Mountain Equipment Tupilak jacket
A very rugged waterproof shell for serious mountaineers who demand full-function, four-season protection.
The Tupilak is one of Mountain Equipment’s flagship technical climbing shells, which the brand describes as ‘ideally suited to alpine and expedition climbing on the steepest lines and biggest faces’. So, definitely overkill for someone like me. But even if you’re not putting up new routes in the world’s most remote places, you might be tempted by the quality of this jacket if you’re looking for a high performance winter workhorse.
The latest version of the Tupilak jacket utilises a three-layer Gore-Tex Pro membrane, Gore’s toughest waterproof-breathable membrane, designed for climbers and mountaineers operating in the harshest conditions. They claim it is 28% more breathable than the previous generation of the fabric. I’ve worn the Tupilak throughout the winter season, in wet, cold and snowy conditions. I’ve found the breathability excellent, even when working hard on steep ascents, with a heavyweight merino baselayer and insulated midlayer on underneath the shell.
One criticism of Gore-Tex Pro is the fact that it ‘rustles like a crisp packet’. That is certainly true, and the noise it makes whenever you move is one slight drawback of this jacket. Similarly, despite Gore-Tex Pro’s breathability, some have suggested that it is still less effective at moving moisture vapour away from the body than the two best-known rival technologies, eVent and Polartec Neoshell. I have not tried Neoshell, but I do also own an eVent jacket – the Crux Torq – which I do find slightly more breathable, although the overall construction is much lighter than the Tupilak, which may help to account for such breathability.
The face fabric of the Tupilak is a robust 80-denier nylon designed to be very durable and resist abrasion.
This is about as heavy a fabric as is practicable for a hard shell (or at least one that would still be lightweight and breathable enough to want to wear and carry in the mountains). It looks and feels pretty much bombproof. Last winter I did a day of ice axe arrests wearing the Tupilak as part of a winter mountain leader course and it held up superbly, showing no signs of wear. Similarly, even after a full winter season’s use it looks pretty much as good as new. Admittedly, it hasn’t has the abuse that better and harder climbers than me would subject it to, but on Scottish graded mountaineering routes it has performed superbly.
One thing I really like about the heavyweight fabric is that it is fairly stiff – not enough to feel restrictive, but enough to feel protective. That stops it flapping in windy conditions (which is one thing I don’t like about Paramo’s Nikwax Analogy jackets). In a review over on UK Climbing, Dan Bailey asserted that a stiffer face fabric also feels warmer, maybe by resisting air movement and compression in the layers worn beneath. I definitely agree with him. Wearing the Tupilak with the hood up and everything cinched in tight is pretty snug, and gives a cocoon-like feeling – like wearing the mountaineering equivalent of a suit of armour.
The Tupilak’s feature set is relatively simple, but effective. It has pretty much all you need in a climbing and mountaineering jacket, and for me, in the ideal configuration too.
There’s a single internal mesh-backed pocket, and two large Napoleon-style chest pockets. Although it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference, in my experience this is the best pocket arrangement for an outdoors jacket, as the chest pockets are high enough not to get in the way of a rucksack belt or climbing harness, and big enough to stuff thick winter gloves in. The zip pulls are chunky and easy to get hold of too.
The main front zip is a two-way YKK Aquaguard zip, which is chunky and robust. This is backed by an internal flap for added water resistance, and has a popper closure at the bottom of the jacket to stop the lower zip riding up. I do wish that the popper was a bit larger or that a slightly different component was used, as I’ve found that it tends to clog with snow.
Two-way pit zips are provided under the arms for venting, which make use of a lighter-weight YKK water resistant zip. They’re laminated and bonded to the fabric rather than being sewn-in, which saves on stitching – always a potential weak point and source of water ingress.
The Tupilak has huge sleeve cuffs, which is one of my favourite things about the jacket. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve struggled to pull a tight sleeve down over a thick winter glove or mitt. There’s no such drama with this jacket. The cuffs are fastened by a simple fabric tab with a Velcro closure, and there’s enough of it to make sure you can still cinch the cuffs in tight even if you’re only wearing liner gloves (or no gloves at all, if you’re hardcore).
There’s a full-circumference elasticated drawcord at the hem that runs around the front and back of the jacket. I rarely use it as the fit is so good, but the adjusters are placed at the hip, making them easy to use, and the cords are ‘dual tether’ rather than a closed loop, so they’re unlikely to snag on anything.
When it comes to hard shells, Mountain Equipment are well known for producing some of the best hoods in the business. The Tupilak uses their ‘Super Alpine’ hood, which is a bit of a monster, designed to accommodate even the highest-volume climbing lid.
The inner lining of the hood has a tacky tape to grip onto a climbing helmet and stop the hood sliding around, which is a useful feature. Despite its cavernous depths, it has three adjustment points that enable you to pull it in tight for a pretty close fit that still moves with the head. The brim has a stiff internal wire and a laminated peak that can be shaped as you wish, and which does a good job of keeping rain and spindrift out of your face. The lower section zips up well over the chin, offering further protection. In all honesty, the hood still works better with a climbing helmet on than without one, as there’s a fair bit of excess fabric around your ears without a helmet. But it’s not a major hindrance, and when the hood is down it sits nicely without acting as either a rain trough or windsock. There’s also a Velcro tab that enables you to roll the hood away, although this results in a thick ‘baffle’ draped around your neck, so I never use it.
The cut of the Tupilak is Mountain Equipment’s ‘Alpine Fit’, which is their closest silhouette (for more generously proportioned jackets, go for their ‘Mountain fit’).
The Alpine fit is fairly broad at the shoulders, but tapers markedly at the waist so that it sits neatly under a harness or rucksack hip belt.
Length in the body and sleeves is also more generous than most other brands. It seems ideally designed for the typical climber’s physique, and while I probably haven’t quite got that body shape, it certainly works for me. At 6’ 4”, with a 41” chest and pretty long arms, I often struggle to find outdoor kit that fits well. But Mountain Equipment stuff fits better than any other brand, and the Tupilak is no exception – the medium size is just about perfect. There’s plenty of room for layering, while sleeve length extends over the back of the hands to eliminate gaps between jacket and gloves. The jacket itself is long enough to stay tucked into a climbing harness too. And although there’s no stretch in the fabric itself, articulation is very good, particularly in the sleeves. You can lift your arms above your head without the jacket riding up, which has somehow been achieved without using too much excess fabric to bunch up in your armpits.
When it comes to kit, many people seem to get a bit obsessed by the weight of their gear. Now, I appreciate lightening the load as much as anyone, but the Tupilak is no featherweight. Considering its hard-as-nails construction, however, it strikes a good balance between weight and toughness. Mine tips the scales at just over 500g.
All in all, it’s a high-quality and very rugged mountaineering and climbing jacket, with all the features you need but nothing more. It’s versatile enough to be a capable all-rounder, although for me it comes into its own as the ideal Scottish winter climbing shell.
It’s priced at £350 RRP, which is towards the upper end of the price range for outdoor jackets, though it’s a lot more affordable than, say, a top-end Arc’teryx shell. A good target price is £280, and you might be able to get one for less than that (I paid £240 from Needle Sports, and got an unusual version in Cardinal Orange – I’d rather be seen when I’m in the mountains, just in case I fall off something).