Mountain Equipment Kamchatka Salopette & Kalanka Shell Jacket – Review

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Belaying in the ME shell gear.

Wearing the Kalanka jacket and Kamchatka pants (in matching blue, no less!) while belaying over a bergshcrund in Alaska this spring.

Living in the northwest of the U.S., it is essential to have a solid set of waterproof pants and jacket. Bibs (or salopettes, as the Brits would say using the French word for overalls) are unparalleled when it comes to keeping out the weather. Full side zips, an essential feature, enable massive heat dumping, making bibs versatile through a large range of temps. I use bibs for nearly all my backcountry skiing (come late spring, I switch to thin softshell pants). I also carry a waterproof storm shell jacket on all trips. I find that a slightly heavier Pro-Shell jacket is worth its weight, especially when it comes to heinous weather, or tight bushwacks when thinner fabrics would soon resemble filleted salmon.

The ME gear is alpinist oriented, somewhat minimalist.

The ME gear is alpinist oriented, somewhat minimalist.

Finding a pair of bibs that meet what I want is tough. Most “ski” pants have too many features and do-dads, and are too heavy. Many also have some sort of insulation or lining, making them too hot for the hike up. Pants oriented at alpine climbers are nice and light, but they are usually not big enough at the cuff to fit over ski boots and also don’t have a few features, like powder gaiters, that I like.

Earlier this year I saw a friend wearing the Mountain Equipment salopette; they appeared to have many of the features I like. Although the Kamchatka is nominally a mountaineering pant, they are surprisingly baggy and fit over ski boots with ease. They also feature a removable powder gaiter, and of course full length side zips. Other than that, the pants are pretty minimal with only two pockets, one on the lower right thigh, and another on the upper left stomach area. The Kamchatkas are made almost entirely out of GoreTex ProShell; it extends all the way to the top of the pants, which on me is almost up to my armpits. Most bibs I’ve seen have some sort of breathable material on the upper portion of the pants.

I’ve been using the pants for a few months now and they have been ideal. With the powder gaiters and the super-high fit, they are impenetrable to all sorts of weather and deep powder. I was a little worried that with the high GoreTex they would be too hot to use as a touring pant but it’s proven to be a non-issue. The long crotch zip and the side zips provide more than adequate venting. On this Alaska trip we’ve been doing a fair amount of deep, wallowy boot-packs, and the Kamtchakas have kept out the powder well.

One area for improvement is the dearth of pockets. I tend to keep a lot of small items in my pockets when I’m touring, including Voile straps, gloves, compass, food, and hats, among other things. Pants pockets are ideal storage, since they don’t interfere with pack straps, and unlike my jacket, I keep my pants on all day (usually, anyways), so they are always accessible. The thigh pocket on the Kamchatkas is cavernous, and the upper pocket works perfectly for a beacon, but at least one or two more pockets would be ideal.

The Kalanka jacket is an ideal lightweight storm shell, and pairs nicely with the Kamchatkas. Also made of GoreTex ProShell, it of course keeps out the weather beautifully. As previously mentioned, I love pockets, and the Kalanka jacket has some great ones. It features four huge pockets, two on each side that overlap. They are all positioned high up so that they are accessible when wearing a pack, an essential feature. The pockets are sealed by burly waterproof zippers and are made out of the same material as the jacket, so the gear inside stays nice and dry. Other than those four pockets, there isn’t much else to the jacket. The lack of extraneous features keeps the jacket nice and light even though it is made out of burly ProShell.

Unfortunately it seems to be impossible to find a strong storm shell that doesn’t have pit zips, and the Kalanka is no exception. I never use pit zips as they provide minimal ventilation and are a royal pain to operate while wearing a pack. When I wear my shell on the hike, where I suppose they are designed to be used, I’m wearing it because I need the protection and will simply take it off if it gets too warm. A small gripe, but it would be nice to save a few ounces by eliminating the extraneous zippers.

Rope work while ski mountaineering in Alaska.

Sitting down to belay a ski cut in Alaska. Having a nice high pair of bibs kept snow well away from the base layers.

A good set of GoreTex shells is important, and unfortunately my previous set of pants and jacket, after three years of hard use, is showing wear. It seems there is only so much Nikwax I can do. The Kamchatka salopete and Kalanka jacket are two well-thought out pieces, and are a perfect upgrade if you’re looking for simple and solid shell gear.

Kamchatka Salopette: 675g 23.8 oz (We couldn’t find an etailer).

Kalanka Jacket 55g 19.4 oz

Comments

6 Responses to “Mountain Equipment Kamchatka Salopette & Kalanka Shell Jacket – Review”

  1. Ru April 8th, 2013 12:33 pm

    Reasonable hard shell without pitzips? You could consider PHDesigns’ Alpamayo jacket or smock. They don’t have as many pockets as the Kalanka, but as PHD do custom gear you might be able to get them to throw a couple more pockets in there without pushing the price up too far. No idea how HS3 compares to Pro Shell. PHD’s gear won’t necessarily look as nice as ME gear, but their stuff has been well put together in my experience.

    Bit of trivia.. the guy who founded PHD was also the founder of ME.

  2. Dave Field April 8th, 2013 1:30 pm

    So how are the pants in length? I find typical hard shell pants to be fit for short and thick guys. I’m a medium waist size and typical inseams are 32 inches long (I have a 36 inch inseam). Its hard to find much in the way of shell pants that are long enough to work with ski boots without going to XL sizes. Thanks

  3. Jk April 8th, 2013 5:02 pm

    I also graduated to Gore Tex Pro this season. Totally happy, resort and backcountry. Bibs last fall are Patagonia PowSlayer. Pretty baggy but super clean design and great venting, minimal extra bits. Just got a Patagonia Super Pluma jacket. Also great, not too many bells & whistles. I also could live with out the pit zips but I think it comes with the territory. Interesting that you in the Northwest could also live without them. Expensive gear but both were on sale and worth it. I know it’s kind of against the grain of Gore Tex theory but I like the shells on the baggy side, more comfortable and you can put it over everything.

  4. Louie April 8th, 2013 5:44 pm

    The pants fit me pretty well, I typically wear a 32/30 street pant, I’m 5’10” and pretty skinny. They are definitely a little big in the waist. One thing I forgot to mention in the review is that it would be nice to have a drawstring or something in the waist area.

    The jacket is a little baggy, but it fits over all my layers well.

  5. Aaron April 9th, 2013 8:34 am

    Louie – you should check out OR’s Mentor jacket and pant combo – I am a similar size to you and they fit like an Italian suit – and are light as a feather.

  6. Woody April 9th, 2013 11:22 am

    Woody from the US Mountain Equipment offices

    @Dave Field
    I’m willing to bet that you would fit our large just fine- Just sold a pair of Kamchatka Salopettes to a guide friend of ours who is 6’4″ or so and probably 170lbs with a 36″ inseam. He was quite happy with the fit of both our pants and jackets.

    The current Mountain Equipments fit features a fairly generous, long cut across the arms and shoulders and slightly more trim in the waist and body. I suspect most of the fit notes from Louie about things being baggy is the fact that we gave him a large when he truly is a medium in our gear. But we wanted to get him in the rad new winter 2013 stuff and our sample size is a large!

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