I’d packed my base layers, shells, and cross-country skis  for a business trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul that would also involve two weeks of skiing and biking in Minnesota’s arctic front. Unfortunately, when my wife dropped me off at the airport, the key to my car-top luggage box broke off in the lock. Unable to get the key out, I had to dash to catch my flight; as I ran through the terminal I was already feeling sorry for myself for all the skiing I’d miss. Little did I know that my editor had already contacted Helly Hansen about sending me a Backbowl Jacket asap.

With the thermometer dropping to -15 degrees F and a blizzard hitting the Twin Cities, I was beyond excited to receive a package at my hotel the next day containing the Backbowl Jacket, some merino base layers, and a down jacket (reviews on those up soon) to test. I would still get to go skiing and fat-tire riding!

While Packer and Viking fans “enjoyed” the coldest playoff game in NFL history (okay, only the Packer fans enjoyed the game while the long suffering Viking fans endured another operatic disaster of a missed field goal in the final seconds), I spent most of the day riding and working outside at a bike demo in the north woods, comfortably moving around on snow that felt about the same temperature as outer space.

When it’s so cold that fahrenheit and celsius aren’t hard to tell apart, exposed skin will frostbite in seconds, and eyelashes freeze together as soon as your eyes water from the cold, I  happily rode 5″-tired fat bikes through the woods. I was a bit shocked that I could have so much fun while a polar front slammed the Twin Cities, but here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as bad weather when you have the right clothing.

I was perfectly comfortable.  A soft base layer wicked moisture off my skin, a thick insulation layer kept me toasty warm, and a stellar outer shell blocked the wind and snow while allowing extra heat and moisture to vent. The Backbowl Jacket is made out of a two-ply fabric that features Helly Hansen’s H²FLOW system. In other words, the jacket is highly breathable, which helped regulate my temperature in a variety of conditions and activities.matt-jacket

The Backbowl Jacket performed beyond my expectations. It has a deep, incredibly comfortable, lined collar with an adeptly engineered hood. No need to mess with a scarf or neck gaiter or face mask: the collar and hood provided plenty of adjustability and protection. Fantastic. The collar easily allowed air in at a comfortable temperature, and the hood adjusted over helmets, hats, and goggles while shielding my face. Even better: no chafing, even under storm conditions.

When I returned to the west coast, I wore the Backbowl Jacket in the Sierras in temperatures around 32 degrees F. Typically, I prefer a windproof stretch fleece for breathability because I’m always warm when I’m moving. Most shells, especially insulated shells, load up too much heat, I get sweaty, the sweat freezes, and the jacket turns into a sopping mess. What I love about the Backbowl Jacket is that it goes beyond the typical sky parka in conditions just under freezing to well below freezing.

While it excels at blocking storms in wet and windy conditions, it also offers great breathability through its membrane and mechanical venting. I was surprised that an insulated shell jacket worked so well when my activity level was cranking body heat BTUs while ski touring in upper 20 degree F weather and when I was climbing steep, snowy single track in -15 degree F weather while wearing an insulated layer under the jacket.

snow2Throughout my testing adventures I appreciated the Backbowl Jacket’s long sleeves and oversized cuffs that feature internal gaiters that shielded my wrists and hands. The bright reflective accents and RECCO® Advanced Rescue system (a passive radio technology built into the jacket that reflects a search signal back through snow and ice as a complement to an avalanche beacon) all add some serious functional tech to a jacket that also offers a waterproof, breathable membrane, taped seams, a powder skirt, pockets for ski pass and goggles, and taped and welded seams.

The Backbowl Jacket also performed very well in sleet mixed with rain. The jacket’s DWR coating shrugged off slight impacts from oak trees while I was learning to ride single track on a snow bike. It easily shed moisture from the shell surface while the vented pit zips (that are lined with mesh) shed extra heat/moisture quickly. The Primaloft insulation in the jacket didn’t lose its loft on steep climbs or make the jacket uncomfortably tight with extra layers.

The only tweak I’d wish for would be some extra detailing on the zipper at the top of the collar to keep the zipper from snagging on the fabric. However, the collar’s comfort was worth the trade off.horse-head

The Backbowl Jacket is available in men’s sizes S-2XL in Deep Blue, Tropic Green, Magma, and Rock. Relaxed fit.

I should add there that this isn’t the first time my editor has contacted Helly Hansen in desperation about Minnesota’s sub-zero weather. They saved her two years ago during the Polar Vortex with the warmest jacket ever. Lucky for me that I complained to her about my airport mishap!

Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid of Minnesota cold. Get yourself a Helly Hansen jacket instead.

Manufacturer’s Site: www.hellyhansen.com

buy-now  $400 at evo