This is the first review in the midweight softshell series. Click here and scroll down to see the intro.
I have had an Astron Hooded Jacket from Mountain Equipment for 2 years and it’s the reason I decided to increase our offering of this type of garment. For 3 seasons of the year I use it so much that I think most people would do well to have a midweight softshell.
The Astron Hooded Jacket uses 2 Polartec fabrics, Powershield Lite and Powerstretch.
Powershield (in all its variants) has a smooth and durable nylon face fabric with a DWR (durable water repellency) coating combined with a perforated PTFE membrane. The membrane is much like one used in a waterproof fabric but perforated to allow better movement of heat and moisture through the membrane but this happens in both directions so it is not a waterproof fabric. Powershield is available in several weights. Powershield Lite is the lightest and least insulating of the Powershield variants, using a light flexible outer face fabric and a soft brushed lining.
Powerstretch is a non membrane fleece fabric with a smooth outer and brushed inner. Powerstretch has fantastic moisture transfer abilities plus great stretch and durability. It is way superior to microfleece and used to make both panels and complete garments by many manufacturers.
The Astron Hooded Jacket is primarily made of Powershield Lite but uses Powerstretch panels under the arms and on the trunk to increase breathability, improve freedom of movement and reduce weight. The underarm panels are quite large and extend over part of the shoulder blades on the back , over the triceps on the back of the arms and are a good width down the sides of the trunk.
As the Astron is an active piece, these panels do a great job of allowing heat and moisture out of the jacket at an even faster rate than the perforated membrane. I have done a lot of winter running in the Lakes in my Astron and have never found it sweaty to wear. However breathability is always a two way street in winter and in a cold and biting cross wind the Astron is not particularly insulating for a membraned jacket.
The Astron had a great hood with a soft wired short peak and an elasticated volume adjuster. This does a great job of keeping the hood on your head even facing into a strong wind. Tethered adjusters on the front of your hood allow you to really cinch it down. The hood is helmet compatible and could be worn under or over the helmet. The hood can be rolled and tabbed down when not in use. 2 pack friendly pockets with long zips also serve as venting options on the sides of the jacket. Venting pockets are all well and good except that if you keep stuff in your pockets then you can’t use them as vents. As pockets they are a good size and easy to operate. Double adjuster elasticated hem and elasticated cuffs complete the jacket. Elasticated cuffs divide people like marmite, so big gloves must be gauntlet not under the cuff style. All liner gloves are fine under the cuff.
The Astron is the lightest jacket in the test (by 20%), because of the Powershield Lite and Powerstretch. As well as being light the Astron is the most flexible and packable in the test but consequently not the most protective softshell jacket. In cold conditions you need to choose your base layer carefully, a merino half zip top works particularly well. For those who wish to use a softshell for a high proportion of Scottish and Alpine winter work then the Astron might not be protective enough and you would do better with one of the full Powershield jackets but this is very subjective. I am looking forward to running in one of the full Powershield jackets to see how breathable they are.
I have done a lot of running, climbing, walking and biking in my Astron for 2 years and not always washed it correctly but it’s still doing a great job for me and really standing the test of time. As I test the other jackets and review my experiences I realise that I have had a few cold days in the Astron as I am also a bit too minimalist sometimes, but if you run warm to hot then the Astron is a good choice.