Just in is Mountain Equipment's new for autumn 2012, Eclipse Hooded Zip-Tee and we reckon it might just be the ultimate mountain mid-layer top we've been waiting for.
How so? Well, here's our mid-layer wish list. We want something close fitting enough to play nicely with sleek technical shells without adding bulk or restriction. Warm enough to add a little insulation in cold conditions worn over a thin base tee, but not so warm we overheat when working hard. Fast wicking and quick drying are a must. And you know what, it would be nice to have a built-in balaclava come hood, though to be fair, we didn't necessarily realise that until someone gave us one...
And guess what, early indications are that the Eclipse Hoodie ticks all those boxes and maybe a few more besides.
Feel The Stretch
First the fabric is a lightweight gridded and very stretchy microfleece from Italian specialists Pontetorto. It's super stretchy, so long arms aren't an issue and gives microfleece levels of warmth. That stretch means that it gives a really neat, close fit and to help there, ME has zoned the garment so, for example, the lower back uses a thinner fabric to reduce bulk when tucked under pants there - the dark areas are the light stuff. It's polygiene silver treated as well for reduced ponga and seams are flatlocked so they lie flat, though there are rather a lot of them.
And early indications are that it both wicks and dries extremely well, the former, again, helped by the close fit. If you run really cold, it may not be warm enough, but we reckon, hard-working, warm-blooded types will find it just right worn under a shell with a belay-type overlayer to throw on for stops.
All of which would make a nice bit of kit on its own, but the pasta piece de resistance, is the cunning hood arrangement. We've seen similar in the past on the Berghaus Smoulder - used by the Asgard Project team - but ME's version is better shaped and developed thanks partly to the stretch in the fabric.
First nice touch is the angled main opening which means there's no uncomfortable zip running over the point of your chin and less accumulated bulk when worn with a zipped outer layer.
Then there's the hood itself. First, you can simply pull up the lower part over the bottom half of your face to give Buff-like coverage - the fabric's thin enough for easy breathing and the stretch gives a secure, comfortable fit.
Stage two is to pull the hood over your head which gives a full-on, Ninja-like balaclava mode with just your eyes exposed - add goggles for full protection. And finally, you can lower the chin-piece so the hood is a conventional one with your face fully exposed. See images below.
And because the stretchy fleece has so little bulk, it fits brilliantly under a climbing helmet with the sculpted chin area working seamlessly with the helmet straps. And last but not least, there's enough stretch and volume in the hood that you can also wear it over a climbing helmet with the face-mask portion in place making it even more versatile - less warm, but you can remove it while climbing if you want to.
Minor downsides? Built-in hoods can be a little fiddly worn with other layers and with the zip part open things look a little clunky, but we'd rather have a zip and be able to vent a little than not.
Overall first impressions are super positive. We can see ourselves using the Eclipse not just for moutain walking and climbing, but also for cold weather running and biking with the permanent hood/balaclava being real bonus all round. And while we see it primarily as a lightweight mid layer, you could also use it as a full winter-weight base layer top if you wanted.
Numbers? Weight is a lightweight 320g and the price £90.
More information at www.mountain-equipment.co.uk.