens easily and the graphite looks so nice and smooth on the surface. The paint is done all right. It appears to be a thin layer, as small dents easily expose the wood underneath.


I purchased these pencils in a lot of three. I noticed that one of the pencils had a slightly different logo. The “t” in “Electrographic” on the left pencil is straight up and down, while the “t” on the right pencil is a bit tilted. Since the lettering is actually imprinted into the wood, I this must have either been a variant or a manufacturing error instead of a smear.



The IBM Electrographic performs wonderfully. It is very smooth and puts down that nice dark line. It is quite consistent and is easily erased. Though the lead feels soft, it wears down surprisingly slowly and I never felt as though I was writing with a flat surface.

I didn’t like the weight lacquered feel on the round body. Perhaps I’m more used to hexagonal pencils, but the round smooth feeling makes writing feel a tad weird.


The IBM Electrographic Pencil should be praised for its excellent core. I wish more pencils felt this smooth and put down such a dark line. The pencil, however, does not have the best fit and finish and the lacquer makes it a tad annoying to use. However, I’ll definitely be using these pencils and will get some more if the price is right.

Pentel 999 HB Review



I found out about Pentel 999 scrolling through JetPens. I found it interesting that they described it as “Pentel’s highest performing professional wooden drafting pencil” as I am not that familiar with many of Pentel’s pencils. Though they were only relatively recently discontinued, they are difficult to acquire. However, I was lucky enough to get one through a trade (thanks Jack!).


Place of Manufacture: Japan
Price: ~$10 on the secondary market


From the pictures, the pencil originally came in a black box with grey writing. This matches the style, both in font and color, of the pencil itself. As I received the pencil through the trade, I did not get a box.

Fit and Finish

The pencil, being NOS, has some wear and tear. It appears as though the pencil was finished with a gray layer and then a black layer on top. There is some speckling on the barrel of the silver coming through the black paint.


The end of the pencil features some cracking on the gray end.


The gray rings around the barrel surrounding the graphite grade are not perfect and the edges are jagged. It appears as if there were multiple coats of paint put on unevenly or something.

The pencil is super light for its size. It has no ferrule, but it still weights less than any of the ferrule-less pencils I received in the trade and less than my commonly used Mitsubishi 9800.

Overall, the finish is not as good as I saw in the pictures, but perfectly understandable considering that this is a NOS pencil. The type of paint they used on the barrel is susceptible to these types of speckling and, as a user, I don’t think I’ll mind it too much.


The pencil features two main colors: a grayish silver and black. The barcode and UPC on the back are printed in white. As stated before, I believe that the pencil was coated in Silver before a layer of black was overlaid.

The font chosen is a sans-serif font that is “boxy”. The individual letters are wide and it works well with the feeling of the pencil. The “999” is created with smaller squares. This gives it enough pop without standing out too much.



Sharpening the pencil for the first time was frightening. Not knowing how it would sharpen, I was afraid that I might waste a large portion of the core due to some random mishap. Luckily, that did not happen.


I love the way the pencil writes. The pencil is light but still feels balanced in the hand. The lead is smooth. Way smoother than any HB that I’ve used (even smoother than the Hi-Uni). It makes a dark line that is easy to read. The one issue I have with it is that it seems like the tip degrades quickly. This can make for some big line variations depending on whether or not you rotate your pencil when using it.


I’d love to have more of these. They write like a dream. They’re not without their flaws, including a paint job that is lackluster and a tip that requires rotating. However, the dark line it puts down and the feedback it has makes up for it. I don’t think I’d pat ~$10 for a pencil based on my experience, but I will treasure the one that I have and use it whenever I want a change in feel.

Zach Wood Pry Bar Review



I saw a Zach Wood tool on r/EDC and loved it. His website was a bit sparse and his Facebook page was rarely updated. There was a stickied post, though, that directed me to joining a Facebook group that I’ve grown to love. There, I managed to purchase my first Zach Wood tool. I’ve been carrying it ever since and I’m sure I’ll be carrying it for a very long time.


Maker: Zach Wood Custom Knives and Tools
Place of Manufacture: USA
Length: 6 inches
Material: A2
Price: $185 (retail)

The Maker

Zach Wood is a custom maker based in Montana. Beyond the type of tools mentioned in the review, he also makes knives through forging and stock removal. He’s quite active in the eponymous Facebook group.


I purchased the tool second hand on the Facebook group. This is the easiest way to acquire a tool. They occasionally show up on eBay, forums and from a few online sellers, but they come at a premium and they often don’t have them in stock.

The second easiest way to purchase a tool is to get it through one of the “buy” posts that Zach makes. Since there are so many people who want to purchase a tool, Zach will often sell them to the first “x” commenters or pick a few randomly from the commenters in a lottery form.

It appears as though most secondary sellers in the group are honest and I have read of no issues. For me, my item originated in Thailand, but the seller was excellent and I received my tool well packaged with a bead as a gift.

Fit and Finish

I would describe the tool as well made, but still has the touches of being handmade.


The “A2” stamped into the front pry is noticeably uneven and the “A” looks as though the punch moved while being hit. It makes no functional difference and, in my opinion, makes pry tool easily recognizable and unique.

The grinds on the chisel end still feature the grind lines. The tip is not sharp and all the edges are rounded.


The clip is thick and is very stiff. I have rolled around with the pry bar clipped to my jeans and it never shifted. There is a double side to it, though. The pry bar can be a bit hard to get clipped to a pocket and it appears as though it is starting to create a wear pattern on my jeans.


The design of the clip is very interesting. There is a small hole, that goes all the way through the bar, where the clip sticks in. This keeps the clip from rotating. The clip itself is held in place via a bicycle chain link. These can be easily removed and replaced with a chain link of a different color.


The side edges of the tool are rounded, but are straight. The tool was purchased second hand, so I am unsure if all of the wear marks are from the maker, but from the pictures from the maker, it would seems as though he purposely wears the tool during finishing.


The fuller along the front of the knife is straight although the holes are not perfectly aligned. However, the holes that hold a screw bit and the O2 tank opener seem accurately sized.



While many purchase these tools for collecting, I purchased it for using. With a length of 6 inches, the tool might not fit that well in some pants. It does all right in my jeans though.


As a pry tool, I have used the tool to remove adhesive that the last tenant had left on my door. Furthermore, I have used the bit holder to help disassemble open up a gas tank. The length allows for more torque to be applied in comparison to a normal screw driver.


While many might scoff at the idea of “EDC” and think one piece tools have little use, but I love this Zach Wood tool and have found uses for it most days. Having a pry tool is nice as it saves other tools, such as screwdrivers and knives, from being used improperly and damaged. I’ll be carrying this guy around for a while for sure.

Warther Wood Carving Knives


Ernest “Mooney” Warther was an American wood carver famous for creating train models and producing kitchen knives. He made his own carving knives, a unique design where different shaped blades were stored in the handle, as well as fighting (he called them “commando”) knives for members of the armed services. Here, I’ll be talking a bit about two of his carving knives that I have.


Place of Manufacture: USA
Blade Steel: 440c
Price: $37.50 (direct from Warther Cutlery)


The knives come in these card stock boxes. The #1 model was purchased before the logo change as seen on the box.

Fit and Finish

It is evident that the knives are hand-finished. There are small issues with the knives such as handle curves that are uneven, blade grinds that are unsymmetrical among others. However, since the knives are hand-finished, they were able to remove sharp edges that might dig into the hand and ensure that the knife has no structural defects.


This is where the knife shines. Although the steel is 440C, a relatively inexpensive steel, they have heat treated it to where it holds a decent edge. Furthermore, the blade shapes are well designed for what they are described to do:IMG_20160321_194753

#1 wood carving knife – Straight edge carving knife with 1.5″ blade. Used for scoring, lettering, and cutting straight lines.


#10 wood carving knife – A small straight blade approx. 1″ long. This knife has a fine point for intricate detail work.

The #1 and #10 are similar in shape although the #10 has a finer point. I have the feeling that the #1 has a thicker blade nearer the tip than the #10 does as well. This is the biggest strength of these knives. Since they were designed by a master carver, they work great for what they are meant to do.

Pencil Sharpening

These knives, with their straight blades, work very well for pencil sharpening. I prefer to use the #1 as the #10 dulls too quickly. The handle allows for a comfortable grip and for the thumb to be placed on the spine of the blade. This makes accurate cuts easy.


While these knives may seem plain and simple to most, they are in fact well designed tools. The fit and finish could be improved, but for a handmade knife by a well-known American company at this price point, I have little complaint.

Eberhard Faber Mongol 482 No. 2 Review



The Mongol series from Eberhard Faber is a famous one. John Steinbeck was said to prefer Blackwings and Mongol 480s. Here, I have a box of 482s, which look as school-like as pencil can look. Do they stand up to their lore, or has age gotten the best of them? Let’s find out.


Place of Manufacture: USA
Price: $20-25 a box, up to $200 for early 1900s version



I love the box. It features a full size picture of the pencil on the front. There are many different fonts above and below it, drawing the eye to different sections. On the back, there is a brief description of the the pencil with the different hardnesses that it comes with. I believe this is the second generation of boxes. The first generation had an Asian theme to it.

It is two pieces, with one half larger than the other. The inner section pushes out to access the pencils.

The other sides of the box feature a similar design with the front with one of the edges having the hardness of the lead.

Fit and Finish


Being a vintage pencil, it can be a bit difficult to judge quality. Over time, moisture and dryness can both affect the wood and the lacquer.

I immediately noticed a few issues with the printing. The printing was not very crisp and the lettering was not centered perfectly on the side.


On the back, a bit of paint was chipped. It would appear as though this happened when the ferrule was attached. The ferrule itself has a gold band that has held up well over time. There is some discoloration on the black areas though.


As stated before, the pencil has that school look to it. The yellow is similar to the cheap dollar store pencil shade and it has the pink eraser stuck to the end of it. That being said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a traditional look like this. In fact, I find it to be quite appealing, especially with the execution. The small details, such as the gold band around the ferrule and, once again, the fonts used really make this pencil stand out.



The pencil writes quite well. It has a tad of feedback like the Mitsubishi 9800 HB, but lacks some of the smoothness. It has a dry feeling on the paper rather. It doesn’t glide as much as move across the paper.

In comparison to modern Japanese pencils, such as the Hi-Uni and Mono 100, the pencil is harder. I like, however, how it produces a dark line while have little wear down. I can see myself using this pencil for a long time before sharpening. It compares well to a Cedar Pointe though I like the Mongol’s core a tad more.


I like the Mongol 482. It doesn’t write as nicely has a Blackwing 602 but it wasn’t meant to compete with it. The Mongol is a business and school pencil. It was designed for lots of writing and lots of use. Its original price point was low enough where you wouldn’t feel bad about losing it, comparing with the Blackwing which was a premium product.

I’m glad I picked up a box. I don’t think they’ll replace my Mitsubishi 9800s, but whenever I’m looking for a change, I’ll pluck one out of the box and give it a go.

Mitsubishi Vermillion and Prussian Blue Pencil Review


Red and blue combination pencils have been popular for a long time. They offer the user two contrasting colors in one writing utensil that can be used for tasks such as proofing, highlighting and drawing. Here, Tombow has produced a combination pencil with a unique ratio of red and blue. How well does this pencil work?


Place of Manufacture: Japan
Price: $7-8 for a box of 12


Fit and Finish










Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Review



The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni is a high end pencil. Two or three pencils equating the cost of a box of Mitsubishi 9800s, the Hi-Uni is supposed to be much better than its workhorse relative. But how much better can a pencil be?


Place of Manufacture: Japan
Price: $20-25 for a box of 12, $2-3 per pencil


The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni comes in a nice plastic case when a dozen are purchased. There is an inner plastic divider to separate the two layers of six pencils. The build quality is quite decent and it keeps the pencils safe. I like it so much that I still use it to hold some of my favorite pencils.

Fit and Finish


The level of detail and meticulousness that Mitsubishi has put into this pencil is amazing. The maroon lacquer is perfect (out of the box, that is) and there are no scratches nor is there chipped paint. The lettering is crisp and precise all around. The foil band around the end is straight and fits perfectly in the groove that is cut into the wood. The graphite core sits very centered. I have no complaints at all.



The design of the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni has one flaw: the clutter. The barcode on the backside along with the UPC set this back from other pencils such as the Blackwing.

Similarly, the multitude of fonts used on the pencil can make it an eyesore.

However, the colors used, red, black and gold, work well together.



The jump from a 9800 to the Hi-Uni is quite evident. The Hi-Uni has a much smoother core than the 9800 while maintaining a certain level of feedback. The pencil is obviously harder than a Blackwing 602, but will not lose to it in terms of smoothness. It has a bit of residue when writing with lots of pressure, but normal writing will erase well.

Sharpening the pencil is fun. The cedar the Mitsubishi has used in the pencil smells great and sharpeners glide through the wood.


The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni is a high end pencil. It features a good lead core, nice wood and great fit and finishing at a more expensive price. It has a few design issues, but overall, it is a great pencil.

Ohto Sharp Pencil (APS-350ES) Review



I love mechanical pencils. I love wooden pencils. The Ohto Sharp Pencil line tries to get the post of both worlds. It looks like a wooden pencil. It feels like a wooden pencil. But, 0.5mm lead comes out and the ferrule is actually a push button. How well does it actually work?


Place of Manufacture: Japan
Price: $5 (from Japan), $15 (Amazon)



The pencil came in a simple plastic packaging. It opens via a flap on the bottom.

Fit and Finish



The finish on the pencil is superb. The lacquer is smooth and the silver foiling is sharp. The clip fits well and does not wiggle. The eraser cap is of a little concern though. While it is firmly attached, there is wiggle associated with it. I believe this is from the entire mechanism inside not being that sturdy.


I believe that this is essentially a wooden pencil without the graphite with a mechanical pencil mechanism stuck in. The mechanism is not attached on the top except for the eraser cap. The end piece where the clip is attached to seems to only provide place for the clip and offers no other purpose.




I like the form-factor of this pencil, but at the same time, it is its biggest weakness. The pencil feels out of place in the hand, not because it is too short, but because of its diameter. It almost feels like trying to grip a toothpick. I did use it for an entire day of note-taking and found it to be tolerable nearing the end of the day. However, I would definitely recommend a thicker pencil if you want comfort.

However, due to the length and diameter, this pencil is quite useful in many ways. It can easily be slipped into a pencil case or sleeve as a backup pencil as it does not take up that much room. It can also be placed in a shirt pocket without fear of it making a hole as it is not long enough.


As always, this pencil has a specific purpose and it does it well: it is for convenience, not comfort. It is meant for backup use or a gimmick and not a workhorse. In that regard, it works very well. Don’t force it into tasks it shouldn’t handle and you got yourself a nice mini-pencil.