For this winter season Mountain Equipment carried out an extensive overhaul of their glove range, resulting in a number of new models. The Super Couloir is described as their 'finest cold weather mountaineering glove'. With high quality materials, zoned insulation, a waterproof membrane and a slimline cuff that fits easily under jacket sleeves, the Super Couloir lives up to its billing. OK, there's a price tag to match, but whether you're climbing in the Alps or scratching up a Scottish winter route, or just out enjoying some general winter walking or mountaineering, this tough, well-fitted glove would be a great choice.
Weight and dexterity
My size L review pair come in very close to the manufacturer's stated weight of 190g. My other long-used pair of winter gloves are a pair of Rab Guides; only marginally more weighty at 220g on my scales. It may be partly a personal fit thing, but there's a big difference in how the two feel on my hands. The Super Couloir gloves simply feel more malleable on my hands - good for working with tools, gear and ropes. A large part of this is the soft-shell back and the pre-curved fingers, which make the gloves ideal for working in. I still take them off if I want to get a task done quickly, so they're no magic bullet. But they are very good at what they do.
I've been using the Super Couloir gloves for several months. From the damp cold of early Scottish winter, through wind and blizzards, to the cold crisp days we all dream of, they've now seen a good range of conditions, and been tried and tested in various situations from simple hillwalks, through mountaineering routes, to fumbling with trad gear, ice screws and abseil ropes.
Mountain Equipment say that the gloves are designed primarily for "cold weather mountaineering". For most of us that'll mean winter climbing or alpine, and the design of the glove is centred on this. The palm and inside of the fingers are insulated by thin micro fleece, while the back of the hand has thicker fibre pile. The rationale for this thicker insulation is that the outside of the hand is exposed to cold in a way the palm generally isn't; and on the other hand the gripping side of the hand needs the dexterity that a thinner fill can provide. Outside you get stretchy softshell fabric (something called Exolite 210), which is reinforced in high wear areas with Pittards Armortan. Used on many premium gloves, this goatskin leather is soft and supple, yet very hard wearing. A Gore-Tex inner completes the package, making the gloves effectively waterproof - so long as no water gets in via the cuffs of course.
ME-sponsored climber Dave MacLeod explains a bit about the thinking that went into the design and choice of materials in these gloves here:
As for my own experience of them, well I've not been climbing like a MacLeod but I'll say that I've had cold fingers in them just the once. I was standing in a freezing wind on the summit of Beinn Bhan in Lochaber for half an hour or so. Back at the car the temperature was -10°C, so rather than being a potential drawback, I think it might be considered a triumph to have stayed out for that long (to be fair, it was a stunning day!).
Weight and durability
These aren't bulky gloves, but they are easily as warm as my previous pair, Rab Guides. That pair had a fair bit more weight to them, and also don't handle as well on my hand (this will have a lot to do with fit of course, about which more below).
Regarding the longevity of the Super Couloir, the choice of goatskin leather and stitching around the palm is significant. The idea is that the area around the thumb and index finger gets by far the most wear and tear on winter gloves. Mountain Equipment removed the stitching from this area so it forms a single panel of leather. It might take a couple seasons of winter climbing to truly get a feel for their durability, but the outlook is positive.
With its pre-curved digits, the Super Couloir is designed for maximum dexterity. Nevertheless all hand shapes are different and not every glove will fit everyone equally. It's worth trying these things on before you buy them. Mountain Equipment have gone for fairly short fingers and the digits are of quite even length, so if that describes you, these gloves would be worth a shot. On the other hand, if you have long thin fingers, and particularly if there's a marked difference in length between your various digits, then the Super Couloir may not be for you. Our Gear Editor Dan Bailey, for instance, couldn't get on with the Super Couloir - but his loss was my gain, because I find them an excellent fit. I reckon the sizing of the fingers is snug relative to the size of the glove: my fingers fit right into the ends, which doesn't always happen! My palm circumference is 8 inches/20cm and a Large size has fitted me well.
Though their subtle, neat design definitely follows the 'less is more' adage, you do get a few notable features for the climber:
Wrist loops are attached to the gloves, made of elasticated cord to form a tight loop around the wrist. I do wonder about the long term durability of this material, but that's just speculation for now. Unlike some gloves, the cord is tight-fitting to your wrist so no worries about dropping them when you take them off.
Usefully you also get a pull-on loop, which helps you get the gloves on snug (think cold wooden fingers or wet hands for instance). Then, to stop them riding back off, the velcro closure across the gauntlet pulls the glove down across the gap between the thumb and index finger to hold it in place. And if you like to clip your gloves to your harness (perhaps when swapping into something thinner for a hard pitch) then ME have included the obligatory karabiner loops that allow the gloves to hang cuff-down to prevent them filling with snow.
As with all great bits of kit you are actually paying more for less - that is, less clutter. Fundamentally the neat trim feel of these gloves is their defining characteristic. The gauntlet is narrow too, so no issues getting it under a jacket sleeve. The glove's design might be felt as overkill outside winter climbing and mountaineering. In particular, the pre-curve in the fingers feels quite aggressive. While climbers will love this feature, someone simply looking to keep their hands warm on a country stroll will get away with less. Should your goals instead exceed the Super Couloir, Mountain Equipment have also brought out the Direkt, a thinner and more dextrous glove for really technical climbing. In terms of dexterity for climbing, I've got on fine with just the Super Couloir though.
So there you have it; this is a pretty bombproof glove, and a model that I've found it difficult to fault. OK they are pricey, and for winter walkers or lower grade winter climbers, or those who only get out occasionally, something cheaper would definitely suffice. But if fit, quality, and a really usable balance between dexterity and insulation are important to you then you could see the £125 price tag of the Super Couloir as an investment in warm hands! I think the cost reflects their durability, and I can certainly see myself using these for several more seasons, whether I'm climbing or just out walking on the winter hills.
Mountain Equipment say:
Warm, waterproof, tough and dexterous; our finest cold weather mountaineering glove. A waterproof GORE-TEX® insert and Pittards® Armortan® Goatskin leather palm combine with our completely redeveloped Climbing fit to make these an exceptionally protective glove for the biggest and hardest routes. Pre-curved and articulated fingers ensure secure handling of krabs and screws as well as a firm grip on tools.
- Price: £125
- Weight: 190g size L
- Sizes: XS - XXL
- GORE-TEX® insert is durably waterproof, windproof and highly breathable
- EXOLITE 210 stretch double weave Soft Shell outer
- Pittards® Armortan® Goatskin leather palm and back of hand overlay
- Climbing fit with pre-curved and articulated fingers and thumb
- Fibre pile inner lining on back of hand
- Micro fleece inner lining on palm
- Adjustable cuff closure
- Removable wrist tethers
- Reversed suede nose wipe
- Karabiner carry loops
For more info see mountain-equipment.co.uk