Mountain Hardwear High Exposure Gore-Tex C-Knit Jacket, £450
I’m hiking 12 miles around Waterfall Country in a yellow weather warning. In addition to the rain (persistent), the spray from the seven falls forming the route is fierce. There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, said a certain A. Wainwright, to whom I take off my (waterproof) hat. He was striding about the fells long before the benefits of Gore-tex came into play, and I’m not sure how a tweed jacket, however dapper, would stand up today.
Luckily, I’ve no need for tweed as I’m snuggly kitted out in the High Exposure Gore-tex C-Knit Jacket from Mountain Hardwear. The quality brand has a number of waterproof jackets designed for different outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing and climbing; the High Exposure is a ski jacket but undoubtedly with the versatility to wear on the trail too.
The High Exposure is available in Gold Hour, a glowing mustard to match the weather warning, and Dive, a rich teal. I’m enticed by the Gold Hour but, following the success of Keeping Faith in my native south Wales, the yellow mac has become ubiquitous and, wary of becoming quite literally a walking cliche, I choose the Dive. One of the reasons I’m keen to replace my exceedingly well-worn black Berghaus is to be more visible in poor mountain conditions, and Mountain Hardwear’s teal and mustard options certainly inspire confidence of being spotted in an emergency.
Made from Mountain Hardwear’s lightest 3L Gore-tex ski shell, the High Exposure is stretchy, durable and promises to be totally waterproof, shedding the elements as the weather draws in while maintaining unparalleled breathability, to stop the sweat from sticking around. When better to put this claim to the test than during a severe weather warning in Wales?
Despite switching our route from ‘bleak mountains’ to a low-level trot from Pontneddfechan, our Instameet group of 10 suspiciously dwindles to two as the rain sweeps in, but we’re an undeterred pair and set off through the spectacular scenery. For the first couple of hours, the rain drives relentlessly through overhanging trees and the roar from the falls is ferocious – it’s no day to attempt the walk behind Sgwd yr Eira. At every rest stop we look upwards and declare: “I think it’s clearing!” and, by the afternoon, the joke starts to hold some promise with the glimpse of a warm sun. Not that it matters; after a six-hour stormy stomp, my body’s still bone dry (my hands and feet are another matter – it’s definitely time for new winter boots).
The coat has oversized zipped pockets, classed as ‘chest pockets’ in the blurb and initially seeming too high for comfortable use. But appearances are deceptive and these pockets are so deep that my hands plunge down to just the right level, while there’s plenty of room for gloves and gadgets. There are also well thought out inner pockets, zipped on the right and pouched on the left.
The hood is without a doubt the best jacket hood I’ve ever worn, even threatening to make my beloved OEX waterproof hat redundant. With a wired peak and a three-way drawcord adjuster, including a bungee cord at the base of my skull, it sits perfectly, flexing with my movement rather than falling over my eyes, while the ultra-lightweight material allows me to clearly hear my hiking buddy (I’d happily choose heavy fabric to drown out the chatter of some people I’ve hiked with, but this company is as lovely as the coat). The hood doesn’t detach but this is no problem at all as, made from such light material, it sits perfectly when not ‘up’, without pulling heavily on the neck as some jacket hoods do.
Other features include an internal powder skirt, as you’d expect of a ski jacket, and an avalanche rescue reflector, which I’ll be glad of when we do finally get back onto those bleak mountains. The cuffs also have sturdy adjustment tabs which, along with the drawcord hem and hood, make the High Exposure remarkably fitted, with no crevices allowing water ingress.
The zip is a little thin and I’ll be interested to see how it stands up over time, but this jacket really is the ultimate top layer. With just a tee and a thin sweater on underneath, I’m as warm as I’m dry, yet there’s easily enough room for a thicker winter coat under the High Exposure when winter really bites. Retailing at £450, it’s certainly an investment, but one which serious hikers and skiers – not to mention waterfall chasers – will be glad to make.