A good hardshell is an important part of anyone’s backcountry kit. Even if you keep it in your pack most of the time, when a storm hits, or you have the misfortune of something like PNW rain, having a solid layer between you and the elements is essential. Outdoor Research Mentor fits the bill.
I used my Outdoor Research Motto Jacket for years. This is a softshell by name, but sheds rain along with the best hardshells, breathes better, and has the relaxed fit I like in my clothing. After about a thousand days of use my Motto finally wore out. While it did work, at 32 ounces the Motto is heavy for a backcountry shell. Figuring I needed a lightweight, stormproof jacket, I decided to try out the Outdoor Research Mentor. Combined with a light Polartec softshell, Mentor is only slightly heavier than the Motto by itself, and offers more versatility.
The Mentor is OR’s top of the line hardshell, which is reflected in the price. You get what you pay for however, with superb construction and nice materials. Plenty of attention is payed to details such as laminated seams. The Mentor is made completely out of Gore-Tex Proshell fabric, yet keeps the weight fairly low at 17 oz. I have a lighter Paclite shell as well, but 17 oz seems to be about the magic number for a full on storm shell.
I’ve used the Mentor for about four months, mostly as a shell to throw on for the ski down, although I’ve used it for the ascent during a few cold occasions. One of the big factors in any kind of clothing is the fit, and OR stuff fits me well. I like a jacket that has a long torso, so wind and snow has a harder time finding its way under the hem. The collar on the Mentor is also nice and tall, so you can hunker down in it and protect most of your face from the wind. As far as breathability goes, I get warm while I’m skinning, so I hardly ever wear a shell on the way up. The ample pit zips allow you to dump tons of heat, and on the few cold days when I have worn it skinning, it worked well. Indeed, this isn’t a review of Gore-Tex Proshell, but let me testify, the stuff works.
I carry quite a collection in my pockets when I’m touring, so pockets are a important feature of a jacket to me. The Mentor has two exterior pockets, and two interior pockets. These are all thoughtfully positioned above where a pack hip-belt goes (wow, what a concept). The pit zips of the jacket extend all the way from the upper arm to the hem of the jacket. These work great for cooling off, but I’ve also found they work great for accessing the pockets of whatever I’m wearing underneath without removing the jacket.
Mentor has a humongous hood to fit over a ski helmet. This is useful for adding warmth when wearing a helmet (and of course essential in dangerous weather), however if I try to wear the hood without a helmet the front goes down to my chin and is difficult to configure so it stays above my eyes — great for warmth, not so good for seeing where I’m going (something I enjoy). As on most other jackets, I’ve found the hood adjustments on the Mentor too fiddly to use in cold weather with gloves. Minor gripe I know, but this is the only thing I don’t really like about the jacket.
Of course choosing ski clothing involves personal fit and preference, and there are dozens of terrific 17 ounce storm shells out there. I love nearly every thing about the OR Mentor jacket. It has many features I like in a jacket, and nothing I feel is unnecessary.