Gear Guide 2012: Mountain Hardwear Quasar Shell

Maximum protection and great breathability help make this shell a force against the toughest conditions.

[minimalist armor]

This streamlined pullover was a huge hit with set-it-and-forget-it testers who wanted maximum protection, supreme breathability, and little else. “DryQ Elite is some of the most breathable stuff I’ve ever used—even during constant climbing, I never felt clammy,” says one picky Colorado tester. “I started slipping this on in advance of yucky weather, rather than waiting until the last possible minute to ‘shell up,’ as I usually do.”

The reason? The proprietary DryQ Elite membrane doesn’t require high humidity to move moisture: “The greenhouse effect you get with some membranes never happens,” he says. And while the Quasar’s 15-denier fabric doesn’t insulate against cold like a heavier material, it provided amazing protection for the weight. One tester who wore the pullover during all-day, horizontal sleet on a late-season climb in the North Cascades reports, “When the sky really started rat-tat-tatting, it deflected ice pellets like Kevlar.”

While the jacket is light on extras (you get zero pockets), testers mooned over its lone special feature—stretchy-soft wrist gaskets with thumbholes. These internal waterproof cuffs kept out trickles when we reached overhead. The anorak design tucks cleanly beneath a pack’s hipbelt and is compatible with a climbing harness. The long, trim cut fits a (very) lightweight puffy underneath, and a half-zip that reaches to mid-chest allows ample venting. Extended sleeves accommodate even ape-armed hikers.

So what’s the tradeoff? Like all anoraks, the Quasar is a struggle to pull over your head when it’s wet. And the hood is easy to tighten the first time, but the sewn-in, spring-loaded device that loosens it is tricky to use—more so with gloves. “But once you tighten the hood to your preference, you’ll feel like you’re taking shelter in a cave,” says one tester. $375; 9 oz.;

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