Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Completely waterproof, highly breathable, comfortable hood.
Cons: Restricting fit, low pockets.
Best Uses: Backcountry skiing, ice and alpine climbing.
The Mountain Hardwear Kepler has been discontinued. See our comprehensive Softshell Jacket Review to compare all of the models we've tested. The Kepler's original text has been left intact in case you find on sale somewhere.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Mountain Hardwear is transitioning to Dry Q for all waterproof and windproof garments. Like Gore-Tex, Dry Q is a family of fabrics that comes in different varieties with various water repellencies and breathabilities. The Kepler uses Dry Q Elite, a completely waterproof three-layer material. All seams are line-bonded and taped. (Sonically welded seams eliminate stitching and create a smooth and flat seam that's more abrasion resistant.) Mountain Hardwear has spent over a year developing Dry Q Elite. They claim that the fabric does what none other has done before: start breathing the instant you put it on. Wearing a jacket, sweater, or shirt of any kind creates a mircroclimate around your upper body. Most soft and hardshells require an increase in temperature and moisture before they can begin to wick. Dry Q claims to be air permeable, thereby breathing from the moment you put the jacket on to the moment you take it off. This keeps your body temperature more balanced and, to some degree, prevents the overheating-cold-sweat-evaporating cycles we're all too familiar with. After several months of testing we found that Dry Q breathes better than Gore-Tex Pro Shell, but the difference is far from astonishing.
The Kepler has several well-designed features. There are two hand warmer pockets, a chest pocket, an interior zip pocket, and thumb loops. All of the exterior zippers, including the pit zips, are watertight. The hood is superbly comfortable and accommodates a helmet better than the majority of other the softshells we've tested. We especially like how the hood adjusts. As with most good jackets, it cinches in three places (two on the front and one in the back). The Kepler hides the two front cinchers, which are wider and flatter than others (easier to loosen), in the collar material. This prevents them from scratching your face and looks better. Of the 16 softshells we've tested, the Kepler has the best hood adjustment system. Other companies could learn from it.
The Dry Q Elite used in the Kepler feels much more like a hardshell than a softshell, although it's much lighter and softer than the Dry Q Elite used in the company's Victorio harshell. The jacket is very much a shell; it has no insulation, although a brushed mesh front (for the pockets) does add some warmth. Next to the heavier and less breathable Fly Low Higgins, the Kepler is the second most bombproof softshell we've reviewed.
While we're impressed with Dry Q, and think Mountain Hardwear aced the Kepler's hood, we're disappointed with the jacket's fit. The first thing we noticed was that the arms are short (even in a large they are short when compared to the other softshells in medium). The thumb loops are well-sized, but sharp and uncomfortable. The short arms make them particularly painful. (We ripped part of the thump loops when we first put the jacket on.) We suggest that the thumb loops be removed or made larger. The cuff opening should also be larger. One tester, a Ski Patroller at Heavenly, found the cuffs to be too tight to look at his watch!! This is a problem.
Like some of softhsells tested here, the Kepler is restricting under the arms. A large diameter sleeve (to accommodate a variety of body types) under the armpit lifts the jacket when you lift your arms. We'd like to see Mountain Hardwear improve the jacket's performance by reducing the distance between the bottom and top of the arm openings. We could hold our arms out at a 90-degree angle, but raising them above that lifted the jacket out and up a measured seven inches! This is problematic because 1) it exposes your waist to the elements, and 2) it takes extra energy to lift the jacket each time you lift your arms. This is especially problematic because the Kepler is designed for ice and alpine climbing, where your arms are above your head for extended times.
The most blatant error in the Kepler's design is the low placement of the hand warmer pockets. Although Mountain Hardwear states "Chest-high pockets accommodate a harness or pack," these lie only three inches above the bottom hem and are completely covered by a backpack's hip belt. This oversight severely limits access to pockets and nearly makes the jacket more appropriate for alpine skiing than for climbing.
A final complaint. The internal zippered pocket lies low in the jacket, forcing you to unzip it nearly to the bottom (which let's cold air in). This pocket should be moved up as high as possible.
The Kepler is the second most expensive softshell we've tested. We don't believe it's a good value.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 13, 2013
Credit: Mountain Hardwear
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