With its wet and windy weather, stinging spindrift, high aerobic output and general wear and tear, winter is hard on your waterproofs. So what's the ideal shell for Scottish winter climbing and gnarly hill walks? A beefy and protective one!
It's been five years since our last winter shells group test, and of course a lot has changed since then. Here we review 12 of the latest tough technical shells from leading manufacturers.
There's a lot to ask of a winter waterproof, and bearing in mind the high prices we have aimed to be picky about every last detail. These are the criteria we've judged them on:
Weight and durability
We're not looking to go fast-n-light here, and in fact we're considering lightness to be something of a disadvantage since it inevitably means thinner and less robust fabrics. Whether you're doing battle with a mixed climb, lugging a heavy pack across snowbound peaks or cringing into your hood as the hail begins to bite, winter mountains are an arduous environment, and for most climbers, mountaineers and winter hillwalkers, durability and weather protection are far more important than saving a bit of weight. For this review we asked for burly and protective shells, and in the main that's what we got, with around 500g being a benchmark figure.
While a wide range of brand name and no-name waterproof breathable fabrics are available to manufacturers, what we're after here are heavyweight fabrics that are acceptably breathable for aerobic activity in winter conditions, while also standing up to the inevitable mountain abuse. You need something that can take repeated abrasion from rock, ropes and pack straps, after all, and also offer enough stiffness to resist billowing in a winter gale, since a flappy shell will compromise the insulation you wear beneath. There's a balance to be struck between heavyweight protection and breathability, and even the best winter shell will be hotter and sweatier than a decent lightweight summer waterproof. Given variations in layering, weather, activity level and individual metabolism, it's very hard to judge a jacket's breathability, let alone meaningfully compare it to others. We've done our best! In an ideal world we'd have published objective test figures for breathability and waterproofness, but these are only patchily available. Market leading fabric manufacturers can be very secretive about their lab results.
Winter shells should be sized generously to allow for warm layers beneath. A longer hem means more protection, and less chance of exposing your midriff or under layers to the weather. Is it long enough to sit well below your waist, and does the hemline drop at the rear to provide some bum coverage? The cut of the sleeves needs to allow free arm movement, and cuffs need to be wide enough to effortlessly fit over bulky gloves. The overall tailoring should make it possible to raise your arms to climb without suffering the dreaded 'hem lift', and without the jacket gradually riding up out of a harness.
A decent hood is vital in a mountain shell, so it's surprising how many inadequate ones we've seen over the years. It needs to fit a helmet without limiting head movement when your zip's done up, but it also has to work on a helmet-free head, giving a close-enough fit that it doesn't flap or restrict your vision. From keeping out spindrift and drips, to providing a bit of beef to resist billowing in the wind, a stiffened peak is pretty much essential in the stormy British hills. Since the hood is so important, we've given it a dedicated heading in the write-up for each jacket.
Zips should be sturdy and at least nominally water resistant (none are 100% waterproof in the real world). Are pockets well placed for access when wearing a rucksack hipbelt or harness, and are they large enough to hold bulky gloves and OS maps? Do you get pit zips for venting without having to undo the jacket? How about drawcords and toggles - are they easily operated when wearing thick gloves, and are the cords tucked neatly out of the way to avoid snags?
Weight: 525g size M
Pros: Good cut, plenty of length and a simple design make this an excellent all-round mountain shell at a very fair price
Cons: Not quite as burly and protective as some. You're not getting Gore Pro here.
The North Face
Weight: 660g size M
Pros: Long in the body; plenty of pockets; great hood
Cons: So-so breathability in humid conditions; durability issues with our review sample; very high price
Weight: 569g size M
Pros: Fantastic value; great large cuffs; good hood
Cons: Boxy cut in the body. You're not getting Gore Pro here.
Weight: 552g size M
Pros: Interesting high-performing fabric, super solid, and plenty of features
Cons: The cut may feel short-but-broad on some users, and the hood won't work for everyone. The price is grim
Ortles 3 Gore-Tex Pro Hard Shell
Weight: 430g size M
Pros: A lot of features and a decent active cut; very clever volume adjusting hood
Cons: The lightness inevitably means a less protective shell; ours also suffered durability issues. It's a little close fitting and short in the body
Weight: 472g size M
Pros: Simple and sturdy, with a brilliant cut - and at an affordable price
Cons: Not many. Lack of pit zips, if you need those
Exposure 2 Gore-Tex Pro Jacket
Weight: 493g size M
Pros: A tough and protective shell with plenty of features
Cons: Quite short in the body; poor hood; high price
Weight: 400g size M
Pros: Well cut for movement, and an unfussy design
Cons: Almost too light for a 'bombproof' shell review, so not as sturdy and protective as the heavyweights. For a light shell, it's pricey
Weight: 529g size M
Pros: Excellent cut for climbing; slightly cheaper than some rivals of similar spec
Cons: Not as all-out bombproof as jackets with heavier fabric throughout. Hood can have trouble in high wind
Weight: 520g size M
Pros: All the essential features of a technical shell in an exceptionally affordable package
Cons: Not many at this price. Quite short in the body
Pros: Bombproof protection but still light and simple; hood is excellent
Cons: Pockets simply don't work for climbing; cut could be a bit more refined
Weight: 586g size M
Pros: Beefy and protective, with a feature set as long as your arm
Cons: Too many pockets? Hood peak not as sturdy as some. And it's not cheap
Rab Kangri GTX - £280
Having used alternative waterproof fabrics for years, Rab recently partnered with market-dominating Gore-Tex, and their GTX range now runs to four mountain-oriented shells. In terms of price, fabrics and features, the Kangri GTX is the entry-level model. Its higher priced stablemates in Gore-Tex Pro are arguably more directly comparable to many of the other jackets on review here, and tailored more towards climbers. However these models will soon be upgrading, so we'll review them next winter! The Kangri GTX is a tough, well-featured and capable shell in its own right, and though its official remit is more hillwalking and scrambling we think it more than adequate for winter or alpine climbing too. If you don't need, or perhaps can't afford, the ultimate performance of Gore-Tex Pro (and end users may struggle to say how much better it really is), then the Kangri GTX ticks most other boxes at a lower price.
In 3-layer Gore-Tex Performance Shell, not the higher spec Gore-Tex Pro, this jacket is at the more affordable end of the technical shell spectrum. The main difference between the two is that Performance Shell uses a layer of PU to protect the EPTFE membrane from contamination, whereas Pro uses multiple layers of EPTFE without a PU coating. Since PU coatings do reduce breathability, this makes Pro more breathable. Gore do not provide figures for breathability, so on paper we simply can't say how much better a more expensive alternative in Gore-Tex Pro would have been. But we can say that in real world wear the fabric featured here feels highly waterproof (as you'd expect) and seems perfectly breathable enough for active use in mixed conditions. As with all shells (the clue is in the name) we've ever used, there are times when you'll get hot and clammy inside the Kangri GTX, especially when working hard in warmer, more humid conditions. But all things are relative, and although we can't measure it objectively, our experience of the Kangri GTX is pretty positive as regards breathability. Do you 'need' to pay more for a Pro alternative? Clearly not, but some people will be willing to on the promise of its higher performance.
In addition, due to its multiple layers of EPTFE membrane, Pro is marketed as being more durable than Gore-Tex Performance Shell, and thus likely to last a bit longer given sustained hard use. Again, all we can offer here is our anecdotal experience. Based on the last few months of use, we think the Kangri seems well up to a good bit of rough treatment. Perhaps it won't last as long as a shell in Pro, but then it costs less. And while it's not quite as stiff as some alternatives, the 70 denier fabric is still beefy enough not to flap too much in the wind, thus helping you feel warmer and better protected inside. So in summary, while some shells are even more fortress-like, the Kangri GTX is still well up to the rigours of winter mountain use.
We make the Kangri 551g in a size L (Rab say 525g size M), which is heavier than some on review but, we think, a fair weight for a burly technical shell. A bit of heft is what's required here; you wouldn't expect a lighter jacket to feel quite as protective. A little thinner than some, the Kangri is marginally more packable, a fractional advantage when you're carrying it rather than wearing it. But there's not much in it.
A female version is available; we've been using the men's size Large. This is cut roomy, to don easily over several winter layers without feeling restrictive. But with a drawcord at the waist as well as the hem you can tighten up the fit into the small of the back when you're more lightly clothed, neatening things up and reducing the amount of fabric to flap in the wind. This drawcord only runs around the rear, leaving the front of the jacket uncluttered. There's something slightly traditional about a waist adjustment, which you don't tend to see on modern technical shells. Why not? We really like it. For climbing we're not sure how useful it is, since your harness compresses this area anyway, however for walking in foul weather it's nice and close-fitting, while for skiing it may be good for extra protection from snow getting up under the jacket.
With loads of length in the body, the hem sits well below the waist at the front, and can be pulled down at the back to completely cover your bum. We are big fans of a longer cut, which gives maximum weather protection and reduces the chance of hem lift. The Kangri's active cut works well in this regard. There's minimal hem lift when the arms are raised, and we've found the jacket stays tucked in under a harness (a basic requirement for climbing, but surprisingly not always met).
The roomy theme continues in the sleeves, with a massive cuff that fits easily over even the bulkiest glove; a simple velcro tab closes it.
Given the Kangri GTX's slightly less technical positioning, not to mention the more affordable price, we were half expecting to find a flaw in the hood, always a difficult thing to get right. But it has gone well beyond our expectations. There's enough room to fit over a climbing helmet without limiting head movement, while, with three points of adjustment, the hood also tightens neatly onto a helmet-free head. The side drawcord toggles are the inbuilt type that operate easily with one hand and give a neat uncluttered outside to the hood; the drawcord tails exit low to avoid the danger of them whipping you in the face. For maximum weather protection and minimum wind-flap there's a big laminated brim with a wired peak. Overall, it's top marks on the hood.
Arguably the best mountain shells are functional and simple, and the Kangri is no exception. You get just two external pockets, but since these are big enough to take bulky insulated gloves or an OS map, two pockets are perhaps all that's required. They have fairly light gauge water resistant zips - the pocket zips on some other jackets are chunkier and more confidence inspiring. For easy access the pockets are placed high enough not to be obstructed by a harness or rucksack hip belt. Inside there's a single phone-sized zipped mesh pocket.
If standard Gore-Tex is less breathable than Gore-Tex Pro, Rab have added some ventilation in the form of pit zips. We're agnostic about pit zips, since they have both pros and cons. On the debit side they add fractionally to weight, while introducing an extra thing to potentially go wrong and a vulnerability to water ingress if you leave them open by mistake (it's been known). On the other hand they do noticeably increase air flow if you're working hard but the weather's too wet to open the main zip. Our reviewer has certainly been using the pit zips on the Kangri GTX.
The jacket's main zip is a reassuringly tough YKK Vislon, with a double zipper for easier access at the bottom (if you need to get at your belt or something) and a decent internal storm flap. The hem drawcord adjusters are tucked neatly inside, and the tail points up inside the jacket too. If it did dangle out, it's worth noting that the drawcord is a closed loop rather than the separate tails you find on some high end shells, so in theory at least it could end up being accidentally clipped to gear or snagged more easily. In practise we've not found this an issue.
Designed for avid adventurers, the Kangri GTX Jacket is a robust and reliable jacket perfect for everything from winter hillwalking to showery scrambles. Made from hardwearing 70D GORE-TEX®, the fit and features of this 3-layer mountain waterproof have been developed to deflect the rain allowing you to get outside whatever the weather.
Providing protection without restricting movement, the Kangri GTX Jacket has a regular fit with articulated sleeves. Large 2-way pit zips allow easy venting on steep ground, and in poor conditions, the hem and hood of the jacket can be quickly adjusted with one hand. The hood fits closely around the face sheltering from wind and rain but still allowing good vision and head-turn. A soft chin guard and a fleece-lined collar add a little luxury and boost comfort, while two generous hand pockets and a smaller internal zipped pocket keep any essentials safe and dry as you focus on the task in hand.
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
- Weight: 551g size L (our weight)
- Fabric: 3-layer Gore-Tex 70D
- Fully adjustable mountain hood, with wired and laminated peak
- YKK® AquaGuard® Vislon front zip with internal storm flap
- 2 YKK® AquaGuard® zipped hand pockets with internal securing clip
- 2-way full venting YKK® AquaGuard® pit zips
- Internal zip secure pocket
- Anti-snag hook and loop adjustable cuffs
- Elasticated hem and waist drawcord with one hand adjustment system
- Fit: Regular
- Centre back length (Size L): 80cm/31.4inch
For more info see rab.equipment
The North Face Summit L5 Jacket - £550
The rollout of the North Face's new proprietary fabric FUTURELIGHT caused a stir last year. Even for a massive company like TNF, turning your back on the marketing and technical power of Gore-Tex and replacing it with a totally new as yet unproven material could be seen as plucky. When we got our hands on the L5 in October we immediately wore it to slog through heavy rain, up to the snowline on the highest peak in England, then on round a big loop in slightly better weather over some of the Lakeland's biggest hills, and whilst impressed with features and design, weren't particularly impressed with the breathability, feeling the inside of the jacket stayed wet for longer, sweat not escaping as quickly as we have come to expect from top performance waterproof-breathable fabrics. Subsequent usage in more traditional sub-zero winter climbing conditions has been more successful, with the L5 working well. Better for snowy days than rainy ones, then...
FUTURELIGHT, The North Face's new "nano-spun" membrane, has been incorporated into several clothing series, at different weights and with different properties which can be 'tweaked' depending on the balance of stretch, durability, breathability and waterproofness required by a particular activity.
On the L5 the toughest, 70D version of FUTURELIGHT is bonded to a stretchy, tough nylon. Despite being higher denier count than some other 3-layer fabrics reviewed here, 70D FUTURELIGHT is a rather soft material, and in some ways more reminiscent of a softshell than traditional hardshell. Nevertheless the fabric doesn't seem to deflect in high winds and in the L5 in heavy weather our reviewers have felt fully protected.
As noted above, we remain somewhat sceptical about the jacket's breathability in conditions of high humidity, but in snow and ice conditions it seems as breathable as other top-end fabrics. We've heard rumours that a rival manufacturer borrowed an L5, put it on their breathability testing rig, and were quite alarmed at how good it was - although our usage suggests that at least for three season British use, they don't need to worry too much. The North Face are keeping the lab results close to their chest, though so do Gore-Tex, so it's hard to know what to read into that. It's worth noting that an ongoing review of a thinner verison of FUTURELIGHT is a lot more positive as regards its breathability, which may be a vindicaiton of TNF's fine-tuning fabric technology.
A nice feature of FUTURELIGHT is that it is made with recycled material, uses a non-fluorinated DWR, and TNF uses manufacturers that are also committed to sustainability. It may not be much, but it's better than nowt.
All this said, a shell that lasts is arguably the most environmentally friendly shell of all, and we have recently uncovered a major issue with our test jacket.
In our review sample we noticed after only four or five full mountain days that the inner layer of the fabric (the "scrim" - a super-fine netting that is laminated to the membrane itself in order to offer it protection) has started delaminating, to the point where it is possible to pinch that inner layer and it hold up off the membrane. This has happened in the area at the base of the back where the lumbar pad of a rucksack sits - an area of maximum abrasion, but nevertheless nothing similar has happened on any of the other jackets. With the inner layer now being separated in patches from the membrane, we have to assume that the membrane is prone to damage. We're not able to say whether it's a quality control question, a problem with just one batch of the jacket, or something more fundamental with 3-layer Futurelight.
We realise that these things can crop up with new products and technologies, so we asked TNF what they thought. Here's what they said:
"To ensure that FUTURELIGHT™ materials meet our incredibly high performance standards, the fabric has been tested in some of the world's harshest environments with our global athletes and in the lab by third-party experts. FUTURELIGHT™ outerwear has been tested extensively for more than 400 continuous days in environments as extreme as Everest. Beyond testing in the field and in our own testing labs, FUTURELIGHT testing is performed by accredited third-party labs, not the fabric supplier. We worked with third-parties including Underwriter Labs (UL), a safety certification testing organization, to push the limit of how we evaluate FUTURELIGHT™."
"As is the case with any new product innovation, there is an expected tuning process to perfect the manufacturing process. However, to-date, customer service returns are in line with what we would expect across any of our products and we're excited for the opportunity to continually improve and expand our FUTURELIGHT product line within the marketplace."
Were we just unlucky? We aim to test a second sample of the jacket over the next few months, so we'll report again on durability at a later date.
At 657g in a men's size medium (TNF say 660g), the Summit L5 is by some distance the heaviest shell on review, reflecting both its thick fabric and the number of pockets, and also the fact that it is sized larger than most. However others manage to feel as burly and protective at considerably less weight. At what point does excess weight become a disadvantage in a bompbproof winter shell review? Probably around here...
The L5 is available in both female and male versions.
As is typical with North American brands, the sizing is generous; our reviewer found that the medium was quite a bit baggier on him than he would have liked, although a small was too tight over his shoulders and chest. Try before you buy and at least consider a size smaller than you would normally. The jacket is also quite long compared to many modern designs; this has advantages both when wearing and harness and without, and in wind-blown rain or snow we often find ourselves wishing more shells had this sort of length. Obviously the extra length makes the jacket heavier, and in addition due to the cut our tester finds there's a tendency for the L5 to "bag-out" above the harness when climbing.
Overall the cut and fit of the L5 made us think it has been influenced by free-ride and big mountain ski jackets as well as ice and alpine kit. The L5 has an unusually placed bellow-pocket on the right below the more traditional chest pockets. TNF suggests "for snacks or inner gloves", which is something of a relief as our reviewer thought it looked suspiciously like it was positioned and sized for an avalanche transceiver (which shouldn't be kept in a jacket pocket). But regardless of what you put in there, it can add to the annoyance of the bagginess of the jacket when wearing a harness.
It's great! It easily pulls us over helmet and with the zip fully done up offers both plenty of protection from gnarly conditions and on our reviewer there's full articulation. The volume reducers work well if you wear the hood without a helmet on, but if you are wearing a helmet it really is a great hood. It has a rather old-school wire in the brim that, along with some other stiffer material, creates a distinct peak. North American shells often seem to lack a decently stiff brim, but for stormy UK conditions we tend to prefer them, so well done to TNF for confounding expectations here. The zip does up fully to the chin protecting the face but causing no pressure, nevertheless TNF have still laminated soft, cozy material inside the chin and face area to prevent rubbing.
Loads! Pockets galore! Big chest ones, the funny one on the right hip, inner stash pockets - great to stash your climbing gloves in if you put on mitts at the belay - and an inner security pocket. There are also elastic thumb loops, we think to keep the sleeves in place as you pull your belay jacket on over it, although we haven't found the need to use them. Interestingly, the L5 does not have pit zips. This might be a weight saving choice, or a cost cutting choice, or a way of showing a touching faith in the breathability of your material. With the L5 at times pit zips might not have been a bad idea. All the zips on the L5 are top of the range YKK 'waterproof' ones that work well and feel suitably robust.
The North Face say:
Our L5 Summit Series™ FUTURELIGHT™ Jacket defies expectations with the highest level of durable, breathable-waterproof protection. 3D ergonomic patterning delivers more flexibility with full arms-up mobility for gruelling ascents and descents. Getting down to details, this three-layer shell features a fully adjustable, helmet compatible hood with wire brim and perforated chin guard so you can lock out bad weather when fully geared up. Two chest pockets are fully harness compatible and the larger bellowed front pocket provides space for snacks or inner gloves. There are three additional internal pockets for keeping all you need close at hand. Internal elastic thumb loops keep the sleeves in place as you layer up.
- Sizes: XS-XXL (men) XS-XL (women)
- Weight: 657g size (our weight)
- Fabric: 3-layer FUTURELIGHT 70D X 70D 159g/M² 93% Nylon, 7%
- 3D ergonomic patterning
- 100% windproof fabric
- Zero shoulder seams for enhanced comfort with a pack
- Attached, fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood with laminated wire brim
- Perforated tricot at chin guard
- Exposed, two-way, matte polyurethane (PU) VISLON® centre front zip
- Two large alpine chest pockets, one horizontal, bellowed hand pocket
- Two large internal mesh drop pockets
- Velcro® cuff tabs and internal elastic thumb-loop cuffs
- Adjustable hem cinch cord includes internal clip-up loops
- Oversize cord locks at the hood and hem
- Lightweight stuff sack
For more info see thenorthface.co.uk
Berghaus Extrem 5000 - £280
The Extrem 5000 is Berghaus' top of the range winter shell specifically designed for UK winter conditions - horizontal rain/snow and high winds. Berghaus have chosen to use a 3 layer Gore-Tex fabric with reinforced sections alongside other features such as Aquagard protected zips to prevent any water ingress. The choice of a standard Gore-Tex fabric is interesting as many other shells in this category opt for higher spec Gore-Tex Pro fabric; that said, many of these jackets are approaching double the price of the Extrem 5000 so if you're on a budget it could be a great tradeoff.
Berghaus were the first European outdoor manufacturer to include Gore-Tex fabric in their waterproof jackets, way back in 1977. Since then Gore-Tex has of course gone on to become the gold standard for waterproof, breathable fabrics, particularly when applied to hardshell garments. However since Gore do not publish their technical performance figures we cannot actually say how well deserved their market dominance is. Here Berghaus have opted for a standard 3-layer Gore-Tex fabric, which is a small step down from many of the other jackets in this test that have opted for Gore-Tex Pro - a more breathable, more durable, more expensive alternative. This could have been a decision to keep the jacket in a lower price range, which when compared to many other shells of similar calibre, it certainly is!
Does every winter mountain user really need the full reassurance of Gore Pro? It's debatable. In testing we found the Extrem 5000 to be breathable enough and of course if we did feel a sweat coming on there's always the option of the pit zips.
Berghaus have also added some re-enforced areas where there is likely to be high wear, namely around the shoulders and upper arms. This helps keep the fabric in good shape when it comes to abrasion from rucksacks, ropes or other materials that contact these areas. The fabric is 143g/m2, with the main body at 40D, while the reinforced areas are 70D. As a result the Extrem is not quite as tough all over as jackets that use 70 or 80D fabric throughout, but it's lighter than it could have been.
Berghaus say 569g size M, and our size S comes in at 537g on our scales, which puts the Extrem 5000 roughly in the middle of the weight range, nudging towards heavier. Considering the price we think this is still a very respectable weight and isn't far behind some jackets that are a couple of hundred pounds more expensive. This slightly heavier weight may also be down to Berghaus' choice of a standard 3-layer Gore-Tex fabric over the Pro fabric.
The fit of the Extrem 5000 is approaching the boxy end of the scale. Depending on your shape, the width of the waist in comparison to the shoulders might or might not suit you. Our skinny tester felt the shoulders were a touch narrow and the waist about right for a size small. The general volume of the garment is roomy and is perfect for sticking over a few layers. We generally tested this with a standard base layer, mid layer fleece and light insulation underneath and found it to be the ideal volume to accommodate this layering system.
There is a good range of movement in the arms, and we've found that reaching above the shoulder does not pull the bottom of the hem up or tug at the shoulder. The general length of the jacket is on the longer side and provides plenty of coverage over the user's bottom. All in all the fit is good for climbing and for wearing with a harness.
The Extrem 5000 is also available in a female fit, up to a size 18 - which is larger than most women's technical shells will offer. The women's version comes in three colours - pink and turquoise are predictable but you do also get the option of black.
The hood on the Extrem 5000 is excellent once adjusted. When all drawcords are undone the hood is easily placed over even the largest of helmets and once secured there is good freedom of movement and it feels solidly placed with little risk of it being dislodged. There is a large stiff wire brim to help protect you from driving rain and snow when things are wild. With this and the high chin protection there isn't much room for the elements to get in.
The hood has two adjustable drawcords. A standard looped drawcord at the rear allows the user to adjust the volume of the hood simply by pulling the cord. Releasing this can be a bit fiddly with gloves as the drawcord mechanism is quite small and is nested under a small piece of fabric, so finding the button can be easier without gloves. The side drawcords are on the interior of the garment, so getting them drawn requires brief unzipping of the top of the jacket. This isn't always something you relish, however it does keep the exterior clutter free, so we think we prefer this. Again, releasing this drawcord can be fiddly.
Although the hood is excellent with a helmet it's also ideal without, it is big though so you'll need to draw those drawcords in tight!
Like many of the other high end shells in this test, it's often not about the number of features but rather the quality of the features present.
One of our favourite features of the Extrem 5000 are the accommodating cuffs. These easily pull over large gloves and firmly secure using good quality, large surface area velcro. You should be able to get anything from large gauntlets to small technical winter climbing gloves secured in this fashion. Essentially anything apart from the largest belay mitts. Once tightened the wrist straps feel very secure.
Under the arms are two pit zips to help control the wearer's temperature. Pit zips can come in useful if you're walking in, and it's raining/snowing, but you're still getting warm and sweaty from the inside. A lot of people like pit zips in this situation since you still get the weather protection of the shell but also reduce as much as possible the sweat build up from the inside by venting. Pit zips do add weight and a possible source of leaks or failure though, so it's not all good and some users actually prefer the simplicity of a vent-free jacket. Much like the Rab Kangri, the Extrem 5000 also uses standard Gore-Tex which is supposed to be less breathable than Gore-Tex Pro, so the inclusion of pit zips is probably sensible here.
All the zips on the Extrem 5000 are YKK Aquagard, and (aside from the pit zips) they are protected from water ingress by an interior storm flap. The main zip is large and robust-feeling, and features a double zipper if you need to unzip from the bottom up. The two large pockets are easily accessible with a harness on and the chest pocket can fit a map, although it is a bit of a squeeze.
The bottom of the jacket has two draw cords on either side to secure the waist from the elements. These draw cords can be operated single-handed pulling and releasing. They are looped draw cords however, and so might conceivably catch on gear on a harness or on rock.
Made for the extreme winter weather of the British Isles, this jacket is incredibly well equipped. To keep the driving rain and blizzards out you can count on totally waterproof, 3 layer GORE-TEX®, with reinforced areas to protect the jacket from rock and rucksack abrasion. The hood is fully adjustable, and fits perfectly over your climbing helmet for greater protection. Even zips are watertight with YKK® AQUAGUARD® keeping the rain out of pockets and away from your body, while two underarm, water resistant zips let the air flow for enhanced ventilation when you're working hard. Pockets are positioned away from your rucksack harness or your backpack waist strap for easy access at all times. With a tailored fit that delivers unrestricted movement and cuff tabs you can adjust even with your mountain gloves on, the Extrem 5000 Vented Jacket is a great British mountaineering jacket.
- Sizes: XS-XXL (men) 8-18 (women)
- Weight: 569g size M
- Fabric: 3-layer Gore-Tex 40D with 70D panels in high wear areas
- Comfortable fit with or without your climbing helmet with the storm proof hood that features three points of adjustment and a wired peak
- Pit zips
- YKK Aquaguard zips
- Two hand pockets and one at the chest
- Greater freedom of movement is down to the special darted construction for a technical fit
- Bluesign approved fabrics
For more info see berghaus.com
Jottnar Grim Jacket - £575
New this season, the Grim is Jottnar's latest technical jacket, sharing the same spec as the existing Odin except with lower-placed hand pockets instead of higher chest pockets. This full-on mountain waterproof has all the essential features of a high-end winter shell, and among the toughest, most armour-plated fabrics on review. Interestingly, Jottnar have moved on from Polartec NeoShell, but not to the all-conquering Gore-Tex. Instead they've chose to develop their own proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane. Our experience so far suggests this is an excellent choice for Grim weather (see what we did there). Overall, the price is pushing it, but this is a shell that feels like it was built to last.
For a review of the Odin, see here:
In the past Jottnar used NeoShell in their waterproofs, and in our experience this came with pros and cons - very breathable, but also so air permeable that you'd often feel the wind through it. Some users also reported getting wet in NeoShell! The company have now moved to a proprietary fabric, Skjoldr, which they've had a hand in developing.
"We remain big fans of NeoShell" says Jottnar's Thomas Kelly, "but thought we could develop something even better ourselves. It's been an involved process, but we've ended up with a fabric with twice the waterproofness of before, almost twice the robustness, superb breathability and an ability to produce it at a volume and timescale of our choosing."
The Skjoldr fabric uses a monolithic hydrophilic polyurethane (PUR) membrane. It breathes, say Jottnar, via a molecular transfer of water vapour from inside to out, where internal moisture is extruded via heat pressure. With a normal PTFE membrane the breathability is impaired when the face fabric wets out, because the pores become blocked. In contrast, Jottnar tell us, Skjoldr's PUR membrane continues to push sweat vapour out even when the outer face is saturated. They say that the PUR membrane is also less susceptible to degradation over time, unlike PTFE membranes which tend to lose their waterproofing ability with normal wear and tear. That's something we'll have to report back on at a later date.
While some fabric brands do not advertise their performance figures, Jottnar are admirably candid. On paper the Skjoldr fabric used here has a minimum hydrostatic head of 20,000mm, which we'd say equates to mega-waterproof in practise. Breathability of 20,000g/m2/24h is less than you'd get with the best lightweight shells, but for a jacket of this weight and toughness this figure seems more than fair.
In our experience so far the Skjoldr has worked really well, keeping the weather out and breathing as effectively as you can probably expect of a burly mountain shell. On a dank early winter day with fog and sleety drizzle in the air, and temperatures above zero, our tester felt relatively dry and comfortable in the Grim even when working hard uphill. Aerobic activity in humid conditions has to be one of the hardest tests for any waterproof breathable fabric. We have certainly experienced less breathable winter jackets!
Skjoldr comes in three different weights. At 171g/m² the three-layer, 80 denier fabric of the Grim is their heaviest, and also towards the thicker, heavier end of things in this review. It's a great match for our 'bombproof' remit. This stuff is pretty stiff and armour-like, so it resists flapping and deflecting in the wind, and thus helps you stay warmer and better protected inside. It is tough, too, and well up to hard use on Scottish winter mountains.
We make the Grim 580g in a men's size L, which is fairly heavy but not unreasonably so for a jacket this burly and with this set of features. Jottnar say 552g for a size Medium.
No female-fit verison is available for most of Jottnar's shells, including the Grim, and while this is undoubtedly a considered commercial decision it does seem unfortunate.
On our 6-foot, medium-build reviewer the men's size Large has space inside to fit over several other layers, but without being too baggy or boxy in the body. Length at the rear is excellent, where the drop hem allows for almost full bum coverage. However at the front some other shells are marginally longer, and on our reviewer the Grim doesn't go far below the waist. It's partly a matter of preference - he does like a longer shell - and partly individual fit, since we're all built to different proportions. He tends to find Jottnar jackets a bit short!
We've found the Grim long enough to fit under a harness, but only just, and there's something about the cut on him that makes for a significant amount of hem lift when the arms are raised. This can make for a chilly midriff, and when climbing our reviewer finds that the Grim tends to want to slip out from under a harness and then bunch up at the waist. However when Toby reviewed the Odin last winter, largely the same jacket, he had no hem lift issues at all. It goes to show that tailoring is individual to every user.
Though the sleeves are long and the upper arms very roomy, our reviewer still finds the fit at the elbow marginally restrictive. Again, Toby didn't experience the same.
As our issues here are personal to the fit, prospective users will need to try it out for themselves.
The hood is roomy enough to cover a climbing helmet, but as with the fit overall, the extent to which this is successful depends who's wearing it. We suspect it's down to head size and neck length. Toby got on fine with the Odin, using a number of different helmets. But on our reviewer here, the Grim's match for a helmet is only moderately successful. Yes we can wear it over a helmet, and with the front zip partially undone, head movement is unrestricted. But fully fasten the zip and we find the front of the collar uncomfortably tight across the mouth and chin, while head movement is limited both side-to-side and up-and-down. It's another reason to try the Grim before you buy, and to make sure you do so wearing the helmet you'll be using with it.
For use with a helmet-free head the fit can be snugly cinched in with three points of adjustment, though as with a helmet, when everything's tightened up our reviewer does still find head movement a bit limited. Another downside is that the drawcord toggles are all small and fiddly to use with gloves. Toggles built into the seams are just so much better that we now really notice when we don't have them! On a positive note, the stiffened brim resists flapping in the wind, and creates a nice protective visor to keep rain and spindrift out of your face.
On the Odin you have chest pockets, while the Grim has moved these down to hand height. Either way, they have sufficient room for bulky gloves, OS maps etc. Since they are still placed high enough to be usable when wearing a harness or rucksack belt, we're not convinced the pocket height here is a clinching issue either way. However, given a preference, we'd probably opt for chest pockets; we'd never walk along with hands in the pockets of a shell, while when you stuff a pocket full of gloves or whatever, we think a higher position is less likely to limit the view of your harness.
A single inside zipped pocket is a good place to carry your phone, while on the other side it's a stretchy open 'dump' pocket for damp gloves. We don't generally carry gloves on the inside of a shell - it's more a belay jacket thing - but there's no harm having the option. Skiers might stash skins here, and for the resort you also get a little lift pass pocket on one sleeve - not something we've yet used, but again some will appreciate the option.
The external pocket zips are sturdy water resistant YKK Aquaguard coils, as are the pit zips. While they do introduce extra points of potential failure or leakage, the addition of pit zips is a definite boost to ventilation, so that's a trade off that'll be personal to every user. On balance we like the Grim's pit zips because they are positioned in a way that remains easily accessible even when wearing a rucksack (ie. more on the arms than the body). Some pit zips are a real struggle to open once you're carrying a pack.
Drawcords are of the non-loop variety, which is always good as it makes them impossible to snag or accidentally clip into while fiddling with gear on your harness. The big external toggles are usable one-handed, and wearing gloves, but we do find them more fiddly than the modern style of built-in adjusters, and given the Grim's high price we feel entitled to quibble every last detail.
Cuffs are roomy enough to fit over fat gloves, just, and feature additional elastication. You also get very sturdy velcro tabs, triple stitched for extra strength, which is a good touch. If we're being picky, the cuffs could do without their elastication, which does make them a bit more bulky around the wrist, and slightly less comfy than a simple non-elasticated cuff.
Grim is a fully featured hard shell technical mountain jacket built to the same specification as our Odin hard shell, but with hand pockets instead of the Odin's chest pockets. Grim protects you in the most severe conditions, without sacrificing those features which lend it versatility for all-year use.
Jöttnar SKJOLDR™ windproof, waterproof, breathable fabric provides superb harsh weather protection and durability. Two-way pit zips allow temperature regulation, the helmet compatible hood pattern gives excellent visibility and unimpeded head movement, and the anti-snag hem cords avoid tangling with gear. Wear over a mid layer or base layer as your final protective outer layer for skiing and mountaineering.
- Sizes: S-XL (men's only)
- Weight: 580g size L (our weight)
- Fabric: Jöttnar SKJOLDR™ 171g/m² 3 layer, 80 denier
- Hydrostatic head: 20,000mm min
- Breathability: 20,000g/m2/24h
- Helmet compatible hood with wire stiffened with moldable laminated peak
- Large harness and rucksack compatible hand pockets, internal valuables stretch pocket, internal mesh dump pocket
- No loop, anti-snag, glove compatible hem draw cords
- YKK® AquaGuard® coil water repellent laminated hand pocket zips
- YKK® Aquaguard® VISLON® water repellent front zip with internal storm gasket
- YKK® AquaGuard® coil water repellent pit zips
- Cuffs: Hypalon® tabs, super sticky VELCRO™ with triple reinforced stitching, elasticated cinch
For more info see jottnar.com
Salewa Ortles 3 Gore-Tex Pro Hard Shell - £495
The defining feature of this jacket is its lightness. Initially our reviewer thought it almost felt too light for a full-spec high-end mountaineering jacket, but Salewa have managed to get the weight right down without compromising on essential features. In fact, with the addition of an ingenious zipped hood gusset - a first for us - you could actually say they've added to the usual feature list. However something had to give, and the use of a lighter fabric is inevitably going to compromise its long term resistance to abrasion and abuse - ours is already showing signs of damage. In the teeth of a winter storm a thicker fabric would definitely feel more protective, too. Overall we think this is an excellent mountaineering jacket for those counting grams, but not a match for the heavyweights if you're after something to take repeated Scottish winter punishment.
As with many others in this review, Salewa have gone with the dominant choice, a 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro. At risk of repeating ourselves we'll briefly summarise: Gore do not provide performance figures (something that makes us instinctively sceptical) but we do know that Pro is their top-end fabric, designed for maximum durability and performance. Between us the test team has had lots of experience of Gore Pro shells and in use we really rate it. It feels both highly waterproof and sufficiently breathable for active wear in a range of mountain conditions, with the added advantage that it's supposedly tougher than 'standard' Gore-Tex.
The Ortles 3 is constructed using two different zoned weights of face fabric (as evidenced by the cool two-tone design). One is a very light 40D material with a visible ripstop-type grid pattern (GORE-TEX® PRO MINI RIPSTOP 3L 117). The second is a slightly heavier, rougher textured 70D material (GORE-TEX® PRO NG PLAIN SMOOTH 139) on the hood and neck, shoulders, lower arm and lower back – i.e. all the areas vulnerable to higher wear. This design allows Gore-Tex Pro to be used throughout but the weight to be kept down in the areas less exposed to abrasion. However, the fact remains that the lighter fabric makes the Ortles 3 less tough, burly and protective than the fortress-like heavyweights with thicker fabric throughout, and while it packs down small that lightness has to be considered a disadvantage (until you come to carrying it).
After only its first winter outing the reviewer noticed a few tiny perforations on the front of the jacket. To be fair this was early season clumsy granite thrutching. Weirdly the damage is on the thicker fabric of the two; this could be a fluke but we think it does highlight a weakness of a lighter jacket in Scottish winter.
We make it 430g in size Medium, while Salewa give the weight as 460g. Either way, for a full mountain shell this is pretty light, coming in around 100g (or more) lighter than some other full featured jackets on test. To put it in perspective this advantage is only equivalent to a few metres of thin rope, and many users will feel that the weight saving is offset by having a slightly less durable and protective shell! However if you are chasing grams for everything in your pack then there is no denying it will help boost your marginal gains. Think alpine climbing more than Scottish winter thuggery.
This is definitely in the mould of the modern, athletic fit shell jacket, and users with a heavier build should pay attention to the closeness of the fit when trying it on. Other shells are roomier, and might feel less restrictive if you're wearing them over several bulky layers. But on our 5ft11 slim-built reviewer the Ortles 3 fits fine over the usual baselayer plus midlayer combination. While quite fitted in style, we've found the articulated cut means it works well while climbing, with free arm movement and no significant hem lift. However it's a relatively short jacket, and provides only about half bum coverage at the rear, so it is that bit less protective than a shell with a longer hem. When it's blowing a hoolie and the rain's sheeting down horizontally, every little counts in terms of length.
A women's version is available, but although its described features are the same as the men's, the two-tone design suggests that the two weights of fabric have been zoned differently. We can't think why that might be, although it still looks as if the distribution of lighter and more durable fabric is logical.
This is a jacket with two hoods! Horizontally across the back of the neck there is a discrete Frankenstein style slash, closed with a zip. Opening the zip releases a gusset of fabric which expands the hood, making it highly helmet compatible. When this is zipped up the hood is the perfect size to wear walking in the mountains without a helmet, and without being lost in masses of superfluous fabric. Very nifty, we love it. The only annoyance is that the zip pullon this is smaller than those on all the other zips; this is important as you cannot see it, so locating it with big gloves is a pain (it helps to be out with a pal).
Every shell jacket that our reviewer has ever owned has eventually ended up delaminating at the back of the neck, ending its useful life. Having this extra layer of fabric in the zipped gusset may help to prolong the usable life of the Ortles 3, at least as a walking jacket.
For convenience the hood has a single point for adjustment at the rear, which acts as a volume adjuster but also as the means of closing the sides of the hood; i.e back and side adjustment rolled into one. An advantage of this is that there are no dangly adjusters flapping about anywhere on the front – just one at the back.
The hood is both wired and has a peak of sorts due to a shaped, rigid insert which goes from ear to ear, not just across the top. The front of the hood also has a clever little panel of stretchy fabric which grips the front of your helmet or forehead and seems to help stop it getting blown off. Unfortunately an unexpected consequence of the long ear to ear wire is that it is vulnerable to being bent when the jacket is scrunched up in a rucksack; on our review jacket this has already broken in transit.
We could have a moan about about there being an unmet need for a cuff with sufficient adjustability to go over any kind of glove in any kind of conditions; the Ortles 3 doesn't quite manage this, and with its relatively narrow cuffs things can be a bit of a squeeze. The 'gusset engineer' who dreamed up the innovation at the back of the neck on this jacket needs a new project looking at cuffs – this can't be that difficult!
The Velcro fastener on the cuffs is a black rubber/vinyl material, rather than being made of fabric. We've found these can tend to degrade after a few years, though the jury is still out here.
There is a concealed hem-adjuster on each hip; the loop of cord you pull to tighten them points upwards inside the jacket so there is nothing left dangling outside. It is all very neat.
There are no waist level pockets to get stuck under a harness. You do get four pockets but they are all on the chest, two outer zipped pockets lined in Gore-Tex, and two inner mesh-lined pockets, one zipped the other an open pouch. You can just fit a OS map in both external pockets, however none of the four pockets, internal or external, are quite adequate for easily holding big winter gloves.
On the flip side of harness compatibility there is no two-way main zip, which many people like to have when wearing a harness (although it seems less essential on a shell than on a belay jacket).
Pit zips are provided for ventilation, and these are right up under the armpits so vulnerability to leakage will be minimal.
The Ortles 3 GORE-TEX® Pro Shell Jacket is a serious 3-layer shell jacket with a waterproof and breathable GORE-TEX® Pro membrane that is easy to wear over winter layers. Developed together with leading mountain guides' organisations in the Alps and designed for alpine mountaineering, ski mountaineering, glacier mountaineering and ice climbing, it has a fully-featured technical spec. With a helmet-compatible and fully-adjustable storm hood, plus a hidden rear zippered gusset to guarantee a precise fit with or without the helmet. Featuring our free motion patterning and ergonomic sleeves for maximum articulation and no hem-lift while climbing. Further functional features include: waterproof YKK zips, ventilation zips and a full waterproof technical finish with welded seams.
- Sizes: XS-XXL (men) 4-14 (women)
- Weight: 460g
- Free motion patterning ensures no hem-lift while climbing
- Ergonomically shaped sleeves
- Storm hood with preshaped visor, one-hand rear adjustment system
- Innovative hidden zippered gusset for precise fit with or without the helmet
- Velcro-adjustable cuffs
- Deep side ventilation zip openings from the bottom of the sleeve
- Waterproof front zip with internal windproof flap
- 2 chest bellow waterproof pockets for increased capacity
- Inner zipped pocket
- Bottom hem adjustment cord with "safety outlet" towards the inner jacket
- Waterproof finish, all seams welded
For more info see salewa.com
Mountain Equipment Tupilak Jacket - £350
The Tupilak Jacket has been one of Mountain Equipment's top technical shells for many years; we've reviewed versions of it a couple of times, and our reviewer has practically lived in Tupilaks for several seasons, but following some recent tweaks the latest model deserves another look. A key difference to the previous iteration is the removal of pit zips in the current model, a change we're broadly comfortable with. This remains one of our favourite mountain jackets, with a well-judged balance of weight, durability and functionality for serious mountain use. The cut is long and protective without being restrictive, and the hood is one of the best. The price is attractive too - £350 sounds a lot until you look at the rivals. You're getting a lot for your money here, but anyone determined to have more features could upgrade to the more ski-friendly Changabang (£450).
Making use of an 80 denier, 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric throughout, the Tupilak is a burly and protective shell that stands up very well to mixed climbing and general winter mountain abuse. The fabric has enough stiffness to resist deflecting and flapping in the wind, thus helping you feel warmer and better protected inside; it does however feel slightly softer and more supple than some other 80 denier fabrics.
As evidenced by its dominance in this review, Gore-Tex Pro is a popular choice for high-end climbing and mountaineering shells. It's made for the rigours of winter climbing, boasting high levels of both breathability and durability. But just how breathable is it? Gore are cagey about lab results, and we never know what to make of this secretiveness. Without concrete waterproofness and breathability figures to hand it's impossible to make an on-paper comparison with alternative fabrics. However we've used a lot of Gore-Tex Pro shells over the years, not least in preparing this review, and we can say that in the real world we've found it performs really well in the winter mountains, being both reliably storm proof and seeming to breathe at least as well as any higher-end fabric.
If you're after a full-on winter mountain shell but don't want to pay a full-on weight penalty for the privilege, the Tupilak may fit the bill. Weighing just 495g in a men's size Large, it's noticeably lighter than some rivals. To achieve this it's a bit simpler than some, with fewer pockets and no pit zips, but we don't think it sacrifices anything in terms of toughness and weather protection. For a size Medium it comes in at 472g, Mountain Equipment tell us.
A female version is available, and none of the options are pink or purple. Of all the jackets on review, the Tupilak fits our 6-foot, medium-build reviewer the most convincingly, something he's found through three iterations of the Tupilak to date. However, since everyone's built different, it would pay to try it on for yourself.
Being cut sensibly long in the body, the Tupilak offers plenty of weather protection below the waist - particularly to the rear, where it pretty much covers your bum. The cut of the sleeves allows unrestricted mobility, and thanks to the exceptional tailoring we find there's negligible hem lift when your arms are raised. As a result the shell stays reliably under your harness when climbing, and cold draughts at the waist are no problem. There's plenty of room in the body and sleeves for cold weather layering, but not so much that it's baggy. And the cuffs are broad enough to pull easily over a pair of thick gloves.
Mountain Equipment's much-vaunted Super Alpine Hood is among the most effective in this review, a state of affairs that hasn't changed for years (if it ain't broke...). Cut generously to accommodate the bulkiest helmet, it can also be pulled tight with three draw cord adjusters to give a very effective weather-excluding close fit around a helmet-less head - a rather better result than some hoods on test. For easier use with gloves the side cord locks are the Cohaesive variety. Built into the seam for neatness and fumble-free use, these toggles are far superior to fiddly little external adjusters. The hood's stiff wired-and-laminated brim resists deforming and flapping in the wind, and directs raindrops away from your face. With a snug high collar there's plenty of protection for the lower face too, welcome when the spindrift and hailstones start starts bombarding. When pulled snug the hood moves well with your head, letting you just get on and climb without feeling impaired. In summary, the hood is one of the strongest features on what's already a very effective jacket.
There's a lot to be said for the Tupilak's simple functionality. After all, if you're out up hills in all weathers there are only so many zips you want to be messing around with. Up out of harness range are two large chest pockets, spacious enough for gloves, hat and a map. Inside you get a single smaller laminated zipped pocket, just enough for your phone. Three pockets might not strike some users as enough, but our reviewer has always found that exactly the right number; how much more do you want to carry about your person?
The main zip and pocket zips are YKK Vislon Aquaguard, chunky and confidence-inspiring, backed with a drainage flap. To save weight, faff and a bit of money Mountain Equipment have done away with the pit zips found on the previous Tupilak. In a market full of jackets boasting numerous features, this is a laudable move towards simplifying life. Since pit zips have cons as well as pros (an extra point of potential failure versus the venting convenience) we'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not this is a good thing; we broadly think it is. Down at the hem is the usual elasticated draw cord, with sewn-in adjusters that sit neatly beneath a harness and are easily used with gloves. The cord is 'dual tether' rather than a closed loop, so it won't accidentally snag on any protrusions or get clipped into a karabiner by mistake.
Mountain Equipment say:
A serious, stripped back shell that shines on the most difficult modern lines. The combination of GORE-TEX® Pro 80D fabric, Women's Alpine fit and our proven Super Alpine Hood make this one of the finest and most robust climbing jackets available.
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
- Weight: 495g size L (our weight)
- Fabric: 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro 80D fabric throughout
- Super Alpine HC Hood with Cohaesive™ cordlocks
- Seamless face panel for maximum comfort
- Alpine fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeves
- Storm Construction techniques used throughout
- 2-way YKK® moulded Aquaguard® centre front zip
- 2 large laser cut and laminated Napoleon chest pockets with YKK® moulded Aquaguard® zips
- Adjustable laminated cuffs and dual tether hem drawcords
- Laminated and laser cut inner pocket with YKK® zip
For more info see mountain-equipment.co.uk
Mountain Hardwear Exposure 2 Gore-Tex Pro Jacket - £500
Mountain Hardwear (MHW) isn't one of the most prominent brands in the UK market but having sponsored the Lake District National Park Felltop Assessor team for the last few seasons, including with Exposure 2 Gore-Tex Pro Jackets, they will definitely be aware of how lousy the weather can be in the British mountains in winter. The Exposure 2 jacket is their top of the range mountaineer's hardshell, which MHW say is "a capable choice for technical alpine routes, stormy ski tours, and other foul-weather pursuits" to which we could add Scottish winter climbing. It's a relatively simple and effective design, made with top quality material, with plenty of pockets but still not weighing an excessive amount. There's plenty to like but it's a little let down by not having the best-designed hood for wearing over a helmet.
Mountain Hardwear have used 80 denier, 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro to make the Exposure 2. The jacket feels good - Gore-Tex Pro being at least up there with any other waterproof-breathable fabric, and better than many, in terms of protection from the elements and breathability. The 80D outer makes the jacket quite stiff but we don't find that an issue if the cut is good, rather it adds to the protective feeling you want from a winter shell. If a material is soft enough to deflect in the wind, even if no wind is coming through the fabric, the deflection moves air around inside your clothing and stops insulation from working so well to hold still warm air. With a stiff, heavier denier fabric, as with the Exposure 2, it helps keep the warmed air inside, where it should be.
A lot of the shells in this review also use Gore-Tex Pro, so we're obliged to keep saying the same thing: Gore are cagey about lab results, and we never know what to make of this secretiveness. Without concrete waterproofness and breathability figures to hand it's impossible to make an on-paper comparison with alternative fabrics. However we've used a lot of Gore-Tex Pro shells over the years, not least in preparing this review, and we can say that in the real world we've found it performs really well in the winter mountains, being both reliably storm proof and seeming to breathe at least as well as any higher-end fabric.
We make it a respectable 493g on our scales although Mountain Hardwear say "Approx: 469.5g Weight based on size Medium. Actual weight may vary." So our medium jacket is a noticeable bit heavier than their stated weight. However in real life the Exposure 2 still feels reasonably light and can be stuffed into your rucksack pretty easily, we are just not sure why they don't quote a slightly more conservative figure for the average weight.
The Exposure 2 in medium is a quite trim fit compared with Arc'teryx's version of medium and particularly compared to The North Face's medium - the three jackets that this particular reviewer wore. The jacket comes down low enough to cover some of your bum at the rear, but at the front it's quite short and our reviewer has found that when not wearing a climbing harness the jacket does have a tendency to creep up towards his waist. When using it for climbing the Exposure 2 works well, you can lift your arms high with no resistance. As discussed in more detail below the hood isn't as big as some. When wearing a helmet you can do the main zip up fully, but it is a bit tight over your chin and lower face.
Mountain Hardwear not only make a women's cut of the Exposure 2, but offer it in basically the same three colourways that the men's model is available in - no stereotyped pinks and pastels here. If you want your winter shell in slightly mad blocks of contrasting bright colours, look no further than the Exposure 2 in the "Traverse" colourway, regardless of gender. Nice one Mountain Hardwear.
OK but could be better, would be our synopsis. MHW have gone for a simple design for cinching the hood - there is just one drawcord at the back that is meant to both lower the volume of the hood and tighten it around the face (on most other jackets this is done by a second drawcord that is tightened with cordlocks down at throat level). We don't think it is really the cinching issue that is the main problem for the Exposure 2's hood though - rather it's that there isn't enough volume in it overall. With a helmet on, when you do the zip up fully it is quite tight over the chin and mouth. A friend of our reviewer who tried the jacket for a day's climbing, and who says he thinks he has quite a long neck, said it wasn't comfortable at all fully zipped up for him and something on his helmet seemed to be catching on something in the hood and stopping him from looking down properly. He did not have this issue using the Arc'teryx Alpha AR. The brim of the hood also isn't as stiff as some others and doesn't have a wire. With a helmet on we find this doesn't really matter and the hood works well in this regard, but interestingly when no helmet is worn it does seem a bit floppy over your brow - perhaps something to do with the North American penchant for wearing baseball caps? Definitely when worn without a cap, the problem is noticeable. It's a poor hood for helmet-less use in windy old Britain.
The Exposure 2 has no less than six pockets, two chest level handwarmer pockets, with two more good size napoleon-style storage pockets over them. Inside there is one zipped security pocket and one mesh drop pocket, for stuffing gloves to let them dry a little whilst at the belay. This many pockets means several layers of fabric over the front of the jacket, which is bound to affect real world breathability.
You get pit zips. Opinion in the test team is divided on their merit, but our reviewer here thinks these are well worth having on a hardshell and lessen the need to take the shell off particularly whilst hiking hard uphill. But the ones on the Exposure 2 are a bit more difficult to manipulate than some. The zips themselves are a bit stiff so sometimes pulling the zip up to open it just pulls the jacket up rather than opening the zip. A related problem is that the zip pullers for the handwarmer pockets are only a centimetre or so from those for the pit zips. It is quite easy to grab the wrong puller regardless of whether you are going for your pocket or vent.
Mountain Hardwear say:
We designed the Exposure/2™ GORE-TEX Pro Jacket to shield climbers and skiers from unrelenting rain, snow, and whatever other gnarly conditions the mountains throw your way. Built with industry-leading, bluesign®-approved GORE-TEX Pro shell fabric, the Exposure/2™ withstands Mother Nature's worst while remaining incredibly breathable. It's a capable choice for technical alpine routes, stormy ski tours, and other foul-weather pursuits.
- Sizes: S-XXXL (men) XS-XL (women)
- Weight: 493g size M (our weight)
- Fabric: Gore-Tex Pro Shell 80D 3L 154g/m2
- Adjustable helmet-compatible hood and hem with single‑pull Cohaesive™ cord-lock technology
- Underarm zip vents
- Oversized zippered chest pockets and zippered arm pocket
- Adjustable hook-and-loop cuff closures
For more info see mountainhardwear.com
Arc'teryx Alpha AR Jacket - £500
The Alpha AR is part of Arc'teryx's climbing and mountaineering line. AR stands for all-round; lighter than the super-burly Alpha SV but tougher than the super-light Alpha FL, the Alpha AR hits a sweet spot for all round mountain use, and this is the shell that they decided to send to meet our review brief. It is a great jacket for Scottish winter climbing in lousy weather, yet at under 400g the type of jacket that many would be happy to use for year round hill-going, or to stuff in the climbing pack just in case. Made with top-of-the-range Gore-Tex Pro, you can be faily sure you're getting decent performance. Our reviewer decided that if he could only have one waterproof for everything he does in the UK mountains, from summer backpacks to mid-winter ski tours, he would choose the Alpha AR. That said, it is very much at the lightest end of the weight range in this review, so heavier rivals with thicker fabric are going to be a better match for our 'bombproof' criteria. However well made - and it is - the Alpha AR is simply not going to stand up to as much abuse as thicker jackets 100g heavier or more. That's the tradeoff for greater packability and versatility.
Arc'teryx say: "light, durable N40p-X 3L GORE-TEX Pro delivers durable waterproof, windproof, breathable performance. Burly N80p-X GORE-TEX Pro reinforces high wear areas."
The Gore-tex Pro material, both in the 40 and 80 denier iterations, is a relatively stiff material, but the excellent cut means that it doesn't make the jacket restrictive to climb in. But it does add at least psychologically to that 'suit of armour' sense of protection you get from a good shell.
Just to reiterate once again, Gore are cagey about lab results, and it is hard to view that secretiveness charitably. Without concrete waterproofness and breathability figures to hand it's impossible to make an on-paper comparison with alternative fabrics. Anecdotally, however, Gore-Tex Pro is a "known quantity" to many when it comes to breathability, and as a team we've always been impressed with it in real world use. But just to buck the trend, our reviewer here hadn't actually used a Gore-Tex jacket for going on a decade, having mainly used different NeoShell jackets in that time. Having now made good on that, his impression is that Gore-Tex Pro is now more or less equal to NeoShell in terms of breathability. At the same time, Pro seems not to be as air-permeable as NeoShell, and thus the Alpha AR is warmer in strong cold winds as a result.
We make it 394g in a size M; Arc'teryx say 400g so it's great to see a company being conservative rather than claiming items to weigh less than they really do. Being comparatively light by the standards of this review has pros and cons: it's more packable than the heavyweights, but also less likely to stand up to years of winter battering. If you wanted to go all out for durability you could look at the heavier, more expensive Arc'teryx Alpha SV in a full on N100p-X 3L GORE-TEX Pro fabric at a hefty £630.
The Alpha AR is made in both women's and men's versions. Arc'teryx call the Alpha AR their "regular" fit: we've found it well tailored - definitely slimming down somewhat to the waist so there is not a problem with the jacket bagging out over a harness. Arm movement is unhindered and hem lift barely registers when you raise your arms.
Although it looks shorter than most, something with which taller reviewers would definitely concur, the Alpha AR is surprisingly no shorter in the body than the other jackets our particular reviewer here tried, fully covering his backside when pulled down. In use, particularly when a harness isn't being worn, he does find it rides up readily to just below the waist, although he's happy to accept that this may be the result of the shape of his bum rather than the jacket's cut! The take home message here, as usual, is to try before you buy, since the length definitely won't suit everyone. Arc'teryx use clever foam inserts in the bottom hem of their alpine shells - these are unnoticeable when you are wearing the jacket but very efficiently lock the jacket hem under a harness so it can't ride up then.
What Arc'teryx call their "StormHood" design is relatively simple, but effective, and clearly designed to fit over any climbing helmet. The brim of the hood is stiffened but not wired - and it can flex a bit, nevertheless, once cinched down around your helmet, the Alpha AR's hood gives good protection in poor weather. The zip can be done up fully without creating any pressure on the face. There is also a small soft patch laminated to the inside of the top of the storm flap behind the zip which means there is no rubbing on your chin. Overall the hood is very impressively designed and very effective for climbers... but because it's more reliant on a helmet to give it structure than hoods with a stiffer brim, it won't be the best on a helmet-free head in stormier conditions. Less ideal for walk-ins and hillwalkers.
The Alpha AR keeps things simple, which is always a good maxim on winter mountains. YKK water resistant zips seal the jacket, its pockets and its pit zips. The pit zips are quite a light gauge of zip but are easier than many to use, and so far seem to keep out wet weather perfectly when done up.
The two chest pockets are a good size, perhaps not massive but plenty big enough to stuff your gloves in or a folded 1:25000 OS map in a plastic bag. There is a zipped security pocket internally as well. The cuffs are simple and tightened with velcro and wide enough to go over various winter climbing gloves our reviewer tried them with. The Alpha AR isn't over-loaded with pockets and features but is light and feels streamlined and intuitive to use as a result. Less is more.
The Alpha AR is a versatile, intelligently designed hardshell that performs across a range of alpine conditions. Light, durable N40p-X 3L GORE-TEX Pro delivers durable waterproof, windproof, breathable performance. Burly N80p-X GORE-TEX Pro reinforces high wear areas. The helmet compatible StormHood™ delivers full protection with minimal impact on vision and secures with glove-friendly Cohaesive™ cordlocks. Large crossover chest pockets are easily accessed, and pit zips add ventilation.
- Sizes: XS-XXL (men) XS-XL (women)
- Weight: 394g size M (our weight)
- Fabric: N40p-X 3L GORE-TEX Pro with N80p-X GORE-TEX Pro in high wear areas
- Helmet compatible StormHood
- Cohaesive™ cordlocks
- Large crossover chest pockets are easily accessed
- Pit zips add ventilation
For more info see arcteryx.com
Montane Endurance Pro Jacket - £450
Released back in 2016, the Endurance Pro is Montane's top-of-the-range hardshell for the worst the weather can throw at you. We reviewed this jacket in depth individually back in 2017, when Kevin Woods took it up many a hill - as he does best. This time we've subjected it to more climbing, and it's come out very well. This was Montane's first venture using Gore-Tex fabrics, and four years on we'd consider that a good move. The Endurance Pro is a well-rounded and versatile mountain jacket that's well suited to winter climbing but also ideal for hillwalking and other activities when the weather turns foul.
The Endurance Pro uses a combination of 40 denier Gore-Tex Pro alongside 70 denier Gore-Tex Pro in high wear areas such as around the shoulders, hips, forearms and front pocket area. We are particularly pleased to see this more abrasion resistant fabric extend down the arms and around the wrist area. These are places that some other jackets with zoned fabrics neglect, but areas that can receive very rough treatment when winter climbing - think shoving hands in cracks etc. The use of two weights of fabric helps keep the weight down, which would be an advantage when packing this shell just in case, or for weight-conscious alpine climbing and the like. While we've no complaints so far regarding its durability, in the context of a bombproof shells review we'd prefer to have seen 70D throughout, since it's just that bit tougher and provides more of a snug protected feel on a wild day.
When it comes to comparing the breathability of Gore-Tex Pro with other fabrics it's nearly impossible to come to a definitive conclusion outside of laboratory conditions - there are just too many factors that play into moisture buildup on the day. Gore-Tex don't provide figures on the performance of individual fabrics but from experience using many alternatives in the hills we have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. Like other Gore fabrics it's highly waterproof but also offers high levels of breathability for comfort when you're working hard. Gore-Tex Pro is at the tougher end of Gore's range, and while that has obvious advantages if you're after a winter shell it's worth noting that other fabrics in the range are better for breathability during high output. Of course like any sort of waterproof fabric you will need to also maintain this by washing and reproofing.
Montane say 529g in a size M and on our scales we get 492g for our size small, which puts the Endurance Pro in the middle of the pack in terms of weight. Its combination of 70D and 40D fabrics helps keep the weight down, but as we've said above that does have cons as well as pros.
We think the Endurance Pro is a very well-cut jacket. Starting at the top, the shoulders and chest area allow full movement and don't feel restrictive, something our reviewer found noticeable on his other jackets in this test (and bear in mind he's pretty slim!). Generally when wearing this out we've had two or three layers under it, sometimes including a thin insulated jacket. The Endurance Pro provides ample space for this, but without feeling too baggy when only wearing a base layer.
The arms are long and the under arm has enough fabric to provide freedom of movement without tugging the waist up from under a harness, something that is vital in winter climbing but not always well delivered. The gusseted cuffs open wide enough to fit over even bulky winter gloves.
For when the weather really intensifies you'll be pleased that you can zip the collar right up and over the face. We wore the Endurance Pro in one of this year's winter storms in the Cairngorms. When paired with snow goggles there was essentially no exposed skin and it really felt like a bomb shelter. The only slight letdown in these conditions was the hood, which we'll cover below.
Finally the waist extends down enough to cover the bum, giving good protection and it's a sensible length paired with a harness. As we said above, we experience very little riding up of the waist when climbing, and tend to feel that the jacket provides ideal coverage throughout the day.
Unfortunately there seems to be no women's version of the Endurance Pro, which is a bit disappointing. Female users have to settle for the lighter weight Alpine Pro.
Generally the hood on the Endurance Pro is acceptable, but compared to other aspects of the jacket we think this is its weakest link. In particular we've had some issues keeping it on our head in very windy conditions, especially without a helmet.
Yes the hood is large enough to go over a bulky helmet, and when secured it sometimes stays put for an entire route while climbing. However this is most often the case on benign days with next to no wind, and it does require there to be a helmet underneath to give the hood some structure. On an extremely stormy day (60mph+ forecasted; we'd estimate 40mph+) when not wearing a helmet our reviewer found that the wind could easily catch the brim, bend it back and lift the hood off his head. We tried it on other people with the same result. When the weather turns this bad, head protection really matters, so a flailing hood in strong winds is not great.
The hood does have a semi-stiff visor that helps add that extra layer of protection to the face when it's hammering rain or snow. Compared to the most bombproof hoods on test, though, the Endurance Pro's visor is slightly less rigid, and we suspect this could be the reason it fares less well in high wind.
When secured correctly the hood moves well with the user and doesn't impair vision. To secure the hood there are two front facing draw cords on the outside of the jacket which narrow the hood opening area around the face. Most folk would probably favour external drawcords as they are easily accessible for adjustment without having to open the jacket in bad weather, which is exactly the type of weather that requires a shell. On the rear of the hood is the drawcord to reduce the volume of the hood. Used in combination these will provide enough security for all but the worst wind conditions.
Lastly, a hook and loop allow the hood to be rolled away when not in use, something of a rarity in this review.
The main zip on the Endurance Pro is a full length waterproof YKK AquaGard, which feels good and solid. It has a two way zipper so can be unzipped bottom up if required. During testing we never had any water ingress through the zip.
There are two pit zips that allow for added ventilation when working hard on a walk in or a strenuous hill day. These are also two-way zips, and easy to operate. Although the Endurance Pro utilises Gore-Tex Pro which is (by claim) a top-end breathable fabric, there is no escaping the fact that on a big walk with a heavy pack you're going to work up a sweat and no breathable fabric is going to be able to let all this moisture through its membrane. Not everyone likes pit zips, but we think that in these situations they can be pretty useful.
Fans of lots of pockets are in luck here, with a total of six. We've got mixed feelings about jackets with lots of pockets, since simplicity is generally a good thing; and once you add more than one set of pockets to the front of a jacket you end up with lots of layers of fabric to potentially impair breathability. However some users will appreciate all the storage options. There are four external pockets, two over the chest and a larger pair lower down which are hidden away to protect the zips from water (it took us a while to notice them). The two main pockets are large enough to hold bulky gloves and accommodate a map reasonably comfortably, although it's maybe slightly awkward getting the map in. You also get two internal pockets.
All pockets are positioned well clear of the waist, so when wearing a harness or a rucksack belt they are fully usable and stuff that might have fallen to the bottom of the pocket will still be accessible while climbing.
Drawcords around both the hemline and the waist allow the jacket to be fully secured to prevent snow and rain blowing up inside. These are easy to use and can be released using one hand. Not many jackets in this review feature an adjustable waist, and we like how snug it feels. The adjustment for the waist cord is located inside the main pockets. For climbing we're not sure how useful this would be, since your harness compresses this area anyway, however for walking in foul weather it's nice and close-fitting, while for skiing it may be good for extra protection from snow getting up under the jacket. It's certainly lighter than a powder skirt.
Fully featured and designed with all the technical requirements of climbers and alpinists in mind, the Endurance Pro Jacket uses a combination of durable 40 Denier and 70 Denier GORE-TEX Pro fabrics with taped seams, to provide ultimate waterproof weather protection. With a versatile relaxed fit.
- Sizes: S-XXL (men)
- Weight: 529g size M (Montane's weight)
- Fabric: 40 Denier GORE-TEX Pro with 70 Denier GORE-TEX Pro in high wear areas
- Technical tailoring around the arms to prevent hem lift
- Articulated elbow panels
- Slightly larger chest and bicep dimensions allow for winter layering
- Tall collar with shaped mouth and nose guard offers maximum face protection
- Full length YKK AquaGuard® VISLON® front zip
- Internal storm flap
- Two map sized A-line hand-warmer pockets with covered YKK matte AquaGuard® zips
- Two Napoleon chest pockets with YKK matte AquaGuard® zips, bellowed fabric for extra volume
- Suspended electronics pocket inside right chest pocket
- Internal stretch mesh pocket
For more info see montane.co.uk
Alpkit Definition - £229.99
We first reviewed the Definition several years ago. Aside from colours, a few small details, and a modest price increase, it hasn't changed much - but then if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Despite an unfortunate downgrade in the cord locks, this jacket remains an excellent mountain shell with a decent technical cut and most of the features you'd expect in a model twice the price. The cost is kept low in part thanks to Alpkit's use of an anonymous fabric, though in terms of performance we really can't say it feels any lesser for it. For sheer value, it's hard to beat.
Alpkit do not use a branded fabric such as Gore-Tex, but have opted for a no-name alternative that presumably helps keep the price down. It is the same stuff as used in their previous Definition jacket. On paper the performance of the 'anonymous' fabric compares well with known waterproof/breathable fabrics - a hydrostatic head of 30,000mm and a MVTR (moisture vapour transmission rate) of 20,000 g/sqm/24hrs, and in use we've been impressed with its breathability.
Here's what Alpkit have previously told us about the fabric:
"We select our waterproof fabrics based on performance without being tied to any particular brand. The Definition fabric uses a UK made membrane that is engineered to a high performance standard and then laminated in the Far East to form the fabric used in the Definition."
Looking beyond the objective statistics about fabric performance there are other more nuanced aspects to consider. Just the feel of a fabric tells us a lot - we instinctively stretch and crumple the fabric of new shell jackets. This 90 denier nylon fabric is fairly stiff (at least when new) and does not tend to flap about in windy mountain conditions, thus helping you feel better protected inside. There is also a substantial amount of stretch in the material which compliments the fairly fitted shape of the cut. We've no reason to think that this tough 'anonymous' fabric would be less able than a pricey branded alternative to endure the rough and tumble of mountaineering and alpine climbing.
Our reviewer has now worn the previous Definition practically non-stop for three years of summer and winter, climbing, walking and commuting. It is all still structurally intact and functional after regular mountaineering use. The only problem with the fabric (and the jacket as a whole) is some delamination at the back of the neck. Some speculate this common issue could be due to oils from the exposed skin at the back of the neck coming in contact with the fabric. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to Alpkit, but does suggest that their fabric may be as vulnerable to this effect as other more expensive brands. This often seems to be an issue which effectively ends the useful life of a jacket, and it'd be nice if manufacturers could look at it.
Alpkit say 515g for a size M, while we make it 520g. By the standards of this review that's more or less middle of the road, reflecting the fact that the Definition is very much a full weight winter shell (at a lightweight price).
A women's version of the Definition is available. This is not the longest jacket on review, and others with a bit more hem below the waist will feel that bit more snug and protective in foul weather. However our slim-ish reviewer (about 5'11'' and 73kg) finds size medium more than roomy enough to fit over multiple insulating layers whilst remaining mobile and feeling uncluttered for winter climbing.
Arm movement is unrestricted when climbing, and thanks to quality tailoring there's little sign of hem lift. Even though it is not the longest jacket on test, we find the bottom always stays put inside a harness when climbing; there is no need to keep poking it back throughout the day.
A personal gripe of our reviewer's is that the majority of jackets still seem to lack a good functional design solution at the cuff to easily accommodate the biggest winter gloves. The Definition has a flared, wedge shaped insert of fabric at the cuff, a kind of gusset, suggesting a bit more room has been created. However the cut of the cuff cancels out any potential widening and the end of the sleeve is no wider than an un-gusseted one would be. Why not just make this triangular piece of fabric bigger? Even adding just 2-3 cm to the diameter of the end of the sleeve would make a huge difference. As it stands it can be a struggle to cram gauntlet-style gloves into your sleeves.
The hood has everything you would expect from a technical, helmet-compatible mountain jacket. With a wired brim that resists deforming in the wind, it is designed to accommodate a climbing helmet without being ridiculously huge. It works well for us with or without a helmet. There are no restrictions to vision when turning the head or looking up. In terms of adjustment Alpkit have sacrificed the two internal Cohaesive cord locks used on the previous model for the slightly more clunky old fashioned external toggles; they still work OK but are a lot more fiddly to operate with gloves, and just look a bit more 'mainstream'. We imagine they've downgraded the adjusters to save costs - a saving that seems to have been passed on to the consumer. On the upside the drawcord ends for these adjusters exit low down on the chest so you can see them and also not get smacked in the face by them when it is windy. There is a rear volume adjuster which, if you have gloved hands, needs a bit practice to get to grips with.
In common with jackets more than twice its price the Definition features a robust and at least nominally water resistant YKK Vislon main zip, along with YKK Aquaguard pocket zips. On our review jacket the cut of the storm flap behind the zip has presented a slight problem, frequently snagging in use. It seems that in the factory a crease has been mistakenly built into the storm flap, and it's this that snags in the zip - a niggly quality control issue, but perhaps forgivable at this price point.
The side zips are not armpit vents; they are much lower down and probably have more value in reaching the pockets of the layer underneath. Being lower there is some potential vulnerability to water ingress although we have never noticed this on either of the Definitions that we've so far used.
Like the hood side-adjustment points, we were a bit disappointed to see the slick, minimalist Cohaesive internal hem adjusters on the previous jacket replaced with basic external toggles. These old school adjusters are more obtrusive, and more fiddly to operate when wearing gloves, so represent a definite step down in functionality and quality feel from the previous iteration of the Definition. We think the Cohaesive cord locks would have been better kept, even at the cost of a more expensive jacket. However looking on the Alpkit website these are still a feature on the women's jacket, presumably because the old stock hasn't yet sold out.
The outside chest pocket is definitely not a 'map pocket' – it is the perfect size for a large mobile phone or packet of jelly babies and that's about it. There is a similarly sized internal pocket. The two external hand pockets are more generously sized, and remain easily accessible when wearing a climbing harness or rucksack hipbelt.
The Definition jacket is a fortress, it is designed to face the foulest, wettest, windiest, snowiest, wildest weather. Fully featured and tough as old boots, this is the jacket that will take whatever abuse you want to throw at it, from Scottish winter and alpine climbing to Munro bagging.
Definition is breathable and waterproof. Its face fabric and backer are manufactured from tough nylon for superb durability. Sandwiched between these is a waterproof / breathable PU/PTFE membrane; the result is the best combination of durability and breathability available in heavier weight 3-layer fabric. It is our most durable jacket yet.
Fit for purpose doesn't just mean waterproof - it has to fit you! Definition is designed to sit over your other layers, its cut is tuned so that it does not ride up to expose your back or tum when you swing your axes above your head. The hood is large enough to fit over a climbing helmet and deflect spindrift from engulfing your core.
- Sizes: S - XXL (mens) 8 - 14 (womens)
- Fabric: 145 gsm 3-layer fabric Face: 40 D x 90 D Nylon Backer: 20 D Nylon tricot Bi-component PU/PTFE membrane 20d nylon tricot
- Hydrostatic head: 30,000mm MVTR: 20,000 g/sqm/24hrs
- Helmet compatible hood with wired peak
- 2-way opening YKK Vislon AquaGuard® front zip
- Internal storm flap with bottom snap and chin guard
- 2 map sized hand pockets with YKK AquaGuard® zips
- 1 external chest pocket with YKK AquaGuard® zip
- 2 core body venting YKK AquaGuard® zips, inverted for ease of use
- Gusseted cuffs with anti-snag Velcro adjustment
- 1 internal YKK zipped chest pocket
For more info see www.alpkit.com
Black Diamond Sharp End Shell - £500
The first thing you'll likely notice about the Black Diamond Sharp End is its clean look and its aesthetically pleasing simplicity. The Sharp End is definitely not a bells and whistles jacket, it's a stripped down high end performance shell. Utilising 3-layer 70 denier Gore-Tex Pro, it feels very much a bombproof shelter on the mountains. Our one criticism is the unfortunate positioning of the main pockets, which renders them inaccessible under a harness or rucksack belt. Sloppy!
Like many other jackets in this group test, Black Diamond has opted for a 3 layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric. This is tough stuff. Where they differ from some other jackets however is in the weight of the fabric throughout the jacket. As far as we can tell the Sharp End consists of entirely 70 denier fabric, which is very abrasion resistant. Some other jackets in this test have opted for something like a 40/80D split between the main body and high wear areas such as shoulders, chest and arms. This keeps overall weight down, however it does expose other areas to more damage from wear. It also feels a wee bit less fortress-like in high wind. If weight is less of an issue and you want an all over suit of armour, the Sharp End may be a good option. From experience even just stuffing jackets in and out of bags can wear face fabrics, so it's worth considering.
When it comes to comparing the breathability of Gore-Tex Pro with other fabrics it's nearly impossible to come to a definitive conclusion outside of laboratory conditions - there are just too many factors that play into moisture buildup on the day. Gore-Tex don't provide figures on the performance of individual fabrics but from experience using many alternatives in the hills we have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. Like other Gore fabrics it's highly waterproof but also offers high levels of breathability for comfort when you're working hard. Gore-Tex Pro is at the tougher end of Gore's range, and while that has obvious advantages if you're after a winter shell it's worth noting that other fabrics in the range are better for breathability during high output.
Of course when you start really working you will suffer from overheating and sweat and in that case it's time to open the pit zips.
Black Diamond states the weight of the Sharp End to be 455g, while on our scales our size small is 440g which puts it towards the lighter end of the scale in this test. Although the entire jacket is made from a 70D fabric, the Gore-Tex Pro fabric looks like it does help reduce the weight. The limited features also cuts any unnecessary weight from this jacket helping to position the Sharp End as a bombproof yet also remarkably light shell, which is something of a fine balancing act.
A women's version of the Sharp end is on offer.
We find the fit of the Sharp End more roomy than most others, particularly around the waist. You could call it boxy. With a few layers on we find there is still some excess material flapping around where a more tapered fit may have been more suitable for our tester - though of course more room will suit some people better (our tester is on the skinny side). Across the shoulders the fit is about right with a midlayer on underneath, but if you're lightly dressed it could feel quite baggy. Lengthwise the Sharp End is spot on for our reviewer, covering just enough of the bum to feel protected and sit under a harness nicely, and to keep the midriff nicely covered. We've found hem lift isn't an issue when the arms are raised.
The hood on the Sharp End is spacious. It will easily go over any helmet but can also be reduced in volume enough to be perfectly usable without. Unlike most other jackets in this test there is only one drawcord at the back of the hood for adjusting. This drawcord compresses the hood in both directions, horizontally and vertically, and acts somewhat similar to having drawcords on the front of the jacket as well. It's not quite as nice a system as also having front drawcords but it functions fine in the scenarios we've used it.
Aside from that the hood performs excellently and provides a good level of protection. The hood follows your head movement without obstructing your vision. In the wind it stays put and has never felt like it was close to being blown off assuming the single drawcord is tightened. The visor on the rim of the hood does not contain a wire, so it's slightly less ideal than more structured rivals in a proper Scottish hoolie. However it still keeps enough of its shape to direct water away from the face and provide protection from wind when your head is lowered.
The Sharp End is a fairly stripped-down jacket that is not brimming with features. Considering the 70D Gore-Tex Pro fabric that is used throughout the jacket the overall weight is relatively light, and one likely reason for this is down to reducing as many additional features as possible, while still keeping the jacket functional.
Firstly there's a big drawback for climbing with this jacket - the pockets! There are two main pockets on the front of the jacket, plus one chest pocket and a small zipped internal pocket. The chest pocket is small and won't take a map. It's fine for keeping your phone and a small snack to keep you going, but that's about it. The internal pocket has a slightly smaller opening and about the same volume as the chest pocket, so don't expect to store much in there either. Lastly, the two main hand pockets. Placed at the bottom of the jacket, they're completely inaccessible while wearing a harness or a rucksack hip belt. Either of these sit smack bang over the openings, so you've no chance of accessing gloves and the like on the go. This renders the pockets useless a lot of the time. All in all it's a bit disappointing that one of the key features seems this poorly thought through.
To secure the waist of the jacket Black Diamond have used a Cohaesive drawcord system that has a release button integrated into the jacket itself. This is by far our preferred sort of cord lock because it's neat and easy to use with one hand and with gloves, being large and easy to locate. Pressing it and dragging away will release the drawcord. Simple and effective.
The cuffs on the hands have a strong velcro strap that seems to work well even in foul weather with lots of snow. It doesn't readily get choked with snow and stop operating, something we've noticed on other fastening systems before.
Black Diamond say:
Designed for fast-moving alpine minimalists, the Sharp End Shell is our lightweight GORE-TEX Pro jacket. Its trimmed-down features and all-terrain face fabric place an emphasis on packability, while it remains functional and durable for everyday alpine use.
- Sizes: S-XL (men) XS-XL (women)
- Weight: 455g BD weight
- Fabric: GORE-TEX® Pro 3L, 70d nylon plain-weave face with a nylon micro-grid backer and DWR finish (140 gsm, 100% nylon)
- Integrated Cohaesive™ cord management system
- Climbing-helmet-compatible hood
- Brushed microsuede collar lining
- Under arm gussets for added range of motion
- Zip chest pocket and two zip hand pockets
- Internal stretch media pocket with cord port
- Two-way armpit zip vents
- Custom-molded cuff tabs
- Primary fabric is bluesign approved
For more info blackdiamondequipment.com
Marmot Alpinist Jacket - £520
A burly shell in heavyweight Gore-Tex Pro, with a generous cut and a full complement of technical features, the Alpinist Jacket meets our 'bombproof' brief head-on. Built to take plenty of abuse, the Alpinist feels tough and protective enough for the worst the Scottish winter can throw at you. On the downside its high altitude price may not be for some, while it has several more pockets than most of us will ever need. It's quite heavy, too, even by the non-exacting standards of this review.
The Alpinist Jacket is made of tough stuff, with 80D fabric throughout - making it one of the thickest, most durable and most weather-protective shells on review. Its fairly stiff material resists flapping in the wind, and feels like it's more than up to the abuse of winter mountaineering. If you want a shell to last, this would be a good bet. In common with most of the higher priced shells we've looked at, Marmot have gone with a 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro. At risk of repeating ourselves, since Gore do not publish lab performance figures it is impossible to say definitively how Pro really rates relative to other fabrics, but after long experience of many winter shells we'd say that anecdotally it's got to be up there with the best available in terms of striking a balance between breathability and durability. It's an ideal fabric for a winter mountain jacket, though arguably less so for warmer and more humid conditions.
At 631g in a men's size L, the Alpinist Jacket is one of the heavier on review, though this goes down to a more manageable 566g if you remove the zip-out internal snow skirt (hardly an essential feature for walking or climbing). Marmot say 586g, which we assume is for a men's Medium including the snow skirt.
Sadly no women's version of the Alpinist Jacket is available, which seems unfair.
We have a size Large, and we think this jacket runs on the big side of the size range, with just a bit more room and length (both in the body and the arms) than other Large jackets in the review. That's often the experience with North American brands. In this case a bit more length and space is welcome in a winter shell, as it offers greater coverage below the waist, and plenty of room for layering it over insulation. On our 6-foot medium-build reviewer there's easily space for baselayer, midlayer and even an insulated jacket under the Alpinist. However it's possible that slimmer wearers might find this jacket a bit too baggy in their usual size, so it's worth trying it on for fit.
There's plenty of length in the hem, which sits right down at crotch level at the front and drops at the rear to give almost complete buttock coverage. In foul weather this extra length has proved welcome, helping the Alpinist feel like a snug and protective fortress of a shell. The long cut doesn't restrict leg lift at all, so it's all good as far as we're concerned. Other than the fact that short jackets seem to have become something of the fashion, we see no reason why all mountain shells aren't similarly long.
We assume Marmot's 'Angel Wing Movement' refers to the active cut of the sleeves. These permit free arm movement for climbing, with very little sign of hem lift when the arms are raised. The exception is at the elbow which we've found can get a bit restrictive if you're heavily layered up. On the other hand the cuffs are massive, so there's really no problem sliding them over bulky gauntlets. We like the simple Velcro fastening, though a bit more play would have helped get a tighter fit on a bare wrist.
Good news for climbers is that the capacious hood swallows a helmet with ease, and there's no limit to head movement. With three points of adjustment it also cinches down snugly onto a helmet-free head. On a jacket this pricey, it's a shame that the cord locks on the hood are of the small-and-fiddly external variety, and quite hard to operate wearing gloves. Toggles built into the seams would have been neater and more convenient. There's a large peak to help keep rain and spindrift out of your eyes, but unfortunately only a token effort has been made towards stiffening the brim, so unless you're wearing a helmet underneath to give it structure the hood does tend to catch the wind and flap about. This is a common problem with North American shells; yes, British weather is probably worse, but surely they have wind and blizzards too? In summary, the fundamental cut of the hood is excellent, but a couple of small-but-important details could be better.
If you dig pockets then you're in luck here; the Alpinist Jacket has seven of them. That's four more than we'd ever be likely to use, but clearly some people (at least Marmot's designers) like stashing bits and bobs all about their person. Positioned high enough to be usable when wearing a harness or rucksack hip belt, the four external pockets feature robust waterproof zips. But while the lower pair are big enough for ski gloves and/or an OS map, the upper two seem a bit small to be useful for anything much more than a Buff or a cereal bar. Overlapping these pockets at the front means that you end up with three layers of Gore-Tex over the chest, and while that's no big deal on a cold day, it must have an impact on breathability. If asked, we'd have suggested keeping it simple by doing away with the upper two and just making the main pair a bit larger. As if that's not sufficient, Marmot also give you an internal zipped pocket for your phone, plus a small stretch mesh sleeve that you could stow gloves in; and finally there's a zipped lift pass sleeve on one of the arms.
Featuring a double zipper, a substantial internal storm flap and a comfy brushed chin guard, the main zip is a chunky and durable YKK Vislon. For ventilation the Alpinist also offers pit zips, though we find they're only partially accessible underneath the straps of a rucksack.
To boost its all-round winter sports credentials, the Alpinist is fitted with a removable internal snow skirt. As this is only applicable to skiers we zipped it off straight away, saving a fair bit of weight in the process. It's good to have the option.
Finally, at the hem, the two cord locks are of the fiddly external sort that's a bit of a faff with gloves. While the drawcord forms loops rather than separate tails, these are directed up under the shell to reduce the chances of snagging one.
Flagship of our GORE-TEX® Pro Shell line, the incredibly resilient Alpinist is engineered to excel in the loftiest, most unforgiving places on earth. It boasts incredibly rugged and breathable fabrics, a state-of-the-art three-layer construction and a ridiculous complement of technical features.
- Sizes: S-XL (men)
- Weight: 566g size L (our weight, minus snow skirt)
- Fabric: GORE-TEX® Pro Products 3L 100% Nylon 3.9 oz/yd
- 100% Seam Taped
- Helmet Compatible
- Gale-Force Hood with Laminated Wire Brim
- ERG Hood Adjustment System
- PitZips with Water Resistant Zippers
- Water-resistant Zipper Pockets
- Napoleon Chest Pockets with Water Resistant Zips
- Zip-off Powder Skirt
- Interior Mesh Storage Pocket
- Interior Zippered Pocket
- DriClime® Lined Chin Guard
- Elastic Drawcord Hem
- Angel-Wing Movement™
For more info see marmot.com
Wow! What a thorough review. Well done and thank you for taking the time over this. Just a shame that the Haglofs Spitz Jacket isn't included. I assume they weren't interested?
In reply to UKC/UKH Gear
Good review thanks, makes me think the Alpkit is worth looking at given the price of shells now.
Jackets aside I’m intrigued by the running vest style water bottle in some of the photos. I usually drink very little in winter so having something strapped to my chest would just be extra faff for me. Does it not just freeze?
Rarely to any degree - I guess there is warmth coming off my chest. I bought two Inov8 ones a couple of years ago before ski touring in arctic Norway and they worked really well. Camelback style tubes do freeze up, and I don't drink enough if I have to stop and find a bottle in my pack, so one 500 ml bottle there is a good compromise for me.
Ta. I might give it a try.....can’t be any worse than carrying a full and unused water bottle all day like I usually do.
Love comprehensive reviews like this but could we counter high-end reviews (I know you look at the less expensive such as Alpkit) with a look at what's available in the budget ranges. Kit from Trespass, regatta, Mountain Warehouse and the like.
I'm kitted out in the latest and greatest obviously but my kids are top to toe in Aldi and Regatta and whilst they aren't doing anything overly extreme everything works as designed.