In a previous post, or on Mountain Hardwear’s site, you may have seen a video of an upcoming review of the Mountain Hardwear Drystein Jacket, here’s the conclusion from the killer winter we’ve had here in Lake Tahoe:
Lake Tahoe, California is characterized by 400-700 inches of annual snowfall, relatively safe avalanche conditions, copious storm days and world-class ski terrain. These factors make the Sierra an ideal testing ground for waterproof-breathable garments. Whether Gore-Tex, Event or new technologies such as Polartec Nano Shield and Dry Q Elite from Mountain Hardwear, the Tahoe skin track is a perfect proving ground for “breathable” garments.
Keep in mind that our mild temperatures push most backcountry skiers toward the softshell side of the apparel spectrum. The mere thought of breaking trail in Sierra “cement” for 3000 vertical feet in a waterproof/breathable garment would make most Tahoe backcountry skiers cringe (just to note again, we received over 700 inches of that cement this season, for the record). This is due largely to the fact that traditional waterproof/breathable fabrics, while providing ample protection from water and wind, are not breathable enough for highly aerobic endeavors. The body produces so much moisture during uphill travel, the “breathable” technology of the garment cannot keep pace. The result is the wetting-out effect from the inside, a frozen layer of interior rime on the summit, and a gnarly chill in your bones.
However, the reality is that for some wet storm days, hardshells are a must. Softshell garments breathe better, but they wet out fast enough that one could argue their merit for wet storm days. A better scenario is to throw the “bag” on, slow the pace down, and try to manage the moisture from the inside. And one could still argue that this isn’t an ideal scenario either! The reality for wet storm days in the Tahoe backcountry is that you are going to get wet. However, minimal increases in both weather protection and breathability allow one to stay out longer and ski more vertical.
This brings us to Mountain Hardwear’s Drystein jacket. Billed as Hardwear’s top of the line technical garment for Fall 2011, this jacket will be a game changer. For 2011 Mountain Hardwear, along with many big name apparel companies, move away from using Gore-tex in their waterproof pieces. Accordingly, Hardwear has developed the new laminate technology Dry Q Elite. The idea behind Dry Q Elite is that it is an air-permeable membrane that allows air (not just moisture) to pass outward through the fabric. According to their data, it is up to two times more breathable than industry standards, works immediately to keep you cool and dry, clamminess is prevented by “always-on” breathability, and is the most durable waterproof-breathable in the industry.
When a company gives us a garment that they call “revolutionary” we are usually disappointed. In this instance however, Mountain Hardwear has hit a homerun. The Dry Q Elite technology is used in all Hardwear waterproof pieces and even extends to their softshell category, albeit it in a different configuration. The purpose of this blog entry is to support aforementioned characteristics with the user-based experience of a 700” winter and 30+ days in a stormy skin track.
For starters, let’s talk about the body of the Drystein jacket. Mountain Hardwear calls the body fabric a 40 denier 3 layer 100% nylon and Rebar Ripstop Softshell (65% polyester, 35% nylon). The panel fabric is TufStretch Doubleweave (58% nylon, 31% polyester, and 11% elastane). In photo #1 the body is defined as the light blue torso fabric as well as the shoulders, hood, and back. The panel is shown in picture #2 and is the component under the arms where conventional pit zips are found. Basically the frontal torso consists of a burly face fabric with stretch and a micro-fleece backing, while the shoulders, back and hood are more of a traditional shell fabric. Picture #3 shows where the three different fabrics meet on the inside of the armpit.
As for physical features, the jacket is clean and simplistic. Photo #4 shows the Napoleon pocket and two chest-high pockets that easily accommodate a pack or harness. Photo #5 is a close-up shot of the welded watertight urethane-coated zippers and zipper pulls. The hood on the Drystein is fully helmet compatible, fits an extra large ski helmet, has a stiff brim, and is easily adjustable with a single-pull adjustment behind the head (Photo #6). Photo #6 also shows the hood up close and the fabric strip that allows it to be rolled out of the way. The hood is fully ergonomic so that it does not impair one’s peripheral vision and fits very nicely when tightened around the face. Photo #7 shows the interior zip pocket for miscellaneous items and Photo #8 is a close-up shot of the tensioning device around the waist.
As mentioned above, Mountain Hardwear claims their Dry Q Elite technology is twice as breathable as traditional waterproof/breathable laminate technology AND works immediately to keep you cool and dry due to it’s air permeability. Initially, we were skeptical of Hardwear’s claims of such drastically enhanced breathability. However, after thousands of vertical feet climbed in stormy, wet weather, they proved to be quite true.
The sensation of wearing the Drystein is quite a different feeling than traditional waterproof/breathable fabrics. One first notices a feeling of being under dressed. As a rule, if you are a bit cold in the parking lot while preparing for a skin then you are adequately dressed for your endeavor. However, with Dry Q Elite the immediate perception is that you are noticeably too cold. In my eyes, this is a good thing, as it is definitely needed when the body starts working hard on the uphill. However, it does change base layer configuration, potentially moving it more towards a heavier weight. I can only attribute this to the effectiveness of the air permeability factor, which according to them is “always-on” to prevent clamminess. Consider here, however, that there is a large variance of desired base layer weight based on individual metabolism.
When the angle of the skin track increases, the breathability factor quickly comes into play. When using traditional waterproof/breathable technology, one stays protected from the elements but wets-out from the inside. By the time the summit is attained, a frozen layer of rime can coat the inside and base layers are usually soaked. This is problematic in that it perpetuates the soggy factor of the interior of your system i.e. base layer. Traditional shell usage during storm days force most backcountry skiers to travel with a change of base layer due to the aerobic overload of the technology. With Dry Q Elite, the base layer still becomes wet, but nowhere near soaked, and the fabric does a fascinating thing with the moisture. When the jacket is hung up immediately after a wet skin (3-5 hours), instead of having a soaking wet interior, one notices that the moisture is moved to the exterior of the face fabric. Frankly, this is quite unique. At first glance I thought that they had done a poor job with the DWR treatment as the face fabric looked completely saturated. But the interior of the coat was more or less dry. I’m not sure how this face fabric saturation doesn’t impair breathability (akin to dirty pores in Gore-tex) but it does not seem to do so. Case in point, the technology is seemingly pretty cutting edge. And while you can and will get damp from the inside during a strenuous skin, the breathability is obviously higher than conventional waterproof/breathable technologies.
All in all the Drystein jacket looks to be a great piece for Fall 2011. It measures up to the merits espoused by Mountain Hardwear, which is somewhat of a rare occurrence in the outdoor world. Consider also good brand credibility, a significantly less price tag (by $75-$100) than other high-end shells, and availability in four stylish colors. Additional specs include a weight of 21 ounces, a 29” center back length, and sizes from SM-XXL. If you need a jacket that both looks good AND actually functions in a severely technical arena, the Drystein might just be your coat. And of course we will have it at Alpenglow in the Fall!