This season Berghaus are making a splash with the relaunch of their technical mountain-oriented Extrem range, after a hiatus of several years.
Extrem is now split into three sub-categories, each representing a different end use:
- Mtn Seeker: the entry-level all-rounder
- Mtn Arete: a lighter, ski-mountaineering-oriented range
- Mtn Guide: technical stuff built tough for demanding winter climbing and mountaineering
Since it makes sense to start at the top, I'm looking here at the Mtn Guide GTX Pro shell, which for want of a better word (and mindful that we don't want to do the brand's marketing for them) we can call the pinnacle of the Extrem series.
With Gore Pro Most Rugged fabric, a long list of climber-oriented features, and a price tag comparable to rival wallet-bothering models, it's unambiguously aimed at the higher end of the Alpine and Scottish winter climbing market. But is it a hit? Since this is the first burly fully mountain-worthy shell from Berghaus for some years - whereas other brands have had the benefit of a continuous run of similar products to iron out any niggles - I think it's more than fair to ask...
Well I first got to try the shell on a press trip towards the tail end of last winter. A day of journalists being nannied around on the flanks of Cairngorm may not sound extreme (nor yet Extrem), but in the event it proved suitably snowy and cold. With plenty of uphill plodding, lots of standing around in an absolutely biting wind, the usual Scottish combination of sweat and spindrift, and even some roped-up winter climbing courtesy of local guide Ron Walker, I felt I'd given the shell a decent preliminary Scottish winter workout. And as an added novelty I didn't even need to take my own photos.
However, you can't write a proper review on the basis of one guided day. It's been out since then for Scottish hillwalking in autumn wind and rain - testing a shell's performance and breathability at least as effectively as sub-zero days. Latterly it's seen more winter action too.
Pros: Generous articulated cut and a good combo of tough and stretchy fabrics; hood works well with a helmet
Cons: Not the most breathable Gore Pro shell available, thanks to fabric choice and pocket design; hood doesn't work well without a helmet
Matter of opinion: Too many pockets?
A lot of high-end clothing seems to be aimed primarily at men, with a reduced women's range as a sad sort of afterthought. We all know women who are every bit as hardcore as their male counterparts, so this has always seemed silly. I want to give Berghaus full credit for the new Extrem range, which offers full gender parity throughout.
This is a maximalist mountaineering shell that would be at its best in hostile winter weather
So naturally, the Mtn Guide GTX Pro comes in both men's and women's fit. As you'd expect from a mountain shell, it's sized generously to fit easily over multiple winter insulating layers. It's also quite long in the body: in my standard size Large it sits well below the waist, and offers almost full bum coverage. Whether hillwalking or climbing, I really like a longer jacket and I'm not a fan of the fashion for shorter hems which basically equate to less protection around the midriff. On a wet day the Mtn Guide Pro will keep your pants drier for longer, so you may not immediately need to change into overtrousers. When it's cold and windy, that extra length simply means more coverage, helping you stay warmer.
The sleeves are long, with a differential cut over the back of the hand to reduce gaps at the wrist when reaching up. They're also tailored with really good articulation, so I find hem lift is minimal when my arms are raised, and the jacket stays tucked in under a harness – essential for climbing. There's tons of space to pull the cuffs over bulky winter gloves, and the usual hook and loop tabs for a tighter fit at the wrist.
It always surprises me how often hoods on climbing jackets are done badly, so they must be a hard thing to get right. I would say Berghaus have done half of a good job here - and perhaps the more important half.
The massive hood on the Mtn Guide Pro fits easily over a helmet, and restriction on head movement is minimal – that's the basic essential sorted for a shell you'll be doing a lot of belaying and climbing in.
To keep the wind off your neck, the collar comes nice and high. There's a wired brim to give the hood some structure and stop it flapping in the wind, and a big peak that helps keep rain and spindrift out of your face. With a helmet underneath to hold that peak out it all works really well, but I find when not wearing a helmet that this large brim hangs down over my eyes, making it hard to look up.
Even the keenest climber isn't going to be wearing a helmet all the time – think about the walk-in for instance. And most of us will have winter hillwalking days as well as climbing days, and might well want to wear the same shell for both. With that in mind I'd say this extended hood peak could do with a design rethink. However we're all built to different dimensions, so you'll only know if the hood works better on you by trying it for yourself.
As you'd hope, the hood has three points of adjustment, and it's nice that the elastic tails are directed down inside the collar so they can't whip you in the face when it's windy; however the little adjustment toggles are very fiddly when wearing thick gloves, and larger adjusters sewn into the seam would have been better. For the price of this jacket I'd have hoped that small details like this were done well enough that I wouldn't have to think about them.
The business end of the Mtn Guide Pro is its 70 denier, 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric. Most of it is built from Gore Pro Most Rugged – which as you'd expect is the most durable version of Pro – while strategic panels in the upper arm and across the back are made from Gore Pro Stretch to boost freedom of movement. I think it's a really effective combination, and feels burly enough to take loads of Scottish mixed climbing abuse, and to help you feel really well shielded from wind and weather, while at the same time not being too rigid and restricted thanks to the stretchy areas.
While it's undoubtedly tough, this isn't the most breathable version of Gore-Tex Pro, and with multiple layers of fabric over the front – courtesy of many pockets – the Mtn Guide Pro is more a protective refuge in foul cold weather than the sort of layer you'd pick for moving fast and sweating a lot on a sunny spring day. Summed up in one word, it's bombproof.
MTN Guide GTX Pro Pant
Matching overtrousers are available too, so you can be suitably armoured (and colour coordinated) head to foot. Costing £360, these trousers have a good active cut, plenty of useful features, and the same combination of Gore Pro Stretch and Most Rugged fabrics.
With full-length zips, good kick patches, inbuilt snow gaiters, a nice stretchy (and adjustable) waist, and thigh pockets, the trousers ('Pant'? Please) take the same feature-heavy approach as the jacket. The cut is pretty generous, but with the addition of velcro tabs it's easy to pull it in close in the lower leg to reduce trips and snags.
I only recently received a pair of these trousers, so haven't given them sufficient use to offer a proper review. First impressions are very good though.
Weight and build quality
Given the fabric and generous sizing, it'll come as no surprise that this is a pretty hefty shell, coming in at 662g for my size Large jacket. You can get Gore Pro shells that are a good bit lighter than this, but then the Mtn Guide Pro is very emphatically not designed to be remotely light and skimpy – quite the opposite. Build quality is really good so it should take a load of hard use.
Pit zips are provided, so if you do find yourself warming up too much then these big underarm vents do a lot to help. I'm not generally that fussed about having pit zips on a shell, but have found them handy when wearing the Mtn Guide in warmer (above-zero) conditions.
The chunky YKK Vislon main zip feels really tough, and it's got a double zipper for venting and ease of access to under layers. You also get a twin storm flap, both inside and out, giving you belt and braces for maximum weather protection. Velcro pads at the top and a popper at the bottom help keep the outer flap closed when it's windy.
If you're a fan of lots of pockets then you're in luck here, since you get no fewer than seven. The sheer number of pockets on the front of the jacket means multiple layers of fabric, which adds to the protective feel of Mtn Guide GTX Pro but does nothing to aid breathability.
The two Napoleon pockets are very deep and big enough for insulated gloves, but since they're not that wide you're only just able to squeeze in an OS or Harvey sized map. One has a D-ring to secure your compass to. Behind these are two large hand pockets – also good for gloves but again a struggle to fit a map. Both sets of main pockets are positioned high enough to be used while wearing a harness or a rucksack hip belt, a crucial detail. I try not to over-use front pockets when wearing a harness since it gives you a paunch you can't see past. Personally I'd have preferred a simpler arrangement with only two external pockets; however I'm sure some users will welcome all the storage options they can get.
Look inside and there's more: two mesh dump pockets for stashing your skins when ski touring or keeping your gloves warm on the belay. You also get an insulated inside pocket. This is a good idea in that it helps prolong phone battery life in the cold. But on the other hand it does create a warm sweaty spot on the front of the jacket. I would typically carry my phone in the chest pocket of a midlayer under the shell, making the added detail of insulation unnecessary for me. Again, though, I'm sure some people will love it.
Ethics and environment
This is a Madekind product and the fabrics are Bluesign approved.
Value for money?
Speaking for myself, if I was in the market for a new Gore Pro mountain shell then I would save a bit of cash and get something simpler. But while £500 is an awful lot, the price is more or less equivalent to similar fully-featured mountaineering jackets from domestic brands such as Rab and Mountain Equipment. If you want a lot of pockets, pit zips and suchlike in a Gore-Tex Pro mountain shell then you're unlikely to find one much cheaper. Go for a brand that makes a marketing virtue of sky high pricing and - believe it or not - you might spend considerably more for something no better.
On the other hand, for those just starting out, or anyone on a slightly smaller budget, it may be worth considering another more entry-level Berghaus Extrem offering, the MTN Seeker GTX Jacket:
So what's the verdict?
I've got reservations with some of the details, and would have preferred a stripped-down approach to hood and pockets – but that's just my take and I've no doubt there'll be people who love both. Overall the Mtn Guide GTX Pro jacket is a solid and credible offering from Berghaus as they look to carve out a new ledge for themselves in the high-end technical end of the market. Well-cut, durable, and mega-protective, it's no lightweight, and it won't go light on your pocket either. This is a maximalist mountaineering shell that would be at its best in hostile winter weather.