This review was carried out in accordance with Scotland's lockdown guidance on travel for work, and for outdoor exercise within the appropriate local authority area. Please abide by the restrictions where you live.
For the autumn/winter season, Mountain Equipment have refreshed their Kinesis range, offering two new legwear options as well as a slightly updated jacket. Over the last couple of months I've worn the new jacket and trousers almost every time I've headed out.
The Kinesis range is a good example of the current generation of lined soft shells, which combine a heat retaining fleecy inner with a weather-shedding face fabric. It's not a new idea, but one that many manufacturers currently offer in some form. While the two-in-one principle is less flexible than carrying a windproof and a lightweight fleece separately, it has the advantage of neatness, and I imagine it's marginally lighter and more packable for the protection on offer. Since they double as an outer layer in temperate conditions, and a mid layer in winter, this kind of softshell is a popular choice. I use them year round, for everything from cool weather rock climbing to hillwalking, scrambling to winter climbing.
This is the sort of light, breathable, minimally insulated layer that you can put on at the start of the day and just forget about, adding or removing other jackets on top as temperature and rainfall demand, but wearing your Kinesis throughout. In terms of performance and features, the Kinesis is currently my favourite such softshell. But I'm not totally convinced by some of the tailoring.
Kinesis Jacket - £180
We first reviewed Mountain Equipment's Kinesis Jacket last winter; changes for this season are fairly minor, the most notable being a realigned main zip that's gone from offset to centre, and a slightly increased face fabric weight. It has also gone up in price by £15. I'd say it's still worth the money - this is one of the best such jackets I've used - but there's no denying that the price tag now looks fairly steep for a softshell of this nature.
A lot of what I'll say below is a repeat of the previous review, but it makes sense to say it again.
Weight and packability
My size Large jacket last year weighed 340g, while I make the new version 357g, so though it's fractionally gained weight I think this still counts as 'lightweight' if not 'ultralight'. By comparison the Rab Vapour-Rise Summit jacket, one of the closest competitors to the Kinesis in terms of weight, warmth and remit, came in at 352g in a recent review:
Considering its loft the Kinesis Jacket scrunches down surprisingly small, and for easy packing, or to hang it off your harness, it stuffs into one of its hand pockets. Here it is beside a 1 litre water bottle for scale:
I find the Kinesis has enough thickness to offer a decent hit of insulation, while remaining very light-feeling when worn, and nicely packable when carried; in terms of a do-it-all softshell for year round mountain use I think this is an ideal kind of weight/warmth.
On the outside is something called HeliumAP, a lightweight Polyamide fabric that has a degree of wind resistance, and shrugs off a light shower so that you don't have to root around for a waterproof at the first sign of spindrift or drizzle. There's a slight stretch in the fabric, though only a very little, and it feels durable for its weight. I've climbed and scrambled a fair bit in last year's Kinesis Jacket, and not yet made a mark on the outer.
Though it's the same custom-made fabric as used previously, the new outer is slightly denser, and I'm told it's now more windproof than before, whilst still being air permeable. Mountain Equipment have tipped things a little more towards being protective, and as it's now 54gsm as opposed to 49gsm, perhaps it ought to feel slightly burlier than the previous version. I can't claim this is hugely obvious, with the two generations of the jacket held side by side. Despite the change the outer fabric's lightness and air permeability mean it'll never offer the same feeling of wind protection that you get from a stiffer heavyweight winter waterproof, so even in dry weather the Kinesis doesn't quite do the same job as a shell. I'll still be carrying both routinely.
Inside you get the space age-sounding Octayarn Warp-knit lining, which is a light fluffy Polyester pile with a good springy loft. If the name doesn't mean much to you, here's what Mountain Equipment told us about it last year:
"Octayarn is a low density, lofted fibre pile. Its multidentate (its cross section looks like a cog with eight teeth and a hollow centre) structure means it's got 50% more surface area than conventional yarns, making it warmer, faster drying and better wicking. The hollow nature of the fibre means it's warmer for a given weight."
This picture shows the difference clearly:
In theory this sounds brilliant, and I think it probably works in practise too. I've been surprised at how warm and fluffy the Kinesis feels for its thinness and minimal weight. The lining's open knit also helps make it highly breathable, as these sort of garments go. Hold it up to the light and it's practically see-through. It dries super-fast too, so you rarely feel at all clammy.
In spring, summer and autumn I found the previous Kinesis was often enough even when stationary on a belay or a summit stop. While it's hard to be objectively certain I think I've noticed the increased wind resistance of the new version, and have on several occasions been out on cold snowy summits without needing to add a shell over the top whilst moving. But in winter this is best considered an insulation layer for on the go. You soon cool down when you're stood around, and when the wind is strong you feel it. In the recent very low temperatures and constant high winds I've worn the Kinesis Jacket and Pants under waterproof top and bottoms.
Because it's relatively light, open and breathable for its warmth, the lining is ideal as a mid layer under a shell, and I've very rarely found myself overheating or feeling sweaty when working hard, even when layered up.
The new Kinesis Jacket is available for both men and women, and the basic cut has not changed from last year. As with the previous version, in my men's size L it has quite a roomy fit (I'm 1.83m and medium build). There's space inside for a base layer plus a light fleece, though I've tended to wear it over just the base and layer up over the top of it if cold, because that's how I think this sort of garment works best. The cut is also relatively long in the body, sitting just below the waist at the front and with a decent drop hem at the rear that gives at least partial bum coverage, eliminating cold spots.
I've not yet worn the new version for any sort of roped climbing - lockdown has made that tricky for a lot of us - but I found the previous model an ideal fit for this, and there's every sign that it's the same again here. The articulated cut of the sleeves allows full freedom of movement, while the length and active tailoring negate any hem lift. There's no danger of the jacket riding up to expose the midriff, or pulling out from under a harness. I find the tailoring really good for active use, however if you're of slim build and don't intend to wear it over anything more than a base layer then you may find the cut errs towards the baggy around the tummy. The same can be said of Rab's Vapour-Rise Summit jacket, and I do wonder if a looser fit is just a feature of this sort of lined softshell - they don't stretch much after all, and you've got to get your free movement somewhere.
Hood and collar
Though it had a nominally helmet-compatible hood I didn't find last year's Kinesis an ideal match for a helmet, with quite a restricted feel when the main zip was fully fastened. While Mountain Equipment make no mention of a redesign here, I do think the new hood is more successful in this regard: side to side head movement feels freer; it's not as tight over the chin; and there's no hem lift when you pull up the hood over a helmet. Looking up is restricted however, so I still don't think I'd choose to climb with the hood pulled over a helmet. Being soft and low-profile, you could instead opt to wear it under your helmet.
With three points of adjustment, the hood has a good close fit on a helmet-free head, and this season's built-in toggles are a lot less fiddly and more usable with gloves than last year's small external adjusters. I like the slightly structured brim too, which is enough to stop things flapping about in the wind. Though the Kinesis is sold as a climbing jacket, I think that overall the hood is still better for walking than climbing, which is only a minor letdown because of the fact that I usually find Mountain Equipment's helmet-hood tailoring to be among the best (and therefore hold them to a high standard).
Perhaps thanks to having moved the main zip to the middle, the collar of the new Kinesis seems to hold up more readily around the neck than previously, giving you snug up-to-chin coverage with or without the hood up.
Placed high enough to be usable with a harness or rucksack hipbelt, the two zipped hand pockets have sufficient room for hat and gloves. As mentioned above, one of them doubles as a very useful storage pouch with tabs to hang it off your harness - a definite plus for multi pitch rock, though the fact that this year's pockets are roomier than last season's does mean that your pouch is now a bit larger (albeit easier to stuff). As I said last year, not all lightweight mountain softshells feature a stow pocket, but they probably all ought to. The single smaller chest pocket is where I carry my phone, to keep it warm and undamaged. The fact that this sits above the insulation does leave your phone exposed in a cold wind, and my battery charge has definitely suffered as a result.
Should you want to access your waist without removing the jacket (not likely in a light layer such as this), the robust, chunky main zip features a double zipper. You also get a decent snag-free draught excluding strip inside, which secures at the bottom with a popper; this press stud may also stop the bottom zipper riding up as you walk, something I've noticed on some jackets in the past.
The offset zip of last year's model has now become a conventional centre zip. This sounds like a small thing, but the offset zip was one of my few issues with the previous version, and I think making it central has resulted in a better jacket. The diagonal zip was supposed to be comfy on the underside of your chin (no zipper rubbing), but I've rarely found rubbing here to be an issue in the past, and its drawback is that you end up with an offset collar with one big flappy side when the jacket is unzipped: the symmetrical centre zip is more sensible.
Mountain Equipment say:
A superfast drying action layer that combines warmth and weather protection for the most demanding climbing and mountaineering. Balancing the moisture transfer required for running up exposed ice fields with the durability needed for rock climbing in the high mountains. The specially developed Octayarn Warp-knit lining offers insulation you can move fast in combined with rapid drying that will be appreciated on one day sprints and multi-day missions alike.
- Weight: 357g size L (our weight)
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
- Lightweight HeliumAP outer fabric with mechanical stretch; highly breathable and wind resistant
- Octayarn Warp-knit lining for exceptional insulation, breathability and comfort
- Mountain HC Hood is fully adjustable
- Active fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeves
- 2-way YKK® moulded centre front zip
- 2 zipped hand pockets and Napoleon chest pocket
- Adjustable cuffs and dual tether hem
For more info see mountain-equipment.co.uk
Kinesis Pants - £140
The previous version of the Kinesis Pants (trousers) tried to be a crossover between something that could be worn alone or as a really warm and protective base-layer. Mountain Equipment have now split this into two dedicated products, Kinesis Pants and Kinesis Base Pants. The trousers are clearly the more versatile of the two, and I can see them being popular for mountaineering, winter climbing and cold weather hillwalking.
Weight and warmth
At 343g my pair of size 34/regular length Kinesis Pants don't seem at all heavy for the level or warmth and weather protection on offer. I don't have any equivalent legwear to compare with, but one of my other regular winter mountain trousers, an old pair of Mountain Equipment G2 Ultimate Mountain Pants, weigh a hefty 495g in the same size. A more conventional thick stretchy softshell, these feel more robust and perhaps a bit more windproof than the Kinesis Pants, but they certainly aren't as warm, and for anything snowy I tend to wear thin leggings under them. It has to get pretty cold before I want to add a baselayer under the Kinesis Pants.
Mountain Equipment offer the Kinesis Pants in both men's and women's versions. I have big legs, and even I struggle to fill these trousers. On my 34 inch waist men's pair the baggy feel around the thighs, seat and hips suggests a more female fit, and while there's a lot to like about the Kinesis Pants this shape is not one of my favourite features. I think these trousers might have worked with a more athletic cut, which would have made them neater and less flappy in the wind. On the other hand most two-part softshells I've worn over the years have been baggy, so the loose look of the upper leg may partly be a feature of the layered construction, and the floaty drape of the lightweight outer. Suffice to say, if you have skinny legs then do try these on before you buy!
A gusseted crotch and a shaped knee panel add some articulation to the cut, but I'm glad Mountain Equipment used a stretchier fabric on the knee (see below) because I find the fit a bit close when the leg is raised high. Perhaps I have long thigh bones, but it's not a big deal as it doesn't really limit movement. Down at the lower leg the cut feels more successful. There's a generous ankle gusset to fit over bulky winter boots; this can be zipped closed to give you a straight leg, and with three poppers at the bottom the fit can be pulled in tighter, which makes for a neat ankle that would be hard to snag with a crampon, and gives you a good view of your feet.
As per the jacket you get the light, breathable and wind resistant HeliumAP outer fabric overall, but here it's reinforced at the knee and seat with Mountain Equipment's Exolite 125 soft shell fabric. This slightly thicker stuff has a more robust feel, and it seems more stretchy too. A little kick patch of this material is also added down at the ankle to help guard against crampon damage. Inside it's that Octoyarn Warp-knit lining from top to bottom, making these some of the more snuggly trousers I have in the winter arsenal.
In the main this autumn and winter I've worn the Kinesis Pants as a stand-alone layer, and used like this I think they cover a good range of temperatures and activity levels, from less aerobic activity in more temperate conditions to working hard in sub-zero weather. That fluffy lining is really nice against a bare leg, and of course with legwear you can usually get by with less insulation than on your upper half. However just like the jacket they have their limits in terms of both wind and cold. The face fabric is so light and thin that it easily gets pushed around in the wind, which can make things a bit more flappy and less protective than in a thicker, heavier pair of conventional softshell trousers. On a day when the wind at height was forecast to be between 20-30mph, and summit temperatures down to -8, I took a triple layered approach, sandwiching the Kinesis Pants between a light baselayer and a pair of waterproof overtrousers. I was if anything a bit too toasty. If you layer up against the wind then these are really warm trousers.
A double popper, integrated webbing belt and zipped fly give you a conventional trouser feel at the top, and with two zippers, men can have a pit stop even when encumbered with a harness (am I the only one who doesn't really find this design a benefit?).
The two zipped hand pockets have a fleecy lining for snugness, and effectively this adds an extra layer of insulation at the top of the thighs. Lower down one thigh is a single small zipped pocket, which I will never use since it's an uncomfortable place to carry anything.
Given the trousers' warmth I was relieved to discover the hidden leg vents, which provide a zipped opening from below the knee to mid-thigh. Opening upwards, these are a really effective heat dump when you're working up a sweat (unlike a jacket you can't, after all, sensibly remove your trousers). If I have one niggle it's that the opening is so huge and starts so low on the leg that you can end up flicking snow into the lining when post-holing through deep drifts. It's my thighs I want to vent, not my knees; a top-down zipper might have been better, or a double zipper that let you partly open at whatever height you wanted.
Mountain Equipment say:
Fast drying, wind resistant and lightly insulated legwear for cold weather mountaineering. With wind and weather resistant HeliumAP outer fabric and a specially developed Octoyarn Warp-knit lining the Kinesis Pants are both supremely functional and exceptionally comfortable. They're equally functional worn alone or under a shell.
- Weight: 343g size 34/regular (our weight)
- Sizes: 30-38 reg or long (men) 8-16 (women)
- Lightweight HeliumAP outer fabric with mechanical stretch; highly breathable and windproof
- Octoyarn Warp-knit lining for exceptional insulation, breathability and comfort
- EXOLITE 125 stretch soft shell fabric reinforcements (knees, seat and ankles)
- Active fit with gussetted crotch
- Integrated belt with double press stud waist closure
- 2 zipped hand pockets
- 2 zipped thigh vents
- Snow shedding HeliumAP hem lining
- Ankle zip with internal gusset panel to accommodate all mountain boots
For more info see mountain-equipment.co.uk
Kinesis Base Pants - £100
And now for something completely different. Kinesis Base Pants are a super-snug base layer with some of the features of softshell trousers - but for me they score a miss on both counts. This unconventional garment wins absolutely no points for style, and its ideal niche seems quite specialised. If you're after serious leg insulation for extreme cold weather or expedition use then Base Pants might be a hit, but for hillwalking and winter climbing in the UK they probably won't be top of the wish list. While I have worn them successfully on a high, snowy camp, it's fair to say that I've not yet been able to put these technical plus fours through their paces. But my main issue is obvious from only limited use - the quirky cut.
Weight and warmth
At just 181g in size L, the Kinesis Base Pants seem pretty light for the warmth on offer, and while they're heavier and thicker than a standard pair of baselayer leggings they obviously give a whole lot more insulating performance. I've seen leggings in Polartec Powerstretch at about the same weight, and while I don't have any to hand to compare, from what I recall of Powerstretch leggings the warmth is going to be roughly on a par.
If the Kinesis Pants have a roomy top half and a close-fitting lower leg, Kinesis Base Pants take this theme, and run with it. All round the upper thighs, hips, seat and crotch the cut on me is roomy to excess, while from below the knees down it's the opposite extreme, with a calf-hugging cut that's more suggestive of a base layer as commonly understood. I'd say the overall effect is something like a pair of jodhpurs or plus fours; my wife favours old man longjohns (not a sentence I thought I'd be writing for a few decades). Suffice to say they both look and feel quite comical.
Of course, as a base layer this legwear is not designed to be on show. And that would be fine, except for the fact that a key job of a baselayer is to fit neatly under other trousers, a test that Kinesis Base Pants conspicuously fail. With all the excess material around the top of the legs, layering up feels bulky and baggy. This is exacerbated by the fact that Kinesis Base Pants have hand pockets, an odd feature for baselayer legwear and one that of course adds even more bulk, and can also feel hot.
Having worn them in bed on a cold snowy camp, and then underneath the Kinesis Pants to walk home next day, I can confirm that the Base Pants are brilliant in terms of being a super warm base layer, but less than brilliant in the way they make you feel like a walking balloon.
While I'm physically unable to fill the seat, hips and crotch, I find the fit at the knee and calf to be borderline too tight, so that high legs feel slightly resisted. Let's just say that Kinesis Base Pants and I are not a comfortable fit, and at risk of becoming a middle aged man in lycra, I would far prefer skin tight stretchy leggings to this hybrid design. Given their idiosyncrasies, I have to ask who exactly they were tailored for?
For use in really cold conditions, the full Octayarn Warp-knit lining is a lovely thing, since it's so warm for its weight, breathable, quick drying and just plain soft and snug against bare skin. Outside, most of the legs are covered in a highly breathable stretchy mesh. This seems to pair really well with the lining, and in these areas I've yet to notice any sweaty feel.
Over the seat and the front of the legs down to the knee, on the other hand, you get the same HeliumAP outer fabric as used on the trousers and jacket. Given that the Base Pants are designed to be worn either with softshell trousers or on their own under a shell, I guess it makes sense to give them some weather resistant fabric in the areas most exposed to the elements. However this isn't as stretchy or as breathable-feeling as the mesh areas, and I wonder if in trying to be a base layer-plus, the Kinesis Base Pants have slightly undermined their performance as a standard base layer. Since I'm never going to wear them under a waterproof shell in preference to a pair of full-blown trousers, I think I'd have preferred an outer in mesh all over.
I've already mentioned the unfortunate hand pockets. Other than that the Kinesis Base Pants are suitably simple, with an elasticated waistband and a drawcord with a low profile adjuster.
Mountain Equipment say:
The optimum base layer for cold weather and expedition use. Whether worn under hard or soft shell pants this is the most effective base layer you can use, either on cold climbing days or extended expeditions. HeliumAP outer fabric and a specially developed Octayarn Warp-knit lining make the Kinesis Base Pants exceptionally warm and incredibly fast drying.
- Weight: 181g size L
- Sizes: XS-XL (men)
- Lightweight HeliumAP outer fabric with mechanical stretch; highly breathable and wind resistant (thigh, knee and seat)
- Octayarn Warp-knit lining for exceptional insulation, breathability and comfort
- Active fit with gusseted crotch
- Low volume elasticated waistband with drawcord
- 2 hand pockets