Mountain Hardwear's Viv Jacket proves to be the ultimate backcountry companion. Katie Lozancich photo.
In the outdoor gear and apparel worlds, there are lots of items promising “athlete-driven” or “athlete-influenced” design. After all, athletes are probably the ones that use the gear the hardest, but it’s not always that something is truly designed from the ground up by someone with as much mountain experience as French ski mountaineer and IFMGA-certified mountain guide Vivian Bruchez. Bruchez is pretty picky about his gear, demanding a special combination of everything being as light as possible, but still being extremely functional. He’s the kind of guy who looks at a piece of gear like a backpack or jacket and will remove straps, buckles, or any other kind of excess material in an effort to strip it down to the bare minimum without taking off anything that would be truly useful in the mountains. That’s why Mountain Hardwear chose him to help design their newest ski mountaineering kit – the Viv. This early season, we tested the Viv Jacket, a technical shell that fully embodies Bruchez’s functionally minimalist philosophy. In short, it’s got all the features and relaxed fit of a freeride jacket with a fraction of the weight, giving you everything you need for a big day in the mountains, without anything you don’t.
Gore-Tex Pro is one hell of a material, having set the standard for waterproof/breathable materials for years. It offers the perfect combination of sealing out the elements, letting your sweat escape, and soft feel that makes a garment comfortable to wear. The Viv Jacket outer layer is made entirely of Gore-Tex Pro, while the inside is made of 100 percent recycled nylon. It means this thing will keep out the weather, no matter how hard it’s snowing (or raining), keep your temperature regulated, and the best part: the whole jacket packs down to the size of a small water bottle so you can fit it in your pack when it gets too hot. I’m the kind of person who generally leaves my shell in my pack until it’s time to go down, so I really appreciate how small it packs down.
With smart features and a roomy fit, the Viv Jacket keeps out the elements and makes you re-think the functionality of what a shell jacket can do. Katie Lozancich photos.
Aside from the material choice, the jacket features lots of really useful features, which would normally add up to more weight and less packability, but Bruchez and Mountain Hardwear figured out ways to keep in minimalist. We’re talking vents and pockets in all the right places (including chest pockets for when it comes time to wear a climbing harness), a hole through which one can run headphones or a radio mic, and internal pockets and straps to hang your skins. That’s a feature I didn’t even know I needed, but it’s an awesome way to stash your skins close to your body to keep them from freezing on days with lots of transitions. The jacket also features a Recco reflector, useful in emergency rescue situations.
In terms of fit, I would call it long and pretty baggy. I tested a size L, and I was surprised at how big it was, especially compared to other size L jackets I’ve worn from Mountain Hardwear. That being said, the baggy fit doesn’t seem to get in the way of moving while skinning or skiing, and I actually appreciated the extra length of the jacket for when the snow was really deep – it covers your butt, so you have an extra layer keeping you dry if want to sit down or spend time digging around in a snowpit. There’s also plenty of room to layer underneath. The hood is massive, easily going over any helmet I wore, even with multiple hooded base and mid-layers beneath. There’s no powder skirt, but do those things really work anyway?
The jacket is at home in any situation in the mountains. Katie Lozancich photos.
I spent the majority of the testing period ski touring in both the Tetons and the Cascades, putting it through its paces in all kinds of weather and snow conditions. One thing I noticed the most was how infrequently I took it off. I’m not normally someone who skins up in a shell jacket, but I found myself reluctant to take it off because I didn’t see the point – it’s that breathable. The internal skin carry system is also incredibly useful, though I will say that it was probably designed with Bruchez’s skinny skis in mind and doesn’t quite fit skins for anything over 115mm underfoot.
After spending about a dozen days in the backcountry, touring and bootpacking to test the breathability and durability of the jacket, I’m duly impressed by what Vivian Bruchez and Mountain Hardwear have cooked up. It’s a jacket that I’d grab for any mountain mission, whether it’s a light-and-fast ski tour with technical climbing, lapping waist deep powder in mid-winter, or just going for a post-work fitness lap up the resort. The roomy fit looks great, it comes in a variety of colors to suit anybody’s taste, and it performs better than I could have imagined.
It’s a jacket that I’d grab for any mountain mission, whether it’s a light-and-fast ski tour with technical climbing, lapping waist deep powder in mid-winter, or just going for a post-work fitness lap up the resort. Katie Lozancich photo.
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