Mountain Equipment Astron Hooded/Astral Hooded 2008

This soft shell jacket was developed specifically for those who want a soft shell that is stretchy, light and easy to pack in your rucksack – and it is one of the lightest here. It uses Polartec Power Shield fabric, which is extremely wind-resistant and very water-resistant, but most importantly it is also more breathable than the more waterproof options, making it ideal for wearing when hill-walking. A useful touch is the Powerstretch side panels, which add extra breathability. You get two chest pockets that easily take maps and gloves, and as these are placed high on the body they can easily be accessed while wearing a rucksack (the number one priority I feel for any hill jacket). The sleeves allow excellent freedom of movement too, making this perfect for scramblers and climbers, while the hood can be fitted over a helmet or cinched in to provide a close fit that moves really well with the head. The price is great too. But the hood cannot be removed (though it can be rolled down and secured at the collar) but there is a non-hooded version. Others have a little more warmth and water resistance (but in the UK most walkers will have a waterproof in their pack anyway). The similar Millet Super Touring has an extra chest pocket.

Materials Polartec Power Shield,  Polartec Powerstretch
Sizes S-XL (men’s Astron);  8-16 (women’s Astral)
Weight 428g (size L)
Made in Hungary
Stores in the UK 40
Verdict
Ideal for backpacking, hill-walking, scrambling, climbing or mountaineering. Rated ‘Best in Test’. (Staff writer Claire has the hoodless Astral on long-term test. Keep your eyes peeled for a ‘used and abused’ review in Trail Jan 09.)

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine September 2008