The MEC Aquanator Jacket is a lightweight waterproof breathable jacket suitable for hiking and mountaineering. Its baggy cut accommodates larger builds as well as allows for layering over insulating jackets. It has a long hem to keep your bum dry, and an excellent hood with a wide brim that works as well with a climbing helmet as it does without a hat. All of the jacket’s drawcords have one-handed cord locks. The jacket ventilates with full-length pit zips.
At 13.2 oz (375 g) for a men’s large, the MEC Aquanator comes in at a weight typical of other lightweight rain jackets with similar features. We found the polyurethane fabric of the Aquanator not quite as breathable as the best polyurethane and PTFE (e.g., Gore-Tex) fabrics on the market.
Ventilation Options (4.0)
The MEC Aquanator Jacket has a full front zipper and 15 in (38 cm) pit zips (see photo) for ventilation. It also has a waist drawcord and Velcro cuffs that can be adjusted for increased ventilation. This jacket does not feature front ventilation (mesh pockets or core vents) of any kind.
The Aquanator jacket features two chest pockets that fit right in-between the waist and sternum straps of a pack leaving them accessible while wearing a pack. It has no inner pockets. The Aquanator’s hood is large, adjustable and can easily cover a small climbing helmet. The hood also features functional one-handed draw cords that cinch both the front and back of the hood, making the hood just as usable and comfortable over a bare head as with a helmet. The jacket has Velcro closures at the cuffs and a one-handed draw cord on each side of the waist. It uses 2-way YKK zippers at both the pit zips and the front zipper. While waterproof zippers are used at the pit zips, a waterproof flap covers the front zipper.
This jacket is sized large (very roomy) and it easily layered over an Integral Designs Dolomitti jacket and a down vest without compressing the insulation in the body of the insulating garments (see top photo). The jacket is also cut long to cover the butt/lower torso. While this sizing is useful for layering over winter insulation, the extra fabric is unwieldy over trimmer layering systems (see photo of pit zip detail) more popular among 3-season lightweight backpackers.
The Aquanator’s hood offers excellent head-tuning mobility by adjusting its rear cinch cord. The jacket allows for good articulation when stretching, crossing arms, or lifting hands above your head. Its sleeves are long enough to withdraw your hands in a downpour. Our review staff felt that the jacket was larger than it needed to be for backpackers. The extra fabric flapped in winds, and interferes with the ability to see your feet while climbing.
The MEC Aquanator was tested in a wide variety of conditions. It was first tested during a series of hikes in the Cascades (Washington State) through drizzle, rain, and wet snow conditions in a temperature range of 28 deg F (2 deg C) to 55 deg F (13 deg C). These hikes were performed at a variety of exertion levels ranging from hiking 2-3 mph without a pack on flat ground to higher exertion levels while carrying a 20 pound pack on rolling terrain. This garment was also field tested over a 3 day period in the Cascades on a high-intensity winter climbing/snowshoeing trip that included pouring rain, slush, and hard snowing conditions as well as below-freezing temperatures. Pack weight during that trip was approximately 20 pounds as well. In addition, we subjected the MEC Aquanator to our standard cold shower tests to assess waterproofness.
Storm Resistance (4.0)
The MEC Aquanator certainly keeps the weather out. It features taped seams, a front zipper with a storm flap and Velcro closures, waterproof pit zippers and a full coverage hood with a large brim.
One reviewer noticed that this is one of the few jacket hoods on the market that is able to keep a hard driving rain from hitting his nose! The MEC Aquanator does not offer a method to tighten the collar around the neck or under the chin, and thus, it offers a poor seal, especially when the hood is down. This was a problem, especially when hiking with minimal base layers, as there was no effective way to stop water from going down the large neck opening or to seal drafts from letting heat out. See photo for the hood detail.
The pockets are waterproof on both sides and easily kept items dry from both external and internal moisture. After a downpour, the MEC Aquanator dried quickly (it has an excellent DWR finish) and gained very little water weight relative to some other jackets in our review.
Our reviewers observed that the MEC Aquanator was on the lower end of breathability performance for polyurethane technology, and it was unofficially dubbed the “sauna” jacket of our review. While the material did breathe sufficiently at low exertion levels (relative to non-breathable technologies), all ventilation options needed to be used to slow moisture accumulation in even mildly aerobic activities. When hiking without a pack on flat ground, the Aquanator is breathable enough to not require ventilation. In the same terrain, hiking with a 20 pound pack overwhelmed the jacket fabric’s breathability. In this case, the inside face of the coated fabric felt quite damp and resulted in a significant feeling of clamminess. When hiking uphill with the pack, it’s all over – the jacket can get very wet inside. This was especially true during a drizzly 40 degree day in the Cascades; with the jacket sealed up it would have been more comfortable with no jacket at all. That said, the Aquanator is equipped with several ventilation options that make the jacket much more versatile in these conditions. However, its breathability is noticeably less than other polyurethane and PTFE jackets in our review.
Ventilation Field Observations (3.0)
When the pit zips unzipped, the cuffs open, and the waist draw string loose (but the front zipper closed) the Aquanator performs better during high-exertion activities. When hiking on flat ground the vents were not really needed. With a 20 pound pack, however, the vents came in very handy and our reviewer was able to keep the interior of the jacket relatively dry. When working hard and going uphill with the same pack, however, the vents had a hard time transporting all of the moisture and the interior was still quite wet – conditions that resulted in less moisture accumulation in other jackets we reviewed that offered better torso ventilation. Because the jacket offers no front or back ventilation options, this moisture really built up in the torso. This jacket is far more comfortable over a thin base layer in conditions that result in moisture accumulation. Unlike 3-layer PTFE technologies, bare skin will be uncomfortable against the rubbery interior fabric coating when it gets damp.
Durability Field Observations (3.0)
The MEC Aquanator Jacket offers reasonably durability for its weight, but nothing unusual or spectacular. While it utilized a lightweight fabric that isn’t designed for high-abrasion activities, its ripstop fabric, medium-sized metal YKK zippers, and quality construction lead our reviewer to believe that this is a lightweight garment that can withstand some abuse – if treated appropriately.
Recommendations for Improvement
While we appreciated the large cut of this jacket in certain situations (e.g., wearing an insulative layer underneath to keep it dry during while watzing around camp during a wet snowfall), it is too baggy for the average backpacker. A trimmer cut would have allowed for layering over thinner insulating garments and would have been more comfortable while bushwacking, climbing, or simply performing camp chores. This jacket would have benefited from torso ventilation such as mesh lined pockets – which are necessary given the fabric’s limited breathability.
We were also disappointed with the jacket’s poor neck seal against downward trickling precipitation and cold air drafts. While some benefit is realized by sizing the jacket to fit over a lot of insulation, the oversized fit results in a poor neck seal, which has a great impact on your ability to stay warm in colder conditions. The MEC Aquanator Jacket has serious potential as a shell for the sloppy conditions of Pacific Northwest mountaineering, but it lacks utility for more general use. The simple modification of adding a small second slider at the base of each hood drawcord system (the cord travels through 2 grommets and a fabric tab) allowed our reviewer to close up the neck area to make a decent seal. Although not perfect, this is an easy change for the consumer that would extend the usability of the garment some by providing additional adjustability at the neck.