A specialized softshell, the Alchemy is highly weather resistant jacket designed for climbers.
Using a log and the highly water resistant MHW Alchemy to make it over a treacherous stream crossing.
The very weatherproof material that makes up this jacket is slightly less breathable and flexible than other softshell materials we have tested. This piece seems to hedge the line between hardshell and softshell. It doesn't fully protect in a downpour like a hardshell, and likewise it isn't breathable in the easy way that is expected from most softshells. To help with the lowered breathability of the material, the two chest pockets are mesh-lined and can be used as core vents if left unzipped.
Made from Dry Q Elite, Mountain Hardwear claims this jacket to be windproof and waterproof. We find that is is highly weather resistant, but we wouldn't choose to wear this jacket in a rainstorm in place of a hardshell. It takes longer to wet out than most of the other jackets we tested, and will keep the wearer dry, comfortable, and moving longer.
The author leading Horsetail Falls outside of Ouray, CO. The Dry Q Elite fabric that makes up the MHW Alchemy is windproof and highly water resistant, making it an excellent shell for alpine ice climbing. It repels weather well but is a little more flexible and breathable than a hardshell, though it is less breathable and flexible than other softshells we tested.
This jacket doesn't lift up much when the arms are raised, it fits and moves well. It feels slightly stiffer and less flexible than the supple Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody - Women's, but overall is designed well for movement.
At 1.24 lbs, this jacket is fairly lightweight for all the useful features it includes. It is not too heavy or cumbersome and feels plenty lightweight when wearing.
The Alchemy is designed with the needs of climbers in mind. It forgoes hand pockets in favor of cross-over chest pockets that do not interfere with a harness or pack waist belt, and instead remain accessible. It has a roomy, helmet compatible hood that can be worn with a climbing helmet. There is an interior drop-in pocket to stash extras such as gloves and an interior zip pocket for the important things like car keys that cannot be lost. The sleeve cuffs are adjustable with a velcro tab, allowing comfort with gloves. And finally, the main zipper is waterproof and two-way, which can be handy when wearing a harness.
The two check pockets are protected with waterproof zippers, the same as the main front zipper. These pockets are easy to access while wearing a harness or a backpack, and it one of the main features that tailors this shell to climbing.
The Alchemy has the techy look that most climbing specific wear has. We like the color options and the tailored fit. Our main complaint with this jacket is that we wish the hemline were longer. As it is, it barely stays underneath a harness when arms are raised. This is a very important feature, especially for a shell that is intended to be used climbing. An inch or two of increased length would go a long way in improving this jacket.
Due to the climber-oriented details, this jacket is made for ice climbing and mountaineering. None of these features are particularly cumbersome for other activities, so it could be used for other outdoor adventures, but it is most at home in the vertical world.
McKenzie Long leading up Horsetail Falls outside of Ouray, CO while wearing the Mountain Hardwear Alchemy. This jacket has all the features that make it ideal for ice climbing: a large, helmet compatible hood, two cross-over chest pockets that do not interfere with a harness, adjustable cuffs, and excellent weather resistance.
At $395, this is the most expensive jacket in our review, costing even more than the versatile Editors' Choice winner, the Gamma MX Hoody. We are not sure that the Alchemy is worth the expense. It performs well for ice climbers.
The Alchemy is an excellent jacket for ice climbing, but it is not our favorite softshell for even this specific application. We don't have many complaints, but we also don't have things to gush over. This is a highly weather resistant jacket for climbers, and it will work better for climbers than most other softshells on the market that tend to have more generalized features.