Kathmandu sent us into the Aussie backcountry to test out their top-end XT Series gear. We gave the gear a right thrashin in rain, sleet and snow, but came out with mile-wide smiles – Aidan has the lowdown.
Kathmandu is a major player in Australia’s outdoor gear scene, serving up everything from picnic sets to burly sub-zero sleeping bags. After all, adventuring is relative, so the brand does a solid job trying to accommodate the broad spectrum of explorers out there.
But how well does it really do at the upper end of the scale?
Adventurer, environmentalist, and all-round gnarly dude Tim Jarvis has a lifetime of cold-weather expeditions to his name. These include Antarctic voyages, Norwegian icesheet crossings and his recent 25zero project, leading trips to equatorial glaciers to document the impacts of climate change.
Kathmandu got him on board as a consultant for the design of their new XT Series Range – a selection of top end, alpine-oriented gear – to keep the line grounded in the realities of cold, hostile outdoor conditions.
But how about Australia’s alpine environment, with its own unique conditions and demands? Kitted out in the new XT Series gear, four of us (Tim, Rach, Adrian and myself) ventured out for a weekend of winter traversing through Kosciuszko’s backcountry.
Here’s how the gear held up.
New To The Winter Backcountry? So Was Rach! Read Her First Time Account
XT Alopex GORE-TEX® Jacket
Despite optimistic forecasts of a mild and partly cloudy weekend in Kosciuszko, the mountain gods had other plans brewing.
By the afternoon of day 1, our party of four had already been battered by strong winds, icy sleet and heavy snowfalls. Unpleasant? Maybe. But ideal for putting our outer jacket layers to the test.
The Alopex Jacket, sporting triple-layered Gore-Tex Pro material, did a surprisingly bang-up job. Surprising, in the sense that I’d never used a high-performance rain jacket before, and had always accepted partly damp mid-layers as an unavoidable consequence of a rainy day’s hiking. But underneath our jackets, Tim and I stayed bone dry.
What’s more – a good shake at the end of the day left the jacket’s outer pretty well dry, owing to the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment that kept moisture at the surface of the fabric.
The jacket’s design was also well thought out, complete with logically placed pockets, a removable snow skirt and even a detachable goggle cloth. Tim mentioned that “everything felt like it was designed by people who knew the conditions”, which can’t always be said of outdoor gear.
Annoyingly, during an intense half hour of snowfalls I tried to tighten the hood around my face, and after yanking the drawstrings in the wrong direction, managed to rip the fabric a little. While it didn’t affect the jacket’s performance, it’s a good warning to future users.
XT Pinnacle Down Jacket
Rach and Adrian sported Kathmandu’s new XT Pinnacle down jacket – a water repellent and windproof down jacket – as their outer layer.
Stuffed plump with responsibly sourced 750 loft goose down (also treated with a water repellent coating), the jacket remained cosy in frosty, wet conditions that’d make your average down jacket owner shudder. Adrian noted that, “It felt a bit weird wearing this out in the rain, but this thing really is waterproof.” Thankfully, it still packed all the warmth you’d be looking for in an alpine down jacket.
XT Alopex GORE TEX® Pants
Overalls aren’t always cool (particularly after their recent popularisation as the minion garment-of-choice) but it turns out they’re right at home in alpine hiking conditions. Comfy, versatile and long enough to keep snow from creeping up where it doesn’t belong. Accordingly, the four of us were big fans of Kathmandu’s new Alopex Gore-Tex bib pants.
Being the southern counterpart of the Alopex jacket, they were equally as robust and waterproof. After several successful descents down a steep section of Mt Twynam, Rach commented that, “Even during all the sweet snow slides, not a skerrick of ice got into my layers.” Built-in gaiter straps also prevented the pant legs from riding up, keeping you covered on that front.
Plus, owing to Gore-Tex’s I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Sorcery fabric design, breathability remained excellent throughout the day (although long zips running down the sides of each pant leg provided plenty of options for ventilation).
Also on the topic of zips, the zippable bum-flap design was a welcomed feature for instances of nature calling (arguably hastened by Tim’s dehydrated chickpea curry surprise).
Overalls also remove the need for a belt, finally addressing the age-old discomfort of the harness of your pack rubbing up against your belt and pressing into your waist. In this respect, it’s clear that Kathmandu made a pretty conscious decision when they went down the overall route, and in snowy conditions it’s paid off – this is one convenient and capable set of alpine pantaloons.
XT Fitzgerald NGX Mountaineering Boots
Moving even further south, we each donned a set of Kathmandu’s Fitzgerald NGX Mountaineering Boots. Waterproof, with a sturdy carbon-fibre base, Vibram soles and crampon compatibility, the boots were designed with more than 1000 days of development and testing behind them.
And the result? In Rach’s words: “The perfect shoe for sending snow-covered mountains.”
Despite 2 days of demanding hiking in muddy and snowy terrain between Guthega and Charlotte’s Pass (feat. a summiting of Mount Twynam) the boots kept our feet dry and comfortable, and found grip on slippery rocks that’d normally leave me floundering for balance. The lacing system allowed me to really open the boot up, which was seriously helpful for cramming in my cold, stiff feet in the morning.
To cite the obvious, they’re also a terrific looking bit of gear.
While the Fitzgeralds’ stiff soles make them great for traversing snowy landscapes, it also leaves them less-than-ideal for hiking on harder surfaces, given the lack of flex in your step. Although prolonged use might break my pair in a little more, the Fitzgerald is definitely a specialty item not to be confused with all-purpose hikers.
XT GORE-TEX® Alpine Gloves
Having grown up on bargain-bin skiing gloves, I know a thing or two about cold fingies. Snow camping adds an extra dimension to the struggle for warm digits, given all the fiddly tasks that prevent you from keeping thick gloves on all day – think cooking, tent assemblage, simmering snow into drinking water and checking the GPS.
Kathmandu’s XT Alpine Gloves were designed with this in mind.
The main glove is thick, insulated and waterproofed with Gore-Tex (everything you’d really want in an outdoor winter glove), but also includes a removable inner glove.
These inners were thin enough for all of those little tasks I’d mentioned above (particularly with the inclusion of touchscreen sensitive finger pads), but still thick enough to keep your hands relatively warm.
What’s more, the use of Polartec fabric meant that they stayed warm even when soaked through. Not to be understated, this is kind of a big deal when you’re sitting out in the cold, sleet beating down on you, trying to cook dinner.
So these gloves got a big tick from us.
XT Incite Pack
Rather than shoe-horning alpine features into a general-use pack, Kathmandu have again really doubled down with this one. Lightweight, technical and robust, Tim commented that the XT Incite Pack “screamed function at me”, and I was inclined to agree.
Firstly, the waterproofness. Leave your rain covers at home, because the bag’s seam-sealed PU coating kept its contents drier than a 1970s British sitcom. This is particularly vital when you’re out in alpine conditions, as a damp sleeping bag inside your pack is a massive no bueno for staying warm overnight.
The harness was also solid. Light and simple for easy-adjustments on the move, even with bulky gloves on.
With ~17kg of weight hoisted on my back, I held up unexpectedly well over the two days – coming from a guy normally spoilt with a downright luxurious amount of hip padding on my normal pack. Adrian, carrying closer to 25kg with his camera gear, agreed that he was “surprised with how well it handled the weight”.
What’s more, glove-friendly buckles, gear loops for hanging accessories and well-designed bottle holders (that actually accommodate Nalgenes, even with a bulging pack) all point towards the input of alpine professionals in the pack’s design.
Don’t expect stacks of nifty little pockets, vestibules or front access zips. But if waterproofness, durability and backcountry features are your thing, then this pack is definitely worth a look.
XT North Star Tent
With the weather deteriorating and the winds blowing, we decided to pitch an early camp at the close of day one. We settled on a patch of relatively flat ground at the base of Mt. Twynam, laden with a healthy base cover of snow.
This provided a good chance to test Kathmandu’s second generation XT North Star Tent in the conditions it was really designed for.
The tent was simple enough to set up – a basic 2-walled design with four intersecting poles meant we got it up in less than 8 minutes. Once properly pitched, the geodesic design and logically placed guy lines meant this thing felt hardy as heck.
By late afternoon, the clouds above had dropped their guts and dumped a hearty layer of snow on our camp. In contrast to another tent we had pitched (a tunnel tent, that soon began to sag with the weight of the snow), the North Star looked sturdy.
What’s more, with a snow skirt for keeping drifts out of the inner vestibule, big side vents for moisture and temperature management, and plenty of storage hammocks inside, this thing seemed as purpose-designed as any 4-season tent I’ve seen.
Tim did comment that “the doors are tiny and the vestibule is kind of hard to open, but in the snow that’s not a problem,” emphasising the fact that, like much of the XT range, this isn’t the kind of tent you’d want on a summer camping trip — but on a winter expedition when the weather gets gnarly, it’s exactly what you need.
So Does Kathmandu’s XT Series Really Hold Up?
We were mega impressed with the new Kathmandu XT Series.
While it’s not cheap (not that any respectably-engineered alpine gear is), we were stoked with the well-designed features that pretty clearly indicated the experienced hand guiding the research and development of the XT Series.
The gear was high-performing and reliable in freezing and wet conditions, but it’s not the kind of kit you’d want to use year round. Kathmandu’s investment in their high-end gear has really paid off in spades… can we go back to the backcountry now?
Kathmandu sent us into the backcountry to test out their XT Series gear. Their top-of-the-range kit couldn’t have been more at home in the frosty, wet Australian Alps, leaving us to focus on the beauty all around us.
Prepared For Your Winter Adventures?