It's no secret that Mountain Hardwear has long been one of my favorite outdoor brands. I've always appreciated their no-nonsense approach to making great gear for use in some of the most extreme environments on the planet, and over the year's I've come to rely on the company's commitment to quality and performance. But, as the company grew and found more mainstream success, it also seemed to lose some of its focus. Its products were never out-right bad, but they for a time Mountain Hardwear was no longer delivering top-notch, cutting edge products that we'd all grown accustomed to seeing from them. By their own admission, the company got a bit complacent, which is not something that sits well with its core customers.

Thankfully, that era seems to be a thing of the past, and MH is currently in the process of righting the ship and getting back to the basics that made it such an innovative brand. As a result, over the past six months or so, it has been releasing some fantastic products, including the Dragon hoody I reviewed a few weeks back, and the awesome new StretchDown Jacket that has broken new ground. Better yet, I've seen a glimpse of things to come from Mountain Hardwear, and I can promise you the company has some amazing things in the pipeline for next spring and beyond.

But, if you're looking for something in their current catalog that stands out as a great piece of performance apparel, look no further than the 32 Degree Insulated Hooded Jacket. It is an exceptional piece of gear designed to keep you warm and moving fast on the trail, that also happens to be priced great too. This high-performance soft shell carries a price tag of just $130, making it extremely affordable, even for those of us who have never worn any of Mountain Hardwear's clothing before.

Weighing in at a mere 9 ounces (255 grams), the 32 Degree jacket is meant to be a lightweight option for skiing, snowboarding, winter trail running, or backpacking and hiking. Insulated with Mountain Hardwear's very own proprietary Thermal.Q Elite synthetic materials, it can keep you warm and comfortable on the trail, even when the temperature starts to plunge or precipitation begins to fall.

That said, it should be pointed out that this jacket is not waterproof, and although it does offer solid protection from the elements, it isn't the best option for wearing in a steady rainfall. Instead, it is a lightweight option for those active days out when you want to move fast and light. The cut and design of the jacket is meant to conform to the body nicely, providing warmth without hindering motion in anyway. I've found that it does exactly that, allowing me to move well while running, hiking, mountain biking, and climbing. For me, there is nothing worse than having my range of motion inhibited, but thankfully that isn't a compromise I have to make here.

One of the more interesting design elements for the 32 Degree jacket is its body-mapped insulation, which distributes it to places on the jacket where it is most needed. In this case, most of that insulation has been placed on the chest area to help keep your core warm while outdoors. That leaves the sleeves and lower half of the jacket with less insulation, allowing those parts of the body to breath more and vent out heat and sweat in the process. As a result, you tend to stay drier – and thereby warmer – when wearing this hoody in your active pursuits. The placement of the insulation also comes in handy afterwards, which is often when a chill can set in.

While this jacket obviously performs very well on its own, I've also used it as part of a layering system as well, and found that it works great in that capacity too. Throw a shell over the top, and you suddenly add water and wind-proofing to the mix. Add a baselayer underneath, and you're truly set for cold and inclement weather. This level of versatility makes it a great option for just about any outdoor pursuits, as well as a good choice for adventure travel too. And since it is so lightweight and thin, it won't take up much room in your luggage either.

As mentioned, one of the true strengths of this jacket is its price. You'll be hard pressed to find so much performance out of a jacket that is this affordable. The fact that it has the Mountain Hardwear logo on the chest tells you that you can expect durability and quality as well, which means it will be a garment that you'll be able to take with you on many future adventures. It also happens to be a great holiday gift for that outdoor enthusiast on your list.

Find out more at MountainHardwear.com.
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