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Mountain Equipment Kinesis Jacket Review

Around 15 years ago I acquired a Mountain Equipment Microtherm Jacket, with a light brushed inner and a weather resistant outer. Hoodless (something I wish were more common these days), and with zip-off arms, it fast became one of my most-used bits of outdoor clothing, with a balance of warmth, breathability and wind resistance that made it versatile year round. Though now sporting a burn hole from a lightning strike, and having long been relegated to my outdoor DIY stash, it is still going. From Rab's Vapour-rise to current offerings from the likes of Outdoor Research and Jottnar, I've been a fan of this sort of fleece/windproof softshell hybrid ever since.

Cold breeze, warm sun, and lots of sweat - the Kinesis handles them all  © Dan Bailey
Cold breeze, warm sun, and lots of sweat - the Kinesis handles them all
© Dan Bailey

The Kinesis is Mountain Equipment's latest take on the now ubiquitous shell-plus-fleecy-inner style, and it's probably one of the best I've used. It's sold as a techy piece for alpine and mountain rock climbing, but the features that make it good for climbers - its active cut, its lightness and its fast-drying and breathable fabrics - also suit it to less vertical uses such as fast-and-sweaty hillwalking, lightweight backpacking and even cold weather running. It'd be great for cool summer scrambling and cragging too.

It's quick drying and breathable if you're working hard on the hills  © Dan Bailey
It's quick drying and breathable if you're working hard on the hills
© Dan Bailey

This is the sort of light, breathable, minimally insulated layer that you can put on at the start of the day and just forget about, adding or removing other jackets on top as temperature and rainfall demand, but wearing your Kinesis throughout. That's certainly how I've been using it both for winter climbing and hill days. But my use thus far pales beside Kevin Woods', who acquired a Kinesis for his Winter 282 challenge, an ongoing attempt to climb all the Munros in a single winter season.

I asked him for some thoughts:

"The most outstanding thing with the Kinesis Jacket is what it achieves for its weight" Kev reckons. "It's a really light bit of kit, and a lot of the time takes the place of a heavier weight jacket since it comes with the features and cut to keep the weather out; pull cords, adjustable cuffs and an excellent hood."

"I've been wearing it every day, almost all day. It's really good! Better for cold and windy than wet and windy. It's only water resistant so a shell always has to go on top if it's wet. I've found it also serves as a great barrier between the outer shell (ME Lhotse in my case) and a fleece underneath, because even if there's condensation inside the shell it doesn't get through the Kinesis too."

A strenuous walk-in, but Kevin Woods is comfy in his Kinesis   © Dan Bailey
A strenuous walk-in, but Kevin Woods is comfy in his Kinesis
© Dan Bailey

Weight

At 340g in a size L, I'd say the Kinesis definitely counts as 'lightweight' if not 'ultralight'. By comparison the Jöttnar Asger, which I reviewed earlier this winter (see here) comes in at 290g. Of the two I'd say the Kinesis is warmer, and offers more in the way of features, so the weight difference makes sense.

Simple cuff, and shower-shrugging fabric  © Dan Bailey
Simple cuff, and shower-shrugging fabric
© Dan Bailey

Fit

The Kinesis is available for both men and women. In my men's size L it has quite a roomy fit (I'm 1.83m and medium build). There's space inside for a base layer plus a light fleece, though I'd tend to wear it over just the base and layer up over the top of it if cold. The cut is also relatively long in the body, sitting just below the waist at the front and with a decent drop hem at the rear that gives at least partial bum coverage, eliminating cold spots. Having worn it under a harness as part of a winter climbing layering system, I've found that the articulated cut of the sleeves allows full freedom of movement, while the length and active tailoring negates any risk of hem lift. There's no danger of the jacket riding up to expose the midriff, or pulling out from under a harness. I find the tailoring really good for active use, however I've definitely worn closer-fitting, more 'athletic' jackets of this general type, so if you're of slim build and don't intend to wear it over anything more than a base layer then you may find the cut errs towards the baggy around the tummy. I can't say that bothers me.

You can pull the sleeves up, but only so far...  © Dan Bailey
You can pull the sleeves up, but only so far...
© Dan Bailey

Fabrics

The 30 denier Nylon outer fabric feels like a sensible weight for the remit of the Kinesis, since it's tough enough to take some abuse if you're rock climbing. This fabric has a bit of stretch to help with freedom of movement, and it shrugs off light moisture. As Kev says, when it properly starts raining you do need to add a shell. While a strong wind will cut through the Kinesis, it's still windproof enough for active use in cold breezy weather, and I think Mountain Equipment have got the balance of windproofness versus breathability spot on for a jacket like this. When you're working hard and sweating, the Kinesis feels really breathable and quick drying, and in cooler autumn and winter weather I've been happy to wear it all day without feeling hot or clammy.

Inside its a light, fluffy pile. Mountain Equipment call this a 'warp knit Octayarn' and in case that sounds like marketing guff here's what they told us about it:

"Octayarn is a low density, lofted fibre pile. Its multidentate (its cross section looks like a cog with eight teeth and a hollow centre) structure means it's got 50% more surface area than conventional yarns, making it warmer, faster drying and better wicking. The hollow nature of the fibre means it's warmer for a given weight."

This picture shows the difference clearly:

Octayarn in extreme close-up  © Mountain Equipment
Octayarn in extreme close-up
© Mountain Equipment

In theory this sounds brilliant, and I think it probably works in practise too. I've been surprised at how warm and fluffy the Kinesis feels for its thinness and minimal weight. The lining's open knit also helps make it highly breathable, as these sort of garments go. Hold it up to the light and it's practically see-through. In terms of warmth, I've generally been comfortable on the move in the Kinesis on all but the really cold and windy days. But it's very much an active layer and you wouldn't want to be stood around on a snowy summit or winter belay with only this for insulation. When winter climbing I've either worn the Kinesis for the walk-in and then swapped it for something thicker for the route, or I've layered up over the top of it.

It neatly stows in one of the pockets  © Dan Bailey
It neatly stows in one of the pockets
© Dan Bailey

Held to the light, you can see why it's so breathable   © Dan Bailey
Held to the light, you can see why it's so breathable
© Dan Bailey

Features

Considering its modest weight, you get quite a lot of useful features on the Kinesis.

Should you want to access your waist without removing the jacket, the robust, chunky main zip features a double zipper. You also get a decent snag-free draught excluding strip inside, which secures at the bottom with a popper. For under-chin comfort the zip on the current Kinesis is offset at the top. I'm not convinced about this setup, since it leaves you with one oversized flapping 'lapel' when you wear the jacket unzipped. Is a straight-up zip really that uncomfy on your neck? It seems Mountain Equipment have had a rethink on this, and will be moving to a straight-up zip for next winter.

Fans of pockets won't be disappointed. Placed high enough to be usable with a harness or rucksack hipbelt, the two zipped hand pockets have sufficient room for hat and gloves. One of them doubles as a very useful storage pouch with tabs to hang it off your harness - a definite plus for multi pitch rock. Not all lightweight mountain softshells feature a stow pocket, but they probably all ought to. A smaller chest pocket has been proving useful too, as it's where I tend to carry my phone to keep it warm and out of harm's way.

Phone-sized chest pocket  © Dan Bailey
Phone-sized chest pocket
© Dan Bailey

Though Mountain Equipment tend to make some of the better helmet compatible hoods on the market, that on the Kinesis is not quite up to their usual standard. It's only just big enough to cover a helmet, and with the zip done right up I find head movement is a bit restricted - fine if you're belaying, but annoying when climbing. You could always wear the hood under a helmet instead.

Its three points of adjustment give the hood a nice close fit on a helmet-free head, though the toggles are small and fiddly when wearing gloves. As with most helmet-sized (or nominally so) hoods, you end up with a lot of spare material around the neck if using it helmet-free, and while this forms a nice neck-protecting collar when you're zipped up and hood-down, it's not high enough to offer much chin coverage. I do like the hood's soft wired peak, which is just enough to stop it flapping in the wind. Overall I think this hood is great for walkers, but only adequate for climbing.

Given that every layer we wear these days seems to feature a hood, and you can end up with too many of them when togged out for winter climbing, I do wonder if I might actually have preferred the Kinesis hood-free. That's doesn't often seem to be an option with the current crop of lightweight lined softshells, so there's an obvious niche for someone.

Offset zip for under-chin comfort  © Dan Bailey
Offset zip for under-chin comfort
© Dan Bailey

But it's a bit 'flappy' when unzipped  © Dan Bailey
But it's a bit 'flappy' when unzipped
© Dan Bailey

If you're wearing bulky insulated gloves, the wide-fitting sleeves of the Kinesis will easily fit over the cuffs. An unfussy hook-and-loop adjustment gives you a closer fit to a bare wrist. One detail I liked on the Jottnar Asger was the addition of some face fabric on the inside of the cuffs, which helps stop this area getting damp. On the Kinesis the lining extends right down to the end, and the inside of the sleeves can be a bit clingy if you're trying to slip it on with cold or damp hands.

The hem adjusters are small, but usable one-handed, and feature Mountain Equipment's now-standard dual tether drawcords. Because these don't hang in a loop there's no danger of accidentally snagging them on climbing gear - a small but thoughtful touch.

Summary

Highly breathable, very quick drying and surprisingly snug for its weight, the Kinesis is brilliant for lightweight warmth on the go. Something this versatile has a role year-round, from breezy summer crags to snowy summits. For climbers the free-moving cut is fantastic (though sadly the hood is only just OK), and it'd be useful both for alpine days and long mountain rock climbs. But whether you're scrambling, backpacking or bagging summits, the Kinesis should be equally applicable to walkers too. Just ask the man who's currently wearing it on all the winter Munros.

Mountain Equipment say:

A superfast drying action layer that combines warmth and weather protection for the most demanding climbing and mountaineering. Lightweight 30D RS stretch outer fabric balances the moisture transfer required for running up exposed ice fields with the durability needed for rock climbing in the high mountains. The specially developed Octoyarn Warp-knit lining offers insulation you can move fast in combined with rapid drying that will be appreciated on one day sprints and multi-day missions alike.

  • Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
  • Weight: 340g size L (our weight)
  • Lightweight 30D RS Nylon outer fabric with mechanical stretch; highly breathable and windproof
  • Warp knit Octayarn lining for exceptional insulation, breathability and comfort
  • Mountain HC Hood is fully adjustable
  • Active fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeves
  • 2-way YKK® moulded centre front zip
  • 2 zipped hand pockets
  • Napoleon chest pocket
  • Adjustable cuffs and dual tether hem drawcords
  • Packs into pocket with twin karabiner carry loops

BUY NOW from:
logoKinesis jackets in stock - special offer while stocks last.
See this product at the Needle Sports shop


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27 Feb

Dan, the quality and comprehensiveness of UKC reviews puts those in the glossy magazines to shame. The Kinesis jacket sounds like a good alternative to my excellent ME Frontier jacket which is over 500 grams. Dave

Thanks Dave!!

I've not tried the Frontier, but I can definitely recommend the Kinesis if you're after something a little lighter


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