Late in November, I got my hands on a to-be-released climbing jacket from Mountain Hardwear. It’s a space-age, highly technical piece that’s designed to provide a high level of warmth in the alpine, while still remaining light and durable. This jacket, called the Supercharger, is expected to hit stores in February but we’re giving you the scoop early.
Mountain Hardware Supercharger Jacket Features:
- Zoned Insulation
- 120g Thermal.Q Elite synthetic insulation
- 800-fill Dry.Q hydrophobic goose down
- Fabrics: Dry.Q Active 40D 2.5L stretch and 7D Ghost Whisperer nylon
- Two interior chest stuff pockets
- Zippered handwarmer pockets
- Stows into pocket
- Drawstring adjustable hem
- Two-way adjustable hood
- Available in Dark Forest or Electron Yellow
- Weight: 1lb 1oz
- MSRP: $350
A new gold standard?
Mountain Hardwear has been through some interesting times ever since it was bought by Columbia in 2003. Some customers feared that the brand’s standards might drop once it was gobbled up by a much bigger parent company. It seems, though, that one of the results of the purchase has become a hallmark of the Mountain Hardwear brand – creativity. Having the chutzpah of a big company like Columbia behind them has given Mountain Hardwear the security and resources to try new things, perhaps best evidenced by their Ghost Whisperer which has recently won so much acclaim. We see this in their new Supercharger, too. Zoned insulation itself is nothing new, but Mountain Hardwear’s take certainly pushes back the boundaries.
The basic layout of the Supercharger goes something like this. The torso and sides are covered with 7D nylon, the ultralight (and rather delicate) fabric that Mountain Hardwear pioneered for their Ghost Whisperer. As a matter of fact, the pre-release jacket that I received was initially tagged as the ‘Super Ghost Whisperer,’ which gives you some idea of where the concept of this jacket came from. Meanwhile, the hood, arms and shoulders of the jacket are covered in tough, stretchy 40D nylon softshell. The Ghost Whisperer fabric contains fluffy 800-fill hydrophobic goosedown, while the softshell areas are insulated with Mountain Hardwear’s proprietary Thermal.Q Elite insulation. The one exception is the armpit panel, which is Ghost Whisperer fabric with synthetic insulation to more effectively manage and eliminate sweat. Definitely a thoughtful touch.
The basic idea here is pretty clear. Mountain Hardwear is trying to create a very warm, functional piece that is both durable and lightweight. These last two rarely pair well together – it’s hard to be both durable and light. So what Mountain Hardwear has done here is to put durable, heavier insulation in high-wear areas that are likely to wear against pack straps or abrade against rock. The softshell shoulders and sleeves also have the advantage of catching most of any precipitation and dealing with it in a way that goose down simply couldn’t manage.
So this much, at least, is the theory. But how does the Supercharger actually do in the field? I’ve used the Supercharger mostly on ski trips in both the high desert and the Pacific Northwest, combining arctic-cold, windy temperatures with the PNW’s infamous moisture management issues. The first thing that’s worth talking about, then, is warmth. The Supercharger is only 1lb 1oz, but Mountain Hardwear bills it as providing ‘expedition-level warmth.’ Is this a realistic claim? No, it’s an overstatement, though the jacket is still very warm for its weight. This is expedition-level warmth. I wore the Supercharger jacket during moderate physical activity in the single digits and was pleasantly warm with just a light capilene base layer. I also wore it in some very biting winds gusting up to 40mph – somewhat to my surprise, the jacket did very well. None of the wind got through, except through the zipper track. My particular jacket has an issue where the zipper track keeps folding back on itself so that it doesn’t offer full protection. For sedentary use, this jacket can be good into the 20’s. So it’s a highly versatile jacket and, at 1lb 1oz, it’s quite warm for its weight. But don’t wear it past 11,000 feet in the winter without some careful thought.
The fit of the jacket is also noteworthy. I’m 5’11” and 185lbs and tested a size Medium. The jacket fits trim around the waist to play nicely with harnesses and the sleeves extend barely over the wrist. For being an insulated jacket, it’s easy to forget that you’re wearing it – the stretch softshell does a wonderful job at moving with you, and this is where we can see the fruits of collaborating with the speed climber Ueli Steck. This isn’t the sort of puffy that leaves you feeling like the Michelin man; no, you always feel able to move freely. I do wish that Mountain Hardwear has done something different with the sleeves, though – as it is, the elastic band tends to flip around in the sleeve and, even when it’s properly situated it doesn’t provide enough compression to help the sleeves slide easily under the gauntlets of my gloves. It always takes more finagling than I’d like to get a good seal.
Another feature of note is the hood design. Mountain Hardwear has done the hood so that when it’s not on it rises around your neck like a big cushy draft collar. It seals out wind, rain and snow with aplomb. The hood is also helmet-compatible and two-way adjustable. The adjustment on the back is easy to pull, but the front two are hidden away into little pockets that, while aesthetically pleasing, nonetheless are hard to access with gloves on. The hood played very nicely with my Mammut Alpine Rider helmet and stayed secure in some very gusty conditions, thanks also to the strong, flexible wire peak in the hood. That said, I can’t say enough good things about the collar – having that nice warm seal around your neck can be a huge comfort in the alpine.
The pockets do their job well. The handwarmer pockets are quite unremarkable, which is fine – they do what they need to do. The interior stuff pockets are more interesting. They’re very small, such that you can only fit small snacks, maybe a whistle or things like that. They’re also placed very high up in the jacket which keeps their contents nestled into your chest so that they don’t move around too much. The high placement also helps in that you don’t have to unzip the jacket very far to access them.
- Fits well, moves with your body
- Excellent warmth:weight ratio
- Softshell fabric offers lots of protection while Ghost Whisperer weave saves weight
- Zippers all pull easily
- Hood design is especially comfortable and functional
- Zipper track keeps folding back on itself, letting wind through
- Cuff design isn’t my favorite – more compression would be good
The Bottom Line: Mountain Hardwear Supercharger
Mountain Hardwear continues to impress with their innovation. The Supercharger combines thoughtful features with an alpine-proven design, not to mention respectable construction quality. For the weight, it’s a very warm piece that offers more protection than a standard down parka ever could.
Buy Now: Available at MountainHardwear.com