We popped over to Mountain Equipment's sumptuous Mancunian HQ last week for a quick look at what's new from the brand for this winter, 2012 and a sneak peek into 2013, in particular the Firefly Smock.
And what is new? Super cunning winter-weight technical base come mid-layers, thoroughly revised down and a smattering of nicely updated winter soft shell are the main highlights.
New Eclipse Hoody
We actually previewed the Eclipse Hooded Zip-Tee back in April with a series of images of the ingenious hood arrangement. In brief, it's a carefully designed hood which can be used in several different ways - as a sort of lower face cover come Buff alternative; as a full balaclava with lower face coverage; or just as a hood which you can stick under or over a helmet.
Dead cunning, but that's just the start of it. The Eclipse uses a lightweight gridded microfleece from Italian fleece specialist Pontetorto. It's absolutely not a poor relation to Polartec, the Italians are ace at fabrics and ME say they chose the fabrics for their excellent combination of stretch, lightness and wicking abilities.
It's zoned too with lighter fabrics in areas where less bulk is an advantage - at the base of the back for example. Then there's the slanted zip which gives a comfortable fit over the chin when the hood is in balaclava mode plus thumb-loops and a simple chest pocket.
The idea is that it's a sort of heavy base come lightweight mid-layer top. We reckon it'll work well in cold conditions layered over a thin wicking tee and under a shell of your choice, where it should give just about the right level of insulation for fast-movers, but without bulk.
It weighs 320g, so it's light enough to stash too and you'll also save by not needing to carry a balaclava. The thin fabric should make for easy breathing when you're mouth is covered. One thing to be aware of is that the stretchy fabric isn't going to be flattering if you're carrying a bit of excess weight, not that you should be worrying about that on the hill.
We've got one in for review already and we'll keep you posted. Price is £90. Details at www.mountain-equipment.co.uk.
And if you don't fancy the hood, for a tenner less there's a hoodless version, the Eclipse Zip Tee, which is identical from the neck down bar a conventional straight zip. There's a women's version of this too, but not of the hooded one.
Down Clothing Makeover
Mountain Equipment started off as down specialists and it's still a big part of what they do. This winter there's been some serious tweaking starting with a new high mountain technical jacket and augmented with a new helmet compatible hood for mountaineering jackets plus the use of chunky plastic-toothed YKK Vislon zips to reduce snagging. Finally, main-zip baffles have been redesigned for improved warmth retention.
New K7 Down Jacket
New for this winter, the K7 is a full-on, high-mountain technical mountaineering jacket designed for seriously cold conditions. It's a box-walled jacket filled with ME's top spec 750+ fill power down - interestingly, ME says it's been accidentally underselling its down and in reality its 750s quoted down is more like 860+ when tested...
There's 330g of that down in a jacket that weighs 775g in total and it gets all three new developments. The High Dome HC was carefully developed using a number of prototypes for full stay-put adjustability and incorporates ME's EXL elasticated lining system. It takes a helmet too.
It also gets a Vislon zip and finally, the way the main zip baffle is constructed has been changed to improve efficiency. It's now a horizontal continuation of the main baffles rather than a seperate vertical tube, which apparently is more efficient when it comes to eliminating cold spots.
Finally the fabric is the lightweight version of ME's DriLite Loft II which is windproof and water resistant. Like we said, it's designed for serious cold conditions, think Himalayan climbing or alpine winter stuff and retails for £300. Looks lovely too.
Vega And Sigma Jackets Upgraded
For more general use, the updated Vega (men's) and Sigma (women's) jackets make more sense. They use the same 750+ goose down and fabrics but in a stitch-through construction which is lighter, easier and cheaper to produce and allows greater mobility when climbing or moving or just reaching for a pint in the Clachaig after an epic totter along the Aonach Eagach in winter...
Where were we? Oh yeah, erm, the jackets benefit from the new hood design, new zip and new baffle configuration too, but are obviously lighter at 645g/610g with 250g/200g of down respectively.
Oddly the ME web site quotes the men's version at £239 and the women's at £240, but we're guessing that's an error.
Xero Hooded Jackets Updated Too
Last but not least, the ultra-lightweight Xero jacket which uses stitch through baffles and the lighter He30.Rs fabric along with 232g of 750+ down also gets upgraded and there's a brand new women's version.
The helmet-friendly hood now has the EXL lining and the zip and baffle are also upgraded. This is ME's option for weight savers with a claimed 510g for the men's jacket and 450g for the women's. Should be spot on for fast moving alpine stuff, but also for minimalist Himalayan trekking trips. Price is £220.
Mountain Equipment's Down Codex
We're in the process of writing something a bit more extensive about this, but Mountain Equipment has put a massive amount of effort into something it calls its Down Codex. It's an initiative launched in 2009 where the brand has tried to audit its down supply chain to make sure it has the most ehtically and environmentally sourced down out there.
That means suppliers have to comply with a strict code of production from basics like down having to come from birds humanely slaughtered for food with no live plucking permitted, through to conditions the birds live in and water-based, non-solvent methods of cleaning down.
It means, says ME, that its down is as ethically sound as it can be with a transparently audited supply chain. On top of that, as consumer, you can now trace the down used in ME sleeping bags back to individual batches and suppliers.
It's a great idea that's won a lot of praise within the outdoor industry and you can find out more about it at www.thedownproject.me.uk.
Page Two - Serious winter mountain insulation and soft shell jackets