Mountain Equipment Switch Pro Hooded Jacket and Switch Trousers Review

© Dave Saunders

Quick-drying, breathable, and very warm for their minimal weight, these lined softshells make a great top-and-bottom combination for active use in winter mountains, says Dan Bailey.

Mountain Equipment have updated their Switch Pro Jacket, with a new lining that should be more breathable and a touch warmer than the original. Fluffy on the inside, slightly weather-shedding on the outside, this sort of light-ish lined softshell sits somewhere between a midlayer and a jacket, scoring big on versatility. Many brands do something similar. In Mountain Equipment's lineup over the last few years the niche was filled most obviously by the Kinesis.

On warmer, less windy winter days the Switch jacket and Pants work well without a shell  © Dave Saunders
On warmer, less windy winter days the Switch jacket and Pants work well without a shell
© Dave Saunders

We reviewed the Kinesis jacket and accompanying trousers a couple of years back, and got on well with both:


With the Kinesis discontinued the Switch is to an extent a replacement, albeit less of a jacket and more a midlayer in feel. This range of lightweight, fast-drying, slightly weatherproof layers now includes a hoody, a hoodless top, a gilet (for men only) and trousers. Here we're looking at the hoody, the Switch Pro, which pairs perfectly with the Switch Pant [sic].

Pros: Light, breathable, warm for its low weight
Cons: Cut could be better for climbing

Switch vs Aerothern: what's the difference?

The eagle-eyed will spot another ostensibly similar piece in the ME catalogue - the Aerotherm.

While the distinctions are fairly nuanced, these two tops are in fact intended for slightly different things. One big divider is that the Aerotherm has a windproof outer throughout, making it better as a stand-alone piece, whereas the Switch includes fleece panels that make it more breathable yet less weather-resistant when worn without a shell. On the other hand the micro-grid lining on the Aerotherm is not as warm as the Octayarn inner on the Switch (more on that shortly). Whilst the latter is only 40g or so heavier it is significantly warmer, clearly making it the better choice as a winter climbing or cold weather midlayer, whereas the Aerotherm works well as a slightly more weather-shedding outer for rock climbing, running or walking on a cool breezy day.

Switch Pro and Switch Pants - a good combo for winter  © Dave Saunders
Switch Pro and Switch Pants - a good combo for winter
© Dave Saunders
Breathable, quick-drying, and warm for their weight  © Dave Saunders
Breathable, quick-drying, and warm for their weight
© Dave Saunders

Switch Pro Hooded Jacket - £200

With its fantastic balance of warmth and breathability this is one of those items you can put on at the start of the day and then keep wearing throughout, whether you're working hard or stood around, adding or removing other layers on top as the weather dictates. It works really well as a winter midlayer, but it's a bit more than that too, with enough weather performance to function as a stand-alone nearly-jacket when conditions are benign.

High collar keeps the neck warm  © Dan Bailey
High collar keeps the neck warm
© Dan Bailey
Hood is soft and unstructured  © Dan Bailey
Hood is soft and unstructured
© Dan Bailey

Weight and packability

At just 347g in size L the Switch Pro is practically the same weight as my old Kinesis, and I'd say it's pretty darn light for the warmth it gives. It stuffs away into one of its own pockets with tabs to clip to your harness, always a welcome feature for summer climbing.

Packs into its own pocket  © Dan Bailey
Packs into its own pocket
© Dan Bailey


This top, along with the hoodless Switch Jacket and switch Pants, comes in both men's and women's versions; but for some reason only men get the option of the gilet.

One of the things that made the Kinesis feel like a jacket was its generous fit. The Switch has a closer athletic cut, so it's more inclined to fit under a shell, and though I have on occasion worn both a baselayer and a light gilet underneath, it's very clearly sized as a midlayer more than a jacket.

It's not particularly long in the body, something I often seem to find with Mountain Equipment, and the fact that there's no drawcord at the waist means it's a little loose and airy around the midriff - again, more midlayer than jacket. The sleeves taper from spacious in the armpit to close at the wrist, which is neat and unobtrusive when climbing and I suppose reduces bulk under a shell. Stretchy fleece panels aid freedom of movement but there isn't as much give in the insulated parts, and I do get a lot of hem lift with arms raised. When climbing I often have to tug the hem back under my harness. ME suggest this is a top for alpine climbing, but given the hem lift I would consider it more of a mountain all-rounder, and the fit on me makes it better for walking or even cold weather running. Since people all come in different shapes and sizes you'll need to assess the hem thing for yourself when trying it on.

Really like the stretchy cuffs  © Dan Bailey
Really like the stretchy cuffs
© Dan Bailey

Fabric and lining

Outside is a 20D nylon, which gives a modicum of wind resistance without being too impermeable to breathe effectively. Its PFC-free DWR is enough to handle a bit of blown snow or light smirr, but beyond that you're looking at shell territory; this is not an almost-all-weather level of softshell protection.

Inside the previous Switch Pro you'd have found Polartec Alpha, plus a lining fabric. Moving to using Octayarn insulation with no additional lining, as per the Kinesis, means the new version should breathe better. It sounds like something from Star Trek, but Octayarn Warp-knit lining is a bit more down to earth than that, being a fluffy pile with a good springy loft. Here's what Mountain Equipment have told us about it previously:

"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:

Octayarn in extreme close-up  © Mountain Equipment
Octayarn in extreme close-up
© Mountain Equipment

In use it definitely seems to live up to this billing, and for such a light jacket the Switch Pro is really toasty. It's also quick-drying, which is ideal for stop-start activities. 

The hybrid element of the Switch Pro is the addition of large panels of another sci-fi-sounding fabric, Pontetorto Technostretch 187 (sorry, I don't make them up). Zoned on the sides of the body, along the underside of the sleeves, around the cuffs, and over the top of the hood, this light and stretchy grid fleece is very open and airy, which helps keep you cool and unsweaty when working hard. The balance between the breathable fleece and the warmer Octoyarn makes this a brilliant midlayer, basically because you never have to think about it once it's on. 


Pile-lined for snugness, the two zipped hand pockets are positioned a bit too low to remain properly usable with a rucksack hipbelt or harness, but to make up for that you get two very spacious chest pockets. This is where I tend to carry a phone, though bear in mind that because the chest pockets are placed above the insulation you're not going to keep the battery that warm.  

Hood-wise it's the light, unstructured, under-helmet variety. In a fair wind the hood needs a helmet or a shell to hold it down, since otherwise it's loose (and unadjustable) and whips around like an unspliced mainbrace. If you want a properly substantial and adjustable hood then perhaps look for an end-of-line Kinesis or a Rab Vapour-Rise Summit Jacket, because again this is one of the features that makes the Switch Pro that bit less of a jacket and more a midlayer. The high collar is nice and snug though.

Switch Pant[s] - £170

I've used these trousers both as a stand-alone thing on cold-but-calm days and worn under shell trousers in foul weather, and they work equally well in each case. However they're neither as weatherproof nor as durable as a burly pair of traditional thick winter softshell trousers, so the occasions you'd want to wear them minus shell are arguably fairly specific - cold, calm and dry. The ease with which you can layer up over them is great, but even more to write home about is how warm they are for something so genuinely ultralight.    

Switch Pro Hooded Jacket and Switch Trousers  © Dave Saunders
Switch Pro Hooded Jacket and Switch Trousers
© Dave Saunders


Weighing just 256g in size L the Switch trousers are significantly lighter than the old Kinesis Pants, while seemingly keeping you just as toasty. Perhaps the difference is down to the closer cut. If you're on a gram-counting mission, carrying them as your leg warming extra layer for a cold camp for instance, then their amazing warmth:weight ratio is likely to be a huge advantage. I'd pick these over backup leggings any day.

Big vents for dumping heat  © Dan Bailey
Big vents for dumping heat
© Dan Bailey


It's the same combo of Octayarn on the inside and light, slightly stretchy, and moderately wind-resistant fabric outside, but with no fleece panels. On your legs the quick-drying and super-snug Switch concept works really well, and I think you'd want it to be properly cold before you'd need to consider adding baselayer leggings beneath. On their own they're a bit delicate for climbing, fine on straightforward snow plods but likely to be less fine if you're scratching around on a mixed route.

Nice trim lower leg  © Dan Bailey
Nice trim lower leg
© Dan Bailey


While I found the Kinesis Pants pretty roomy throughout, the fit on the Switch Pants has been streamlined significantly. The lower leg in particular is a lot more tapered, which is a good thing since a closer cut at the ankle means less chance of crampon snagging and neater layering under a pair of shell trousers.

Nevertheless it's not streamlined all the way, as there's a lot more room in the upper thigh, seat and crotch. On me the crotch tends to hang low, not quite roadman style but not ideal for high stepping, and I have to wear the waist high to compensate. It's not a flattering cut but it is practical. This two-layer style of softshell clothing tends not to have a lot of stretch, so it makes sense for movement to keep things roomy in the upper leg. Wearing a harness seems to help keep the trousers up.


You get a fly but no full opening, and for simplicity (and a neater fit under a harness) I really like the low-profile tracksuit bottom-style elasticated waist and drawcord. Big side vents help you let off steam, and you're probably going to need them. There's a zipped thigh pocket too, though I doubt I'll often use it.


Quick-drying, breathable, and notably warm for their minimal weight, the Switch Pro Jacket and Switch Pants are a great combination for active use in winter mountains. While not quite as weatherproof as some lined softshells, and so less likely to stand alone as an outer layer, they are still more capable than many midlayers, and that versatility is really useful. I'm not a great fan of the cut on either, and for me this makes them a bit marginal as climbing-wear, and much better for hillwalking (for which I think they excel) or even running (in the case of the top). Of course this fit issue may not be a concern for some users, and you'll have to try them on to find out. If you're about to say that £200 is a bit steep for a souped-up midlayer then it's maybe worth noting that obvious rivals seem to be hitting a similar price - for instance Rab's Vapour-Rise Summit (same ballpark for warmth but slightly more jacket-like) is £195.

For more information

19 Feb

I can't believe they've discontinued the Kinesis range, absolute madness.

19 Feb

I'm going to be looking after my Kinesis jacket and trousers better!

Although I may have a look at the switch trousers, as I do prefer a slimmer cut.

Still baggy round the bum and crotch, but the cut has definitely improved...

21 Feb

if anyone is missing out, I have a Kinesis in size small for sale, perfect condition, sadly doesn't fit

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