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Stay Dry in Any Alpine Storm: Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight Outerwear Review

Over 2½ days on the Grand Teton, the Dawnlight jacket and pants from Mountain Hardwear effectively shielded me from every kind of precipitation in the book.

Near the summit of the Grand Teton in the Mountain Hardwear Dawn Light Jacket.Near the summit of the Grand Teton in the Mountain Hardwear Dawn Light Jacket; (photo/Clayton Herrmann)
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I tested the Dawnlight jacket and pants during a late-season attempt to climb the Grand Teton. From the moment our group left the trailhead, the weather wasn’t — traditionally speaking — on our side.

For the first several miles, heavy drops filtered down through the pine needles above, splattering our heads and shoulders. Later, an angry storm socked us in and rapidly deposited a blanket of snow. While the Dawnlight couldn’t save me from the bummer of an elusive summit, it did keep me dry and comfortable — a major morale boost when I needed it most.

On the soggy approach to basecamp on the Grand Teton (Photo/Clayton Herrmann)

In short: The Dawnlight outerwear set is among Mountain Hardwear’s burliest shell offerings. Armed with GORE-TEX’s blue chip Pro membrane, it’s as waterproof as a sea otter’s fur. The 40-denier face fabric didn’t weigh me down or cause overheating, yet it still managed to resist abrasion while scrambling through granite boulder fields and bushwhacking in the woods.

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight Jacket


  • Waterproof material 3L GORE-TEX PRO
  • Waterproof rating 28,000 mm/24 hours
  • Breathability rating 25,000 g/m²
  • Pit zips Yes
  • Fit Regular
  • Weight 1 lb. (size medium)


  • Excellent waterproofing
  • Durable face fabric
  • Highly capable in all alpine conditions


  • A touch heavy for its class

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight Pants


  • Fit Regular
  • Material 100% Nylon GORE-TEX PRO
  • Waterproof rating 28,000 mm/24 hours
  • Breathability rating 25,000 g/m²
  • Insulation None
  • Weight 1 lb., 4.5 oz. with suspenders (size medium)


  • Streamlined yet unrestrictive fit
  • Genuinely waterproof
  • Full-length side zips


  • For tall users, leg length is a touch short relative to the waist size

What Makes It Great: Field Testing in the Tetons

There are no guarantees when planning an alpine climbing trip several months in advance. Most years, mid-September is a reliable climbing window in the Tetons. But good weather ultimately comes down to luck. In the days leading up to our trip, it seemed the winter was rolling in early — but equipped with fresh outerwear and professional guides, we began our ascent in spite of the forecast.

We set out from the trailhead into a cloud of mist, each of us enrobed in our Dawnlight shells — neon green and teeming like a mess of iguanas. As soon as I put on my own set, both jacket and pants gave the impression of hardy, reliable protection. The GORE-TEX Pro material felt stiff and sturdy between my fingers. The wide rubberized zippers had smooth action and a solid seal.

If I can help it, I avoid hiking uphill in waterproof outerwear. Even in chilly temps, hard shells trap heat and create the garbage bag effect — a dreaded condition of sweat-soaked base layers and generalized misery. Fortunately, even in the relatively warm autumn air, I didn’t overheat or perspire. I required the rare combination of simultaneous waterproofing and breathability, and the Dawnlight delivered.

Saturated vegetation usually means saturated layers — not so in the Dawnlight; (photo/Clayton Herrmann)

Breathable Rain Jackets: An Oxymoron?

There is an ongoing debate in the realm of outdoor gear regarding the true breathability of outerwear. Logically, it’s difficult to understand how a shell jacket could keep moisture out without also trapping moisture in.

As it turns out, there is some scientific validity to breathable waterproof outerwear. Through solid-state diffusion, water vapor is absorbed through certain fabrics in order to reach the less humid air on the outside and create an equilibrium. Solid-state diffusion works much better in dry air, so shells naturally feel less breathable in humid conditions.

Still, of all the waterproof jackets marketed as breathable, most simply are not. Even the Dawnlight — which kept me dry and comfortable while hiking for several uphill miles through the rain — is only relatively breathable. It’s quite effective compared to other rain jackets. But it’s a far cry from a moisture-wicking merino wool T-shirt. I don’t recommend any waterproof shell for high-output activity — including the Dawnlight — but sometimes wearing one is necessary.

Toward the end of day one, the rain lifted and I removed my shells to discover zero moisture underneath. After hours of persistent rain, the jacket and pants hadn’t allowed any wetness to seep through at the seams. I enjoyed the home stretch to basecamp in bone-dry bliss.

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight kit; (photo/Clayton Herrmann)
(Photo/Clayton Herrmann)

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight: Fit, Weight, and Material

At 6’1″ and 170 pounds, I wore a medium in the Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight ensemble. The jacket has a roomy fit. I managed to fit numerous layers underneath with ease, including a colossal belay parka.

The Hood

I appreciated the spacious storm hood, which expanded easily to accommodate my underlayers plus a climbing helmet. The secure cinch at the back kept the hood in place despite the whipping wind. Walled in by the oversized hood, my face was spared from sideways blowing sleet.

At both cuffs, a wide Velcro strip served as a customizable gasket against the biting wind. The elastic cord around the hem is meant to do the same, but it often loosened on its own and required frequent adjustment. Despite this minor shortcoming, the Dawnlight’s many cinchable openings make it a bonified alpine climbing shell. It’s capable of protecting wearers against formidable weather in any climate on Earth.

The Dawnlight Pants

The jacket’s thoughtful and hardy design is matched by the pants. With removable suspenders, full-length vents, and reinforced insteps, the Dawnlight pants are well-equipped for ski mountaineering, ice climbing, and resort skiing.

Even in a climbing harness, I had easy access to the roomy zippered upper thigh pocket — a major asset for glacier travel and multipitch climbing. A large drop seat in the rear eases the stress of high-altitude bathroom use. Mountain Hardwear’s attention to detail shines.

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight kit; (photo/Clayton Herrmann)
(Photo/Clayton Herrmann)

One Downside

My only gripe with the Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight pants is their length. As a tall person with a slender build, I have a small waist relative to the length of my legs. I’m accustomed to sporting highwaters, but the medium Dawnlight left one too many exposed inches around my ankles.

The included suspenders helped slightly to customize fit and length, but ultimately these pants fall a little short.

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight kit; (photo/Clayton Herrmann)
(Photo/Clayton Herrmann)

Day 2 on the Tetons

After a clear night at base camp, we rose before the sun to attempt to tag the summit ahead of the storm. Preparing for the inevitable, we packed our Dawnlight shells and silently hoped we wouldn’t need them.

As our group passed the mountain’s lower saddle and began scrambling up the summit ridge, dark clouds engulfed the peak in a swirl of quarter-sized snowflakes. Within minutes, the remaining granite slabs were buried and the Dawnlight kits were back on. Our guides made an executive decision to bail and downclimb to camp.

We were disappointed, but at least we weren’t wet. The Dawnlight kits held up well to the snow, shedding every flake without absorption. The upper reaches of the Grand require some third-class scrambling over boulders and through chimneys, and neither jacket nor pants showed any signs of abrasion. Not a single loose stitch.

Mountain Hardwear Dawnlight: Conclusion

Unique zippered ports allow a backpack’s hip strap to thread through the Dawnlight jacket; (photo/Clayton Herrmann)

Over 2½ days on the Grand Teton, this jacket and pants combo from Mountain Hardwear effectively shielded me from every kind of precipitation in the book.

Good gear can make or break a trip — especially when the weather sucks. And the Dawnlight layers came in clutch. I wouldn’t hesitate to wear them into a tempest at the ends of the Earth. As far as sheer weather protection goes, there’s nothing these shells can’t handle.

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