Mountain Equipment calls this fleece “An unrestrictive technical hooded microfleece that is ideal for climbing and mountaineering in cool conditions.” But does it does it live up to this description?
The Mountain Equipment Shroud Jacket is made of a couple of different fleece fabrics from Polartec. Firstly, it uses Polartec Micro for the main body, sleeves and back. Secondly it has Polartec PowerStretch in the hood, sides, under the arms and around the cuff. Other features include three pockets, one inside and two on the outside, thumb loops, and that’s about it!
The fit of this jacket is a close climbers fit, with no excess fabric around the waist, however it does not feel restrictive at all due to the stretchy PowerStretch panels. This slim fit makes it a great mid layer to wear under a shell because there will be no uncomfortable bunching of fabric. The stretch side panels also aid in reducing the lift of the waist band when your arms are above the head, even when using the thumb loops, so it stays under a harness or hip belt really well.
I have been using this jacket for over a year and now it is my go to fleece for pretty much any activity in cooler conditions, from winter mountaineering in Scotland to my cycle commute to work. For winter climbing it is a permanent part of my layering system with a merino wool base layer and a hard or softshell depending on conditions. This system was enough to keep me comfortable all day; the only exception is at times a belay jacket is needed when stood around for extended periods, which is to be expected. The hood is most useful worn under a helmet, although it can’t really be zipped up fully comfortably, however the Powerstretch allows it to be stretched over a helmet if needed. Overall for me it’s a perfect midlayer for winter climbing in Scotland, the greatest praise I can give it is that I barely noticed I was wearing it!
At the crag it is the perfect jacket to throw on during those cool summer evenings, or as an extra layer while waiting to climb. It allows restriction free movement for long reaches and the sleeves roll up, and stay there, to keep out of the way when jamming. Also when at the belay the hood can be pulled over the helmet for extra warmth while waiting for your second.
PowerStretch panels for unrestricted movement
No wind resistance
Direct alternatives include:-
Rab PowerStretch hoody/top
Rab Shadow hoody (wind resistant)
Berghaus smoulder Hoody
Mountain Equipment Touchstone (very warm)
One alternative system to the one that I use is to wear a very thin fleece, such as the Mountain Equipment Eclipse or the Patagonia R1, for the walk in. Then when it comes to gearing up time throw on an insulating jacket or vest as an extra layer, such as the Rab Strata Vest, this is what I believe fellow blogger Rich does. However, for me this isn’t really needed as the Mountain Equipment Shroud jacket strikes a good balance between the two and keeps me comfortable all day.
A second alternative is to ditch the fleece altogether and use a synthetically insulated midlayer made from the new Polartec Alpha or similar. Examples include Rab Strata Hoody or the Jottnar Alfar. This is a great way to go if you feel the cold and these jackets have the added advantage of having some wind protection, so in good weather no extra shell is needed; however for me this would be way too warm when working hard up hill.
All in all I am very pleased with this fleece for climbing and mountaineering uses and even just as a cool weather layer at the crag on cooler days. However, obviously it does not have any wind resistance because it is designed to be as breathable as possible, so its main usage will be under a windproof shell in anything more than a light breeze. Also personally I have never used thumb loops on any jacket and I don’t see the need for them if the cuff is designed well, so personally I would prefer it if they weren’t there, although the cuffs do work well when they aren’t being used. Finally, the hood doesn’t work as well as it could do under a helmet, perhaps a hood closer to the Mountain Equipment Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee or even the Patagonia R1 Hoody would have worked better?
£90 is a lot of money to spend on a micro fleece, but I believe the fact that it is almost perfect in terms of warmth for what it is designed for and climbing specific features like the stretch panels, and the added bonus of a hood, make it worth it. Overall, it is the best fleece I have used and in answer to the original question, yes it does live up to the description of “An unrestrictive technical hooded microfleece that is ideal for climbing and mountaineering in cool conditions.”
Review by Ali