The Mountain Hardwear Dragon is a heavier softshell that has an extended, hip-length cut, roomy torso for layering underneath, and long sleeves. Those with shorter arms or bodies may find the Dragon too spacious, but most will experience exceptional mobility, the ability to put base layers on smoothly, and that the large hood and extended waist provide significant protection in harsh weather conditions. This is a jacket that we would take to go ice climbing or ski touring in the middle of winter, not rock climbing or mountain biking mid-summer. The heavy material used does not breathe as well as lighter jackets, like our Top Pick for Climbing Rab Torque.
Mountain Hardwear Dragon Hooded Review
Cons: Heavy, not as breathable
Manufacturer: Mountain Hardwear
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mountain Hardwear Dragon represents the heavier side of the softshell world. This hooded model is a workhorse that gives excellent protection when serious weather is on the horizon. It also includes well thought out features that make it useful when climbing or skiing. It is not the most versatile contender we tested, but its performance in winter conditions make it a solid choice.
The Dragon delivered top-notch weather protection through its 3-layer AirShield fabric, which provides a durable layer in between you and the elements due to its inner membrane. Capable of withstanding heavy winds, snow, and even moderate precipitation, the Dragon resisted wetting out in our shower test, and gave the best coverage of any of the softshells that we tested, thanks to its spacious hood. The hood can accommodate ski helmets with ease, and its long hem (that easily slips under a harness) keeps drafty winds and snow from getting in.
The dense Apex Bionic 2 resisted water for almost as long, due to a thick DWR coating, but this jacket did not shine in other metrics. We liked the stiffened brim on the hood, which allows snow and water to shed more efficiently, providing extra face protection. The wrist cuffs have Velcro closures and can seal out cold winds whether wearing gloves or not, which is an improvement over the wrist gaskets that the Arcteryx Gamma MX uses.
Breathability is an important concern, as it's one of their key attributes. The Dragon suffered from breathability issues in highly aerobic activities like cross-country skiing and biking, though these activities are not exactly the intention for this model. The Dragon is best suited for lower output activity in nasty weather or cold temperatures and excels in ice climbing, ski touring, resort skiing and the like. We see a trade-off between breathability and weather protection and are willing to sacrifice some of the former to gain more of the latter, especially when the forecast looks daunting.
The Dragon jacket uses a fabric Mountain Hardwear calls AirShield and is a predominantly polyester blend. Also featured is a lighter, stretchier fabric called Chockstone, which has been used in high wear areas like the waist, where a climbing harness or backpack hip belt would sit. Between the ample sizing and the excellent stretch of the AirShield/Chockstone fabrics, we could move around without any noticeable restriction, despite the jacket being one of the heaviest we tested.
During the stretch test, we did not notice any cuff drop while grabbing above our heads. While reaching up for climbing hold or searching for an ice tool placement, we noted a 2.5-inch rise in the hem, which with the longer than average cut, still kept the jacket securely tucked under the harness, unlike shorter cut coats like the Outdoor Ascendent Hoody.
The Dragon weighs in at 1.6 pounds, tying The North Face Apex Bionic 2 for heaviest softshell in this review. That makes it twice as heavy as the featherweight Outdoor Research Ferrosi, but with that weight penalty, you get some of the best weather protection you can find in a softshell jacket. This makes it a niche piece, best suited for colder climates, where the thick and durable material will show itself to be superior over lighter models.
Mountain Hardwear pulled out all the stops in designing the Dragon. It's apparent that they consulted alpine and ice climbers for input, making sure they didn't leave anything out that would enhance this jacket's performance in extreme environments. With a full-size hood that has 3-way adjustability and a stiff brim to keep snow out of the face when the wind is whipping, the Dragon provides stiff competition to the Top Pick for Climbing, the Rab Torque.
Two handwarmer pockets and a single chest pocket give lots of storage options outside. Inside, a zippered pocket and twin drop-in pockets provide a place to stash extra gloves or a hot water bottle for those cold days at the ice climbing venue. This is also only one of two jackets to utilize a 2-way zipper, which is a nice feature when using a climbing harness.
The Dragon jacket qualifies as an alpine climbing garment and does not go out of its way to hide the fact. With an oversized hood, offset zipper colors, and duo-color fabric design, it looks much better in the mountains than in casual or urban settings. The larger cut gives it a baggier look when worn on top of a single thin base layer, unlike the more form fitted Arcteryx Gamma MX, but the extra space was appreciated when we layered a light insulated jacket underneath on cold days.
Cold weather, gusty north winds, and 70% chance of snow showers after 11; looks like a weather forecast that ice climbers, mountaineers, and skiers might see all too often. The Dragon keeps the weather at bay and ensures you stay warm and dry in harsh conditions. Despite a heavier weight and a baggier style than other jackets, this is one that we recommend to those pushing the limits, no matter what the sky is throwing at you.
With a suggested retail price of $225, this jacket is a great value. It is not an inexpensive price when compared to others in this review, but when pitted against similar heavyweight softshell jackets with the same protection offered, this one comes in at an affordable price.
While the Mountain Hardwear Dragon jacket is not the most breathable, or the lightest that we featured in our review, it is without a doubt the most capable in the face of serious weather. While other softshells might wet out, the Dragon keeps on trucking through cold wind and snow, allowing you to keep the objective in your sights and not worry about failing garments when in full-on conditions.
— Ryan Huetter