Occasionally I come across a piece of gear that blows me away. Maybe it’s a never-been-done-before design, or something that uses a new fabric or technology, or even a piece of apparel that just fits really well. The common denominator? It has to perform better than all its competitors. The Mountain Equipment Lhotse shell ($500) is one of these products. I spent all last winter testing it, and no matter the activity, whether I was backcountry skiing, mountaineering, or just going for a winter walk, it was the jacket I most frequently pulled out of my closet.
Construction and Fit
The Lhotse features top-of-the-line Gore-Tex Pro fabric, which is fairly breathable and really the only fabric I fully trust in winter conditions. The main body is a medium-weight 40-denier material, but the shoulders, hips, and outer sleeves feature tougher, but slightly heavier, 80-denier fabric to cope with abrasive pack straps and contact with rock and ski edges. This makes the jacket feel protective, but not like you’re wearing clunky armor, which is how I feel in other great winter shells like the Patagonia Untracked and the Stio Environ, both which use 70-denier fabric across the entire jacket.
The Lhotse is well constructed and it’s clear the design team put thought into every aspect of the jacket. For example, the pit zips are bonded and laminated for extra strength, and the stitched seams are hidden, reducing vulnerability and creating smoother lines. The effortless YKK zippers are backed with storm flaps that channel out any water that does get through, via tiny drain holes at the bottom of the zip.
At six foot one and 175 pounds, I’m fairly tall and thin. It’s tough for me to find a winter jacket that fits well over a bulky midlayer but doesn’t look like a shapeless bag when I’m just wearing base layers. European brands, in general, usually nail the fit, and UK-based Mountain Equipment is a prime example. The cut of the size medium Lhotse fits me perfectly. If you’re athletically built, the jacket will fit you snugly while still allowing a full range of motion.
I find that most jackets try to cram in too many features, which results in a product that’s bulky and unwieldy. Not so with the Lhotse, whose simple ruggedness is probably my favorite quality. Note: although skiing is what I use it for most, this is not a ski-specific jacket, so you won’t find a powder skirt or inner mesh for holding skins.
Hoods seem to be the crux move for many winter shells but the Lhotse’s hood is well shaped and it fits great, particularly over a bare head. It offers plenty of face protection without compromising peripheral vision, and, most important, the wired brim is stiff enough to stay in place without drooping. The hem and hood-adjusting cord grips, as well as the zipper pulls, are big, round, and easy to use with gloves.
There are three pockets, the perfect number, in my opinion. There’s a huge one on the chest, which is big enough to fit a map or even a pair of skins. Two more hand pockets are less generously sized but are big enough to stuff gloved hands into to warm up.
Consistently picking the Lhotse out of my closet full of shells is really the best compliment I can give it. It’s solid, it’s dependable, and there are really no winter conditions it won’t excel in. I’ve used it for everything from winter camping to backcountry hut tours to casual groomer days at the resort and have been pleased across the board. The combination of a superb cut, excellent protective hood, and solid feel makes it a seriously reassuring companion during a gnarly day in the mountains. Yep, like most really quality gear, the Lhotse is quite expensive. But if you want one shell you can do everything in, particularly during colder snowy months, there’s nothing I would recommend over it.