Charlie Boscoe reviews Mountain Equipment's 'tough and super hard' Kalanka jacket. Made from stretch Gore-Tex Pro Shell, and billed as offering soft shell-like precision and comfort but the protection of a hard shell, it's designed for the most demanding climbing and mountaineering. First tested in Nepal, the jacket then faced a bigger challenge: soggy, miserable UK autumn weather...
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Before I start talking about Mountain Equipment's new Kalanka jacket, I have a confession to make I've never really liked hard shells. I've found they don't breathe anything like as well as soft shell (despite the claims of manufacturers), they rustle noisily and are generally not that pleasant to wear. I'm not a fan of going out into the mountains in the rain either, so it all adds up to me wearing soft shell for all but a couple of days per year, leaving my Gore-Tex either in the bottom of my bag or (whisper it quietly) at home.
The Kalanka jacket is, however, billed as a cross between soft shell and hard shell breathes, moves and fits like soft shell, keeps you dry like a hardshell. The big question was would it actually manage it? More to the point, would I actually wear it in preference to soft shell?
Things started well when it emerged out of the packaging to admiring wolf whistles from friends over at my house. Function matters more than fashion (for most climbers), but if a garment looks good, you'll like it more and wear it more. We've all bought things that we weren't sure we liked and regretted it. The cut and colour of the Kalanka is spot on understated but smart and a good fit for an average shaped climber (wider at the shoulder than the waist!).
"The Kalanka jacket is billed as a cross between soft shell and hard shell..."
Furthermore, there are plenty of options for adjustment, from the simple cuff system through to the massive (but easily shrinkable) hood and the neat tightening system around the waist. It all feels very tough too some gear you pick up and just know that it will last, and the Kalanka is certainly one of those bits of kit.
My first opportunity to really put the Kalanka through its paces was on a guiding trip to Nepal in October not normally a good option for testing out waterproofs as it rarely rains. Luckily for me we got a rainy day, and I was secretly pleased as it presented a chance to get the jacket on and see how it went. I have to say that I was extremely impressed water beaded on the sleeves and never came close to penetrating, and even under my rucksack straps there was not a drop of water coming through.
"...Another thing that impressed was the huge but quite solid hood ... there is a lovely feeling of being separated from the rain and the wind around you..."
The cuffs are great too, and the chunky velcro strap kept them sealed all day. Another thing that really impressed me was that the hood is huge, but also quite solid, so you can keep it up and it stays perched above your head rather than flopping down and moulding itself around you, something which simultaneously makes you too hot and gets your head wet. The top of the main zip comes up really high too, so there is a lovely feeling of being separated from the rain and the wind around you.
Mountain Equipment Kalanka
More info on the Mountain Equipment website
What really surprised me was that when the sun came out, I kept the jacket on in preference to my soft shell. I felt comfortable, not clammy and hot as I usually do in hard shell, and I found that I liked being 'weatherproof' at all times, without needing to glance around and decide which shell I needed to be putting on. The Kalanka is really user-friendly too, with armpit zips, massive pockets and some nice fleece material at the top of the main zip, which presses against your face. None of them are key features, but they're all nice little extras and all add up to the Kalanka being a really pleasant jacket to wear.
I have to admit that I'm struggling to come up with any serious downsides with the Kalanka, but I'll do my best. One small quibble for a keen skier like myself is the lack a liftpass pocket on the left arm, which has become popular recently. (It says a lot that this is my biggest complaint!). Also, there is a whistle in the left hand chest pocket, which I could probably manage without - you wouldn't put a compass or a phone in there, so why the whistle? These really are tiny issues though, and they aren't even faults some people might like the whistle and the lack of a pocket on your left arm.
So all in all, a quite fantastic piece of gear. Smart looking, comfortable, completely weatherproof, versatile and extremely durable (mine has no signs of wear after several months of use in Nepal and the UK autumn). Perhaps the biggest surprise is that my trusty old soft shell has entered semi retirement, and been superseded by the Kalanka. If you don't believe me then keep an eye on my blog the light blue of my soft shell will not be appearing nearly as much as the green of the Kalanka. And I never thought I'd be saying that a few months ago.
About Charlie Boscoe
Charlie Boscoe is a skier and climber based in Chamonix, France. In between running his successful blog on Chamonix climbing conditions he also heads up expeditions and has recently lead a group up Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. You could say he has started the 'Seven Summits'. He likes Rugby, but we don't hold that against him too much.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Charlie Boscoe: