Gear Review- BightGear Caldera Down Parka

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
BightGear Caldera Parka Review- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

I’m fortunate to be able to review about a half-dozen of the industry’s best belay jackets each winter. Chances are from December to April I’m spending 5-6 days a week climbing frozen waterfalls or teaching avalanche courses up on notoriously cold Mount Washington. This gives me a lot of field time to put these jackets through the ringer and form some opinions which I am happy to share with you to help you navigate the myriad of choices out there!

A month or so ago a fellow guide introduced me to BightGear, a new brand born under the prestigious umbrella of Cascades based Whittaker Mountaineering. At its core this brand is an authentic “Guide Designed & Tested” label. Before a product is even released it must be tested for over 100k of vertical climbing.

Some impressive numbers from BightGear that speak to this process:

WEAR TESTING BY THE NUMBERS

  • 2016 – Over 1.2 Million vertical feet of wear testing by our guide team of primary fabrics used in 76 sample prototypes to build 19 different styles.
  • 2017 – Reached over 48 million vertical feet of wear testing and use of 143 prototypes by our team of 60+ guides, and thousands of RMI climbers on Mt. Rainier.
  • 2018 – On target to reach over 100 million vertical feet of testing with the launch of the Bight Test program on mountains and outdoor playgrounds around the world.
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Guide designed and tested on the slopes of Mt. Rainier- photo courtesy of RMI/NEM Guide Jordan Cargill

Pretty cool right? Having learned all this I was more than happy to receive the BightGear Caldera Down Parka for a demo. After a month of testing in a variety of conditions I feel I can fairly share my opinion on this piece. In the realm of down insulated belay parkas the Caldera easily competes with the best in class options out there! Let’s start with the most noticeable then finish with the minutiae.


How Warm Is It?

BightGear stuffed this parka with over 6 ounces of 850 fill power HyperDRY™ Goose Down. That’s a lot of high loft quality down, and the result is a parka that feels like a nice sleeping bag for your torso. By using more I-beam baffles in the construction of the parka (vs sewn through) BightGear completely eliminates cold-spots. The arms and hood feel just as lofty as the torso which I prefer in this “over all” type parka. I’ve worn this over my other layers down to -16 Fahrenheit while demoing snow pits at 4,400 feet on Mount Washington. Even after an hour of standing relatively still while teaching the basics of snow-pack evaluation I was kept toasty.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Using the volcanic capabilities of the Caldera to dry out after attempting to climb a full shower Black Pudding Gully- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

How Dry Is It?

The BightGear Caldera uses a silky 20D nylon rip-stop with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. Most of the days I tested the parka were in temperatures well below those where I would encounter any liquid precipitation. I did expose it to a rather drippy ice climb a couple weeks ago and noticed water beads off as expected with a DWR finish. I also wore it over a soaked soft-shell jacket following a deluge of an ice climb and it dried me out quite quickly without feeling like it absorbed to much of the moisture. I’ve become a huge fan of the DWR treated down used in this parka as I believe regular down would quickly become a wet lump of non-insulating feathers under similar conditions.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Legit testing by one of the most renowned guide companies out there! Photo courtesy of Jordan Cargill

How Light and Pack-able Is It?

BightGear lists the weight of a size large at 646 grams (22.8 ounces). My home scale weighed my large in at 640 grams (22.6 ounces). This is within an ounce of other similar style/priced options. It easily stuffs into my Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack and if packing space is at a real premium I can use my extra small compression stuff sack to get this down to the size of a 32 ounce water bottle!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Easily stuffs into my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultralight Stuff Sack
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Gets even smaller in my XS compression stuff sack

Minutiae

BightGear included a lot design choices to further make the Caldera one of the best down parkas I’ve ever tested. The hood fits perfectly over my climbing helmet and is well stuffed with down making it a comfortable place to retreat in the harshest conditions. The brushed tricot lining on the inside collar is super cozy when in “full turtle” mode. This same lining is in the well positioned hand warming front pockets. Articulated elbows make this jacket fit great over my other layers and the PowerStretch cuffs seal out cold and snow while playing in deep snow. There are also two stretchy inside stash pockets that can hold gloves or a water bottle.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Be warm and toasty hood easily fits over my climbing helmet

Summary

It is clear that the BightGear Caldera Parka was designed by working mountain guides. It has everything you want in a big down “puffy” and nothing you don’t want. Of all the down parkas I have tested this one stands out as a top-pick for many reasons, not the least of which is the “half-sleeping bag” type feeling you get when you slip this on over your other layers. If you are looking to upgrade your belay jacket this one would be an excellent choice!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Essentially a nice puffy down “sleeping bag for your torso”… with the right layers and a bivy sack this is a great option for a bivy sleep system.

Exclusive 30% Off Discount!

I am super excited to be able to offer my readers a 30% off discount on ANY thing from BightGear’s Website! While I can not post the code publicly here all you need to do is shoot me a DM through Instagram, a PM through Facebook, or go old school and shoot me an email at nealpinestart@gmail.com! This discount is only good until April 1st, 2019 so don’t delay!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. 

 

Gear Review: Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Over the last three months I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acto FL Jacket and the results are in. Simple and efficient design makes this a great piece as an approach soft-shell for both ice climbing and back-country skiing.

How I Tested

Starting in November I wore this jacket on multiple early season ice climbs including the season’s first ascent of Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs. I wore it during one of three trips up the Black Dike at Cannon Cliff and on a half dozen ski tours on Mount Washington including one summit day where temps where in the lower teens and winds were 45-65 mph. I’ll go over the details in the order I feel they are most pronounced.

Breath-ability

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Close up of the fleece “backer” that gives this soft-shell a broad range of comfort and excellent breath-ability

The most noticeable feature of this jacket is how well it breathes. The highly air-permeable Aerius™ fabric is no joke. It is difficult to overcome this jacket’s breath-ability even when you are crushing your uphill approach at Munter Rate 6. This level of breath-ability is really important as this “minimalist” piece does not have any side zips for ventilation. It does not need them.

Water-Resistance

As is common with soft-shell style jackets this piece is not water-proof, but has a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish. I found this to be adequate on the early and very drippy first ascent of Standard this past Fall. The second pitch had a steady light shower thing going on and I made it to the end of the pitch with only a little bit of “wet out”. If freezing rain or rain is in the forecast I’d reach for one of my hard-shells, but for cold & active this has just enough water/snow resistance for me.

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
First ascent of a drippy Standard Route for the 2018/19 ice season- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Durability/Abrasion Resistance

While it is always hard to comment on this after only 2.5 months of testing I can attest that I scummed my way up the chimney section on the Black Dike and bushwhacked though some dense pine trees in Gulf of Slides and on Mount Willard and have yet to put anything on this jacket that shows it has been on some adventures, so I’m going with yes, it is durable and abrasion resistant!

Hemlock™

I’ll admit I did not read any of the manufacturer’s description before starting my testing. I like to have no preconceptions when I start the review process. So it took me a moment to figure out why sections of the bottom hem felt like they had a four 4 inch long cylindrical foam/gel-like straws sewn into it. This was something I hadn’t seen before it and I think it’s quite an excellent idea. This feature is designed to prevent the jacket from coming un-tucked from your climbing harness when making repeated over the head arm-stretches (ice climbing). It is an elegant and effective design choice and one I think will appear on many technical soft-shells that are specific to wearing under a harness.

Pockets

In keeping with the fast & light minimalist design the jacket only sports two high “cross over” hand/chest pockets. The few times I wore this jacket casually I missed hand pockets but that’s not a fair dig as this is not a jacket designed for casual wear, it’s designed for sending it in the mountains at a quick clip!

Hood

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Hood

Arc’teryx did make a clever design choice with the hood changing the material here to lightweight Tyono™ 30 nylon StormHood™. This material is less breath-able than the main material used in the jacket but much more wind-resistant. The informal “try to blow through the fabric” test makes it seem twice as wind-resistant than the main material. The hood fits perfect without a helmet on, which leads me to one of my only negative marks on the jacket. The hood is really a tad snug when worn over a helmet. If you have a low profile helmet like the Petzl Sirocco or Black Diamond Meteor III it would probably work, especially if you are a small or medium sized helmet vs my XL sized melon. I do like the stiffened visor when wearing it without a helmet though!

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
A bit snug while wearing a helmet

Sizing/Fit

Following the Arc’teryx size chart I went with a size large based on my 42 inch chest. Other than the hood being snug when wearing a helmet the arm and waist cut felt great. I would layer my Merino wool t-shirt and a light fleece or wool hoody under the jacket. I could easily put my big puffy belay jacket over this when needed. I especially liked the snug elastic wrist cuffs that kept both spin drift and occasional drips running down my arms.

Weight/Pack-ability

Arc’Teryx listed this at 440 g / 15.5 oz. My home scale on my size large weighed in at 490 g / 17 oz. This puts the jacket towards the heavier side of “minimalist” jackets but I’m not sure that could be helped given the base fabric used. I’d take the a few extra ounces for the amount of comfort-range this piece affords. While the jacket isn’t super pack-able I haven’t really had a reason to not be wearing it during day missions.

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Summary

Arc’teryx designed this jacket as a minimalist piece for fast & light missions alpine missions and while not the end-all-perfect piece the Arc’Teryx Acto FL Jacket comes darn close to perfection. While I would like to see the hood enlarged a little bit there’s really not much I would change given the end-goal. If you are in the market for a super-breathable rugged soft-shell give this one a look!

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created here. Thank you!

Gear Review: Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review


The Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket is an excellent choice for a goose down belay jacket at an competitive price. I’ll go into some details in a moment but I must say I had a little bit of reverse sticker shock having spent a dozen days testing this jacket before sitting down to write about and discover that it retails for $349.95. Ethically sourced 800 fill goose down with high performance shell fabrics and mapping? Backed by Outdoor Research’s amazing Infinite Guarantee? How did they pull this off? Let’s get into the details and find out if this is a piece for your winter adventure kit!


Manufacturer Description

Your new trusty 6000 meter puffy, The Alpine Down Hooded Jacket is loaded with the durability, weather resistance, and warmth to withstand high altitude’s howling wind and biting cold, yet still stows away snugly by packing into its own left-hand pocket. Pertex® Quantum Pro provides beefy durability on the shoulders, sleeves, and hood, while the lighter-weight body traps the insulating powers from 800-fill responsibly sourced down in a baffled construction that eliminates the cold spots notorious to fully-quilted jackets. Brimming with feature-packed details like Dynamic Reach™ Underarm Panels, elastic drawcord hem and cuffs, pocket placements that don’t interfere with your harness, and a helmet-compatible halo hood, the Alpine Down doesn’t compromise on functionality, or exceptional warmth.


How I Tested

I started testing this jacket during the snowiest and coldest October in twenty years on Mount Washington and throughout the White Mountains. I used it on multiple early season ice climbs at Frankenstein Cliffs and two trips up the iconic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff in November. I also used it while teaching a mid-December avalanche course in Gulf of Slides on Mount Washington. All in all I put about 12 solid days behind forming my opinions on the jacket.

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
4,600 feet in Gulf of Slides, Mount Washington

How it Performed

Warmth– At this price point I have tested few jackets that felt as warm as this piece does. Outdoor Research stuffed this piece with 182 grams (6.42 ounces) of 800 fill power goose down with a baffled construction to eliminate cold spots. While not quite as toasty as my Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka this jacket comes in about $100 cheaper!

Water Resistance– The main torso shell material is Pertex Quantum Y shell treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish which gives decent water resistance. Slightly more durable Pertex Quantum Pro makes up the sleeves and hood. I only encountered frozen precipitation during my testing and if liquid precipitation is in the forecast I usually reach for my heavier bombproof synthetic belay jacket, the Outdoor Research Perch Belay Jacket.

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
Rapping off Dracula, Frankenstein Cliffs, Crawford Notch

Wind Resistance– I summited Mount Washington in 50-65 mph winds and felt this piece is pretty much wind-proof. Any jacket of this construction would typically be considered windproof so no big surprise there.

Breath-ability– Another high mark this piece breathes excellently due to it being a down jacket with high end shell construction. No issues at all with breath-ability.

Weight/Pack-ability– My home scale weighed this piece about three ounces heavier than the claimed weight (19oz / 538g Avg weight for size L). My size large weighed in at 22oz / 634g. The left front hand pocket zipper is reversible so that you may stuff this into it’s own pocket. It fits the inside-out pocket with out to much fuss and the resulting pack size is about 12 inches by 5 inch football shaped “pillow”.

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
About 22 ounces on the home scale

Sizing/Fit– I found this to fit true to size with a large easily fitting over my active climbing layers at the belay with some room to spare. The “halo” hood easily fit over my climbing helmet and has a three part draw-cord system to help it stay in place so you can keep that important peripheral vision! While the hand pockets are positioned a bit high to “not interfere” with a harness I’ve never tucked in this style of jacket into my harness before so I feel that is a moot point. This goes over “everything”. Stick to the size chart when ordering.

Minutia– Two nice big stretchy internal pockets provide a good spot for drying my technical ice climbing gloves or holding a water-bottle. There’s an internal zipper “media pocket” with port but I tend to keep my iPhone in a closer to skin layer anyways so I didn’t really use this. Tricot brushed fleecy collar is super comfy when zipped up in my cocoon. Articulated underarm panels allow full overhead reaches without lifting the bottom of the jacket to high. Bottom up zipper is nice for easier access to belay device.


Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
Warm and cozy while hanging out in a mid-rap ice cave

Summary

In the field of 800 fill hooded down belay jackets the Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket is a strong contender. Enough down was used to make this feel like the warm puffy a true belay jacket should. The quality of the shell fabrics and mapped construction are impressive given the price range was kept to the below $400 level. Using some hydrophobic down would really have made this a stand-out but I could see that increasing the manufacturing cost to the next level so… at the price I have yet to see a full down belay jacket of this quality that is also backed by one of the greatest warranties in the industry. For true cold New England or high altitude conditions it would be hard to go wrong with this piece.

Buy on Backcountry

Buy on Moosejaw

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links support this blog.

Deal Alert: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Backpacks and The Shell Jacket on Sale!

Once a year Hyperlite Mountain Gear runs a solid sale and it is that time! I reviewed the HMG 3400 Ice Pack a few years ago and it is still one of my most used packs for ice climbing and winter mountaineering.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

You can find my original review of it here. You can see the whole line of HMG backpacks here!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Light, technical, and durable- photo by Peter Brandon

I also got a chance to review The Shell which is the most rugged ultralight waterproof/breathable I have ever tested! Find that full review here!

I’ve you’ve been considering picking up one of these award winning backpacks or this industry changing jacket now is a good time to save some money!


20% off site-wide on Hyperlite Mountain Gear!!!


See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links help support this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Gear Review- NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody

Last Spring I was invited by NW Alpine, an Oregon based company, to demo a couple of their technical pieces. Right before I left for a back-country ski trip to Iceland the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody arrived.


NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review- photo from NWAlpine.com

From NWAlpine.com

Outside Magazine included our Black Spider Hoody in their list of “The Only Winter Clothes You Need.”

The quintessential layer for all high output aerobic activity, the Black Spider Hoody is crafted from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric for superior performance. Functional in a wide variety of conditions, this piece will keep you warm during spring and fall rock climbing sessions and will quickly become a key piece of your system during fast and light winter excursions. For the many who run too hot to wear heavy layers when active, the Black Spider Hoody is the solution to this problem.

Featuring majority flat seams this layer can be comfortably worn against the skin or, depending on conditions, can be worn over a light shirt. A balaclava style under helmet hood, thumb holes on the cuffs and a zippered chest pocket round out the features on this minimalist layer.

Awards:

Climbing Magazine, May 2018https://www.climbing.com/gear/review-nw-alpine-black-spider-hoody/

Outside Magazine, December 2016https://www.outsideonline.com/2140321/only-winter-clothes-you-need


How we Tested

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Sizing Contour climbing skins the night before our first touring day: photo by Brent Doscher

Other than wearing this for the commute from NH to Iceland my personal testing would be delayed as my friend Erik’s bag was lost by the airline and I loaned him this piece along with a few other items so he wouldn’t miss a day of touring. We then spent 5 days touring in Northern Iceland.

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Skinning up some wind effected hard pack on Karlsarfjall mountain: photo by Brent Doscher

Made from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric this hoody is an excellent skin layer or can be worn comfortably over a snug fitting synthetic or Merino wool t-shirt. It is definitely thin enough for high aerobic activity.

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody
Striking my “what do I do with my hands” pose while Erik and Jerry are all GQ: photo by Brent Doscher

Sizing

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review

I went with a size large which was an athletic but not too snug fit for my 5’9″ 180 lb 42 inch chest. It was a more casual but functional fit for Erik who is 5’8″, 160 lb. To select the right fit just use the size chart above and the best measurement to refer to would be chest size.

Durability

After the Iceland ski trip I wore this for a dozen or more days while rock climbing back East in early Spring conditions. It’s come back out with me this Fall for more climbing and shows no signs of wear.


Performance

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Great uphill travel piece: photo by Cait Bourgault

Breathable, not “too” warm, quick-drying. Everything you want from a performance minimalist piece. This type of Polartec fabric was new to me and it is really comfortable worn directly over skin. The thumb loops are welcome when slipping my wind shell on and the hood has a nice snug fit that works great under both my ski and climbing helmets. The zippered chest pocket was a great size for my iPhone (and convenient to keep it close and warm).


Summary

This is a nice addition to the wardrobe. Normally I would resist Anorak styles but this one has become a favorite. It fits a nice niche between a super thin “Sun Hoody” like the Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody and a thicker warmer hoody like the Arc’teryx Elgin Pullover Hoodie. You can pick one up directly from the Made in the USA manufacturer at this link:

Buy at NW Alpine

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: This item was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. All opinions are that of the author.

Gear Review: KAILAS Men’s 9A Classic Pant

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review

This past summer I’ve worn the Kailas 9A Classic Pants more than any other pant in my wardrobe. This Asian brand is not that well known in North America so I’ve had numerous climbing partners ask me about the pants I’ve been wearing. They have a similar style and quality to more common US brands like Prana, Mountain Hardwear, and Patagonia. “9A” by the way refers to the French difficulty rating system and is roughly equal to 5.14d on the Yosemite Decimal System. While these pants didn’t help me send any routes anywhere near that level of difficulty after almost 50 days of rock climbing and hiking in them I’m ready to share my opinions!


Comfort/Fit

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review

These pants are extremely comfortable in a wide range of conditions. Made of quick-drying 4-way stretch Nylon/Spandex blend I found the fabric to be very soft against bare skin. The material is lightweight and very breathable so I wore these without concern on some of the hottest days of the summer. Sizing is Asian so most Americans will want to order up one size. My US pant size is 32/32 and the XL in these fit me perfectly. Follow the size chart and you should do well!

KAILAS 9A Classic Pant Review

Articulated knees and crotch offer full range of motion and flexibility. The inch and a half wide elastic band around the back really helps the pants stay put under my harness. I have not needed to wear a belt with these as they sit perfectly over the hips with just the button and Velcro front closure. The back belt loop is designed to accommodate a chalk bag for bouldering.

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review

Two front hand pockets add some everyday convenience though there is no back pocket. One of my favorite features of these is the embedded button fasteners for rolling the bottoms up when climbing. No need to do a tight calf roll with these!

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review
Convenient fastening for rolling them up when it’s time to send

Relatively elaborate embroidery gives these a stand-out appearance that has definitely caused people to ask who makes these pants. Durability wise after a full climbing season they show almost no wear and have held up well to the typical rigors of rock climbing.


Summary

Kailas 9A Climbing Pant Review
The author getting ready for a pre-dawn alpine rock climb while wearing the Kailas 9A Climbing Pants in Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington- photo by Brent Doscher

Quality craftsmanship, good fit, practical features, comfort, and nice style. There really isn’t anything missing from the Kailas 9A Classic Pants. They come in a ton of different colors! Check them out on Amazon here or from the new Canadian retailer Verti Call.

Buy on Amazon

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links help support this blog.

 

Gear Review- Hyperlite Mountain Gear “The Shell” Jacket

Last year Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) released their first entry into the high end ultra-light outerwear market with the intrepidly named brow-raising jacket, “The Shell“. Already well known for their ultralight backpacks and shelters made from expensive but high performance fabrics this level of design in a piece of clothing was sure to turn heads and I was quite excited to find out I would receive a demo model to review.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
The author testing Hyperlight Mountain Gear’s “The Shell” while skiing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

How I Tested

I started testing in February while in the middle of my winter guiding season. This allowed me about 25 days of back-country skiing, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing to get acquainted. I only parted with my test model for a week to allow a fellow guide a chance to bring it on a South America climbing trip and was happy to get it back in time for a week long trip back-country skiing in Iceland. All in all this demo model saw 35+ days of combined multi-sport use from New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains, to 17,000 feet on Ishinca in the Andes, to the Trollaski Penisula in northern Iceland. The results are in!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Fellow guide Corey Fitzgerald testing the jacket on an acclimatization hike to Laguna Churup, Peru- photo by @cfphotography

Durability

Generally I like to start a gear review focused on the single most positive aspect of the item I’m reviewing and work down from there. With the HMG “The Shell” there was a four-way tie between Durability, Weight, and Pack-ability, and Performance. But durability ultimately wins out as this is the one feature I feel justifies the sticker shock when one first sees the price. This jacket is made from DCF-WPB fabric with Dyneema.

Dyneema is stronger than steel for its weight and has excellent fatigue resistance (cyclic bending) and UV, chemical and abrasion resistance. This durability is brazenly referred to from HMG as “tough as f*#k”. Although the jacket has only been out for less than a year I’d say it is safe to assume this material and construction will last 3-4 times longer than pieces that try to achieve what this jacket achieves with so little weight. A more conservative statement would be “This jacket will easily have triple the lifespan of non-Dyneema jackets.” So if this jacket can easily outlast models that cost half as much while offering the benefits I will get into below that sticker shock might start to subside.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
The author getting ready for a 4000 foot skin up a northern Iceland peak while testing the Hyperlight Mountain Gear “The Shell” Jacket- photo by Cait

Weight

If you get a chance to take one of these off the rack at a gear show you are going to be surprised at the weight, or lack of. You’ll need to look twice to make sure you really are holding it. A technical specification of 5.8 ounces does not do it justice, you need to hold this in your hand to get a sense of what “feather weight” really feels like. The only other shell I have tested that can come close to this ultra-light feel is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket (2 ounces heavier). An amazing jacket at a more affordable price, but not 100% water-proof or nearly as indestructible as The Shell.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Fellow Northeast Mountaineering Guide Matt Bowman gearing up for some WI4 at Frankenstein Cliffs, Crawford Notch, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Pack-Ability

The Shell has one small zippered pocket on the front right that can be turned inside out and used as a storage sack complete with a small sewn carabiner loop for attaching to the back of your harness. The stuffed size is about the size of a softball with about a 4 inch diameter. This pack-ability will let you stuff this into the smallest of CamelBaks, running packs, and waist packs for go anywhere mobility.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Softball sized pack-ability

Performance

There’s manufacturer claims and real life performance. Let’s look at each.

Claim: Waterproof Ratting: 10,000mm– This means the jacket should handle moderate to heavy rain.

Real-life: Unfortunate for our snow-pack but fortunate for my testing this past winter was plagued by multiple mid-winter rain events that allowed some serious testing of the waterproof claim from HMG. I wore this on at least three rainy adventures and my experience was that this jacket truly is waterproof. At first I was concerned about the front zipper as it did not look like the polyurethane waterproof thin zippers I was expecting (the small pocket on the jacket uses that style). Turns out HMG went with a longer lasting VISLON® Aquaguard® Zipper for the main zipper and I found it to be impenetrable even in the 40-50 mph raining-sideways-summit-day I had on Mount Washington. The slight stiffener in the visor on the hood was just enough to help keep the heaviest of downpours of the face.

Claim: Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr– This is an incredibly high rating of breathablity for a fabric that also can claim true waterproofness!

Real-life: I’ll be honest and state that I was concerned about the breathability of a waterproof jacket with no pit zips or side ventilation. My concerns were first alleviated during an avalanche course I was teaching when I skinned from the trail-head to Hermit Lake, (2.3 miles, 1,870 elevation) in 1 hour 20 minutes on a 28°F (-2°C) day. It was one of the few times I’d ever left a shell jacket on while skinning in such fair weather all the way to Hermit Lake. Having easily logged another 20,000 feet of uphill travel in the back-country while wearing The Shell I can whole-heartedly attest to an accurate breathability rating! The only other pieces I could compare this level of breathability to is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket or the Patagonia Houdini (not as indestructible as The Shell, or considered waterproof).

Hyperlite Mountain Gear The Shell Jacket Review
Light, technical, and durable- photo by Peter Brandon

Sizing/Fit

The only media sample I could get was a size medium so the fit was a touch snug for my 180 lb 5’9″ build with a 42 inch chest. HMG’s sizing chart would put me into a size large which I think probably would have been perfect. It is important to recognize that Dyneema fabrics have almost no stretch to them which means clothing must be quite quite close to your body’s own specifications or quickly be to tight or to baggy. That said I was able to wear this as a “second skin” right over my Ortovox Merino wool T-shirts. In cold conditions I’d layer my mid-weight puffy jacket’s, my full belay jackets, or my heavy ski jackets over it. If I wanted to wear more insulation under it I would have to get into my appropriate size, which would have been a large. Bottom line is following the sizing info on the HMG website and it should fit you well!

Other Media

You can read the manufacturer specifications and right of HMG’s website here so I’m not going to cut & paste them here (unless you find that more convenient)? I am going to share the quick promotional video they produced as I think it shows the hood fit and other features quite well:

 

Summary

“The Shell”. Such a simple and confident name for a garment. It makes me think of the LOTR “one ring to rule them all” line for some reason. Is this the one shell you’ll ever need? Probably not. It is a niche type item. It is the epitome of minimalist functional artisan design. I love how it performed. I love the weight and pack-ability of it. I love that it is made in Maine!

Who is this for? This is an obvious winner for the ultra-light crowd, whether you’re a climber, skier, long distance trail runner, or sea kayak-er I can see this becoming a new favorite. The simple expected lifespan of this piece (Dyneema does not degrade naturally as fast as nylon) means this could be one of the best value pieces out there for its intended purpose. Hyperlite Mountain Gear has entered the outerwear business with The Shell, and I’m really glad they did!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Disclaimer: Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with this media sample. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.