UKH

66°North Hornstrandir Shell Review

© Toby Archer

Named after Iceland's northernmost peninsula, the Hornstrandir is 66°North's premier shell jacket. It's made out of GORE-TEX 3L PRO, Gore's current top of the range fabric which is claimed to be the pinnacle of durability, protection and breathability (Gore do not provide performance figures). The hood of the Hornstrandir is designed to go over a helmet and its pockets all sit above a harness or rucksack hip-belt - design features that we would say make it a classic mountain hard shell. It would have easily held its own in last winter's big Bombproof Winter Shells test, for instance:

But interestingly 66°North don't use the word mountain in their description of the jacket. As part of their environmental commitment, their design philosophy is "to reduce waste and live up to our standards of multi-purpose, versatile design" and in putting this into practice they have shrunk their product line by 52 percent since 2018.

Testing the Hornstrandir on a wintry Striding Edge   © Toby Archer
Testing the Hornstrandir on a wintry Striding Edge
© Toby Archer

So 66°North say of the jacket that "the Hornstrandir shell jacket can be spotted in many of Iceland's most rigorous conditions: whether that's hiking, climbing, mountaineering, or tour skiing." Our testing has suggested this is a fair claim - the Hornstrandir is proving to be a rugged and reliable all-rounder in harsh weather, be that hiking through driven rain on the high Pennine moors or classic winter scrambles in the Lakes (travel restrictions have so far prevented use any further afield).

66°North is an Icelandic firm with a long history of making clothing for the fishermen of that country, probably one of the most difficult jobs you can imagine with regard to being exposed to the elements. It's quite a design pedigree behind a modern shell jacket like the Hornstrandir. Interestingly, the jackets aren't made in Iceland, or as many might expect in China, but in Latvia - adding 66°North to a number of other Nordic firms that use the Baltic state for EU-based manufacturing.

Fabric

At 508g in size Medium, the Hornstrandir is a ballpark sort of weight for a hefty winter-worthy shell.

Central to the protection it offers is the three layer Gore Pro fabric that the jacket is made from. 66°North's webpage for the Hornstrandir doesn't mention the denier of the outer layer of Gore-tex Pro fabric, and close inspection reveals that there are three different patterns to the outer layer. Because the jacket comes in a single colour, you have to look carefully to see the differences in the face fabrics, but I think it might be to do with stretch versus resilience - the plain face fabric which is down the sides of the jacket and under the arms seems to have more stretch to it than the gridded face fabric on the front, hood and down the centre of the back. The face fabric on the shoulders and down the top of the arms - over the elbows - is textured, so I suspect this is toughest but less elastic. Overall the jacket seems hard-wearing - I've rock climbed in it on gritstone with no problems despite many jams deep in cracks on a raw December day at Stanage when it was too cold to rely on face holds!

The fabric is waterproof enough for winter in the Pennines (or Iceland)  © Toby Archer
The fabric is waterproof enough for winter in the Pennines (or Iceland)
© Toby Archer

And tough enough to stand up to a brush with gritstone   © Toby Archer
And tough enough to stand up to a brush with gritstone
© Toby Archer

The use of the slightly different versions of Gore Pro shows the thought that goes into the design. Overall, the jacket feels relatively stiff in the way that we've come to expect from clothing made from high denier Gore-Tex Pro; this is in no way a criticism, as it gives the Hornstrandir that 'suit of armour' feel that is reassuring in awful weather. Gore don't release breathability ratings for their fabrics (a frequent bugbear mentioned in our reviews) - but from using this jacket and others made from Pro, as well as comparing it to alternative materials, it seems to breathe as well as anything else, and better than many other waterproof fabrics. Don't expect miracles, modern Gore-Tex fabrics still can't stop you from getting sweaty, but they do an impressive job of letting that water vapour escape efficiently. 66°North have decided not to have pit-zips on the Hornstrandir, which while removing a potential leak point and making the jacket lighter and easier to produce, does also suggest a faith in the breathability of the fabric.

In terms of protection from the elements Gore-Tex Pro is superb; the jacket has taken driving snow, heavy rain and strong winds in its stride. Top of the range Gore Pro hardshells like the Hornstrandir are expensive but they do offer impressive levels of protection. Of course the jacket's seams are all fully sealed, and 66°North quote a hydrostatic head of 28,000mm - an impressive figure that means the jacket will be waterproof in all conceivable circumstances.

On winter hills, a burly, protective shell like this is well worth its weight  © Toby Archer
On winter hills, a burly, protective shell like this is well worth its weight
© Toby Archer

Fit

The jacket is available in both men's and women's versions, both in the same choice of three colours. I've been using the men's version in medium.

The fit is fine on my reasonably broad shoulders and chest, but I feel the jacket could have been slightly trimmer down over my stomach and waist - and I'm no skinny whippet! The Hornstrandir actually bags out a little at the tummy if I wear it under a harness or rucksack waist belt. This isn't excessive, and I've seen worse, but I've certainly also seen trimmer cuts.

The hem length is relatively short at the front  © Toby Archer
The hem length is relatively short at the front
© Toby Archer

The jacket is perhaps best described as mid-length, at least on 175cm-tall me. It has a slightly dropped tail but if you are walking in the rain without waterproof trousers, it gives your bum only a small amount of coverage and your upper thighs at the front aren't covered at all. This isn't really surprising for a jacket aimed at climbers and skiers as well as at hillwalkers. However a bit of extra hem length would have made it more protective, and more suited to all-round wear, without affecting its use for climbing

The sleeves are long, at least for my arm length. This has advantages: great mobility when reaching up to grab a hold or swing and ice axe - no pulling up the hem of the jacket. But it also has disadvantages: if wearing non-gauntlet gloves I find there's quite a lot of stiff material bunched up at the cuff of the jacket where it meets the cuff of the glove.

The velcro tabs are easy to use with gloves  © Toby Archer
The velcro tabs are easy to use with gloves
© Toby Archer

The wrist is closed by velcro - this is easy to open or close with a large stiffened tab that sticks out beyond the velcro, but this also makes the wrist slightly harder to get under the cuff of a glove. The wrist also has a 'differential cut' - it goes down further offering more protection to the back of your hand than your palm. This is great when not wearing gloves but again, particularly with the sleeves being longer than I really need, it means when wearing with gloves there is a lot of bunched up and stiffer fabric which is hard to fit into the glove. Having said this I have done rock climbs in the jacket and easy winter routes that involved both reaching up to holds with my gloved hands and hooking with my ice axe, and not having to worry about the jacket riding up when doing so is nice - the cut around shoulders and the length of the arms work in this respect.

Hood

The fit of the hood is also worth mentioning. It does go over a climbing helmet and the front zip can be fully done up. However I find that when the zip is done fully up there is a bit of pressure on my chin. If I look up there is a lot of pressure on my chin - enough to pull the jacket up at the waist. Even a centimetre or two of having the zip undone solves this problem, as does pulling the fully zipped-up jacket down just below your chin, but I can't help thinking that a tiny bit more space here would have turned a decent helmet-hood into an excellent one.

The hood could have been slightly roomier, for use with a helmet  © Toby Archer
The hood could have been slightly roomier, for use with a helmet
© Toby Archer

I have tried the jacket with my ski helmet, bulkier than any of my climbing helmets, and this only accentuates the above problem. I know that wearing a hood over a ski helmet isn't something that most alpine skiers will do very often, but definitely for skiing in Scotland, and I would have thought for skiing in wild Iceland, being able to ski comfortably with your hood up is at times a very desirable feature of your jacket! Also most ski mountaineers wear helmets these days, and not all go for lightweight climber's helmets, but many take a generally-bulkier downhill ski helmet.

But it's well fitting and protective on a helmet-less head  © Toby Archer
But it's well fitting and protective on a helmet-less head
© Toby Archer

The adjustment on the hood means that it works well when you are not wearing a helmet, and there is no pressure on the chin even when you are fully 'battened down' for walking into driving rain or snow, while the stiffened brim gives plenty of protection. So overall, it's a decent hood for walkers but not perfect for mountaineering - which is a shame as this is far from a cheap jacket and to be the perfect all-rounder, I think it would be great if the hood would better fit a helmet.

Features

Both the main zip and pocket zips are closed by modern water resistant zips. I've had no leakage through them at all during the review period. All the zips have rigid zip pullers on them that are really easy to use. There are four external pockets and one internal. Two of the external pockets are hand-warmer style. I've found on me with a climbing harness on, or done up rucksack waist belt, the hand-warmer pockets are partly covered, and can only be partly opened.

Good chunky zip pulls, but I wish the chest pockets were larger  © Toby Archer
Good chunky zip pulls, but I wish the chest pockets were larger
© Toby Archer

The Napoleon-style chest pockets remain usable at all times but this brings me to what I've found the most annoying feature of the Hornstrandir: the chest pockets are too small to fit my phone - a not particularly big Moto g(8) in a relatively slim protective case. To add to this annoyance, the inside pocket is also too small! It sounds a minor thing to complain about, but using the jacket I realise just how much I use my phone when out climbing or hiking, both as a camera and as my primary navigation tool. I've had the opportunity to test quite a few different hard and soft shells over the last decade, and really can't think of another jacket where I couldn't fit my phone in a chest pocket: this is just where I expect to have my phone. Yes, I can put it in the hand-warmer pockets, but I find those zips don't do up as easily as the chest pocket zips, and with a harness or waist belt on it's not as secure because the phone can't slide down in the pocket to the base, which is lower than the level of the bottom of the zip, meaning it can fall out in that situation if you don't immediately do the pocket zip up.

Conclusion

The Hornstrandir is a very nice jacket that works well for mountaineering, hill walking, and indeed many other activities that involve being active in harsh weather. It might seem like nitpicking to highlight small issues with the design or fit which may well be, to some extent, personal to the reviewer (or in this case the size of the reviewer's phone!). But as a top of the range piece, with a retail price of just over £500 it doesn't seem unfair to point to these out. As it is, the Hornstrandir is good all-round hardshell for outdoor adventures - but with slightly bigger chest pockets to take a modern mid-sized smartphone more easily and with more volume in the hood to allow it to be comfortably zipped up over a climbing helmet or a ski helmet, it would be a superb shell for climbers, going out in the worst weather. A bit of additional hem length would also have been welcome for winter walking.

66°North say:

Named for the nature reserve on Iceland nothernmost peninsula, the Hornstrandir shell jacket can be spotted in many of Iceland's most rigorous conditions: whether that's hiking, climbing, mountaineering, or tour skiing.

Made from highly breathable three-layer, Gore-Tex Pro, and waterproof to 28,000 mm with taped seams and zippers, Hornstrandir has stretch fabric on the sides for optimal movement and specially reinforced fabric on the shoulders and elbows to improve durability. An adjustable drawstring in the hem keeps out snow and cold.

  • Sizes: S-XXL (men) XS-XXL (women)
  • Weight: 508g size M (our measure)
  • Outer Layer - Main fabric: 100% Polyamide | GORE-TEX® PRO
  • Outer Layer - Main fabric: Shell stretch: GORE-TEX®3L Pro™ ,93% Polyamide, 7% Elastane
  • Outer Layer - Main fabric: Shell reinforcement: GORE-TEX®3L Pro™, 100% Polyamide

For more info see 66north.com



Support UKH

As climbers we strive to make UKHillwalking.com the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKH Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate UKHillwalking.com then please help us by becoming a UKH Supporter.

UKH Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKH Supporter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

No comments yet

Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest