Years ago I struggled with the cold. Now I wear less and stay warmer in the backcountry, thanks to the development of new fabrics. But it’s tricky to know how to pair up technical pieces for maximum effect.
When I attend ISPO and the Outdoor Retailer Show, I get the spiel on the special features designed into the best gear in the world. The information is complex and sometimes overwhelming, but it’s valuable, especially for dealing with the wide range of conditions we experience, from skinning up a local ski area to below zero temps on high peaks. Once I dial in my favorite pieces, I find they work equally well for other mountain sports like bicycling, hiking, kayaking, even logging (AKA WildSnow HQ CrossFit).
Mountain Equipment is distributing more of their mountaineering products to the U.S. We like the quality construction of their clothing and mid-price point range. For women, Mountain Equipment offers three fits: Alpine Fit is close-fitting; Mountain Fit is more generous; Active Fit is the closest fitting, designed to fit over light weight layers.
Here’s my upper body layering system from their line:
Next to my skin I wear a lightweight base layer, preferably with a hood. I like having a hood on my lightest base layer because when I’m skinning up I always wear a sunhat. When the wind picks up, I can easily pull on the hood under the sunhat and it’s enough to keep my ears warm without getting my head too hot. When it gets colder, I’ll often pull on the hood under my ski hat instead of a balaclava.
Mountain Equipment’s Eclipse hoodie has gotten positive reviews from our backcountry boys in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Mine is indeed comfy. It’s warmer than my super light weight wool hoodie but has a long front zipper which allows quick ventilation when needed. The Eclipse has a high collar and offset front zipper. Sometimes the offset zipper is harder to open and close with one hand, but I like not having a zipper across my teeth. The women’s specific version is Active Fit with a longer torso.
Mid layer, light shell:
For skinning uphill I cover my baselayer with Mountain Equipment’s Ultratherm jacket. Micro-grid liner wicks sweat away. It’s one of my favorite pieces. A thin layer of Helium 30 on bodice and upper arms cuts the wind. Panels of stretchy breathable fabric under arms keeps you from overheating. The best thing about this piece is that it’s minimal and packs into its hand pocket so it’s easy to take along as an extra layer. Active Fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeves. On sale now at Moosejaw.
In Colorado, I always wear softshell pants, but to be honest, when skinning I often leave my softshell jacket at home. With our temperate climate, the lighter Ultratherm is adequate. But when those big winter storms roll in the cold wet days, a Windstopper softshell is a good choice. ME’s Trojan is stretchy and water resistant. Large side pockets have mesh lining. When open, they quickly ventilate.
What I like most about Mountain Equipment jackets is the bodice cut. Their top pieces tend to be longer which I find flattering in addition to making room for bigger pockets. The Trojan is Active Fit with helmet compatible hood. On sale at Moosejaw.
For the ski down, I cover up with a breathable shell. It cuts the wind and keeps me dry through those endless faceshots. Mountain Equipment’s Arclight Shell comes in lovely bright colors. As they say, redder is better and Alpenglow is the shade for photos. It packs up small and is constructed of sturdy Polartec Neoshell. It’s a bit heavier than some shells but it hasn’t torn on tree branches. The hood has a wired and laminated brim for wind and wet weather resistance, but it’s not designed to fit over a helmet. Instead it comes with rear and front adjustment tabs. The smaller over-crown measurement and smaller cranium volume is designed for a secure over-head fit. Alpine fit, trim with room for layers.
The Lumin is the warmest of Mountain Equipment’s lightweight down jackets with high lofting, stitched-through quilted construction which keeps the down from shifting, and water resistant down filling. It’s packable and fits easily under the Arclight Shell.
This is my pick on the top of the peak for the run ski down, on days when the weather is not too extremely cold. This jacket has a hood, two roomy zipped pockets and an inner mesh chest pocket.
My most coveted piece is Mountain Equipment’s K7. Super insulating — you’ll feel like you’re wrapped in your favorite duvet. The longer bodice, baffle construction, use of strategically placed light weight fabric, Down Codex, large internal pockets big enough for skins, YKK zippers, etc., etc., are quite impressive. It’s the jacket we would have designed ourselves. This is a big jacket, one I’d pack mid-winter on very cold days. Off mountain, it’s the piece to wear while the hut warms up or when you’re driving back home in a frigidare chassis.
Mountain Equipment is available at Backcountry.com and Moosejaw,, some pieces are even on sale now.
WildSnow Girl, Lisa Dawson, is the luckiest girl in the world. Also known as Mrs. WildSnow.com, she tests whatever gear she wants. She gives the WildSnow family of websites the feminine voice.