Hyperlite Mountain Gear Shell hands-on review

Trek confidently rain or shine in the Shell, a tough, technical ultralight jacket

The Shell raises the bar for waterproof apparel.
The Shell raises the bar for waterproof apparel.
The Shell raises the bar for waterproof apparel.

Highs

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Performance fit
  • Features a helmet-compatible hood

Lows

  • No pit zips
  • Has a shock cord design

Dyneema has taken the outdoor industry by storm, infiltrating all categories of outdoor gear. It’s frequently utilized by major climbing equipment brands and successfully crossed over into backpack and shelter product lines, as well. The fabric’s extremely lightweight composition is paired with a weight-for-weight ratio 15 times stronger than steel. Now, Hyperlite Mountain Gear incorporated Dyneema into apparel with the release of The Shell — an ultralight technical jacket.

Straying from Tradition

The history of waterproof apparel dates back to ancient times when people used seal and whale intestines to keep rain out while allowing sweat vapor to escape. Over the centuries, more technically advanced options were made available, including waxed cotton and vinyl. When Gore-Tex entered the scene in 1969, rainwear was forever revolutionized.

Amanda Ellis/Digital Trends

Gore-Tex is a thin fluoropolymer membrane which repels water droplets while allowing moisture to pass through as a vapor. The outer layer is coated with DWR (durable water repellent) which maintains the product’s breathability by preventing the fabric from soaking up water.

The membrane is tucked between outer and inner layers to provide for increased durability and next-to-skin comfort. Perhaps the lone downside to Gore-Tex is its DWR coating wears off over time, requiring re-application – it’s also relatively heavy. Gore-Tex has been the last major advancement in rain gear. Until now.

“Finding a jacket that is waterproof yet ultralight and durable is the Holy Grail for outdoor folk.”

Enter The Shell. Hyperlite Mountain Gear worked closely with Dyneema to create a highly durable, waterproof breathable fabric. Known as Dyneema Composite Fabrics with waterproof breathable properties (or DCF-WPB), The Shell raises the bar for waterproof apparel. The jacket incorporates eVent technology and Dyneema together to create air permeable waterproof technology in a lighter weight form than any other material currently on the market.

The jacket weighs between 5.16 and 6.20 ounces, depending on the size. It’s incredibly strong for its weight and doesn’t soak water like its Gore-Tex predecessors.

“Finding a jacket that is waterproof yet ultralight and durable is the Holy Grail for outdoor folk. This versatile jacket meets all those requirements in a compact 5.5 ounces,” stated Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Mark Oates.

A Literal Wonder Fabric

Dyneema, formerly known as Cuben Fiber, is technically identified as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. Its extraordinary strength to weight ratio is coveted by outdoor enthusiasts who require rugged gear designed to endure the challenges of the backcountry. In addition, Dyneema is unbelievably lightweight and completely waterproof. While the tough fiber and composite face fabrics demand skilled labor – for its precision stitching and bonding techniques – Hyperlite Mountain Gear wasted no time figuring out a way to incorporate Dyneema into its apparel.

Digital Trends spoke with the company’s CEO and founder Mike St. Pierre in July 2017, who first hinted that a Dyneema jacket was in the works. A month later, Hyperlite Mountain Gear announced the release of The Shell, touting it as an ultralight technical jacket weighing more than half a pound less than most alternatives on the market.

“Our goal was to design a jacket that was so light and functional that there was no reason not to bring it on every trip,” stated Mike St. Pierre.

First Look

At first glance, The Shell boasts a stylish bright white color complimented with black accents. The jacket is a little crinkly to the touch but smooth and soft on the skin. Its durable appearance is deceiving when considering its featherlight weight. You can pick it up with two fingers and fling it up into the air where it will float for a few seconds before coming back down.

We were amazed at the combined waterproofing and breathability.

There is a single black YKK zipper that runs directly down the center of the jacket, ensuring absolute waterproofing. The jacket includes an adjustable hood with a Polartec Power Dry chin guard and Velcro cuffs. Shock cords decorate the garment where necessary for adjustment purposes, including the bottom hem, and front and rear hood. The helmet-compatible hood features a stiff brim and is ideal for climbers, canyoneers, and skiers.

The jacket compacts down into its own low-profile stuff sack with a waterproof zipper and clip-in point. The Shell is offered in unisex sizing but the performance fit allows for a full range of motion. A more tapered fit might be desirable for some women but the jacket runs true to size. We tested a size small out on a section hike of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina in both sunny and rainy conditions which produced varied temperatures.

Field Performance

When the sun was shining and the temperatures ranged from about 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, The Shell served as an effective windproof layer worn over wool base layers and a light mid layer. When in motion, the jacket provided for excellent breathability and it was only as we conquered a steep uphill section while wearing a twenty-pound backpack did the jacket become too warm to wear. There was a point we began wishing for pit zips but its eVent technology provided effective ventilation comparable to similar Gore-Tex jackets with pit zips.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Shell review
Amanda Ellis/Digital Trends
Amanda Ellis/Digital Trends

When we encountered a downpour that lasted about an hour, The Shell shined. We stayed completely dry through the entire event and never got too hot even as we hiked on in the rain. We were amazed at the combined waterproofing and breathability performance. The jacket expertly repelled water and never soaked into the face fabric, as is common with DWR-treated alternatives. After the downpour ended, The Shell dried quickly.Final Thoughts

The only real downside to the jacket is the design of the shock cords. When tugged on hard enough, the adjustment piece easily pulled off past the buffer ring. This minor design flaw does not impact performance in the least but is something we noticed when tightening the hood.

As we mentioned earlier, pit zips would improve the jacket’s breathability but without them, the performance of the combination eVent and Dyneema technology is still better than comparable Gore-Tex models.

The Shell really stands on its own in wet or dry conditions — serving as an ideal addition to any gear closet or as a replacement rain jacket. This technical piece provides long-lasting performance for all outdoor adventurers including backpackers, packrafters, thru-hikers, climbers, alpinists, and skiers. The best part? Weighing next-to-nothing, you won’t even notice you’re carrying it.