Mountain Equipment: New For Spring 2015
We were lured over the Mountain Equipment's Mancunian battle bunker yesterday for a quick look of what's new from the brand this spring - looks out of window, grimaces - and in the shops right now. The big news is two, arguably three, new non-membrane, soft shell jackets plus a revamped selection of pants/trousers/legwear - choose the term you're happiest with...
Squall Jacket: £100 / 310g
'Lightweight, climbing-specific softshell'
ME's Rich Bailey is very excited about the Squall. It's a closely-cut, lightweight, double-weave softshell jacket aimed specifically at climbers and featuring an off-set zip to both minimise chin discomfort and match up with the brand's cracking Eclipse lightweight mid-layer top.
The Squalll uses ME's own EXOLITE125 fabric, which has 6% elastane to give a load of stretch, and is closely woven for added wind resistance. The idea is that there's enough wind protection most of the time with the pay-off being much better breathability than you'd get with a totally windproof membrane-type fabric.
The time-honoured showroom 'blow through the fabric' test suggests it's very wind resistant indeed. It's also pretty minimal with simple elastic cuffs and a single chest pocket. The helmet hood's been carefully designed though, not only is the zip offset, the capacious chin is subtly pleated to minimise interference when you're desperately looking up and down the route wondering where that massive jug you were sure was there has disappeared to.
All that and it weighs only a mere 310g - looks like a lot of jacket for £100. Both men's and women's versions available.
Frontier Jacket: £120 / 580g
'All-round, year-round, do-it-all mountain softshell'
If the Squall's definitely pitched at climbers, the Frontier is much more of a mountain all-rounder. Again it's a hooded non-membrane softshell, but the fabric's slightly heavier EXOLITE210, the cut is a little less fitted and there are more features like hand-warmer pockets, adjustable cuffs and a fully-stiffened, adjustable mountain hood.
Like the Squall it has a moulded plastic main zip with a storm flap behind it, but unlike little brother, the zip is a conventionally placed, dead centre sort of thing. The hood still takes a helmet for mountaineering use and the fabric has a slightly looped inner texture which is meant to improve wicking performance.
It's a fair bit weightier than the Squall, but the fabric feels correspondingly more robust. We reckon it'll make a good mountain all-rounder for a mix of walking and mountaineering with plenty of weather resistance. There's also a non-hooded version priced at £90 and a women's version of the hooded jacket.
Comici Pants: £70 / 250g
'Light, stretchy, rock climbing and scrambling, erm, pants'
You might remember that ME did a lot of work a year or so back re-cutting its waterproof jackets to give a really good, close fit, but without losing mobility. This season, the brand's done the same thing with legwear, working with a Swiss pattern-cutting specialist to give a neater fit without inhibiting movement.
That's good news if it works - it's hard to find really good mountain trousers. Anyway, the Comici uses the same lightweight stretch fabric as the Squall and has a slim ankle and lower leg to work with rock boots and approach shoes plus give a clear view of your feet on the rocks.
The most obvious signs of the fit project are around the knee where a collection of carefully tailored panels are designed to give optimum fit. Or so we're told. The rest of the design is simple: hand pockets, belt-loops, but no belt, and a single zipped thigh pocket.
There are four colour options: two conservative ones and a choice of bright yellowy green 'citronella' and deep red. We confidently forecast grey or olive will be the most popular UK options.
There's also a stretchy soft-shell Comici short in both men's and women's versions to match the equivalent trousers, also for both genders.
Frontier Pants: £110 / 490g
'All-round, all-mountain, reinforced soft-shell trousers'
It doesn't take a genius to work out that these are the legwear equivalent of the Frontier Jacket. They use the same fabric in most areas, but the seat and knees are reinforced with a burlier 275g/m2 version of the material. The cut is 'Alpine', which means that the lower leg is slightly looser and a gusseted ankle is designed to work with big, fat mountain boots.
Along with several pockets, there are also handy zipped thigh-vents with mesh backing for additional cooling on the ups. Unlike the Squall Pants, the Frontier version comes complete with a belt. Probably as much mountain trouser as most of us need and again with the benefit of the new fit project. Also available in a women's-specific version. No shorts...
Newfoundland Pant: £120 / 635g
'Uber-burly legwear - as worn by Captain Scarlet, probably...'
Final addition to the soft shell pants catalogue is the Newfoundland Pant which is made entirely from the heavy duty fabric which features as reinforcement on the Frontier. They should be super burly and tough, though probably OTT for most mountain use.
They might be good for, oh, lumberjacks or the sort of people who run around forests with Bear Grylls. Joking aside, the nearest equivalent we know if is the old Haglöfs Rugged Pant, and apparently they sold loads of those. So if you're after an indestructible outdoor trouser, this might be it...
There's no women's-specific version, presumably because women are too sensible to buy this sort of thing. Nor are there shorts.
Hope Pant: £80 / 495g
'Tough, non-nonsense climbing pants for budding Dave MacLeods'
Also on the legwear front is the Hope Pant, which uses a tough, stretch fabric, though not technically a soft shell one and is apparently loved by ME's sponsored climber, Dave MacLeod - watch out for his new film, coming shortly - thanks to a combination of stretchiness and toughness.
They have a belt, lots of pockets, a climbing fit and regular ankles. You can tell they're serious because all the colour options are sobre greys and a sort of khaki green. Ideal for aspiring hardcore rock jocks, probably. There's a women's version in the same sombre colours and a short priced at £60 for warm days on the rock.
Integrity Hooded Zip-Tee: £90 / 320g
'Casual looks with deceptive technical performance apparently'
The Integrity Hooded Zip-Tee looks like a casual hoody. Apparently ME gave one to Nick Bullock for slumming around in cafes and so on and were surprised to see it pictured repeatedly in action on big alpine routes. Turns out the the densely woven stretch knit polyester fabric actually wicks impressively and dries really quickly, plus the design is semi-technical with flat-locked seams and a handy hood.
We're absolute suckers for outdoor kit that also looks cool and casual, so we're planning on beg, stealing or borrowing one of those for a try this spring. Hell, we might even buy one… No women's version - boo! - but there is a non-hooded £70 simple crew neck for those who are tired of layering hoods inside each other.
Kinesis Jacket: £170 / 325g
'Polartec Alpha, but not as we know it, Jim...'
To round things off, the Kinesis arguably the most interesting item of the lot. At first glance it looks like a typical shelled micro velour sort of thing like Marmot's DriClime for example, except that it's not. The shell is all ME's windproof HE30 fabric, but the lining is zoned.
The main body uses a light 60g version of Polartec's Alpha insulation, while the hood and sleeves just have a micro-gridded wicking lining. That makes loads of sense to us: we've found Alpha great for comfort, but too warm for active use in non-freezing conditions.
The Kinesis should give just enough insulation for the core, but with windproof protection elsewhere making it more generally useable than a simple gilet. Add in a helmet hood and adjustable hem plus pockets and a claimed weight of just 325g - it packs into a pocket - so you're getting a decently light package combining full wind proofing with just enough insulation to keep you warm, but not too warm.
According to Rich Bailey, it also dries really fast, doesn't get too hot even if you run warm and is, all round 'spectacularly good'. Of course he would say that, but we're definitely intrigued.
All the above are in the shops right about now, full details at www.mountain-equipment.co.uk