By BENJAMIN ROMAN
Cold, harsh environments can offer great opportunities for adventure — and some of nature’s most stunning beauty. Now imagine enjoying the cold without the bulk and hassle of Michelin-Man clothing layers. A recent winter trip to Vermont was the perfect test for the sleek Mountain Hardwear Compressor PL jacket ($170, www.mountainHardwear.com).
If a cold-weather jacket doesn’t insulate well, other nifty features are pointless. Fortunately, the Compressor PL delivers serious warmth. Walking around on a windy, 20-degree evening I actually needed to unzip the neck for some ventilation. The superlight, DWR-coated ripstop shell keeps the Compressor completely windproof, and keeps overall weight to just 15 ounces.
Mountain Hardwear Compressor PL
With no pit vents and almost zero breathability, however, this jacket is best for cold-weather, no-sweat activities like slow approaches or belaying. The only drawbacks of the slick windproof fabric were occasional zipper snags and a slippery surface for backpack straps.
A few key details elevate the Compressor PL beyond other, more basic competitors. The PrimaLoft One insulation works even when wet (something goose down can’t do) and it gives extraordinarily packability — my size large squishes into a Nalgene-bottle-size roll. An internal pocket is great for secure stowage or temperature-sensitive items like electronics. Zippered fleece handwarmer pockets and a chamois-lined chin provide comfort. Velcro cuffs along with pullcords at the neck and hem effectively seal out the cold.
The Compressor PL is best paired with a shell layer for extreme cold or for rugged use like climbing. The fabric that makes this jacket so compressible lacks the abrasion resistance to survive thick brush or exposed rock. And a warning for you winter campers: The fabric isn’t flame resistant, so a single campfire cinder can quickly melt a huge hole in your jacket.
The bottom line: An excellent synthetic layer for very cold weather, with key features and minimal bulk.
—Contributor Benjamin Roman is a writer and design consultant from Venice, Calif.