Ultralight Rain Shell
Mountain Hardwear Quasar Hybrid Pullover
$375, 9 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL
There was a time when we thought of a waterproof-breathable jacket as a security blanket: It had to protect us against anything, so we wanted it to look like it could. Now that we know more about their strengths and weaknesses, we smartly look at three-season rain shells more in terms of the question: How minimal a jacket can we get away with? On several trips using the Quasar Hybrid Pullover, from the Grand Canyon in November to Arches and Canyonlands national parks in March and Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains in June, and on a weeklong, hut-to-hut trek in Italy’s Dolomites, I was surprised by how much protection this nine-ounce shell delivers.
In a sense, the beauty of this pullover is that it requires few words to describe it. Stretchy soft-shell fabric runs in an inverted-Y pattern from the top of the hood down to the sides of the back to enhance breathability; the rest of the jacket is made with Hardwear’s proprietary, waterproof-breathable, three-layer Dry.Q Elite. The soft-shell fabric also rings the hood’s opening, snugging it around your face hoody-style, which let the hood move with my head when I looked to either side—although the fit is not as perfect as you get with an adjustable hood, which this is not. The zipper extends about halfway down the front, deep enough to ventilate at the chest. The only adjustability is a hem drawcord.
I expected rain to wet through the Quasar’s weakest line of defense, the water-resistant (not waterproof), soft-shell fabric atop the hood and over the back of the shoulders. But I wore this pullover for hours every day in the Dolomites, and it repelled light showers, steady rain lasting more than an hour, hail, and even a wet snowfall, and rain and snow squalls in Arches. It cut wind as effectively as any hard shell. Overall breathability is pretty impressive: I could hike uphill carrying a pack at a moderate pace, in a light rain and temperatures in the 50s without overheating. The jacket only felt a little clammy when I pushed hard uphill, such as one time I scrambled off-trail up a steep gully to a pass. And when the jacket got wet, it would dry quickly from my body heat as I hiked.
What are the tradeoffs? For a shell this light, you sacrifice the easy on-off convenience of a full-zip jacket, as well as any pockets or adjustability to the hood. The hood’s short brim kept precipitation off my face in a light shower but wouldn’t do so in a windblown tempest. In short, it doesn’t match the fit or protection of a fully adjustable hood, but it comes respectably close. (Note: The hoody-style face opening precludes wearing a ball cap under the hood to gain a bit more face coverage, but the fit is close enough to wear a helmet over it.)
We know that the Achilles heel of any waterproof-breathable shell is breathability: High exertion or warm temperatures can result in you getting wet from perspiration on the inside, so we avoid actually wearing the jacket until it’s necessary. That’s a pretty good argument for a lightweight, fairly minimalist rain shell—except on trips where you face the possibility of sustained, heavy rain—because the jacket spends a lot of time taking up space in your pack. The Quasar doesn’t take up much space and weighs as much as your liter bottle of water… when it’s only one-fourth full.
Would I take the Quasar Hybrid Jacket into the backcountry in Alaska, New Zealand, or the Olympic Mountains? No. But does it perform well enough for most one-day or multi-day, three-season backcountry trips? The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.