In October last year Ueli Steck soloed the South Face of Annapurna in a 28 hour round-trip, a feat for which he would later win a Piolet d’Or. A few months later I wandered up the path into Coire an t'Sneachda at a fairly average pace, topped out some hours later and didn’t win any awards. The connection? We were both wearing Mountain Hardwear’s newest lightweight hardshell, the Quasar Hybrid Pullover.
Produced in a vividly striking redy/orange (also available in blue) the jacket is marketed as “the ultimate lightweight ice and rock climbing waterproof, breathable, air permeable pullover shell”. The tag will tell you it weighs just 235g but those three simple figures don’t do this jacket justice, its fabulously, ridiculously light.
The whole piece is manufactured in DRY.Q, a Mountain Hardwear own brand fabric launched a few years back on which you can read more here. Fresh from the packet the material has a crisp, stiff nature which crinkles conspicuously as you begin to move although fortunately this quickly disappears as the fabric gets worked a little. There are no pit zips or front pockets, in fact fasteners and adjustments on the jacket are almost entirely absent. A single, tiny pull cord around the bottom is all it offers and to be honest I don’t think I ever felt the need to actually use it. The front neck zip is waterproof and feels reassuringly stiff.
“Fresh from the packet the material has a crisp, stiff nature which crinkles conspicuously as you begin to move”
As a shell to climb in the fit was superb. Much like any pullover actually getting it on may result in a momentary arm flair but the harness sits cleanly around the waist. Being much more used to jackets featuring full length zips the transition took a little time to adjust to. I definitely got stuck inside it trying to pull it on with the zip already done up (nothing but sheer stupidity on my part) and I’d be concerned about trying to throw it on over other layers at a precarious belay but these are minor complications when weighed against the cleaner, smarter fit it affords.
The fit feels close on both the arms and torso and gives a pleasantly positive level of flexibility and motion. The fabric moves with you as you reach and feels far less likely to snag than garments with more generous sleeves. Movement in the jacket is aided by the additional stretch material on the back. The “hybrid” tagline in the name comes from the inverted-Y shaped panel of material up the rear of the jacket, there to aid both movement of the arms and also to provide a closer fit for the helmet around the head. Despite the close-fitting nature of the jacket I observed no issues with reach when climbing on rock or ice...with the hood down.
“I’d be concerned about trying to throw it on over other layers at a precarious belay but these are minor complications when weighed against the cleaner, smarter fit it affords.”
With the hood up, it was a different matter. In keeping with the jacket’s lightweight, close fitting nature the hood pulls over very snug with a small strip of fabric on the side creating a neat seal around the top of the head. The hood turns well with your head but with a heavy pack on the shoulder straps would pull on the material around the shoulders which had a tendency to tug the hood down onto the head. It wasn’t the best sensation and is probably an unfortunate side effect of the close fit which serves the jacket so well elsewhere.
More fundamentally, depending upon your viewpoint, the hood is never going to pull up over a helmet. The jacket is a Mountain Hardwear athlete piece which means it was designed in close collaboration with Ueli. When I asked about the hood design, Mountain Hardwear commented:
“it was decided by Ueli Steck that he would rather have his hood on or off when climbing, he doesn’t have time to change mid route, so preferred the option of a close fit which seals out cold and snow due to the dry seal fit. Also the stretch panels give him flexibility so he can turn his head and get good vision, rather than be blocked by a large hood.”
For Scottish winter and Alpine routes you’ll have to make the call whether you subscribe to the same philosophy. Wearing the hood underneath a helmet wasn’t anywhere near as strange a sensation as I was expecting but ultimately there’s a clear trade-off here of flexibility for fit.
“More fundamentally, depending upon your viewpoint, the hood is never going to pull up over a helmet.”
As for other features, the cuffs certainly stand out as a novel approach to preventing snow and moisture ingress. The two seals fit very closely to the wrists without feeling constricting. The closest I’ve come to a waterproof with wrist seals like these is a kayaking dry cag! The cuff design dictates you’ll be going mostly gloves over here and I missed the ability to snuggle my hands far up inside the sleeves in driving rain. But they were great to climb in, I never had any issues with water running down inside and whilst the seal areas felt a little damp my arms were dry and warm.
There are no pockets on the outside and a single elasticated pocket on the inside left is your only option. Stowing moderately bulky items such a thin pair of glove liners produced a noticeable bulge as the jacket sits so close to your body. However the elasticated open top had no problem holding small items in place whilst allowing easy access to pages from a guidebook. If you have any Mountain Hardwear under-layers then the inside pockets are designed to sit on alternate sides, a nice touch, but be sure you can properly reach them as the front zip doesn’t extend below half height at most.
DRY.Q comes in several flavours and here the premium fabric DRY.Q Elite is used for the bulk of the jacket with DRY.Q Active forming the stretch panel across the back. The jacket held up very well in some challenging Scottish and Moroccan conditions and with no significant moisture build up in under layers it was a pleasure to climb in. Given the lightweight feel I was more concerned with how it would handle some serious wear on the unforgiving Cullin gabbro and I was especially impressed with the resilience of the fabric, scuffs were confined to the outer layer only. After several months the cuff edges have started to wear slightly and I’d expect the material to start coming apart here first but it’s by no means concerning and I’d happily conclude the fabric handles both rock and water admirably.
So would I recommend it? The Quasar Hybrid Pullover is not a garment you could neatly dismiss as either flawless or flawed. There are some significant design choices, most notably with the hood and it definitely needs a try-out in store before a purchase. That said this is a fantastically capable jacket with a superb fit that’s well suited to a fast and lightweight approach to mountaineering.
“There are some significant design choices, most notably with the hood and it definitely needs a try-out in store before a purchase.”