Each product in the test was awarded marks for:
Coolness and breathability for active use in warmer conditions.
Overall fit, with a view to climbing as well as walking, when sleeve articulation, hem length and zero hem lift become more important. Is there a helmet-compatible hood, and is it over-helmet or under? And crucially, is there a women’s version?
General features: Less may be more in a summer layer, but only up to a point. Do the cuffs work as they should? Are the pockets accessible under a rucksack belt? Does the jacket stuff into one of its own pockets for easy packing and hanging from a harness?
Lightness – this is a summer review after all. Warmer, thicker softshells may be an advantage in cold conditions – and we’ve certainly mentioned this where relevant – but in this review we’re going light.
Value: because no one wants to pay more than they have to.
Words by UKClimbing
Light, stretchy, breathable, well cut for movement and with a sensibly minimal feature set, the Squall Hooded Jacket is one of our favourites in the review. Is it a windshell with added durability and functionality, or a tissue-thin softshell? Whatever you call it, this jacket scores a big tick in the ‘summer’ box. Though its climbing credentials are clear, the Squall is light and breathable enough for sweaty active use too, making this an excellent all rounder that’d be equally welcome on a breezy Munro as a multi pitch climb.
Available for both men and women, the Squall has a closer cut than some of the jackets on review. As a result it’s best worn over just a few light layers – a baselayer is ideal in our experience, though it will also fit over a thin midlayer fleece too if you need it to. This sizing is optimum for summer use rather than colder conditions. Hem length is slightly more generous than some, sitting just below the waist to offer a good protective overlap with your trousers. The fit at the waist is fine tuned with toggles, and the tails of the elastic are separate rather than a closed loop, so you can’t snag them by mistake. Arm length is generous without being excessive, and the simple part-elastic, part-velcro cuffs work well, stretching over a glove if you need them to but also closing down neatly onto a bare wrist to offer a neat low-profile fit. As we’ve come to expect from Mountain Equipment, the tailoring allows full arm movement with no danger of hem lift. Tuck the Squall under your harness and it’ll probably stay there all day.
Another feature for which the brand have a well deserved reputation is the quality of their hoods, and the Squall’s doesn’t disappoint. With enough volume to fit easily over a helmet, this is a proper climber’s hood; but with three points of adjustment to take in the slack it fits pretty snugly on a bare head too. Head movement is unrestricted; the lightly reinforced brim offers just enough structure to resist flapping madly in the wind; and the collar comes up high to provide maximum protection for the neck and chin. Because it’s quite soft and unstructured, the hood also fits underneath a helmet if you prefer. Overall, this is a feature that we’d struggle to fault.
At only 329g (size L) the Squall is one of the lightest softshells in this review, perfectly meeting our seasonal brief. It’s made from something called Exolite 125, a softshell fabric that’s very much at the thinner end of the softshell spectrum and seems well matched to a summer-oriented jacket. Any thinner and, we suspect, we’d be calling the Squall a windproof rather than a softshell. Though very lightweight, we’ve found the fabric has excellent wind resistance, and a decent water repellency that will happily shrug off a light passing shower. It also seems tough enough to cope with being abraded on rocks, and after several months’ use there is no sign of scuffing on our review jacket. There’s a little stretch in this fabric, but it’s not as springy as some, Mountain Equipment seemingly relying more on tailoring than stretch for freedom of movement.
There’s very little to say here, and if you’re looking for the lightest possible softshell for summer use then that has to be a good thing. You get a single small chest pocket, just big enough for a smartphone or a hat and a couple of cereal bars. As a sign that the designers have really considered what climbers need in a minimalist jacket the Squall packs into its own pocket, with tabs for hanging off a harness. It’s a compact, neat bundle, but the zip opening itself is quite small and it’s a bit of a wrestle to get the jacket in; an extra couple of centimetres would’ve been nice. One feature that initially raised a question mark is the main zip. Offset for comfort under your chin, this is a chunky heavyweight YKK Vislon zip, with an internal storm flap and double zippers for easy access to your belay loop. Did a top this light really need such a robust zip? Well bearing in mind the abuse that this sort of jacket will get over the years, we have come down in favour of it.
SQUALL HOODED JACKET