Mountain Hardwear Blazar: Light, Functional, Awesome

Swiss alpinist, Ueli Steck, is all the rage these days and why the hell not? He crushes, climbs fast, jet-sets around the globe tackling interesting projects. The perfect guy to design my clothing.

photoOur friendly, local Mountain Hardwear rep piqued my interest in some of the new MH apparel, mostly because they’re using “DryQ Elite,” a related fabric to eVent DVL (the latest generation of uber-breathable waterproof-breathable fabric from the eVent geniuses). My buddy was very careful to point out that DryQ Elite is not just rebranded eVent (interesting interview about it HERE) and in a nutshell it sounds as though MH takes the actual eVent DVL membrane, but builds it into their own fabrics and treats the shell material with their own 80-wash DWR. I’ve tested a couple eVent DVL garments and liked them a lot–the stuff breathes far, far better than any Gore product and waterproofness has been totally reliable. I was stoked to check out MH’s supposed upgrade…and the results?

I managed to snag a Mountain Hardwear “Blazar” ($450, 8 oz., verified at home) for a review, curious about DryQ Elite’s differences with eVent DVL. As you might expect, the Blazar is a fantastic, if pricey, jacket that makes the perfect alpine companion, especially in a low-precip place like Colorado. I love the thing. As for details, read on…

The Blazar falls within the Ueli Steck line of MH gear, so the emphasis here is on spare-no-expense, all-function-without-the-weight, apparel, backpacks, and sleeping bags. The Blazar is the Monday morning byproduct of throwing a bunch of outdoorsy apparel designers in a room for the weekend with two cases of Red Bull and the CEO’s credit card…they might spend a bit too much, but you’re going to get something badass.

A couple of overall design notes. The DryQ Elite garments eschew pit zips to save weight and rely on the fabric’s breathability instead. I think for a lot of people this probably works, but I recall reading a report from the US Army’s Natick testing lab in which they claimed jacket construction (i.e. pit zips, full zips, etc.) is as important as materials (whether it’s Gore, eVent, DryQ, NeoShell, etc.) when it comes to breathability. I tend to agree with this, BUT the new generation (which is to say, Polartec’s NeoShell, eVent DVL, and now MH’s DryQ Elite–please note the absence of one brand in particular) gets pretty darn close to making pit zips a thing of the past. And besides, MH is hitting the eight-ounce barrier here, so I think it’s a trade-off most people will live with.

Waterproofing on the DryQ Elite equals anything I’ve ever used (Gore-tex, NeoShell, eVent, H2NO, all the cheap PU stuff, etc.) and MH’s proprietary DWR (durable water repellent) does seem superior. I threw the Blazar in the wash eight or ten times in the course of several months, without any degradation in the DWR performance. Pretty good. I wore the Blazar in several extended downpours, including a trip to Seattle for some real testing. Zero leaks, all good.

2Breathability is very, very good–on par with eVent DVL as far as I could tell and perhaps slightly, barely below Polartec’s NeoShell. The big breakthrough in DryQ/eVent DVL/NeoShell is “air permeability,” which is simply a techy way of saying a bit of air penetrates the fabrics, thereby reducing clamminess and internal overheating. Through my own BS home-testing the NeoShell lets in a bit more air, which in turn gives it a touch more breathability. The numbers vary, depending on what face fabric the manufacturer uses, but generally indicate Polartec’s NeoShell is superior to “old” eVent and similar to new (“DVL eVent”). The difference seemed sleight, but I thought it was there.

That said, DryQ Elite breathes far better than anything else on the market. The “big” brand requires almost 100-percent humidity inside the garment before it’ll start pumping moisture out (breathing), but the DryQ Elite breathes from the get-go, while letting in a bit of air, which enhance evaporative cooling. Translation? You’re cooler wearing MH’s Blazar than you will be in just about anything made of the popular stuff.

As much as DryQ Elite’s fabulous performance, I loved the fit of the Blazar. Too many brands have surrendered to the chubby-gutted, sad state of affairs in this country, producing apparel with short arms and pot bellies. MH’s “Active” fit works for athletes. I’m 5’10”, 165 lbs., and wear a 41R suit jacket–what was once a pretty ordinary frame. Cut is long enough to sit below one’s harness and only occasionally did I pull it back down. Nice to see an American brand still building for climbers/skiers/runners/cyclists!

photo1At the wrists, MH finished the Blazar with a unique cuff, sort of a stretchy, polypro material with a thumb-hole. At first I thought this would be an entry point for rainwater, but having worn the jacket through several downpours I can say it didn’t let in a bit. It’s also trim and sleek, sliding inside a glove if you use the thumb-hole. The only time I could see this design being a problem is working in a damp environment with one’s hands above one’s head (climbing vertical ice on a drippy day?) for an extended period. I didn’t climb any ice in the Blazar, but it seems to me it’s not really positioned as that type of garment anyway.

I was able to stretch the hood over a climbing helmet, but it was tight. Doing so pulled the chin fabric up, putting the zip just under my nose–just fine in a nuking downpour, but maybe unnecessary otherwise.

The hood adjusts only around the face; there’s no “volume” reducer. Wearing a ballcap or helmet, I didn’t mind this. Over my bald head, though, I found myself turning inside the hood and losing some peripheral visibility. When this would happen I would just fold in the brim/visor and it was fine.

4Seam sealing was bomber throughout, making the hood and shoulders absolutely waterproof. Construction seems on par with Arct’teryx, Westcomb, and the other premium brands. The chest zipper is a narrow gauge, to save weight I imagine, and it has functioned perfectly for the months I’ve had the jacket. At the waist a single-pull drawcord firmly cinches the jacket down.

The only “downs” to the Blazar are cost, really. Any of my other criticisms (no volume adjustment on the hood, for example) are born of shaving ounces to make the jacket an almost peerless option for the alpine climber, ski-mountaineer, thru-hiker, or even adventurous mountain biker. I carried the Blazar on dozens of pitches and it hides weightlessly in the bottom of your pack, taking up about as much space as a cordelette. Especially in Colorado, where we generally don’t deal with hours and hours of precip, the Blazar’s the ultimate back-up jacket for the bottom of your bullet pack. It’s the lightest of the functional waterproof-breathable garments that I know of and it fits really, really well. Hard to beat it.

 

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