Mountain Hardwear Drystein Jacket

Rain Shell
Mountain Hardwear Drystein Jacket
$425, 16 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
mountainhardwear.com

I’ve worn dozens of waterproof-breathable jackets over the past two decades of gear and apparel testing, and the characteristic that has always distinguished the best of them is breathability: It’s easy to make a jacket waterproof, not so easy to make it really breathe well when you’re sweating hard. The technology has come a long way over the years, and Hardwear’s new DryQ Elite takes breathability to a new level.

I wore this high-end alpine shell on several trips this summer, including two that posed challenging heat-management conditions: the Ptarmigan Traverse, a six-day mountaineering route in the North Cascades, and a morning of skinning up and skiing down Mt. Hood in warm sunshine but a chilling wind. On one day on the Ptarmigan, this jacket never left my body as we spent several hours climbing, crossing, and descending two glaciers in a thick whiteout, with intermittent cold wind. As I fluctuated between perspiring heavily and cooling down quickly during times of less exertion, the jacket moved moisture out before my base layer could get more than damp. While traditional waterproof-breathable laminates and coatings start moving moisture through the fabric only after you are sweating—using your body heat to push the moisture out—Mountain Hardwear says that DryQ is air-permeable, so it starts working before you’re soaked. As for its waterproofing, I wore it in rain as well as testing it in the shower without a drop penetrating anywhere.

The details are excellent but not overdone. The hood fits over a helmet but snugs neatly around a bare head, too. Stretchy panels enhance breathability under the arms; I didn’t miss the lack of pit zips—though I might have if hiking in a warm rain, which makes the Drystein arguably better suited to cooler temperatures (i.e., activities like winter and spring backcountry skiing, summer mountaineering, fall backpacking). Deep, mesh-lined side pockets double as vents. The waterproof front zipper is annoyingly sticky at first but loosens up with use. It’s up there for pricing, but certainly performs like the best expensive shells.

—Michael Lanza