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Mountain Hardwear Heliark Jacket

rated 5.0 of 5 stars

The Heliark Jacket has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best soft shell jackets for 2022.

photo: Mountain Hardwear Heliark Jacket soft shell jacket

Bought this jacket a year ago for late fall, winter, and early spring hiking, biking, and backpacking in the North East. It changed my attitude towards soft shells. I have a hard shell (Gore-tex XCR) and a three layer winter system (shell, insulation, baselayer). But they were too bulky and for short active outdoors activities I needed something that fits better and I don't have to think about all the layering.

I did my research for about six months to make up my mind about the Heliark. I considered a light shell with a light fleece/microfleece under it. Tried at least seven different soft shells from different manufacturers. But, I liked the Heliark the best.

To understand soft shells and what it can offer for my outdoors needs I have tried seven soft shells from seven different makers with different materials and fit. Here is the list:

1. Mountain Hardwear Heliark (windstopper laminate/fabric)
2. Cloudveil Prospector (inertia)
3. Mammut New Age (schoeller dryskin or dynamic could not remember)
4. Sierra Design's Black Ice (barricade)
5. Marmot ATV
6. Mountain Hardwear Vertex (windstopper lighter weight than heliark)
7. Moonstone Gendarme (stretch woven nylon, may be murcary, not sure)

I run a bit colder than some of my fellow hikers/backpackers I hike with. So, I usually prefer a little more warmth than others when buying cold weather gear/clothing. When I was in the market for a soft shell I had some set priorities: fit, flexibility, durability, weather protection and price. I tried the above jackets in different stores and finally purchased three of them so that I can try them on for a while and make sure that I got what I wanted. Eventually, when I made my decision I returned the other two.

My first picks were the Heliark, Vertex, and the New Age. The ones that I decided not to buy and try it for longer period were decent products but they did not make the final cut for different reasons: almost no insulation, only good for very mild weather like northeast summer (Prospector), too stiff (Marmot ATV), cut too short (SD Black Ice), I liked the Gendarme and bought it on a different occasion when it went on a deepper discount.

Note: I have not tried the Arc'teryx jackets because I could not find any at a decent sale within my budget.

Deciding among the three that I have bought and tried on was a difficult one. Each shined in its own way and fit my priorities. Vertex was perfect fit for my body. It moved with me like a dream. It was cut little shorter than the other two but the stretchy fabric and comfort factor was very difficult to pass up. The New Age was also pretty stretchy but not like the Vertex. It had nice panel construction and very breathable fabric. Though its water repellency was a questionable, but that could just be the DWR. But, I did not want to take any chances. Also, the collar was a bit funny, too constricting I guess.

Then the Heliark, while heavier than the other two, it was the most perfect fit for me. Although it was not as stretchy as Vertex, it provided a little more insulation, protection and abrasion resistance. It also had a longer cut, which fit me better. The welded hand warmer pockets and main zips kept the wind out. The draw cord cinch at the neck helped keeping the wind out in gusty winter days. The sleeves did not have any Velcro closer, but the design was so effective that they closed at my wrist very nicely. The sleeves (or the hem) did not rise up during my bike rides, climbing efforts, and general hiking.

The best feature of this jacket was that they had pit zips. I did not really want pit zips in a soft shell, but these pit zips were welded and so light that I did not notice they were there. But, during high activity I opened the zips up and that took care of the breathability factor more efficiently than anything else.

I have used it in pretty rough condition for a year (except for the summer. I use a light rain jacket during summer). The jacket still looks new. I have started using it since the fall weather started setting in in this part of the country. I noticed that I rarely wear my 3-layer hard shell any more, so I don’t really have to deal with all that layering (base layer, bulky fleece, and a floopy hard shell).

The Mountain Hardwear Heliark made me a soft shell convert.

Fabric: Gore windstopper
Price Paid: $149

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Price Historic Range: $149.95
Reviewers Paid: $149.00

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