Newly reworked for 2023/24, this top-quality technical waterproof shell is one of the first on the market to feature Gore’s new ePE waterproof-breathable membrane, which is free from harmful PFCs
British brand Mountain Equipment has earned a solid reputation for its waterproof clothing, and their pinnacle technical jackets like the Changabang, Tupilak and Lhotse (or women’s Manaslu) shells are well-established favourites among UK climbers, hillwalkers and mountaineers.
But all those are Gore-Tex Pro shells with price tags of well over £400 RRP. That’s serious cash to splurge on a bit of outdoor kit.
With that in mind, this time around we grabbed ourselves the more affordable Makalu. This one is still a very versatile, all-season waterproof mountain shell. Rather than Gore-Tex Pro, it employs standard three-layer Gore-Tex throughout, in a sturdy 75D fabric construction. And from this season onwards, it also has an important USP in sustainability terms.
The headline here is that the latest version of the Makalu shell now uses Gore-Tex’s new, more sustainable ePE fabric, along with a PFC-free durable water repellent finish that ensures reliable performance with less environmental impact. To explain this innovation, we need to get a bit science-y.
Gore-Tex is a waterproof-breathable membrane made from a very thin layer of ePTFE, or expanded polytetrafluoroethylene. This is then bonded or laminated to a face fabric, usually made of nylon or polyester, finished with a DWR (durable water-repellent) treatment to help rain bead and roll off the surface of the fabric. On the reverse of the membrane (i.e. the inside of a waterproof jacket), another layer is applied to protect the membrane from abrasion and contamination. There are various different types of Gore-Tex fabrics on the market, which differ slightly in their layered constructions, but up until now all have been made from ePTFE.
This is an issue because ePTFE contains PFCs – perfluorinated compounds, sometimes called fluorocarbons. These are long-chain polymers that bio-accumulate in the environment and in organisms. In other words, they never break down, which has led to them being dubbed ‘forever chemicals’.
The outdoor industry is now slowly phasing out PFCs. The problem is that since they are so effective at making garments repel water, it has been challenging to find non-environmentally harmful alternatives that work as well. The first step was to find DWR treatments that did not reply on PFCs. This has now been largely achieved. The next aim was to eliminate PFCs from the waterproof membranes themselves. As a result, many brands have turned to or developed alternative PU-based waterproof-breathable membranes, since these can easily be manufactured without PFCs.
But Gore-Tex has been the market leader in waterproof fabrics for nearly half a century, and it’s not about to give that position up without a fight. Since Gore’s core technology is built on ePTFE-based membranes, they have been working very hard to find a new and different solution.
“There’s very little to criticise.”
The result is Gore-Tex ePE, made from expanded polyethylene. It is completely free from what Gore refers to as PFCECs, or ‘PFCs of environmental concern’. Otherwise, it’s been designed to be just as durable, waterproof and breathable as standard Gore-Tex, whilst being lighter and more pliable, with a lower carbon footprint.
Gore aims to roll this new technology out in the coming years. You can expect to see it throughout product lines from 2024 onwards. But so far, only a few brands have been able to get their hands on Gore-Tex ePE for AW23 – and Mountain Equipment is one of them.
The Makalu is one of the British brand’s first Gore-Tex ePE products. It is a three-layer Gore-Tex jacket with a 75D face fabric – plenty tough enough for winter use, yet comfortable enough for year-round wear too. It weighs just over 500g and is packable enough to stuff in a hillwalking backpack when not required.
In terms of fit, the Makalu uses Mountain Equipment’s ‘Alpine Fit’, which is a little trimmer than their ‘Mountain Fit’. It works well as a shell over a base layer and a light midlayer. The Makalu delivers excellent all-round protection, with long sleeves, contoured cuffs and a mid-sized hood, which can fit over a climbing helmet but cinches in superbly over a bare head.
The stiffened peak deflects rain well, while the lower half covers the chin, with integrated cordlocks to reduce bulk around the face. In addition, you get two well-placed hand pockets, a large external chest pocket with an internal key clip and a zipped inner security pocket. It also has two-way pit zips and a two-way main zip with a chin guard, an inner storm flap and a bottom press stud.
Bottom line? There’s very little to criticise. It makes an excellent choice for environmentally conscious outdoorsy types, whether you’re a hillwalker, a mountaineer or a climber.
Will Renwick, editor of Outdoors Magic
This jacket has really impressed me. It’s functional, bombproof and I like its cut. I’m 5 foot 10 and I tried it in a size M, my usual size, and it fitted perfectly. It was comfortable worn simply over a baselayer or with a thick layer of insulation, the wet weather protection was faultless and it has all the details you’d want from a technical shell. If I was going to criticise it for anything, I’d just say that the collar is a little stiff and uncomfortable at first, but it eventually loosened up and didn’t remain an issue – I find this tends to be quite common with these types of rain shells.
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