Down v. Synthetic
First, the jacket had to be synthetic. While down offers more warmth for the weight, I intended to use my jacket in relatively humid environments, in cold, damp conditions, and in the field for extended periods (a week or more) where it rapidly becomes impossible to keep anything dry. Therefore, I needed synthetic insulation that would keep me warm even if it was damp.
Second, it had to have a hood. While I certainly have some layers in my clothing system sans a cushy cover-up for my dome, in general, I expect my insulating and outer layers to be hooded to actually protect me from the elements.
Weight v. Durability
Third, the jacket needed to be light weight, compressible, and relatively durable. (Light and compressible are features which are frequently at odds with durable.)
Finally, as a climber, I wanted a jacket that had climber-friendly features—pockets positioned to be accessible with a harness on, easy to fit over or under a shell, simple one-handed adjustments that could be made while wearing gloves, a 2-way zipper for belaying, and hopefully a way to pack tightly and clip to the back of a harness.
The Mountain Hardwear Men’s Hooded Compressor Jacket fit the bill in almost every respect. Now that I’ve had a year or so to put it through the paces, I feel confident that I can write a solid review for it.
The insulation in the jacket is superb. It packs down tightly, making it easy to stuff into a pack or use as a pillow, but lofts readily once worn. It is fairly wind resistant and offers a surprising amount of warmth for the weight. It is warm enough that I have slept outside without a sleeping bag with nighttime lows of 45F, substituting the jacket instead (and saving a lot of weight and space along the way!)
The fit is outstanding. The jacket has a roomy but athletic cut. It nicely fits my 175lb, 6’3” frame—the sleeves are long enough, the shoulders and elbows have great mobility, and it tapers a bit onto my narrow waist. It fits well over insulating mid-layers and below a large shell, or directly over a medium shell, depending on conditions. I have used it both for belay duty in sunny, chilly temps over a softshell, as well as a heavy insulating layer under my shell while ice climbing. This is the kind of versatility I appreciate in a good puffy.
It also has a good number of climbing specific features. The pockets are positioned for ease of access while wearing a harness. The adjustments to the hem and hood are simple and easy to make with gloves and the hood fits over a climbing helmet.
There are only two places I find the Compressor somewhat lacking. The first is in the durability. The jacket is surprisingly resistant to abrasion (I’ve worn it carefully scumming up a sandstone chimney), but is still not quite as tough as I would like. It seems to snag constantly on random rock edges, bushes, etc., resulting in tiny tears and holes, though it is easily patched with seam grip. I would be willing to trade a little weight for a slightly more durable outer layer. That being said, it is meant to be a lightweight alpine jacket, and using it in that environment I really can’t complain.
My only other gripes are pretty minor. I would have liked to have seen a 2-way zipper to easily accommodate a belay device when using this piece as a belay jacket. I would also appreciate a built-in compression pocket of some kind with a clip-in point to easily throw the jacket onto the back of the harness when not wearing a pack. I have gotten around this issue pretty well by stuffing the Compressor into its own hood and clipping the hood adjustment.
First, I feel a small disclaimer is in order. Since my Compressor is last season’s version, the insulation is PrimaLoft. Mountain Hardwear has since switched the Compressor to its proprietary Thermic Micro insulation. However, if the performance of the Thermic Micro insulation in my Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag is any indicator, the Compressor will not suffer for the difference in insulation. I highly recommend this jacket as a great choice for a heavy insulating layer or light-weight outer belay jacket that performs well even in the cold, windy, and wet.