Montane Lite-Speed Jacket and Terra Stretch Pants
From Norwegian ski touring to the grit, Toby Archer tests a summery combination of windproof top and light softshell trousers.
ounded in 1993, Mountain Hardwear are a pretty young mountaineering clothing and equipment manufacturer but are also one of the biggest - producing a huge range of clothing, tents, sleeping bags, packs and more for everything from trail walking to high altitude alpinism.
A few years back, Mountain Hardwear announced a move away from the market dominating Gore-Tex for their waterproof and breathable clothing to a new fabric called Dry-Q. So what is Dry-Q? It's actually a range of three fabrics as detailed here. At the top of the range is Dry-Q Elite. This uses the an air permeable expanded PTFE membrane licensed from GE (the makers of eVent), but with the full fabric design: outer, glues, water repellent coatings etc. chosen, developed and tested with Mountain Hardwear to their own specifications.
Over the last year I've had two Mountain Hardwear Dry-Q Elite jackets on test - the full Dry-Q Seraction hardshell, and the softshell/hardshell hybrid Mixaction.
First up - the Mixaction. This is a hybrid softshell/hardshell jacket: the sleeves, shoulders, upper torso and hood are made in waterproof breathable Dry-Q Elite, with the rest of the jacket made in an unlined very stretchy softshell.
The cut of the Mixaction is excellent – reasonably slim fitting with good length in the arms and body which comes down over the bum. The hood is a simple but decent design featuring a slightly stiffened brim and with plenty of room for wearing a helmet, or tightening down via a single adjuster on the rear when not (the brim adjusters are neatly tucked away inside the jacket).
Pockets-wise, the chest has two huge Napoleon pockets which if anything are almost too big when hunting for a chocolate bar that's vanished into their depths. Inside, a couple of large mesh pockets are great for spare gloves or keeping ski-skins warm and there’s a small zipped security pocket that fits a lift pass and credit card.
A burly main zip, Velcro cuffs and an elasticated hem drawcord complete the package.
All in all, a well-designed and functional jacket... however, for me its all round use is a bit limited by the fact that the softshell section isn't fully windproof.
The hardshell upper section is fully weatherproof but the softer side of 'soft'-shell body isn't really weatherproof enough to hold its own as an outer layer in full on weather. This certainly helps with breathability, the Mixaction is impressively breathable working brilliantly when on the move e.g. skinning uphill where the softshell back does a great job at limiting sweaty ‘rucksack back’, but likewise limits the conditions in which the Mixaction works as a stand-alone outer layer in typically windswept UK mountain conditions.
There's certainly environments where this combination of fabrics shine: ice-fall and mixed cragging, ski touring, and summer alpinism - giving protection from meltwater drips, showers or snow while keeping softshell stretchiness and breathability when working hard. But, these same advantages slightly limit the Mixaction as an all-purpose all conditions jacket.
The Mixaction is a very breathable and flexible hybrid hardshell-softshell jacket best suited to fast moving activities like ski touring, or drippy environments like icefall cragging.
A stretchable softshell with strategic hardshell protection. A stretchy, lightweight fabric across the body and under the arms won’t slow you down when reaching for that next handhold, while Dry.Q™ Elite waterproofing technology across the shoulders, top of arms and hood help block the elements while breathing the instant you put it on.
Onto the Seraction. The Seraction is Mountain Hardwear’s top of the range climbing hardshell made entirely in Dry-Q Elite, with design input from none other than arguably the most psyched climber on the planet – Tim Emmett.
The body is short and above-head arm movement is good, and though the chest is a little generously cut for the tall and skinny the fit isn’t too boxy.
The fabric has a soft drape, doesn’t rustle much and does an impressive job of shedding rain being almost shake-dry once out of the weather.
The main zip is a chunky ‘Aquaguard’ model that usefully opens from both ends, while the pocket zips are more standard neatly minimal water-resistant ones. These give access to two large Napoleon chest pockets that swallow a map and plenty of other essentials, while inside two large mesh pockets are big enough to dry out gloves in.
As with the Mixaction, there’s also a small zipped ski-pass pocket inside the upper chest – neater than having an upper arm pocket and works just as well going through automatic gates.
On the body under the arms are short zipped vents – smaller than traditional full pit zips, but a lot easier to operate while on the move and still provide effective extra airflow.
The hood is the same design as the Mixaction working equally well with and without a helmet, and while not featuring a wire-stiffened brim it can be cinched down to provide generally excellent protection from the elements.
So far so good, but pretty comparable with many other mountain hardshells on the market. The main difference is of course the fabric – so how do the claims about Dry-Q elite hold up?
Mountain Hardwear present an impressive set of lab-results, and their sponsored athletes including the one and only Ueli ‘Speedy Gonzales’ Steck seem to rate it very highly. In short, my own less speedy experience has been very positive. I usually opt for a softshell for good weather alpine climbing, but a forecast for high winds made me switch from the Mixaction to the Seraction at the last minute when joining the crowds taking advantage of this autumn’s superb alpine north face conditions.
Moving together wearing the Seraction over just a base-layer I experienced no sensation of clamminess during the slog up ice-fields. This level of comfort continued even after having added a belay jacket on the top as the wind picked up giving frequent moments of starting to over-heat when on steeper sections.
Overall, the Dry-Q elite certainly seems to hold up to the promise and be worthy of serious consideration in the growing collection of high performance waterproof and breathable fabrics.
At just over 450 grams the Seraction is on the lighter side of climbing hardshells, but has proven plenty tough enough showing no signs of wear so far.
The RRP of £400 is towards the pricier-end of hardshells, but by no means as eye-watering as some of the competition.
All-in-all, an excellent, impressively breathable and well designed climbing and mountaineering hardshell.
The Seraction is an excellent climbing hardshell giving complete protection from the elements combined with impressive levels of breathability from the Dry-Q Elite fabric.
Elite-level performance in a mixed rock and ice-climbing jacket. Designed in collaboration with alpinist and ice climber Tim Emmett, the Seraction Jacket’s Dry.Q™ Elite waterproof technology starts expelling excess heat and vapor immediately for instant breathability during rigorous climbs. Stretch panels across the back and hood allow maximum mobility.
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