Mountain Equipment Quarrel Jacket Review

Designed, say Mountain Equipment, for "high mountain treks and big ski days" the Quarrel Jacket is a lightweight Gore-Tex shell with C-KNIT backer technology, which is essentially a lightweight laminate bonded to the inside to make it soft-feeling and hence very comfortable next to the skin. Being a massive fan of Mountain Equipment jackets (my Tupilak is the best shell I've ever had), I was excited to try this shell out, particularly for more mountaineering and ski-focussed days. I've had it out for the past few months in very typical Scottish winter weather, varying from pouring rain to blue sky days, and have been very impressed so far.

It's a great all-round lightweight mountain shell for all-day comfort  © Martin Crawford
It's a great all-round lightweight mountain shell for all-day comfort
© Martin Crawford

Use

Being 'lightweight' (420g for a size M on my kitchen scales - ME say 400g), this jacket is aimed at people wanting a no-nonsense mountain shell with minimal but relevant features. I find that these days there is so much choice, and so many ostensibly similar jackets are available, that it can be quite hard to decide exactly that you're after. The Quarrel is a little different from the norm. I would say it's in the mid-to-upper end of the price spectrum; £300 is a lot to shell out (pun intended) for a 40 Denier mountain shell, though the quality does reflect its price. Its primary use is not as an all-out climbing-focussed shell despite boasting features common to most climbing jackets – helmet compatible hood, excellent cut and minimal pockets. It is because of the excellent Gore-Tex C-Knit fabric that this jacket excels in activities when you're on the move, and for a long time – be that ski touring, long-distance walking or general fast and light winter mountaineering days.

You could climb in it, though that's not its core role  © Andrew Gilmour
You could climb in it, though that's not its core role
© Andrew Gilmour

Fabric

The jacket is constructed from a standard 2-layer 40D Gore-Tex fabric, but combined with Gore's new C-KNIT backer bonded to the inside of the Gore-Tex membrane, making a lightweight 3-layer construction that's claimed to be 10% lighter than previous 3-layer Gore-Tex systems and more comfy too.

Here's the lowdown from ME:

"C-Knit refers to the backer, which is a circular knit. This differs from Gore Pro which uses a woven backer, and Gore-Tex which uses a tricot knit. The circular knit is softer, slides over other layers better, and offers better drape than the alternatives. This means C-Knit is extremely comfortable to wear. Drape is essentially the same characteristic as packability, so C-Knit garments also pack down really small. There are many different weights, weave types and patterns of C-Knit, but the one we use has a plain weave face of nylon 6, 6 fibres which infers maximum durability for a relatively lightweight 40 denier fabric. Versus Pro, C-Knit has inferior toughness and breathability, but it has greater wearability and comfort for many activities."

This all sounds good, but how does it perform?

The C-KNIT backer makes for a softer and more forgiving fabric than your standard hard shell  © Martin McKenna
The C-KNIT backer makes for a softer and more forgiving fabric than your standard hard shell
© Martin McKenna

From a 'waterproof' perspective, I've been very impressed so far with the Quarrel. I've had it out on several days with near constant rain and it has kept me nice and dry throughout. All waterproofs bead water extremely well when new, while over time this diminishes. However, the build and fabric quality of this jacket is evident in that even after a winter of steady use the jacket still beads well.

In use the jacket feels amazingly comfortable, and doesn't have any of the stiffness commonly found in more beefy jackets (such as my Tupilak). The C-KNIT backer is very comfortable next to the skin and even though it may be officially less breathabke than Gore's top-end Pro fabric it does not feel clammy on the inside. When working up a sweat, I can feel the difference in terms of comfort, which is something I honestly didn't think I'd spot. I've worn it on several winter walking and mountaineering days out, a few Scottish ski tours and a week's skiing in France, and only when really working hard on the uphill did I begin to feel a little warm. Although the external differences to other Gore-Tex jackets are visually small, the end result is a very comfortable and highly breathable jacket.

The one downside to the lightness and softness of the material is its sense of protection and durability. Compared to a stiffer jacket the Quarrel doesn't feel as warm in stormy conditions, because the fabric flaps more readily. This 40 denier fabric also feels like it would not hold up too well to being scraped against sharp rocks on winter routes - but then this is not the Quarrel's intended core use. Indeed, I took it out on one winter route up the Cobbler over the winter and was slightly apprehensive about scraping the fabric and damaging it on the rock. Also, the fact that the fabric doesn't have any stretch (that would make it more like a softshell) also adds to the feeling that if it is abraded or treated roughly then it won't likely last very long. However, this is not to say that the quality of the fabric and quality of construction are poor – quite the opposite. I think that if this jacket is used within its intended activity range - primarily walking and skiing - then it should offer many years of service.

photo
Performs well in the wet...
© Martin McKenna

photo
... and comfy when you're working up a sweat
© Martin Crawford

Fit

The Quarrel comes in both a men's and women's version, which will be good news to the 50% of the population usually less well served by outdoor brands. The cut of the Quarrel is Mountain Equipment's 'Alpine fit', which, put simply, is excellent - neither baggy nor restrictive. The jacket is long enough in the body not to ride up with a harness on, and the sleeves are nice and long with a Velcro cuff to seal the weather out. The fit around the body is snug meaning there is little or no excess fabric to get in the way whilst climbing or on the move, which is great, yet there is enough room underneath for a few thin layers if it is extra chilly. I take a medium in most jackets and I don't think I've had a better fitting jacket for me.

The arms are slightly pre-shaped for movement, and long, with the sleeves being wide at the cuff so they can be fitted over gloves with ease. The cut across the shoulders is nice and broad, which combined with the long arms means that the range of movement is excellent in all directions without tugging at the sleeves, pulling on the hood or making the jacket ride up around the waist.

Hood

This is Mountain Equipment's tried and trusted 'Mountain HC' hood. It's oversized to accommodate a climbing helmet, but on the other hand when you take your helmet off, the excellent adjustment at the back and sides of the hood means you can still wear it up without it feeling baggy or getting in the way. It features a peaked front which is useful for keeping the hood over your face, and holding its shape in stormy weather, although I feel this could be more heavyweight to be a bit more effective in the wind (a minor issue perhaps).

When using a bulky ski helmet, however, I did find the hood a bit tight over it. I do have quite a large head, so I could understand why the hood didn't fit so well in this situation.

It's good for both skiing...  © Lewis Gibbons
It's good for both skiing...
© Lewis Gibbons

...high mountain treks, and UK winter walking  © Martin McKenna
...high mountain treks, and UK winter walking
© Martin McKenna

Features

The Quarrel has very minimal features, but still offers everything you'd probably want from a lighter all-round mountain shell. It features two large side pockets, which are positioned correctly to allow easy access when wearing a harness or rucksack hip belt. Lightweight YKK WR zips seal off all the rain. However, as is the case with most jackets, the zips are not 100% waterproof – and as such it is not recommended to keep any valuable items in there if you're venturing out in a downpour!

There is a small internal zip pocket big enough for a phone, keys or snack. Being on the inside of the jacket, this pocket will actually be waterproof. The Quarrel also features two-way pit zips which I think are a must for any jacket designed for all day wear. They are easy to do up/undo when on the move and provide great ventilation when working hard.

You get draw cords around the waist and for the hood, so adjustment to fit your body snugly is ample. In use, the cords are simple to adjust with all the toggles in easily accessible places.

Summary

The Quarrel Jacket looks like just another expensive hard shell from the outside, but on closer inspection it's a little different. Its features, and particularly its fabric, make it shine as a shell for fast and light mountaineering, ski touring, winter hillwalking and indeed any activity where you're on the move for long periods of time. It has all the features you expect from a good mountain shell – helmet hood, active cut, pit zips and a good quality build – all in a very lightweight package. The Gore-Tex C-KNIT backer introduces a new level of comfort, meaning when you're wearing your shell all day long you're unlikely to feel as clammy as in other membrane fabrics. Despite its quality construction, the only drawback to all this comfort is a possibility that the fabric will be less suited to long term climbing abuse. But if you save it for its core use, skiing and walking, I can't see this being a problem. At £300 it is certainly not a cheap jacket, however when compared to other shells boasting similar features, I'd say the comfort and breathability on offer here make it worth the money.

Mountain Equipment say:

Waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX® protection for high mountain treks and big ski days. GORE-TEX® 40D fabric with GORE® C-KNIT® backer technology gives fully waterproof and windproof performance with a soft feel that makes it ideally suited to all-day wear. Our Alpine fit gives total mobility and the proven Mountain HC Hood unrivalled protection.

  • Price: £300
  • Weight: 420g (size M - our weight)
  • Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women)
  • GORE-TEX® 40D fabric throughout with GORE® C-KNIT® backer technology
  • Mountain HC Hood is fully adjustable
  • Alpine fit with articulated and pre-shaped sleeves
  • 2 large pockets with YKK® WR zips
  • Internal zipped security pocket
  • 2-way YKK® moulded Aquaguard® centre front zip
  • 2-way YKK® WR underarm pit zips
  • Adjustable laminated cuffs and dual tether hem drawcords

For more info see: mountain-equipment.co.uk

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