HELLY HANSEN ELEVATION INFINITY SHELL JACKET
An innovative waterproof/breathable fabric that finally ditches DWR is only half this jacket’s story.
(This story originally featured in Wild #181, Spring 2021)
In Wild #180, Xavier Anderson wrote a piece called ‘The DWR Problem’. In it, he talked about the PFCs used in the Durable Water Repellent coatings of most outdoors wear, and about the harm to both humans and the environment they cause. We also, in the same issue, ran a piece in the ‘Gear News’ section about Helly Hansen’s Lifa Infinity Pro fabric. To recap the piece, the waterproof/breathable fabric is the first to not only do away with DWR, but to use no chemicals at all. The fabric combines a hydrophobic face fabric with the Lifa Infinity membrane. The latter is created via a solvent-free process, after which it’s stretched—at different temperatures—in varying directions. The result is a membrane that’s 75% air. Not only do these nanoscale pores offer great breathability, they allow for an extremely lightweight membrane weighing just 4g per square metre.
In that second piece, we promised a review, too, so I managed to get my hands on the Elevation Infinity Shell jacket. And then—since the jacket’s primary intended use is snow sports—I waited for the flakes to fall so I could get out backcountry and put the jacket through its paces. Unfortunately, events transpired (I’m talking about you COVID-19, and the damn lockdowns you’ve caused) that meant I haven’t managed to get down to the snow. My only choice was to test it bushwalking.
This is not altogether bad. One of the things about the Elevation Infinity Shell jacket is that although snow sports are its intended use, it performs more than admirably in other outdoor applications. Even many of its seemingly snow-specific features translate fantastically well to walking on the trail. OK, so you won’t use the powder skirt when you’re bushwalking. But other features you will, and there are several that—having experienced them now—I wish were on all my bushwalking jackets.
Let’s start with the collar. On one of the days I tested the jacket, I ventured into NSW’s Royal NP. It was one of the worst days of the winter. The rain was pouring; the wind was howling. Really howling. Walking along treeless coastline sections, raindrops smacked into the jacket’s hood with such force it sounded like I was being peppered by BB gun pellets. It was as close as I could imagine to being out on Kozzie’s Main Range and being struck by wind-blown ice pellets. But the jacket’s front collar is exceptionally high—the highest yet on a jacket I’ve personally used—and I could tuck my face completely out of the wind, without having to contort the jacket or cinch it up. Meanwhile, the collar’s interior chin protector is exceptionally soft. Fuzzy, too. It felt so awesome, I’d recommend this jacket almost on this feature alone. Those Main Range ice pellets would mean nothing to anyone wearing this.
Meanwhile, I walked quickly, trying to raise a sweat on the hills on this wet day. Breathability was never a problem. And, as you’d expect in a new jacket, there were no issues with waterproofness. But it’s worthwhile noting that because there’s no DWR to wear off or rub away, the jacket’s going to stay waterproof. I’ve sometimes found on long, wet trips with day after rainy day, it becomes harder for water to bead up on jackets; the Lifa Infinity Pro membrane hopefully gets rid of that problem, and never needs treatment to reactivate water repellency.
The main front pockets are huge, big enough to put climbing skins in on the ski descent (or a map, or your hands if you’re walking). Even the phone pocket—large enough to fit all devices—is special. Helly calls it a ‘Life Pocket’; it’s lined with Aerogel, a material we wrote about in Wild #169 that blocks nearly all heat and cold. By doing so, your phone’s battery life isn’t run down as quickly when the temps drop on the mountain. You can actually buy Helly’s Life Pockets separately as standalone pouches. There’s a second waterproof interior-chest pocket, too. And since we’re talking things with zips, there are pit zips also.
The hood will fit over a ski helmet, but is not so huge it’s ridiculous for other times, and it’s volume-adjustable. Around the cuff, the Velcro tabs for tightening are huge, easily graspable with thick gloves. There are stretchy thumb loops, too, that cover the back of your hand most of the way to the knuckles; I’m a big fan of thumb loops in general, but this is the first time I’ve encountered them on a shell jacket. They feel lovely.
Downsides? Well the jacket’s not bargain basement cheap, but that said, the quality is remarkable. And the Lifa Infinity Pro fabric is perhaps slightly stiffer than some other waterproof/breathable membranes, but seriously, we’re talking slightly; it would never impact your real-world enjoyment of the jacket. But really, that’s it. Even for the functionality alone, the Elevation Infinity Shell is an impressive jacket. Throw in the fact there’s no DWR, and you have something that’s exceptional.