The controversy around rain jackets, waterproofs and rain protection in general is pretty extensive, especially in the lightweight circles or the UK walking community. Opinions and what the “right waterproof” might be are as many as there are users (and sometimes even more than that!), so it is not surprising that we are often so confused about it. I have personally bought, upgraded and tried a huge variety of waterproof jackets, using anything from Ventile to the latest Gore Tex Pro. Like many who have spent time outdoors, mainly if you are more active than the usual “plodder,” I have found that at some point, you will get wet outdoors. Days and days of rain, or horizontal rain, or a good tropical storm will get you wet no matter what, so I started looking for what would give me the most breathability.
I tend to be more experimental than most outdoors gear users, trying less well known fabrics, cuts and companies just for the fun of it – sometimes it works well and sometimes it works less well. One of my experiments was buying a Mountain Hardwear Quasar Pullover in 2014 so I could try their propriety, and not very well known, fabric: Dry Q Elite.
The reason I was after a pullover is that I find full zips pretty useless – if it is raining, I need my jacket closed to keep me from the rain, but if it is not raining, I don’t want the jacket! Half zip waterproofs are lighter and have less weak points (a zip is always a weak point). The lack of zipper in the lower part of the torso means less pressure from the harness (climbing or backpack), making it more comfortable. Many will see the idea of pulling the jacket on or off a bit of a nuisance, but if you need to stop to take the jacket off, you need to take your backpack off anyway, so pulling the jacket over makes very little difference.
The main point for this amazing jacket is the fabric: Dry Q Elite. In my waterproof clothing basics post I explained that waterproof fabrics are made using one of two breathability technologies: diffusion or ventilation. The Dry Q Elite is a ventilation membrane, allowing for the fabric to be breathable in all conditions.
I have used this jacket so many times by now, making sure to occasionally (but rarely) wash it; it has spent many days in my pack waiting to protect me from the rain. Not surprisingly, over time it had sneaked into my day to day life, becoming my go-to waterproof jacket on my way to work, cycling or just going out (I know, I have no sense of style, so what?).
Just a note before we dive in: the Quasar pullover has been discontinued by Mountain Hardwear, but you can find it at most retailers – bricks and mortar and online – at great discounts.
Most people who have encountered Mountain Hardwear (mainly Americans) have heard about the Dry Q range that they have been offering since 2011, but very few actually know what it is and where it is from. To understand what this fabric is, you need to know a couple of things about how waterproofs work in the outdoors industry, mainly how fabrics are being used and sold.
Every outdoors clothing brand can offer waterproof fabrics using one of two options: develop their own, name it and sell it; or, buy a branded membrane-based fabric from one of the big companies to make a garment. The biggest waterproof fabric developers and manufacturers (and their fabrics) are:
- W.L Gore – offering Gore-Tex membrane, Gore-Tex Pro, Gore-Tex C-Knit and Gore-Tex Active.
- Polartec – the fleece giant has developed the Neo Shell fabric that is a bit controversial in the industry as to how waterproof it is.
- eVent – a GE company that has been making membranes in a very similar way to Gore-Tex (with slight differences! Before a little war will start here about it).
Usually, when a clothing brand wants to make a garment using any of the companies’ fabrics above, they need to adhere to a set of rules and limitations on how they use the fabric, membrane and possible design. Also, the finished garment needs to have clear logos of the waterproof fabric’s logos.
In 2011, eVent decided to go down a new route and start offering their waterproof/breathable membrane as a non branded fabric – any company can buy the membrane, change the fabric specifications and sell it under their own name. The first company to do that was Columbia (the owners of Mountain Hardwear) – buying the rights to use the eVent membrane in their fabrics – and so Dry Q was born. If you are interested in a very in depth article about what happened during the 2011-2012 waterproof/breathable fabrics war – this is a brilliant article from “Outside”.
Back to now, Mountain Hardwear uses Dry Q in a range of ways, but only the Dry Q Elite products offer the GE (i.e., eVent) membrane; the rest of the fabrics use other waterproofing methods. Dry Q Elite comes in a 2 layer or 3 layer construction, depending on the intended use, and it is laminated with a huge range of fabrics to meet the needs including some very thin (low denier) fabrics.
The fabric’s spiel on the site is:
Dry.Q Elite is used in our most premium waterproof-breathable products. It offers the most comfortable level of breathability by combining high moisture-vapor transfer rates and air permeability at all body temperatures. Traditional waterproof-breathable technologies require high levels of user exertion (high body heat) before the breathability kicks in. Dry.Q Elite is instant-on technology. It starts breathing the instant you put it on, regardless of temperature or level of exertion for waterproof, windproof performance like you’ve always wanted, guaranteed.
Some details about the Dry Q Elite (based on the press release on UKC):
- Hydrostatic head: 40,000-45,000mm (depends on face fabric)
- Breathability: 28,000-40,000mm per 24 hours (depends on construction), equals less than 4 RET
Just to give some reference, the Gore-Tex Pro is claimed to be 28,000mm HH and up (based on face fabric) with less than 6 RET. With these numbers you can see that the claims based on test labs (and PR….) are that Dry Q elite is more waterproof and more breathable than Gore-Tex Pro – pretty high claims! But, those are all lab numbers and PR statements; in reality, when tested in the field, things may look very different.
The Quasar Pullover comes in an active fit, aimed to be used as an Alpine climbing piece that was developed by Ueli Steck. I’m 178cm, 38in chest and 30in waist and wear size Medium and it fits great – nice amount of room but not baggy on the gut (as most American brands tend to be), with a snug fit around the waist, which is rare. The Quasar pullover comes in two colours: black and orange; I would have gone for the orange (my favourite colour) but as I adhere to the leave no trace (or minimum impact) concept, it was black for me as it is for outdoors use.
- Mountain Hardwear weight: 261g (9.2oz)
- Real weight: 277g (9.8oz)
- Centre Back Length: 72cm (28.2″)
- Sleeve length (neck to cuff): 80cm (31.5″)
- Torso diameter: 128cc (50″)
- Hips diameter: 110cm (43″)
The jacket has:
From Mountain Hardwear’s site (in green) + some of my own views:
- Deep, watertight zipper opening at neck for easy on/off and thermoregulation – this is a mid torso zip, reaching my sternum. The zipper is mostly water tight but I did have some leaks in horizontal rain in Scotland.
- Low profile hood, with single-pull adjustment system – helmet compatible (small climbing/mountaineering helmets only) that is pretty nice to wear on its own. No wire peak though, so needs a hat to get good movement and the drawcord pulls are on the inside of the collar; this requires opening the front zipper to tighten. Cords’ locking are embedded in the hood to reduce snagging and being hit in the face in high winds.
- Single hem drawcord for quick fit adjustment – nice little feature but can be too small with winter gloves and a bit stiff to release.
- Soft, “Butter Jersey” cuffs – one of my favourite features as those fit snugly around the wrist, keeping draft out. They do tend to get soaked though and will get the sleeves of the layer under it wet. They also have thumb loops that fit well under a glove.
- Micro-Chamois™-lined chin guard eliminates zipper chafe – pretty standard for waterproof jackets, I found that it is kind on my chin even after a few days without shaving.
- High front collar – not the kind to cover your face completely, but I have managed to get my nose tucked in at times.
- Big inner mesh pocket on the left side of the chest – fully water protected pocket, great for navigation gear, but requires opening the front zip to gain access.
- Soft and sable inner lining – the fabric feels very nice inside, even when straight on the skin.
This is, again, the highlight of the Quasar pullover: 15D 3 layers Dry Q elite. Fully waterproof/breathable (as are all of them…), thin fabric that still feels very robust after a couple of uses. In the beginning the fabric felt a little plastic-y and thin, but you get used to it quickly, especially as the fabric softens, and it just feels light and airy.
The inner lining of the fabric feels surprisingly soft and nice on the skin, not clammy, even when sweating. I was sure that a fabric with a soft feeling would feel wet quickly on the skin, but it has fared well, no problem at all, even with just a t-shirt when doing more aerobic movement.
The original DWR finish from the factory is great and robust, and I have yet to reproof it, though I have cleaned it with pure soap a few times already. By now it probably has about 50-60 days of actual wear and use, and about 3 times that in the pack.
How I use it
I use the Quasar pullover for pretty much everything, and I leave it at home only for trips when I know I’ll be walking in constant rain for a few days (this is England) when I opt for a slightly heavier Gore-Tex jacket – but I’m not actually sure that was the best choice.
The hardest push it has gone through is the Cape Wrath Trail trip in 2015, when it was on me for days on end as my single shell. I used it over short sleeve and long sleeve tops with no problem and felt comfortable putting any insulation on it when needed. The only time it failed me on that trip was during a really harsh day (day 6) where I had 8 hours of constant horizontal rain and I found that rain got through the zipper and collar.
More than anything, the Quasar pullover is just great to carry: light and low bulk, it fits nicely in the pack without too much thought, and as it is pretty breathable, can be used for most of the day in lower temperatures. I have used the Quasar in conditions in which I would have otherwise used a wind shirt.
- Athletic, slim and comfortable cut – great for active users who don’t have the wrong layering system and wear a thick insulation under their shell!
- Great material – feels robust, but is thin enough to be used all day.
- Breathable/waterproof that seems to be slightly better than others – so far for me, it feels more breathable than other fabrics I’ve use without real compromise in waterproofing levels.
- Soft inner cuffs – feel really nice on the skin and come with thumb loops to easily work with gloves.
- Good hood cover with a high collar – the hood works well on a small helmet and mostly good on its own (does need a hat for the peak) and with the high collar offers good face protection.
- Robust fabric – despite being only 15D (pretty thin), it seems to have pretty high density, so the fabric still feels robust.
- Soft feeling liner – silk-like lining lamination that doesn’t feel clammy when on the skin!
- Light enough – all this for about 300g of a fully functional jacket, making it pretty lightweight.
- Tucked in hood cords – reducing the chance of being smacked in the face by the draw cords in high winds.
- Zipper can leak – like all zips, don’t count on no leaking at all when horizontal rain comes.
- Inner cuffs get soaked in strong rain – this can be “fixed” if using waterproof gloves.
- No hood peak stiffener – the peak is one of those soft kinds that American companies use so often, so an American style fix is needed: using a baseball cap. I use a running cap (Inov-8) that dries quickly and works great as a sun hat.
- The draw cords are very thin and won’t release very easily – as the drawcords are so thin and the locks are so small, the whole system is very stiff and hard to adjust, especially with gloves. All this is not to say that the draw cords are not strong enough.
- Fabric can be stiff at first – it will soften over time.
I bought the Quasar pullover because I found it on offer and wanted to play around with a fabric I didn’t know about, and it became my favourite waterproof for anything. I didn’t expect it to be so functional for so many activities with the minimal and simple design it offers while still being breathable enough for most high impact activities.
I’m still surprised that Mountain Hardwear decided to discontinue the Quasar pullover, but the Quasar jacket is still offered in a new version (and is called lite – they should learn how to spell!). You can find the Quasar pullover everywhere online, usually on offer but in limited size runs – if you find one, get it.
To make it even simpler I’ll say that if you are an active guy after a waterproof/breathable minimalist top – the Quasar pullover is for you. Despite the list of problems above, I find it to function perfectly for ultrapacking, hiking, climbing, cycling and just daily use.