This review is essentially a retelling of a love story. It’s been at least two years ago now since I spoke with Brad Sawdon, one of the driving minds behind American Mountain Co. We talked on the phone about the difficulties of finding stateside factories that were capable of producing the sort of quality that Brad wanted to see – most of the American factories that could do this were occupied with producing gear for American armed forces and weren’t interested in branching into civilian boutique branding. Or at least that’s how they thought of it. In the end, though, Brad’s vision won through and it resulted in one of the most unique brands in the outdoor industry today. American Mountain Co. Is a legend in the making, winning its status through design and old-fashioned durability.
American Mountain Co. 503H Hooded Sweater Features:
- Polartec® Power Dry®
- Moisture Wicking
- Internal grid pattern for increased breathability and pack-ability
- Lightweight insulation
- Four-way stretch for superior mobility
- Under helmet compatible hood
- Five snap henley style front closure
- Midtop™ collar
- Made in the USA with Polartec® textile from Lawrence, Massachusetts
- MSRP: $159
The stitch still matters
AMC is one of those brands that is just as interesting to talk about as the pieces of gear that we test for them. And in this case it isn’t because the gear isn’t interesting – it’s because understanding the gear means requires understanding AMC’s ethos. For one, they are committed to an absolute policy of sticking to the West for their materials. By that I mean America and Europe, with America receiving first priority. That means that they source as much of their textile as they can from American mills. When they couldn’t find reliable waterproof membranes made in America, though, they didn’t turn to Gore and their Asian-made wonder textiles: they turned to the Swiss wizards of Schoeller, whose arcane fabrics have graced some of my long-standing favorite pieces of gear. Once the AMC team has pieced together the bits and pieces necessary to construct a piece of gear, they do the actual work in an American factory. Each piece of AMC gear is finally signed off on by the craftsman who built it – there is literally a signature of approval, unique and rarely legible, inside each piece of AMC gear. And this is their philosophy: each stitch matters in an era of lazy manufacturing and corner cutting. And they want their gear to go on adventures that echo this ethos: AMC makes performance kit that just so happens to be stylish and retro in the best possible sense.
And it’s good to finally sit down to talk about the No. 503 Hooded Sweater. This is a long-term review. The sweater has accompanied me through adventures in four states of the American West. It’s seen the Disappointment Cleaver and Pumice Ridge. It’s been all around Hyalite Canyon and the Gallatin range, not to mention Bozeman’s vibrant downtown. It’s a hard-wearing piece of gear that just begs to be used and abused. Durability is not even a question with American Mountain Co. It is the most durable gear available.
So now let’s talk about the actual sweater. It’s a slim-fitting, stylish piece with a low-profile hood and a Henley-style button closure. The fit is pretty conservative – my Large fits my 5’11”, 180lb torso snugly. It has an active fit with four-way stretch for good range of motion, which is especially noticeable in the arms. A definite advantage of the tighter fit is that it stays in place on your torso no matter how you move your arms, so you don’t have to deal with the sweater getting out of place beneath a shell like with looser fitting fleeces.
The hood is designed to be worn underneath a helmet, and it works well with my Mammut Alpine Rider. The Henley style closure is an interesting choice – it certainly fits with the AMC brand ethos and the buttons are very low profile, but it’s definitely a different type of functionality than I’m used to with a zipper. I’m not completely satisfied with the fit of the fleece around the neck and chin when completely buttoned up. It feels too tight to me and a little constricting. I almost always leave the sweater unbuttoned, anyway.
The fabric is just as noteworthy as the sweater’s build. Polartec’s Power Dry grid pattern combines two different fabrics, one highly wicking and the other quick drying, to deal with the heat and sweat generated by activity. And boy does it work well. I tend to sweat a lot and I can feel the Power Dry pulling sweat into the fabric where it’s quickly evaporated off. And it’s important that it works so well – it’s a light fleece, but it definitely offers medium-weight insulation. I usually run hot so take this with a grain of salt, but I often find that this sweater gets too warm for me on all but the coldest days of heavy activity. That said, it pairs very well with a breathable shell thanks to its slim fit and wicking properties.
- Unparalleled construction values
- Carefully tailored fit
- Polartec Power Dry is a real workhorse
- Henley snaps are durable and reliable
- Manages to look exceptionally stylish while being highly functional
- Quality comes at a price! This fleece is more expensive than most offerings, but on-par with something like the Patagonia R1
The Bottom Line: 503H Hooded Sweather
It’s really quite fortuitous that this review is coming so close to Christmas. If you have an outdoorsman in your life (and this is gender exclusive – AMC has yet to offer any gear specific to females), there is no more tasteful gift than a 503-H Hooded Sweater. Its performance is excellent thanks to the Polartec fabric and the fit is spot-on. But more than that, and indeed more than any other gear company can really offer right now, is that AMC’s gear represents a commitment to American manufacturing and certain expectations for quality and durability that attend it. I realize that I may be accused of laying to too much weight on what AMC stands for as a brand – the bottom line, then, is that those statements are only possible because the 503-H is such an outstanding piece in itself.
Buy Now: Available from American Mountain Co.
The No. 503H, if it catches on, will become an enduring classic of the outdoor world. Even if it doesn't, it stands out.
Comfort and fit10
Warmth for weight8