This review was carried out in accordance with Scotland's lockdown guidance on outdoor exercise within the appropriate local authority area. Please abide by the restrictions where you live.
For the winter season we're just leaving, Mountain Equipment updated their popular Tupilak shell. Tweaks have been made to the design of both the Jacket and the Pants, and both now come in a new Gore-Tex Pro fabric. Tough, functional, and well-cut, the Tupilak shell has long been an excellent choice for winter climbers and hillwalkers seeking bombproof protection and top notch performance, and having heavily used several previous versions of both the jacket and trousers I'd count myself very much a fan. So what's changed here?
Making use of an 80 denier, 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric throughout, the Tupilak Jacket and Pants are burly protective shell layers that long experience suggests stand up very well to mixed climbing and general winter mountain abuse. Having been my most frequently-used shell for several Scottish winter seasons each, my older Tupilak Jackets are still going strong, with little sign of damage other than the inevitable loss of DWR (which can be rectified to an extent with a re-proof). After a winter of hillwalking and easy solo mountaineering (admittedly not as rigorous a test as mixed climbing, but needs must in Covid) the current model still looks basically brand new.
As well as being very durable the fabric has enough stiffness to resist deflecting and flapping in the wind, thus helping you feel warmer and better protected inside than you would in a skimpy shell. When the wind gets up and the hail or spindrift start stinging, I love the armoured feel of this 80D Gore Pro. However the fabric does - as ME suggest - feel slightly softer and more supple than some other heavyweight fabrics, and perhaps a bit quieter when you move.
Gore-Tex Pro is the dominant choice for high-end winter climbing and mountaineering shells. The headline change to the new Tupilak Jacket and Pants is that they use the latest generation of Pro fabric. This boasts high levels of both breathability and durability, but what does that mean? Unfortunately it's impossible for us to say objectively how it stacks up against rival fabrics, for the simple reason that Gore do not publish the performance figures of their products. As a reviewer I've always found this both frustrating and a bit suspicious.
Without lab results for waterproofness and breathability I can only offer anecdotal evidence. I have used a lot of Gore-Tex Pro shells over the years, walking and climbing, summer and winter, and in every variety of foul weather, and I can certainly say that in the real world it performs really well, being both reliably storm proof and seeming to breathe at least as well as any heavier weight, higher-end fabric. I've always found I can wear the Tupilak Jacket while working hard plodding uphill without boiling in the bag more than you'd expect, and the latest Tupilak is no exception. Mountain Equipment are confident enough in the performance not to offer pit zips here, which probably says something.
I asked Mountain Equipment to tell us more about the new Gore Pro:
"Overall characteristics of Gore Pro are that it is 'durably waterproof', 'extremely breathable', 'very rugged', 'totally windproof' and with an improved environmental impact" they said.
"This is a 3-layer laminate construction, with a Gore-Tex membrane sandwiched between a face fabric and a backer. The choice of face fabric and backer is down to each brand, so essentially within the Gore-Tex Pro category there are many possible permutations; in addition brands can now select from three versions of the Pro membrane, depending whether they want to maximise breathability, durability or stretch."
"Mountain Equipment use the 'most breathable' version across their entire Gore Pro range" they tell us.
"We were involved in the development process of new Pro and determined that this version is the most appropriate fabric for the activities we design our products for: climbing, mountaineering and hill walking. For us it offers the best blend of durability and breathability for these activities.
"The membrane itself hasn't changed for this season, but the internal backer is now solution dyed (also known as dope dyed) and this offers both performance and environmental benefits. In terms of face textiles we have made some small tweaks but stuck with the ingredients of what we know works - those which offer the best blend of low weight, suppleness, quietness of handle and which crucially have the necessary durability without being overly stiff or heavy."
Tupilak Jacket - £380
This is the fourth version of the Tupilak Jacket that I've reviewed, and over the years I'd say Mountain Equipment have gradually improved what was already a really strong product. For me, this remains pretty much the ideal Scottish winter shell, whether I'm walking or climbing, hitting a really sensible balance of fit, function, protection and performance.
Back when we reviewed an older iteration in 2015 the price was £380; a later version then went down to £350, but the new Tupilak Jacket is up again by £30. Now it's nudging towards £400 I'm a bit less inclined to rave about the price of the Tupilak Jacket, but it does still represent excellent value for a full-weight technical winter mountain shell. You could pay a lot more elsewhere, and not necessarily get loads more actual shell for your money. This is quite a simple jacket though, so if you like lots of pockets and things like pit zips then you may prefer something a bit more elaborate (and quite possibly more expensive).
Weight and durability
At 500g in size L on my kitchen scales, the Tupilak Jacket it not a lightweight option, but its simple design does allow it to be a bit lighter than some alternative burly winter shells. Though it's fairly hefty and bulky when carried in a pack its weight reflects the protection and durability on offer, and I don't think a significantly lighter jacket would be likely to match it for either.
If you're investing in a technical winter shell then you want it to last, a consideration not just for the wallet but also for the planet. The Tupilak strikes a sensible balance between weight and toughness, and because it's also very well made I've never yet had an issue with its durability. This shell is built to last.
A female version is available, and none of the options are pink. For this season Mountain Equipment have made no changes to the fit, and this is good news for me since at 1.83cm the cut on the size Large Tupilak has always suited my medium build, broad-ish shoulders and slightly longer than average back length. However, since everyone's built different, it would pay to try it on for yourself as soon as shops re-open.
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 I find there's negligible hem lift when my arms are raised. As a result the shell stays reliably under a harness when climbing, and cold draughts at the waist are no problem - not something I've been able to say about every expensive shell I've reviewed. 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.
Given how vital a decent hood is on a winter shell, I'm always surprised at the many designs on ostensibly climbing-oriented jackets that don't actually properly fit over a helmet. But no such issues here.
As I said in last year's bombproof shells group test, Mountain Equipment's much-vaunted Super Alpine Hood is one of the best I've used. 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 you get on some technical shells. For easier use with gloves the side cord locks are built into the seam for neatness and fumble-free use, and these 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 bombarding. When pulled snug the hood moves well with your head, letting you just get on and climb without feeling impaired.
While its functional simplicity is still a defining characteristic of the Tupilak Jacket, some of the details have changed with the new version.
You still get just two external hand pockets; these are big enough to hold a hat, thick gloves and/or an OS map, and have chunky YKK Vislon zips. But they now sit marginally higher on the chest than before, giving more space between the bottom of the pocket and the hem to improve clearance above a hipbelt or harness. This also allows for the pockets to be ever so slightly larger. For your phone there's just one small laminated inner pocket - and for me, one is plenty.
Your main zip is still a burly YKK Vislon, with a decent internal strip to help channel rain away and keep out the draughts. While it has the usual double zipper, this is no longer locking, so if the zip is part way down and the teeth are pulled apart the slider will slide down slightly rather than staying put. This puts less stress on the zip and slider, Mountain Equipment tell me. At the top there's now no fleecy chin guard: I quite liked this on the previous Tupilak Jacket, but won't lose sleep over its loss since the inner collar is now simpler as a result.
Notably, as with its immediate predecessor, there are no pit zips, which is a simplification on older versions of the Tupilak Jacket. As I've never been a full convert to the pit zip, and am generally happy to do without and simply vent via the main zip, I consider their loss a positive thing on balance. After all, extra zips marginally increase faff, add a fraction to weight, and introduce a potential point of failure (or leaks if you forget to do them up); others swear by them though, so there are pros as well as cons.
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.
The cuffs are less offset than on the 2020 version. This means that the sleeve length should feel better for more people, Mountain Equipment suggest, and that when reaching high the inner wrist is better covered.
Mountain Equipment say:
A technical shell jacket ideally suited to winter and alpine climbing on the steepest lines and biggest faces. A serious, stripped back shell that shines on the most difficult modern lines. The combination of GORE-TEX® PRO 80D fabric, 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: 500g size L (our weight)
- 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 info see mountain-equipment.co.uk
Tupilak Pants - £370
Whether it's to keep out wind, rain, snow, or a winning combination of all three, your winter overtrousers will see a lot of use and therefore it pays to have a pair that is tough, protective and well-cut. High end mountain shell trousers don't come cheap; but if you're picky about your top half then you ought to be equally discerning about what goes on your legs. There's a lot of fabric and fiddly tailoring in a pair of waterproof trousers, and that will partly explain the price. As with the Tupilak Jacket, I'd say the Tupilak Pants justify the outlay. With their excellent tailoring, sensible feature set and bombproof Gore Pro fabric, Tupilak Pants are a fantastic pair of burly wear-all-day foul-weather overtrousers that'd be equally useful on technical alpine climbs and winter Munros. Like the jacket, I've used an earlier version of the Tupilak Pants for years, and the new iteration includes quite a number of changes, most of them I'd say improvements.
My previous pair weigh 632g, braces included, while the updated version come out at 574g - both in size Large. That's an appreciable difference, especially if you're carrying them in a pack. Tweaks to details such as the braces and kick patches probably account for the weight loss.
As with the jacket, these trousers are available in both men's and women's models. I have chunky legs, but despite this I often find that overtrousers come out on the baggy side. However with their thoughtful tailoring, the Tupilak Pants offer me room for layering while somehow still keeping the fit trim and neat throughout, without excess flappy bits to get in the way. From high steps, to bridging, I find leg movement is about as unimpeded as you could hope from a pair of waterproof trousers. With my 32 inch inside leg, occasionally the crotch of my size Large pair rides up a bit high, but it's easily tugged down. Users with longer legs might not have this issue.
While the thigh and seat are cut the same as the previous version, Mountain Equipment have slightly neatened the lower leg (I'd have said it was already neat!), to give you a marginally clearer view of your feet when climbing and to reduce the already-slim chance of snagging a crampon. The neatened ankle cuff works fine with a winter mountain boot, but skiers may need to unzip to accommodate their footwear, and there's no gusset feature. In the interest of keeping the ankle uncluttered, no volume adjustment is provided.
While not quite salopettes, the Tupilaks do come very high at the waist, riding up well above navel level. This gives you loads of overlap with a jacket for maximum weather protection at the midriff. The upper section of the trousers is very simple, giving a low-profile feel under a harness; however there have been some important upgrades here. In the new version, the rear of the waist has been elasticated so it should sit a little closer to the back to provide better protection. The new double press stud at the fly seems a slight improvement on the former single popper, and the fly zip now has a storm flap on the outside as well as the inside, for improved rain protection.
The clean lines of the leg are uninterrupted by fiddly bits such as pockets - not something I've ever wanted in a pair of waterproof trousers anyway.
Full length side zips with a double zipper allow easy access when wearing boots, and because the entire thing can be opened right to the top it's possible to get shelled up while already sporting crampons. There's also the option of ventilation from the waist down if you're on a hot sweaty walk-in. As per the jacket, very chunky and robust YKK Vislon zips have been used here, and in terms of long term reliability these feel more confidence inspiring than lighter gauge side zips - as I can vouch from several years of Tupilak Pants use. Behind the zip is a decent sized storm flap.
Sewn-in braces were a feature of the previous Tupilak Pants. The new ones are substantially thinner, which must save some weight. While their smaller, lower profile buckles are less intrusive, the downside is that I find the slimmer braces less well-fitting, and after a few hours out they often seem to have slipped off a shoulder. I think the problem may be that there's no connection in the small of the back where the two brace straps cross one another, while previously there was. This is something I'll look at bodging a fix for at home.
Down at the ankle, the previous dyneema kick strips have been replaced by the same bonded rubber material as the ice screw patches on the thighs. This smooth material seems to shed water and snow more readily than textured dyneema, and I'm told it's a little lighter too. As for the thigh patches, these were already a great feature of the Tupilak Pants, protecting the Gore-Tex from the teeth of ice screws racked on your harness. The new ones have been slightly repositioned to provide coverage only where it's most needed, and because they are a bit smaller they should help make this part of the thigh that bit more breathable.
Inside, the zipped-in snow gaiters seem lighter and a bit less bulky than previously, and with a slightly simplified design. They still give a good close fit around the top of mountain boots, while the lace hook, formerly a big metal thing, is now a small plastic hook which can be tucked neatly out of the way when not required.
Mountain Equipment say:
The very best fit and fabrics currently available make these the finest hard shell legwear there is for committed alpinists and winter climbers. These full spec mountaineering pants give total protection and mobility in the worst conditions imaginable. Using GORE-TEX® Pro 80D fabric throughout they easily resist abrasion in ice choked chimneys and further reinforcement protects against cuts from racked screws.
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
- Weight: 574g size L (our weight)
- 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro 80D fabric throughout
- Storm Construction techniques used throughout
- Alpine fit with articulated knees
- Semi-elasticated waist
- Bonded ice screw protection overlay
- Full length 2-way YKK® moulded Aquaguard® side zips
- Fully adjustable braces with drop seat
- 2-way YKK® WR fly zip
- Zip-out internal snow gaiters
- Bonded reinforced kick strips for durability
For info see mountain-equipment.co.uk