Weight: 9 ounces
In spite of the plentitude of masculine, heavy-duty shells on the market, I spent this past summer testing the women’s Mountain HardWear Quark jacket. Why, you ask, did I eschew various men’s models in favor of the women’s Quark? Because it’s extremely light, and Mountain HardWear touts it as the lightest (9 ounces), truly waterproof raincoat on the market.
I was up against guiding backcountry mountain bike trips all summer, so I didn’t get in a lick of climbing–but biking every day in every condition imaginable gave me ample opportunities to test the shell extensively in mountain environments.
At the season’s start I was faced with leading these trips while wearing my faux-GoreTex rain parka. The parka repels water like a roll of tarpaper but unfortunately is just as heavy. Embracing my backcountry gender bender, I began using the Quark and quickly found it was tough enough to take everything I threw at it. My summer in the saddle delivered me to Denver, Salt Lake City and Moab, with stopovers at every bit of singletrack along the way. But although I rode every day, the weather wasn’t always pretty. I encountered poor conditions–from icy, day long drizzles in Telluride to sustained and torrential downpours in Moab–on every ride for two weeks straight. The high-country storms turned the trail to desert chili, with slews of muddy muck bombarding my jacket-clad chest and back. Still, the Quark proved to be more water resistant than other jackets twice as heavy.
Of course, almost any jacket can keep you dry, but the real advantage of the Quark is its range of motion: quite simply, this jacket allows me to move. The lightweight, stretchable Incite(TM) nylon makes this is the first shell I’ve ever felt comfortable exercising in. The fabric was also surprisingly durable considering it’s about as thick as a roll of heavy-duty Saran wrap. On one humbling occasion, I managed to tear a small hole in the right arm after a particularly nasty fall on pavement. To the Quark’s credit, the rip is smaller than a pencil eraser and hasn’t continued to tear since.
I could easily stow the Quark into the cargo pocket of my ultralight hydration pack or stash it in the back pocket of my bike jersey. Since the Quark is easily stowable and thus always there when I needed it, it was quite liberating to not hem and haw about whether it was a good day for raingear (hint: every day is).
With all use and abuse considered, the Quark took it in stride and (aside from my bike) was my most prized piece of gear for the summer season. For a warm weather waterproof shell conducive to exercise, I’ve yet to find anything on the market that compares to the Quark.
PROS: Lightweight and stowable; durable; stretchy Incite(TM) nylon allows for mobility; highly water resistant.
CONS: Lacks intermediate mesh layer that commonly facilitates good breathability.