Mountain Equipment’s new for autumn 2011 Firefox Jacket is one of the first available Gore-Tex Active Shell jackets – it’s on sale at Cotswold now, June 2011 in an exclusive black and red colour-way.
It’s a lightweight alpine/mountain shell made from the new fabric which has really impressed us with its improved breathability compared to previous Gore-Tex fabrics. It’s also decently light, with our medium review Firefox tipping the scales at a measured 312 grammes.
With the new Gore-Tex Active Shell waterproof fabric, Gore changed its construction and, specifically, the way the membrane is bonded to the backer fabric to give much improved breathability – appreciably better than Pro Shell and, subjectively, on a par with other high-end breathables like eVent.
The other strand to improving breathability are a range of specifications which brands have to stick to with the new fabric. That means limited pockets to reduce double layers of fabric – the Firefix has mesh pocket bags to do this – and a stipulated maximum weight.
All you really need to know is that the new fabric is waterproof, very breathable, packs small, but probably isn’t as durable as its Pro Shell cousin.
First thing we noticed was that the jacket, in its limited edition black and red colour scheme, is cut snugger than most ME shells we’ve used. Not tight exactly, but definitely more cinched in in the waist area and with a bit of a flare out over the hips. Definitely closer cut than, say, the Kalanka we reviewed recently. In other words, burlier types should approach with caution and try before buying.
We like the new cut, it seems right for a jacket aimed at hot-bodied, fast-movers. The venting options make sense there too, the pockets have mesh bags, so double as vents. The sleeves are roomy enough to roll up and expose the forearms and there are also stunted ‘semi pit-zips which run from mid torso to the armpit area, but don’t extend down the sleeve, which is fine by us.
Length is a harness-friendly medium sort of affair, mid-crotch for us, while at the other end, the hood will take a tall helmet quite happily, though won’t offer much facial protection when its used that way. It’s also decent without a helmet, gripping the head and moving with it.We were intially dubious about the lack of wiring on the peak, but in use, there seems to be enough tension on it to keep everything nicely stiff, so we suspect it’ll work just fine.
One thing to be aware of is that while the water-resistant YKK main zip is backed with a storm flap, the pocket and vent ones aren’t. WR zips can leak, particularly when flexed, and the pockets actually come with a card advising that they ‘are not waterproof’, though the area directly behind the zip actually is fabric rather than mesh.
We’ll be keeping an eye on them, but our experience with similar pockets is that any leakage tends to be minimal and it certainly wouldn’t be an issue for full-on alpine use where snow rather than rain is the main enemy.
We’ve already been using Gore-Tex Active Shell for over six months now and we really like its improved breathability, comfortable feel and light weight. The only down side, as far as we can tell, is that it’s not as durable as Pro Shell, so if you’re after a tough, all-round mountain work horse, there are other ME jackets that should suit better.
If on the other hand you move fast, run hot and want a lightweight, breathable hard shell, the Firefox could be right up your street. The cut and construction are both neat and functional, weight is good at just over 300 grammes and the hood, while not quite as impressive as the Berghaus equivalent on the Velum, will still accommodate most helmets.
We also like the abundant venting options for when you start to get a little too warm when working hard.
Is it solely suitable for the Alps? We’ll let you know on that front, but our gut feeling is that it should work just fine over here as well as long as you’re prepared to accept that it may not be as tough as Pro Shell equivalents.