Thursday, 28 July 2016

Gear Review: Mountain Equipment Frontier Softshell

Mountain Equipment introduced us to their Frontier range around this time in 2015, a modest collection of simple, functional softshells which included a hooded jacket, a hood-less jacket, an armless jacket (a gillet or vest) and a pair of trousers - not at all a jacket. After not much deliberation, I spent some of my own cash on the hooded jacket and, a year down the line, it is one of my absolute favourite items. Let's have a quick look and see why.

The first thing you may notice is the cut of the jacket which is fairly slim fitting. This is Mountain Equipment's Alpine fit which removes excess fabric but retains a full range of motion. For me, a medium is perfect over just a baselayer and it can layer over a light mid layer (something like the gridded Rab Baseline) but you may need to size up if you intend to layer over thicker items like an insulated jacket.

The second thing you'll see is the jacket's simplicity. Two hand pockets and a napoleon pocket, a large hood and all the adjusters you'd come to expect make up the Frontier. It is made from Mountain Equipment's own Exolite fabric, a stretchy, double weave fabric that has enhanced abrasion and weather resistance. Like a lot of softshells, the weather resistance is provided by the tightness of the weave rather than a membrane so the breathability of the jacket is excellent.

The Frontier jacket has the following features:
The Hood
The hood is classed as Mountain Equipment's HC hood, meaning that it will accommodate a helmet but adjusts down well over a bare head. A wired visor keeps things nicely in shape. Its perhaps not as impressive as the hood found on the Lhotse waterproof but still, perfectly adequate to keep a stiff breeze at bay. There is some shape to the brim but I would have liked to seen a stiffer wire.

The dual tether drawcords are a small work of art. Instead on one continuous piece of elastic running around the hem of the jacket, the Frontier has three. Two between the front zip and the hips (on either side) and one longer one around the back. I like this for two reasons - you can adjust the front and the back of the jacket independently and there are no loops of elastic to get caught on errant tree branches or rocks.
Dual tether drawcords
The Napolean pocket is pretty small and fairly useless in my opinion; I can't recall a time where I have used it in anger. The handwarmer pockets on the other hand are suitably large enough for hands (obviously) but also stashing gloves or hats on colder days. They are even large enough to accommodate the UK yard stick of pocket design - the OS map.
Napoloan pocker
The adjusters and subtle part-elastication of the wrists allow you to pull the sleeves up to your elbows - perfect for those hard working moments.
Part-elasticated cuffs are neat and tidy
In Action
I have worn this jacket right through the spring and autumn and even on some winter outings in the mountains, such is its flexibility. It's a great all rounder - a jack of all trades which makes it an extremely useful item for the outdoors wardrobe. My only minor quibble would be the face fabric has started to bobble on high wear areas such as the shoulders and hips though it doesn't affect the overall performance.
The Frontier jacket on Scafell Pike

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