We popped over for a sneak early look at Mountain Equipment's new range of Gore-Tex Pro jackets earlier this week- the same ones you can buy early from Cotswold Outdoor right now - and found there's more to them than just the revamped and much-improved new Gore-Tex Pro fabric.
The jackets use the new for winter 2013 Gore-Tex Pro, which is 'up to 28% more breathable than before' thanks to a new membrane technology, but still with the original fabric's mix of lightness and toughness plus the ability to slide over underlayers.
The only real visible dfference is that the inside of the fabric, the 'woven backer' now has a micro rip-sop pattern on it, so you can tell the new stuff easily, but after months of using a test jacket made from the fabric, we can tell you it really is much more breathable, which makes it more comfortable than before when you're working hard.
Mountain Equipment hasn't stopped with the fabric though, they've also revised the cut of their new jackets with the aim of creating shapes that work for the majority of people out there, while still keeping a neat, efficient ouline. To achieve that, they used a specialist Swiss pattern-cutting consultancy - think of it as a bit like a car brand employing a top-notch styling shop.
Page Two - The new jackets and legwear.
The Swiss guys, who are specialists in outdoor clothing cut, adjusted individual panels and seams to create a more efficient fit with enough room for movement, but without excess bagginess for both men and women. To that meant a lot of tiny adjustments, sometimes just a few milimeters at a time, and a lot of prototypes over a period of two years.
The end result, says ME's Richard Bailey, is a jacket that will fit a wider spread of body shapes, but at the same time, has a 3D cut that will still give a neat fit without compromising freedom of movement. A nice trick if you can manage it, though it sounds like a contradiction in terms.
There are actually two new cuts, both in men's and women's versions. The first is what ME calls the Alpine Fit and is aimed at those who want a jacket that follows their body-lines and has a closer, sleeker fit. In particular, it's designed to be carefully shaped in the area between waist and shoulders and, apparently, uses a 'reversed camber centre front seam'.
What that means in practice is that when you do up the zip, it pulls the jacket in around the body for reduced bagging. In addition the shoulder area has been tweaked to give mobility when reaching up and out, but without bagginess from excess fabric.
The Alpine Fit is used on the new Men's Tupilak jacket , the Tupilak Ultra we told you about recently, the Lhotse Jacket and the Women's Manaslu and Saltoro Jackets.
Then there's the Mountain Fit, again for both men and women. It's a more generous shape and designed to accommodate extra insulating layers underneath or for those who are built a little larger and don't want a shell that's a shaped as the alpine version.
That said it has still be revised with the shoulder shape altered in a similar way to the Alpine Fit and a reshaped, reverse-cambered centre front seam again for less bagginess in the shoulder to waist area.
Because MEs sample size is Large and we're medium we couldn't try a sample for size and shape - watch this space though - but we wouldn't get hung up on designations, just buy choose according to whether you want a sleek or looser-fitting jacket. Or, if you're off somewhere super cold and plan on wearing lots of insulation under your shell, go for the more generous mountain cut. Simple.
Other stuff to watch out for on the new jackets are reinforcements in tough 80D fabric with main body fabric that's a lighter 40D - the face fabrics are carefully selected and extensively tested by Gore, which is one of the reasons the materials are expensive.
Hoods are ME's proven helmet compatible designs, the Mountain HC which has extra volume to accommodate even tall helmets and still give good facial protection and movement and the top-end Super-Alpine HCwith even more helmet-swallowing capacity, full-wrap volume adjustment and interior silicone gripper strips to stop the hood sliding over the helmet.
Both types and ME's smaller Mountain Hood use wired and laminated peaks with the wire sat under the lamination for improved stiffness and resistance to flipping up in high winds. Neat.
Pockets are carefully designed, the bags are waterproof and welding them in removes potential leak points plus the zips - YKK Aquaguard ones using very water-resistant locking plastic teeth have Storm Guard drain holes at the bottom so if any water does sneak past, it should find its way out again. They're sized to take maps and mitts and other big things too.
Last but not least, the jackets have seams with no visible, abrasion-prone stitching or use welding to remove weak points. Looks clean, but is also less likely to be damaged.
So it really isn't just about the new fabric, impressive though it is.
Page Two - new Gore-Tex Pro Jackets and Legwear up close