Guest authors, and husband-and-wife backcountry ski duo, Sharon Bader and Lee Lau offer an interesting dynamic when it comes to testing gear. They are both very aggro when it comes to mountain biking and backcountry skiing and they are both highly-particular about the gear they choose to use.
This time, Sharon and Lee sound off on the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) Fusion Softshell Hoodie and Pants. If you live South of the Canadian border, you may not be aware of MEC, but they are essentially the equivalent of REI for our Canadian brethren. The review follows a “he said, she said” format with two perspectives and thoughts on this jacket. ~Jason Mitchell, Editor
Sharon’s Review: MEC Women’s Fusion Softshell Hoodie and Pants
As an avid backcountry skier who gets cold pretty easily and overheats easily as well its hard to find a piece of clothing able to accommodate a wide temperature range. Softshell clothing is one of the best options for high output activities when its not raining. Having worn a variety of Polartec® Power Shield® in the Arcteryx Gamma MX, and OR Solitude for example. I have found all these jackets to provide great warmth, wind resistance and snow shedding capabilities. Where the MEC Fusion jacket outperforms is in its ability to wick away sweat and dry very quickly. This is pretty important after a long skin up when you will sweat and tend to cool quickly if you are still wet from sweat. The Fusion Jacket and Pant dried very quickly.
The temperature range of these garments was quite wide. I could wear the pants from zero (32 F) to -15 (5 F) degrees Celsius with no under layer. Below -15 I would wear a light merino layer and I was very cosy. The jacket was also very warm to -15 and I only had to put on a Gortex jacket in high winds and temperatures less than -15. The jacket was also very useful around town up to 10oC when it wasn’t raining.
The pants have two side hip pockets and one side leg pocket. The leg pocket is convenient to store a map, thermometer or camera. I did find the pockets quite tight, but due to the stretchiness of the fabric I could put most items in them.
The pants have an inner cuff which is great to keep snow out of your boots. They also added considerable warmth to the pant. On warm days I could lift the outer pant up to my knees and keep the cuffs over my boots to vent and prevent snow from going into my boots.
The jacket has two long chest pockets which double as vents, and an arm pocket for small items. If you are skinning up and getting warm, you open up these pockets to let more wind in. This negated the usefulness of the pockets to store items. The pockets are big and you can put a lot of items in them, which is good but loose items will settle to the bottom.
The hood on the jacket was quite big and could easily fit over a helmet. This was trouble some on some days when I didn’t wear a helmet, the brim would go over my eyes when skinning up. Pulling the cord in the back of the hood tighter would remedy this but then the hood would be tight. The jacket arms were quite long which was good to ensure they would cover my gloves or be easily covered by overgloves during descents. The velcro cuff strap was useful to keep the arms up if needed. The jacket was a good length to pull down to my hips for added warmth and to keep snow out of my waist.
Lee’s Review: MEC Men’s Fusion Softshell Hoodie Jacket and Pants
I stay a good deal warmer then Sharon. I’m often one or two layers less then her in almost every temperature variation. Curiously I also don’t overheat too easily so am able to pick a layered system of clothing and stick with it almost the entire day. I agree that the temperature range of the Fusion softshell jacket and pants is incredibly wide. I was often able to keep the jacket on while skinning up and did not have to bother putting on a hardshell for the ski down. I only layered up if I was taking breaks.
I felt the same way about the Fusion pants. For me, they are on the warm side so I was often able to use the pants without much more then thin long underwear for temps as low as -10 C. If it dipped below that temperature I’d opt for a thicker base layer.
Here are some additional random comments:
- I couldn’t use either the jacket or pants much for spring touring. Again, I stay extraordinarily warm. They’re both a bit much in terms of warmth for spring conditions (i.e. think sunny glaciers with temps above 5 to 10 C)
- I found the water repellency of both the jacket and pants to be more than adequate. I never found snow to penetrate the DWR (Durable Water Resistance) of either the jacket or pants–it would stay on the surface. There are some pants that get snow-soaked and result in “soggy-bum syndrome”–the Fusion is not one of those pants. I had to ride in a torrential downpour to find out that the Fusion jacket is truly “water-resistant” and not water-proof.
- I’d like the Fusion pants leg hip pocket to be a bit bigger. The zip should also zip up. If you stick something in the hip pocket that doesn’t quite fit so you can’t close the zip (eg a VHF radio with antenna) you’d be constantly worried that it would fall out. I’d like two hip pockets as I almost never used the waist pockets (see next part for reasons why)
- It’s tough to access the two waist pockets on the Fusion pants while wearing a climbing harness. It’d be nice to somehow redesign the zips so you can easily operate them one-handed. Perhaps put them on a bit of a slant?
- I am at a loss to find a fault with the jacket. It’s really well-constructed and well-thought out; long enough that snow didn’t creep under; well cut so you could move easily while wearing it; it even is a nice colour for pictures. Perhaps it’s cut a little more roomy then necessary in size Medium but then I liked being able to stuff climbing skins and/or other things I needed to keep warm under the jacket while I was engaging in activity so that’s really nit-picking.
MEC Fusion Softshell Hoody and Pants He said, She Said Review
- Warm, wind resistant, dries fast
- Long arms and waist could stretch for added coverage
- Broad temperature range
- Jacket chest pockets were less functional when used for venting
- Pant waist pockets weren’t terribly useful
- Large jacket hood would cover eyes when not using a helmet
Buy Now: Search MEC for Fusion Softshell Jackets
They look like excellent softshells for the money–no question. Schoeller fabrics are outstanding and as you guys state… softshells are much more comfortable, breathable and quieter than their hardshell counterparts. So long as you’re not plowing through torrential rains, I’m a huge proponent of softshells vs. hardshells.
And, at those kinds of prices, MEC has a winning combo.