North by Northeast

Review: Mountain Hardwear Synchro Softshell Jacket
4 February, 2007, 7:01 pm
Filed under: outdoors, reviews

4 of 5 Stars. Recommended for an active shell without a hood.

Feb 1, 2007 by

Brian Christiansen

photo of 'Mountain Hardwear Synchro Jacket'

★★★★☆ [prologue: The formatting is a little odd here because this was preformatted by hReview Creator. ]

At the end of December, I had the good fortune to get a couple of Eastern Mountain Sports gift certificates. With those I decided I needed an alternative to my long loved LL Bean XCR GoreTex hard shell which has served me well over the last five years. The shell is great, although it’s time to clean and retreat it, and has weathered some serious downpours, and it’s three layers of GoreTex have kept me bone dry, while keeping me reasonably comfortable internally. It did have some downsides, though. One being that it has no thermal qualities of its own, so if I wanted a shell, but it was mid-fall, I’d have to put a thin fleece underneath. So I’d be wearing two jackets. If it’s crazy cold and windy out, the shell plus my LL Bean PrimaLoft jacket underneath make for a formidable, if bulky, combination. But frigid and windy is currently the exception weather-wise in Massachusetts. Drawback number two is that the hardshell is noisy. Any form of movement would ruffle the sails, and it would amplify if the hood was up.

So, despite the years of dedicated service of this excellent shell, I needed something a little more appropriate for everyday use. I had heard that soft-shells offered comparable performance with few drawbacks. So I trotted down to EMS with my gift certificates in hand to find a black, hoodless softshell suitable for everyday use, perhaps winter on-bike use, and as an option for any cool weather sport (usually hiking).

EMS carried exactly one softshell, all black jacket. Luckily for me, it was just what the doctor ordered. I’d always wanted a Mountain Hardware product, but damn, traditionally, they’re wicked expensive. One main reason I’ve had two LL Bean jackets for serious winter use is because (although not all their products are the best value) these have had tremendous quality for the dollar. I paid $180 for the Syncro, and thus far, I believe the jacket is worth the money.

First, build quality is top notch. The fit and finish are the best of any jacket I’ve ever owned. Lots of small touches that show the designers really like what they do. The best of which is the cuffs, which have an extra fleece insert at the end which serve to make a better, windproof seal between your gloves and jacket. It works well, and is very comfortable. Additionally, the zippers are all tightly sealed. In fact, I hope they break in a little bit, the breast pocket and the shoulder pockets are actually a little difficult to operate.

The best feature, however, it the microfleece liner. The layer first serves to give a velvet-y feel to the inside, which you appreciate each time you slide the jacket on. It never feels cold when you put it on, like a hard shell. But, the real benefit is that you can use the shell as your only insulation layer down well into the 20°s. Well, if you’re just getting in and out of the car during your commute, or walking the dog for 10 minutes. The weight of the fleece is about what a microfiber fleece shirt would be. Thinner than any standalone fleece jacket would be. Another benefit of the microfleece is humidity control. The jacket breathes very well. I took a bike ride in 40° with a very strong mist and my arms and core were very impressed. I was wearing wicking poly t-shirt, and a merino wool midweight cycling jersey underneath. I was not wearing enough on my lower half, though 😦

Speaking of rain, the water beaded right up and none got through. I had my cellphone in my breast pocket and it stayed dry.

This brings us to the downsides. Here’s why this jacket, despite receiving my endorsement, doesn’t get five stars. I mentioned already that the zippers on two of the five outside zippers are too tight. Not a big deal and I’d rather have them tight and more resistant to water than the reverse. Speaking of pockets, a few more bones to pick there. the shoulder pocket… what the hell is that for? Holding a pack of gum? The hand pockets on the side are large and swallow a great amount of cargo. I’m very picky about how cargo sits in pockets. People who know me well know I can’t stand to keep anything in normal pants pockets. That means lots of stuff into the jacket. The side pockets hold that well, but when you put your hands into them, the cut seems odd. The end of the mouth cuts into your forearm. I can’t decide whether that’s supportive or just uncomfortable.

Other criticisms include the neck closure. The back of the neck doesn’t like to stay all the way up, and I think it’s because there’s a cinching cord there with a spring-loaded pincher there. I’m not sure why there is a cinch cord on the neck on this type of jacket. Not a big deal, just a little annoyance. If I could add one feature, I’d have the cut in the back and possibly the front with a longer flap. For me, I want to use this on the back and what would make this a cycling jacket would be a much longer back, to cover my back to my tailbone while I’m hunched over. If I could add two features, I’d add armpit zips vents. I have and appreciate these on my hardshell.

In conclusion, I’ve wanted a Mountain Hardwear product for a while now, and I have not been disappointed with the Synchro jacket. I’ve been curious about softshells, and now I’d recommend them. I’m a little worried about future upkeep, but that remains to be seen. I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to detail, and am a big fan of the microfleece liner. I’d recommend this product and feel it’s fairly priced, but not a jaw-dropping value.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’ve been looking over your site and I am really impressed! I like what you write about and hope to have a site this well organized! I’m gonna blogroll you if you don’t mind! If you do you can email me at

Comment by slashpastor

Hi Im wondering where can I buy softshell fabric?

Comment by Tara

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