When you look at some of the largest and most impactful heritage brands in the outdoor industry, it might surprise some that Mountain Hardwear was only born in 1993, which for some reason feels like recent history. I attended the 20th anniversary of the brand in San Francisco in 2013, and even then it felt like Hardwear was embedded into the fabric of everything outdoors, founded by a group of former Sierra Designs employees, (which also speaks to the fact that SD was once a much more important brand), and to the fact that sometimes great brands are able to reinvent themselves over time and still reemerge to be even better than they were before. But at that time in the 90s they were bucking a rising trend of outdoor products losing a certain level of hardcoreness, if you will.
Mountain Hardwear claims quite a few firsts to its credit as well over the last 30 years. Those milestones include the, “first window used in a tent fly;” helping to pioneer the use of Windstopper fleece; “rotated seams” on shirts for backpacking; the first “waterproof sleeping bags;” developing their own waterproof-breathable membrane called OutDry and then DryQ in 2009-2011, which they employed mostly on gloves and backpacks; and then in 2011-12 they introduced the now iconic Ghost Whisperer ultralight down jacket, really the first in its class and in my mind it will always be a pinnacle of innovation. I was stoked to get a new one before embarking with the brand last month in an attempt to summit the Grand Teton. JHMG has a sick alpine camp in the saddle below the high peaks, a rugged hike in to a breathtaking and exposed rocky encampment.
Another thing Hardwear has done right since the beginning is align themselves with some of the greatest mountain athletes in the world, and listen to them in a meaningful way, beginning with Ed Viesturs and the first American team to summit all 14 8,000 meter peaks on the planet.
The guides have been instrumental in providing design feedback for product and equipment lines in Hardwear’s mountaineering field-of-play. In my mind they remain one of the most important brands out there, especially when it comes to equipment such as packs and tents, but also in apparel.
With all of these factors in place, we took a fall trip up to one of the most iconic climbing destinations in the Lower 48 to find out what they have cooked up for the coming winter. We caught up with the guides from JHMG just as their season was ending and their minds were starting to turn toward deep powder turns, ice climbing, and the pleasures and challenges of a long (and hopefully snowy) winter ahead, wherever their paths may lead them.
Special Guest Ted Hesser and the Launch of Chains of Habit
We were joined Ted Hesser, a Mountain Hardwear athlete/ambassador, climber, runner, and photographer/filmmaker based in Salt Lake City. We previewed his new film Chains of Habit, produced by Hesser and Stormhouse Media, directed by Zeppelin Zeerip, and edited by John Rodosky. The director of photography was Mike Brown, with photography by Caleb Robinson and drone work by Matthew Parent.
Not only is Ted unlike other athletes and guides I’ve done trips like this with in the past, he’s just an unassuming, spectacular, and interesting individual all around. We had a chance to chat about life, the outdoor industry, electric vehicles, and, gear. And since that’s why I was invited, let’s focus in on the gear.
“This is the first comprehensive line of alpine kit they’ve put out in a long time — a complete line — backpack and apparel included, in its lightest but most durable form,” explained Hesser.
“They’ve fully turned it around and brought in a whole new product teamA lot of the stuff that’s coming out now represents that new team and the best of those types of products,” Hesser said.
“The JHMG partnership is cool,” he added. “I didn’t quite realize just how experienced and competent everyone on that team was, with some of the better guides and adventurers in the world. They’re all over the place, from Antartica to the biggest tallest peaks. And the fact that they’re out there using Hardwear all the time really speaks to its ruggedness.”
About the kit, says Hesser: “It’s striking the right balance between weight savings and durability. You can make something super light and it’s like one-time use, or you can make something really durable and it’s way too heavy. But if you remove all the feature set, you end up with something a little bit lighter, but you still want some features to have it be convenient, to say, cinch the hood up, or have a thicker zipper so it doesn’t snag.”
“There’s lots of thoughtfulness throughout the design. Ultimately it strikes a nice balance between being super functional, being super rugged and resilient, but not being too heavy. Just a slight tick above the lightest thing you can buy, but substantially more versatile and rugged. That’s where all of that product sits, and that’s what’s exciting about it.”
Here’s a look at some of the pieces we tapped into for our climb, from the fall Alpine kit and a selection of Spring 23 items we were able to preview.
Routefinder GORE-TEX PRO Jacket and Pants
Designed in tandem with alpine mountain guide partners, this fully-featured bomb shelter of a jacket is built with 3-layer GORE-TEX PRO to tackle summit after summit in the harshest conditions.
// Helmet-compatible hood with three-way drawcord adjustment; Snap back feature on the hood keeps it flat and low profile when not in use; Underarm water resistant zip vents; Two oversized water resistant zippered chest pockets with internal gear organization; Two water resistant zippered hand pockets
Crater Lake Active Hoody
Whether you’re on the skin track or standing in the river, the Crater Lake Active Hoody has you protected from unwanted UV rays thanks to its UPF 50+ fabric. This lightweight and supremely comfortable hoody features an updated 3-piece scuba-style hood and integrated thumbholes for solid protection.
// High performance solar knit with UPF 50 to filter harsh UV rays; Full three-piece hood contours to your head for comfortable coverage; Long sleeves with dropped shoulders for extra mobility
Inspired by technical alpine wear but designed and styled for laid-back pursuits at lower elevation, the HiCamp Fleece Hoody pairs super-comfy, high-loft Sherpa fleece with a versatile and durable design that’s ready for weekend after weekend of the good life, built with classic high pile sherpa fleece in solids and prints. The three-piece hood adds insulation on chilly nights around the fire, zippered hand and chest pockets keep your essentials close and secure.
A super-light, super-warm down belay parka that shines on light-and-fast alpine pushes everywhere from the Tetons to Alaska to Patagonia. The Phantom Parka is loaded with 800-fill, RDS-certified down that provides high-lofting, yet highly packable warmth for belays, bivvies, and bone-chilling temps. Features Ultralight Pertex 20D Diamond Fuse ripstop shell fabric with DWR finish.
// Box-wall constructed baffles eliminate cold spots; Helmet compatible insulated hood with drawcord adjustment; Two-way center front zipper; Interior zippered chest pocket; Two harness compatible zippered hand pockets; 1 lb 4 oz / 619 g
Alpine Light 35 (and 50 L) Pack
A mid-sized alpine climbing pack that’s ideal for in-a-push missions and ultralight one-bivy ascents, the Alpine Light 35 offers durable, ultra-comfortable performance with just enough space for on-route essentials. Customizable straps and a strippable design let you adjust the pack to the demands of the route. I don’t know why but I keep wanting to use this pack for ski touring as well.
// Undyed, Nylon-Spectra Ripstop is both lightweight and highly durable; 7000 series aluminum frame with foam frame sheet supports loads to provide comfortable carry and is removable to reduce weight; Two external side pockets and internal removable pocket keep smaller items accessible; Multiple lash points and ice axe cradles create versatile tool lashing and crampon attachment; Versatile webbing compression secures external gear; Streamlined and durable back-panel sheds snow; Front and rear grab loop; Rope strap for external carry; Padded shoulder straps with dual density foam for high level of comfort and support; Hydration reservoir compatible; Removable padded hip belt with zip pocket storage; Reinforced loops for A-frame ski carry; Quickdraw open and close main compartment
With a soft airmesh lining on the inside and breathable, abrasion-resistant Pertex Quantum Air stretch fabric on the outside, the Kor Airshell Warm Jacket is a dynamic duo of technical performance. The jacket’s active insulation keeps you warm and fends off wind and light moisture while remaining incredibly breathable, so you can keep skiing, running, climbing, or hiking.
// Uses: Superlight Backcountry, Rock Climbing, Running / Training, Backpacking / Hiking, Camping; AirMesh lining adds warmth without sacrificing breathability; Adjustable hood with elastic binding to seal in warmth; Two zippered chest pockets; Two zippered hand pockets; Two-way center front zipper; Elastic binding on cuffs to seal in warmth; Drawcord hem; Reflective heat transfer MHW logo at chest; 12.3 oz / 350 g
This wind-resistant, breathable, form-fitting glove provides optimal dexterity with the durable protection of a leather palm. Made with summer mountain guides in mind and high exertion adventures requiring hands-on movement, rope work, and abrasion resistance. I would also use this glove for spring skiing and motorcycling.
// Gore-Tex Infinium 3L fabric is windproof and breathable; Minimal seam construction and stretch fabric on back of hand allows for maximum dexterity; Secure hook and loop closure; Padded knuckles; Reinforced carabiner loop for harness attachment; 3.4 oz / 96 g
One of those keystone pieces referenced above, it’s made with 1000-fill RDS-certified down, a limited resource that uses only the highest quality and largest plumes from the down selection process by Allied Feather & Down, this jacket raises the bar as Hardwear’s lightest, fully featured insulated layer they’ve ever created. One of the first to tap into Pertex in the U.S. market. If you’re going to go ultralight, this has to be part of your kit, and go with the hooded version.
–Photos courtesy of Mountain Hardwear and Clayton Herrmann (@ClaytonHerrmann on Instagram).
–Definitely Wild is a column by EO Contributing Editor Aaron Bible. Bible has been writing for Elevation Outdoors and Blue Ridge Outdoors, among other publications, for two decades, covering cycling, skiing, gear and mountain life. Any opinions expressed here are his own. Follow him on Instagram at @DefinitelyWild.