Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Review: Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket

My closet floweth over with wind shells, soft shells, hard shells, ultralight shells, burly shells, and shells that defy classification. My first mountaineering shells in the early 70s were a wind and water resistant 60/40 parka and a waterproof cagoule. Then along came the miracle GoreTex fabric in my Early Winters parka that was supposed to replace the others. It did for a while but the concept of the one-shell-for-everything never panned out in the real world.

Now, decades later, I have found the one-shell-that-does-damn-near-everything. I've used the Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket with great success for highly aerobic activities (road and mountain biking, skate skiing, running), interval activities (climbing, lift-served skiing, whitewater rafting, hiking), and inactivities (hanging around camp, around town, outdoor cafes). The only thing this shell doesn't excel at is keeping me dry in a heavy rainstorm but it isn't intended for that and it does great in light rain.
The Transition Jacket uses the latest generation of the Gore Windstopper SoftShell (formerly called Next2Skin). I've tried most of the previous versions of this fabric and was only mildly impressed; some were heavy, others uncomfortable. The interior laminate of this shell is brushed polyester, which is very soft and helps transfer moisture. The outer laminate is a jersey knit that disperses moisture for fast drying. The total fabric package is just warm enough for chilly days without being too thick for working hard.
If you are familiar with the Marmot DriClime Windshirt, a true classic piece of outdoor wear, this Transition Jacket is the modern replacement. Like many of you, I wore my DriClime for almost everything but now it hangs sullenly while the Transition is my go-to shell due to superior comfort.
The trim fit of the Transition keeps it from flapping in high winds and allows you to throw a fleece or hard shell over it when conditions warrant. The athletic cut gives plenty of arm reach when climbing and biking and allows excellent freedom of movement that is aided by the 3-way stretch of the body fabric and even greater stretch of the side panels. Seams are taped to minimize any chaffing and help reduce water leaks in light rain.
Amenities of the Transition Jacket include a nice hood that fits under helmets and lays unobtrusively when unused, reflective patches, and Lycra cuffs with thumb loops. The interior zippered chest pocket and exterior zippered rear pocket both have holes for earphones, plus there is an elastic routing loop to keep the cable in place. Total weight for a men's large is 15.0 ounces.
The slight downsides include limited abrasion resistance of the outer jersey knit (it tends to pick) so this isn't a great choice for bushwhacking but that is a necessary tradeoff. The only detail missing is the ability to use the rear pocket as a stuff sack.
With a suggested retail of $150, it does cost more than a DriClime ($85). But this is a shell that I wear so often now that it seems like a great value.

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