Mountain Equipment's Echo Hooded Jacket
This review has been updated to include the results of the recent Winter Kit Test findings where the jacket was paired with the light Rab Momentum Softshell Pull-On.
As always, we're looking at the Mountain Equipment Echo Hooded Jacket from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: 2018 Tasman Blue, size = Large
Kit Tests: Summer, Winter
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: Exolite 125 stretch double weave (Nylon / Elastane)||94% / 6%|
|Weight (Size Large, stated / measured)||325g / 323g|
|Product Sizing Reference: 42" Chest =||Large|
- Introduction: The "Modular Softshell" Controversy
- Design & Materials
- Winter Kit Test 2020 Update
- Any Negatives?
- Conclusion & Rating
Introduction: The Intricacies of a "Modular Softshell" Controversy
The Scramble team are a pretty easy going bunch and we don't squabble often, but one area that has been a point of contention is over the pairing of softshell jackets. Not whether it's a good idea or anything major like that; no, the heated controversy is whether the lighter or heavier of the jackets should have the hood. Yes, that's how sad we are.
Being a reasonable man and channeling Orwell's thoughts on conflict resolution ("sometimes the best way to end a war is to lose it"), I finally caved and (though my personal preferences haven't changed) I'm quite glad I did.
In essence, the dispute stems from region dependent conditions and I was guilty of looking at this through my North European goggles. By way of compromise, we'll settle on recommending two distinct combinations (see below).
The hood on a softshell should deal with brief, light showers but its main purpose is to block the wind. In summer I prefer to carry very little in the way of headwear accessories and yet, on the peaks in gale-force winds, things can get pretty uncomfortable, so the hood on the Rab Borealis Pull-On for example, is very handy. Whereas in autumn and spring I do carry beanies and balaclavas and so in strong, biting winds, these offer all the protection I need, thus the hoodless MH Super Chockstone is fine. However, in winter I like having a hood to supplement balaclavas and beanies etc ... but prefer just a lightweight hood like that on the Borealis.
So, that's my preference, but here we'll look at the inverse approach (#2 below), where the slightly heavier jacket has the hood (so no softshell hood in summer, but one in spring, autumn and winter - which on its face appears more logical). That heavier jacket, weighing in at around 320g, is Mountain Equipment's Echo Hooded Jacket - the subject of this review.
So far, in terms of "formal testing", this jacket has only been through our "Summer Kit Test", but this year that test ran late and conditions were often far from summery (with cool spring and wet autumnal weather dominating) and only a couple of days resembling the headline picture above.
Everything about the Echo Hooded Jacket is very familiar, from the materials used to Mountain Equipment's "alpine fit" and quality finish. But this is something of a premature review, and we'll update it when we've completed the upcoming Winter Kit Test where it will be paired with Rab's Momentum Pull-On (which is basically a hoodless Borealis with some venting under the arms and over the upper back).
Okay, so that's way too much pre-amble, let's get to the Echo ...
Design & Materials
If you're familiar with Mountain Hardwear's Super Chockstone and Rab's Borealis Pull-on, then this should be pretty easy. Very simply, if those two jackets mated and had a baby, that baby would grow up to be Mountain Equipment's Echo Hooded Jacket - it's right bang in the middle.
Like the aforementioned jackets, the Echo is made using a nylon and elastane mix (what Mountain Equipment call Exolite 125) a tightly, double woven durable softshell fabric with a moderate degree of stretch. The Echo has a reasonably close "alpine fit", is cut long in the body and tailored nicely at the shoulders.
The Echo's design is one for the purists; there's no unnecessary bells and whistles, just a few of the things you'd miss if they weren't there: two hand pockets, one chest pocket, two hip-cinch adjusters and a hood. That's it. The thing is, the few features it does have, all work perfectly.
On the inside we have a simple mesh panel which acts as the backing for the three pockets, allowing the pockets to act as vents when you're overheating. Personally I found I just needed the central zip and a little wrist exposure to cool down, but it's a useful option to have.
One of the jackets we'd auditioned for this category was the well-regarded Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoody - it's a good jacket (we don't bother testing stuff that isn't), but it's also an example of where a half measure can be inferior to no measure at all.
Unlike the ME Echo, the OR Ferrosi has an adjustable hood, which is sensible, as the hood is not a fitted "under-helmet" design, it's what I would call a typical American relaxed-fit hood. So they provided adjusters, but no volume adjuster at the back of the hood, so cinching up the hood via the side adjusters merely pulls the hood down over the eyes (or onto your cap's brim if you're wearing one, so you can't look up properly).
The Echo's modest lycra banded hood is far better (very similar to the Borealis hood), it just fits and as a consequence, moves in concert with the head as it turns to the side or looks up or down. It accommodates a baseball cap fine and you get only minimal downward pressure on the cap brim when looking up.
The hood is one of those make or break features for us, and ME have got theirs just right.
Zips & Baffles
The Echo Hooded Jacket has a well-sized and nicely finished zip baffle making sure the wind stays out and a little heat stays in. Mountain Equipment went with the excellent YKK Vislon zips which glide easily and importantly don't snag.
This was another plus point over the OR Ferrosi (which used regular YKK coil zips, which though perfectly serviceable aren't as good, but are a little cheaper).
All the main zips terminate in well finished zip housings (or zip garages). Nothing to complain about here, so let's move on.
As with the hood, the cuffs are simply elasticated. This is perhaps the one area where a little more invention would be welcome. Though most of the lighter minimalist softshells suffer from this and I wouldn't want to encourage ME to over-engineer things. But sometimes, while battling through what has to be some of the most challenging undergrowth in the country, getting exhausted and generally losing my cool, being able to pull up the sleeves to the elbow rather than just the mid-forearm would have been better (and I don't have massive forearms). We'll dock a half point here for function.
Hem Drawcord Hip Adjustments
The Echo uses Mountain Equipment's dual tether hem drawcords (one on each side); a thoughtful safety measure to avoid loops which can catch when climbing. The hip adjusters are made from good quality shock-cord and the hem can be cinched in easily one-handed.
Summer Kit Test
Over the last Kit Test (10 full days of trekking and 10 nights sleeping out) I wore the Echo Hooded Jacket for the majority of the time (night and day). As we mentioned elsewhere, the Kit Test was a good trial of lightweight gear in heavy-weight weather.
The Echo's Exolite 125 fabric is not as substantial as Mountain Hardwear's (still lightweight) Super Chockstone, but it maintains a good balance between breathability and wind resistance. It was able, thanks to the DWR, to shed light drizzle without issue.
There were times when the jacket was overpowered, but then I'd just wear the Echo over my wind top or under a waterproof jacket. It will be interesting so see what happens in winter when paired with the Rab Momentum. In theory, the softshell "double-glazing" should provide sufficient wind-resistance, but perhaps that 110g difference (between the two pairings pictured above) may turn out to be meaningful. We'll see.
Importantly, the Echo's 6% elastane provides it sufficient stretch to accommodate a sub-400g synthetic insulated jacket without overly compressing the insulation. This is handy in sub-zero conditions, as the softshell can help protect your (often pricey and) less durable insulated layer from all that sharp stuff like rocks, crampons and ice axes.
The Echo's Exolite 125 fabric is ... I was going to say "surprisingly tough" but we're getting used to manufacturers like Rab, Mountain Equipment, Outdoor Research etc. churning out these lightweight softshells - and generally it's not the fabric that lets them down. Bottom line, the Echo performed superbly well, did its job admirably and in so doing largely went unnoticed.
Winter Kit Test 2020 Update
As mentioned in our original review:
The only reservation I have, is how well it will function in more severe, sub-zero conditions when paired with what has to be a lighter jacket (the Rab Momentum - a "genuine" summer-weight jacket). [...] We'll keep you posted. But so far, we're impressed.
For the 2020 Winter Kit Test we paired the Echo with the Rab Momentum Softshell Pull-On and these two layers went over the Helly Hansen baselayer pictured below:
The lowest temperature on the peaks was only -5℃, but windchill was a factor when the storms rolled in, as were the downpours that began the 8 day trek in the mountains. There were times when this 3-layer ensemble was overpowered, but I always carry a 100g wind-top as well as a lightweight waterproof jacket. If you can block the wind and stay reasonably dry, much of what we think of as "being cold" is mitigated.
When climbing up some of the steep icy rock sections, I wore the Keela waterproof between the Momentum and the Echo, with the Echo protecting the waterproof jacket from rips on the rocks.
The Rab Momentum is basically a Borealis without the hood, but with thumbloops (which I didn't use) and with venting (see insert [b] below) across the back and under the arms.
While there's no doubt the Echo-Momentum pairing doesn't provide quite as much protection as the Borealis-Chockstone combo (largely due to Mountain Hardwear's Super Chockstone jacket), it does indeed fulfill the role of a modular Winter Softshell. The balance is tipped more toward breathability, but as mentioned above it's easy to fortify wind resistance with layers that you're likely carrying anyway (waterproof and/or additional UL windproofs).
When stopping for any length of time on the peaks, I got into my Rampart jacket (pictured below).
All in all, the Winter Kit Test was a success for this pairing and for those that are very active in sub-zero conditions and spend most of their time on the move. The Echo + Momentum (or if you like 2 hoods, + Borealis) would be a good option for a double-glazed, wind-resistant yet breathable, modular winter softshell.
We've mentioned one of the negatives already - the elasticated cuffs. It would be nice to be able to pull up the sleeves to the elbows.
The only other negative is the price. As with much of Mountain Equipment's catalogue, it's a little on the high side. This is reflected in its value score.
Conclusion & Rating
When designers know exactly what they're making, why they're making it and who they're making it for, you get pieces like Mountain Equipment's Echo Hooded Jacket. An understated, minimalist, lightweight, abrasion and weather resistant work-horse, designed to take a pounding so you and your less hardy apparel don't have to.
The few features it possesses function flawlessly and are all finished to Mountain Equipment's usual high standard. Perfection isn't easy, and this jacket isn't perfect, but aside from our minor gripe about the cuffs and its somewhat over-weight price tag, it's not too far off.
We asked in our initial review: "will the Echo bond with Rab's Momentum to make a modular Winter Softshell that is lighter but comparable in performance to the proven Borealis-Chockstone combo?" The answer is yes, but with a slight shift from wind-resistance toward breathability and a very marginal drop in outright toughness.
The Mountain Equipment Echo Hooded Jacket is an excellent and compelling option and our top pick in the Lightweight Hooded Softshell category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 20/04/20 (Winter Kit Test Update)