If you’ve noticed a buzz this season on any new winter shell jacket for the backcountry, it’s likely been for The North Face Kishtwar Jacket. Both Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure gave the jacket a “Gear of the Year” award already, and the Polartec-based piece is undoubtedly a flashpoint at retailers across the country.
Why the attention? The secret sauce is Polartec’s new Power Shield Pro, a softshell fabric used on the Kishtwar that gets about as close as anything available to making the “waterproof-breathable” theory really work. I tested the Kishtwar Jacket for a couple months last winter. I also wrote the Buyer’s Guide section for Outside magazine where the jacket received its award. After a lot of use, I am a solid fan.
Power Shield Pro breathes dang well — better than any hardshell you will find. It’s also about 95 percent waterproof. In a crapstorm with sleet and wind, or in relentless rain, moisture will eventually find its way into the Kishtwar shell. It is not seam taped either, meaning its stitched areas are potentially vulnerable.
But the new Power Shield Pro fabric is good enough for almost any winter day. Snow just bounces off. Water beads on the fabric face. It’s pretty windproof, too. And did I mention it breathes? The Kishtwar won out over other jackets in my Outside article because it was among the most breathable jackets I’ve ever put on my back.
But how does the fabric work, you may ask. As Polartec puts it, Power Shield Pro fabric allows for a higher rate of air permeability (for breathability) while maintaining water resistance. It has a “hydrophobic, microporous” polyurethane membrane to stop water from coming in, though still letting moisture flow out.
At $279, the Kishtwar Jacket’s price tag is fair. It weighs about 21 ounces — light and packable. The fit is close, but the fabric has great stretch, moving with you as you climb, run, or pole plant in the snow. The overall design, including three pockets and a hood, is skimmed-down and just right. No overkill, no redundancies.
Side note: A sister jacket to the Kishtwar is 66 North’s Vatnajökull Softshell. Like the North Face jacket, 66 North’s offering is made with Power Shield Pro. I tested it on an all-day climb that went from sunshine to rain to snow, and then back again. We ascended for more than five hours on the peak, and the temps swung. But the Vatnajökull Softshell breathed great, allowing me to keep it on and not de-layer for most of the day.
In a recent press release, Philip Hamilton, a VP at The North Face, is quoted saying that until now often a buyer “had to choose between breathability and protection.” Hamilton presents the Kishtwar as a first-of-its-kind jacket that offers both advantages.
Indeed, both the Kishtwar and the Vatnajökull Softshell look and act like hardshells — except they breathe much better. They have alpine-parka cuts, smart and minimal design, tech hoods, waterproof YKK zippers (Vatnajökull only), and the thin breathable Polartec fabric that holds its own against common hardshells — and even GORE-TEX — in most all conditions you can find outside.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.