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Helly Hansen Ekolab Rapide Soft Shell Jacket : My New Backcountry BF

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a ski trip up Reinsfjellet, an awesome local peak for backcountry adventures. Reinsfjellet means Reindeer Mountain, presumably because its summit is so cold that one almost expects to see Rudolph there. I was glad to be wearing my Ekolab Rapide soft shell jacket from Helly Hansen.

When I first arrived in Norway, I did as my new friends did: I wore a hard shell laminate outer layer all the time. I figured Norwegians had their clothing systems dialed. But whenever we went skiing, I would get sweaty on the way up, and then I'd almost freeze at the summit once my core temps dropped and my drenched torso began to chill. After an amazing day on Reinsfjellet with Helly Hansen's Ekolab Rapide soft shell, I quietly stuffed my old outer layer in the deepest recesses of my closet until spring arrives.

The trip up Reinsfjellet began with a relaxed hike through a low elevation boreal forest. The track wasn't too steep, so it was a good place to get my blood pumping and my core properly heated. I liked wearing the Helly Hansen Ekolab Rapide jacket because it has a little bit of fleece bonded to the inside of the soft shell material. For winter sports, that added bit of insulation is pretty important. It's not too thick, so I didn't overheat, but it's also not too thin.

I had a heavy backpack stuffed with food, avalanche gear, and cameras, but I never felt any superfluous material or stitching bunching up beneath the straps. Helly Hansen designed the Ekolab Rapide jacket with a large shoulder panel with stitching high in the breast and scapula areas, but no stitching on the top of the shoulder. That means there's nothing to cause chafing and welts. Very smart.

When the pace picked up, I realized I wasn't sweating too hard or overheating. The jacket was keeping my core at the perfect temperature, thanks to the incredible breathability of HellyShell, Helly Hansen's proprietary soft shell fabric. However, the performance top did way more than just keep my torso and core temps regulated: it's also the main reason my fingers and toes were warm in the 15 degree afternoon on Reinsfjellet. When I keep my core warm while exercising in frigid weather, my heart winds up pumping lots of warm blood into my toes and fingers.

After we passed tree line, the wind started blowing hard, and, once again, the Helly Hansen Ekolab Rapide jacket performed admirably. Based on my personal experience, I think it offers 95 percent of the wind resistance of a hard shell yet breathes as well as a fleece jacket. It's also got a wide flap behind the zipper to buffer the wind. A few times, bigger gusts were able to slip up the bottom of the jacket, but then I just cinched the waist draw cord tighter and solved the problem.

When we hit the summit, I started rushing to remove my climbing skins and get ready for the descent. I've made a habit of working as fast as possible at summits because I'm often drenched in sweat and afraid of cooling down. However, this time was different: I was dry and warm. So I actually relaxed a little, enjoyed some dark chocolate, and soaked in the view. By the time we headed down, I was totally comfortable.

Finally, there was the descent: epic, untracked powder that went on forever. I was stoked once again with the Ekolab Rapide jacket because of how much freedom of motion I had. The HellyShell fabric is very stretchy, and it moved with my every turn down the mountain. I sometimes feel like I'm battling my jackets in the winter - I'm covered in so many layers, and if one layer isn't working right, just moving around can feel cumbersome. But on this day, I felt at one with my clothing.

Aside from the jacket's top-notch performance, I feel like a good global citizen wearing it because of its eco-friendly creds. Nearly 50 percent of its content is recycled polyester.

Helly Hansen's Ekolab Rapide soft shell jacket is available in a women's version (white, red, or black; XS - XL) and a men's version (black or olive; S - XXL).

Bottom Line: Stretchy, breathable and environmentally friendly soft shell jacket designed for cold weather backcountry use (N.W., Jan 11).

BUY ONLINE: $130, click to shop. Click for women's jacket.

Manufacturer's Site: www.hellyhansen.com

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When hiking or camping, always carry the "10 Essentials":

Extra clothing, extra food and water, lighter or water-proof matches and fire starter, map in waterproof envelope, compass, pocket knife, sunscreen and sunglasses, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, emergency shelter.

Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue and Seattle Mountaineers.