Mountain Hardwear Aiguille ParkaPosted By Mark on Jan 3 '08
|Cinch Cords:||Hem & Waist||Insulation:||None|
|Napoleon Pocket:||No||Handwarmer Pockets:||None|
|Sleeve Pockets:||None||Zipper Type:||None|
|Chin Abrasion Guard:||Yes||MSRP:||$295|
Fabric utilized: Gore-Tex XCR, Gore-Tex PacLite
I think that in the search for the perfect hardshell, there are three characteristics that take top priority (already assuming full waterproofness): durability, breathability, and light weight. Due to a problem with a previous jacket, I was given the opportunity to own a Gore-Tex jacket of my choosing (thank you, Gore!). I decided on the Mountain Hardwear Aiguille Parka, which I now consider one of the best jackets I own. It’s got durability (Gore-Tex XCR on the hood, shoulders, and upper arms). It’s got breathability in spades (Gore-Tex PacLite for the main body of the shell, and good-sized pit zips). And it’s definitely lightweight, weighing in at only 16 ounces, very impressive for a fully seam-taped hardshell with a lot of features. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.
Probably due in part to the desire to keep weight low, the Aiguille doesn’t have a lot of pockets. In fact, it’s only got two. And they’re not handwarmer pockets, either. The cut of them is such that they can be accessed while wearing a pack, but the zippers are placed close to the main zipper, so you’d have to cross your arms if you actually wanted to keep your hands there.
All the zippers on the jacket are “waterproof;” that is, they’ve been coated with polyurethane to keep out the precipitation. Of course, no jacket is truly waterproof; the best zippers are only water-resistant, because bends in the fabric and other features could let a tiny bit of moisture in. But for the vast majority of people, it’s not going to make a difference, and indeed, I’ve never had problems with water leaking in through the zipper. The waterproofing is used for all the zippers: the main zipper, the two storage pockets, and the pit zips. Of course, this helps to reduce weight and bulk, because storm flaps are basically unnecessary. However, in the interest of absolute waterproof integrity, the exterior main zipper has small exterior storm flaps, on either side, and on the interior, there is a stiffer, wider storm flap. All of the zippers have long, fabric zipper pulls attached to the metal zipper pulls to increase ease of use.
The hood on the Aiguille Parka is one of the best hoods I’ve seen utilized in a hard shell. It actually only has one point of adjustment, in the rear, and the cord circles around the head and right behind the brim, for simple volume adjustment. But it works really well, even better than some two-way adjustable hoods (that is, adjustable from the rear, and also on either side of the hood’s front).
The brim is a really solid, laminated brim, and hardly flinches in the face of nasty, wind-driven rain. When fully cinched down, the brim sits down kind of low, but it’s great for when things turn really ugly, which I definitely find preferable to too little hood. Finally, the hood is stowable, into a flap of fabric that connects to the Velcro at the base of the hood’s exterior, for when it’s windy, but not raining or snowing.
The torso is adjustable at two spots on the parka: the hem, and the “waist.” I say “waist,” because even though it’s called a parka, the hem hardly extends lower than a normal hardshell jacket. So the waist is kind of high. But the adjustment’s there if you want it, and aided by dual cinchcord pulls.
The cuffs are pretty simple: rip-and-stick Velcro tabs. I prefer elastic mated with Velcro, because it seems that less stress is placed on the fabric when putting one’s arms through the sleeves, but these work, all the same.
The pit zips are good-sized, and can be accessed from either the sleeve or near the ribs, because they’re two-way. But they’re not the easiest to open, due to the water-resistant coating. They can be a little unyielding at times. But at least storm flaps don’t get in the way, getting air flow to the core as efficiently and quickly as possible.
No jacket is perfect, and as much as I love this jacket, it does have its drawbacks. There are only two pockets, and their openings, so close to the main zipper, are such that they don’t allow hands to really rest in them, except for those who like crossing their arms.
Another issue is that of the pit zips. They’re pretty long, and they can be opened from either end, but their water-resistant coating means that they can be difficult to open sometimes. But I suppose this is to make sure that water won’t get in, and it cuts down on bulk.
On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is a long-sleeved T-shirt, and 10 an expedition-quality mountaineering suit, I’d rate the Aiguille Parka a 2. It’s quite thin, and thermal retention is minimal, despite its windproofness, although it can get a little warm if you’re going at a good clip.
Absolutely. Gore-Tex is typically understood to be the standard for waterproof fabrics, and the full seam taping and seamless shoulders help ensure full waterproofness.
The Mountain Hardwear Aiguille Parka is not exactly cheap; at nearly $300 retail, those piggy banks had better be large. But it does almost everything right: durability, breathability, and light weight. There are only two pockets, and the pit zips can be difficult to open sometimes, but for those seeking a top-notch quality jacket that’s both lightweight and durable, this is it.
The Verdict: 9/10