As a search and rescue team crew leader, Outbound Dan Human delivers his best tips for hiking safely in all seasons.
A Fantastic Jacket for Backpacking
If you are looking for a bombproof, weather-beating, sweat-quenching rain and snow shell, check out the Victorio Jacket from Mountain Hardwear.
Fed up with the constrictive sweaty nature of hard shells, even in expensive Gore-Tex jackets, I converted to soft shells for most of my outdoor pursuits. I love my favorite soft shell, an Arc’Teryx Venta SV, which is so comfortable and breathable that I just want to live in it. Despite the stretchy breathability of soft shells, even high end garments can't hold up to the mixed precipitation of the Adirondacks.
Despite my love for soft shells, I needed a hard shell for multi-day backpacking. This jacket had to stand up to rain in the morning, snow in all afternoon, and push through sleet in the evening. This jacket had to resist wet out, dry quickly, be waterproof, and breathe like a softshell. Crazy right?
Then Mountain Hardwear released a new series of alpine jackets using their Dry.Q Elite waterproof-breathable membrane. Supposedly, this series of coats was going to put all other semi-permeable fabrics to shame.
Then I saw the Victorio in a sleek black finish punctuated by neon green zippers and logos. This eye-popping garment had me drooling and wondering if my wish for a durable breathable hard shell finally came true.
In fact, Mountain Hardwear boasts this about the Victorio:
“Out most durable 3-layer shell for outstanding protection in the harshest environments.”
In my test of this jacket, I review the Victorio to see how it measures up against other jackets I've worn for mountaineering and to see if the hype is warranted for the Dry.Q Elite material.
Victorio Jacket Specifications
- Retail: $499.99
- Price Range: from $349–$499
- Fabric: 70D with TS backer
- Weight: 1 pound 3 oz. 550 grams
- Outseam: 31”
- Pockets: 2 chest, 1 sleeve, 1 zipping internal, 1 internal stash
- Alpine Fit
- High Chest Pockets that you can get into while wearing a pack or a harness.
- Helmet-compatible hood with multiple adjustments from just one pull.
- Welded watertight pockets
- Extra-long, superlight ventilation pit zips.
- Comes with the peace of mind of Mountain Hardwear’s Lifetime Warranty
Is Dry.Q Elite Better Than Gore-Tex?
Anyone who has ever climbed a mountain in a rain shell, realizes how living in a nylon shell of sweat can be uncomfortable. The average hiker sweats out close to two liters of sweat per day, so where does it go?
Of course, I sweat far more than the average hiker and in the wintertime, sweating can be dangerous if not deadly. We all know that wet clothing conducts heat away from your body at a faster rate than dry clothing.
In the 1970s, WL Gore released the first waterproof-breathable jacket with a material called Gore-tex. Since then, every outdoor company either used Gore’s product or developed their own competitor. Most Gore clones failed miserably in either the waterproof or the breathable category.
Then Mountain Hardwear developed Dry.Q Elite, something which met and exceeded the performance of Gore-tex.
What Is Dry.Q Elite?
Mountain Hardwear designed the Dry.Q technology so that backcountry users could finally be comfortable in their outdoor pursuits.
If you’ve ever really perspired in a Gore-tex jacket, you realize how it requires a climate differential – you must start to heat up and sweat before transporting the moisture out of the garment.
According to Mountain Hardwear and my own tests, “Dry.Q Elite moves excess heat and moisture before you start to sweat.” Therefore, you don't need to build up the humidity in the jacket first in order for it to breathe.
The Dry.Q Family Consists of Three Levels of Performance:
- Elite: For alpine users pushing the limits
- Active: Extremely breathable and stretchy, great for runners and fast packers.
- Core: for the broad spectrum of user, great for everyday rainwear.
Field Testing the Victorio
I received this jacket in early January and it has been my go-to garment for backcountry pursuits, search and rescue, and just bumming around town. My favorite Arc'teryx softshell got a pretty good break this winter.
Initial Impression: From the micro-chamois lined chin guard to the easy draws on the adjustment cords, this jacket was built with an attention to detail.
Activities I did while wearing the Victorio:
- Backpacking with a heavy pack
- Mountaineering – climbing with crampons and ice axe.
- Search and Rescue training
- Walking about town
The Victorio is Alpine cut, with good room in the shoulders for climbing and a fitted cut around the torso. I found the fit similar to my Mountain Hardwear Stretch Cohesion Jacket.
It felt a little tight across the torso, but it is body hugging, and moves with you. It is unlike the hard shells of the past which sparked the soft shell revolution.
I’m pretty broad in the shoulders though and that is where most backpacking jackets don’t fit me – the Victorio fits fine with ample shoulder room for swinging axes and what not. Unfortunately I am likewise growing broader in the torso; I hope that this slimmer cut jacket inspires me to push away the donuts.
I had plenty of room to layer a fleece and even my poly-fill jacket underneath. If wearing it with bulkier layers, you may want to buy one size larger.
Waterproof and Windproof
Because Dry.Q Elite waterproofing is supposed to be more air permeable for breathability, I had concerns that I'd be soaked from the outside and chilled by harsh mountain winds.
In just one day the jacket protected me flawlessly from rain, sleet, snow, and gale force winds. I never got wet - not even one drop. I even stayed dry while crawling through snowy passages shrouded by heavy wet boughs, conditions that mock the DWR on most jackets.
I've worn this jacket in heavy rain too; the droplets slide off the jacket like it is teflon coated. Likewise, the wind didn't penetrate this jacket and performed better than Gore Windstopper.
What use is a waterproof jacket that doesn't breathe? Being soaked on the inside is just as bad as being soaked from the outside. Either way you are setting yourself up for an uncomfortable hike and possibly hypothermia.
Simply, this is the most breathable hard shell I have ever worn. Heck, this jacket breathes better than most soft shells. Even without opening the long pit zips, I had great air permeability with no clammy feeling. Sure, my baselayer did get a little sweaty, after all - sweat must wick away from your skin and then magically through the coat. The nice thing is, my base layers were slightly damp and not soaked.
I only vented the pit zips when climbing and expending a lot of energy.
On a multiday winter trek, one of the most important things is to have a garment that avoids wet out, dries quickly, and is ready to perform for the next day of trekking.
One of the downfalls of soft shells and even some hard shells, is that in wet winter weather they dry slowly. Each morning, as you role out of your sleeping bag, you cringe as you put on the cold jacket still wet from the previous day's pursuits.
My face avoided the contortions of displeasure as the Victorio dried before drifting asleep for the night.
Of course, we want our technical apparel to be durable, we do after all spend quite a few biscuits on the latest outdoor trends.
This Dry.Q Elite jacket has the durability of Gore-tex proshell and any other high-end shell I've reviewed. During testing, I bushwhacked untrailed peaks in the Adirondacks, pushing through snow-laden fields of spruce and crawling under and over fallen trees. Recently, during a nighttime SAR training, I pushed my way through thick brambles and dense woods.
So far, I have no holes in the jacket and all the zippers still work, so it gets a great rating for durability.
Sometimes a well-placed pocket can make all the difference in the world, and the Victorio has a few well-placed pockets.
I've always been a big fan of the Napoleon chest pockets as they are easy to access while wearing a backpack or a climbing harness. This jacket from Mountain Hardwear doesn't have traditional handwarmer pockets, but two large chest pockets. I was able to carry my camera, GPS, snack, and map in these pockets. Best of all, I didn't have to unbuckle anything to access them.
The internal zip pocket is perfect for carrying a lighter and emergency essentials, though I wish it was totally waterproof. The other internal pocket is a stash pocket, which I used to keep a water bottle warm.
The hood is uber adjustable! I've worn it without wind flap while being battered by fierce winds. If helmet compatibility is what you are looking for, I had no issues wearing this jacket with my helmet.
An Absolutely Outstanding Jacket
The feature-laden Mountain Hardwear Victorio jacket is an absolutely outstanding jacket for backpacking, mountaineering, and wet weather. The Dry.Q Elite is waterproof windproof and breathes better than any other hard shell I've tried.
Great Savings on Amazon
Looking to Rewaterproof Your Old Jacket?
If you are saving up for a new jacket like the Victorio, you may be able to revive the waterproofing on your old jacket.
Check out my other article on "How to Wash and Waterproof a Rain Jacket: Restoring the DWR" for instructions on how to properly take care of your technical apparel. Included are tips for keeping your new Mountain Hardwear jacket clean and waterproof.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Dan Human
Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on May 19, 2012:
With the mild North American winter - this is the year to pick up jackets.
Rab Mountaineering makes a wicked-good product. I have a pair of their gloves and I think I am going to pick up a vest from them.
In my opinion eVent breathes better than gore-tex, but the DryQ Elite breathes even better. I find the waterproofing to be about the same.
Thanks for reading CyclingFitness!
Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on May 19, 2012:
I've been looking at these for myself as they've been selling them off recently in a local outdoor shop for the equivalent of 250 dollars although i've often questionned whether I can justify the price.
What's your exerience of eVent fabrics in comparison? We have a Rab factory outlet nearby and their jackets really tempt me.
Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 23, 2012:
I would really check out any of the Dry.Q jackets, they are just fantastic. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Adventure Colorad!
Adventure Colorad from Denver,CO on April 23, 2012:
Great article, it may be time for me to replace my jacket.