by the Product Review Staff | 2004-04-04 03:00:00-06
The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock is (as far as we know) the lightest fully waterproof rain shell on the market (Smock is UK for anorak or a half-length front zipper). Our pre-production sample (size L) was 7.6 oz (215g). Its strength is excellent rain protection. Lack of pit zips or pocket ventilation mean that the jacket is best suited for storm protection rather than sustained active use.
The hood fits well around the face with the front aperture drawcord cinched tight. With the rear Velcro adjustment properly set for volume as well brim height, the hood provided excellent protection from precipitation. The hood’s brim has a wire stiffener (a boon for eyeglasses wearers in the rain). The shell’s hood fits passably over a small volume climbing helmet, but the fit is questionable with standard helmets like the HB Dyneema Carbon. Additional nice features are fully fleece-lined collar free of the hood, and that the hood neatly stows into a Velcro flap on the back of the collar. Torso articulation is sufficient for climbing, and the cut is suitable for layering over a reasonable amount of insulation, making it an ideal backpacking jacket. A longish hem covers the waistline and drops below the butt in the rear. The single napoleon pocket has a water resistant zipper and is backed with waterproof fabric.
Light weight, good breathability, room for layering, and great storm protection make the Montane Hydra-Lite Smock a great choice for that occasional storm. Stuff it in your pack (or possibly pocket) and you’ll hardly notice its additional weight or volume. Take it out when the weather turns nasty and you will notice its protection from wind and precipitation.
Note: The Hydra-Lite Smock replaces the Freeflow fabric Micro Super-Fly for summer 2004. The Super-Fly remains in the Montane line but changes to heavier and more expensive eVENT fabric and goes from 8.5 (240 g) oz to 15 oz (425 g). Please see a review of this jacket LINK. We rue that Montane is dropping the Freeflow Micro Super-Fly from its line as we thought that the full zip and dual pockets are well worth the extra once over the Hydra-Lite Smock. Of course, what we’d really like to see is a Freeflow Micro Super-Fly with pit-zips and mesh-backed front pockets.
The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock has a half-length front zipper, a medium-sized hood, and a single drawcord hem. Mesh-backed torso pockets would have little weight, and improved ventilation. Pit zips using small zippers would substantially increase ventilation. The front zipper and drawcord hem allow for limited ventilation. The elastic sleeve cuffs are not adjustable, cannot be opened, and thus, do not contribute to ventilation.
The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock features an adjustable hood that fits over low-volume climbing helmets, dual single-hand adjustable draw cords for the hood aperture, and a rear Velcro adjustment for hood volume and brim height. With the rear Velcro adjustment properly set for volume as well brim height, the hood provided excellent protection from precipitation. The hood’s brim has a wire stiffener (a boon for eyeglasses wearers in the rain). A fleece lined collar provides some ability to seal the neck. The hood stows neatly into a Velcro flap on the back of the collar. The Montane Hydra-Lite has a single napoleon pocket with a polyurethane-coated water-resistant zipper. The half-length, 13.5 in (34 cm), water resistant front zipper is backed by a single interior storm flap. There are no snaps or Velcro to secure the front opening. There are safety reflective patches on the ends of the sleeves. The hem has an elastic drawcord with one single hand cordlock. The anorak design limits usability, which could have been markedly improved with a slightly longer zipper.
The Montane Hydra-Lite is cut generously in both body volume and length. It layers easily over a base layer and/or a mid-weight fleece (or thinner high-loft insulating layer) without restricting mobility or compressing loft. The hem is cut long and provides a surprising amount of coverage for such a light rain shell. In the front, it came down to just below the crotch of our 5’8” reviewer and in the rear, its drop tail extended to mid-thigh.
With the hood up, the Montane Hydra-Lite Smock offers head-turning mobility while wearing a pack. The wire stiffened brim works well for peripheral vision as well as providing rain protection for eyeglass-wearers. The anorak could benefit from one more inch of sleeve length, as most of us can’t quite withdraw our hands into the sleeves to preserve ventilation while keeping our gloves dry. The elastic cuffs are not adjustable but we found their fit acceptable.
Storm Resistance (5.0)
The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock provides complete storm protection with fully taped seams and a storm flap over the front zipper. The wire stiffened brim provided excellent protection from wind and strong rain, even for eyeglasses wearers. No leakage was observed, and lack of ventilation zippers means that this is one of the "tightest" rain shells on the market.
The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock did not seem as breathable as eVENT, Gore-Tex XCR, or Gore-Tex Pac-Lite, but we observed it to be more breathable than many of the PU-coated fabrics we’ve tested, including all of the PU-coated fabric technologies examined in our last comprehensive round of rainwear reviews in 2001.
Lack of ventilation – pit zips, torso-backed pockets, full length front zipper, and adjustable cuff closures – severely limits the Montane Hydra-Lite Smock’s ventilation options in strong precipitation. There is virtually no way to vent the garment when moving fast in stormy conditions.
The ultralight fabric used in the Montane Hydra-Lite Smock is quite durable for its weight. Third class scrambling that exposed the smock to frequent abrasion against rock did not appreciably wear the fabric. Although we noticed some surface abrasion marks on the fabric from our scrapes with rocks and shrubs, it did not result in any leakage in the shell. We were concerned about the ability of the light fabric and PU coating to withstand abrasion from pack straps and remain waterproof. Our jacket shoulders have remained waterproof after several long backpacking trips wearing lightweight packs. At the end of our several-month testing period, we have not detected any damage - or leakage - on the interior (PU) face of the fabric. We expect the Montane Hydra-Lite Smock to be durable enough for any lightweight backpacker accustomed to carefully caring for their gear.
The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock excels as a bare-bones, durable, leakproof rain shell. If you’re one of those hikers that carries a rain shell as a last resort, contingency backup (and we’d certainly count ourselves among that crowd), it is a super value for complete storm protection at less than 8 oz (225 g)! At $148.00, the Hydra-Lite Smock is within the reach of many backpackers and hikers. It is lighter and cheaper than Gore-Tex PacLite, Gore-Tex XCR and eVENT-branded products. It is more expensive than many heavier products with less breathable fabrics. Due to its limited ventilation, if you need a well vented jacket for high levels of activity in longer periods of precipitation you may want to look elsewhere.
Upgrade the shell in its same design as fabrics became lighter! The Montane Hydra-Lite Smock is one of the best overall anorak designs on the market.
"Montane Hydra-Lite Smock REVIEW," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00390.html, 2004-04-04 03:00:00-06.