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.
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.
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