As I posted before Christmas, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Montane test garments to try out over the festive break – the Montane Further Faster Neo Jacket (shell) and Alpha Gide Jacket (insulator). Sadly they have now been dispatched back to Montane HQ (wish I could have kept them), and I am left to report my thoughts and findings.
As always seems to be the case over Christmas, I was not able to be quite as active as I’d have liked… multiple food-based family gatherings and grandmother-courier duties getting in the way of my plans to test out the Montane pieces through the trinity of walking, cycling and climbing. I was, able to wear them day-to-dayday-to-day though, on a couple of short walks, and on one longer one on Dartmoor last Friday. I plumped for one of my old favorites, the ‘Widecombe Round’. It’s a varied, scenic route around the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, and even more so in the right conditions. Luckily conditions were just perfect for beautiful pictures on this occasion, so I’ve interspersed my Montane review with them to liven up any dry technical details!
Day-to-day, the Montane Further Faster Neo Jacket made for great wearing, despite it’s technical features, thanks to its hyper-breathable Polartec NeoShell fabric. Unlike most waterproof shells, Gore-Tex, eVent and the like, which block out 100-99.9% of the wind, NeoShell creates far less of a micro-climate within a jacket – allowing air permeability of 0.5CFM* (i.e. 99.5% windproof). Though a small margin of increase, this vastly accelerates moisture exchange through convection and gives the Montane Neo Jacket the feel of a soft shell rather than a hard shell. In my regular waterproof jacket – a TNF Gore-Tex Paclite, I often find myself feeling hot, clammy and uncomfortable when wearing multiple layers, especially under exertion: this was far from the case with the Montane Neo Jacket. On my Dartmoor walk I made it my policy to keep the Neo on all day, regardless of conditions or terrain, to test its breathability to the maximum. To my surprise, I didn’t once feel the urge to remove it, even on the harshest uphill sections, and ended the day so miraculously non-sweaty that I didn’t feel the need to take a post-walk shower (don’t be too disgusted – I had one the following morning).
*CFM = Cubic Feet per Minute - measurement of wind resistance. A smaller value = less wind penetration.
One thing to be aware of if considering a Montane Neo Jacket for yourself, is that whilst it is as breathable a waterproof jacket as you can get, its slight air-permeability means that in the coldest, windiest conditions, it doesn’t provide such a barrier to chill as conventional hard shell jackets. The vast majority of the time however, this will not bother you: after all 0.5% of the wind is not a lot! In my mind it’s a small price to pay for the significant gains in comfort achieved by the Neo Jacket, especially when working hard. On the waterproof front, the Montane Further Faster Neo Jacket certainly kept me dry during the brief showers I encountered over the two weeks, though that hardly classes as rigorous rain testing! Nonetheless, I have been given no reason to doubt its waterproof credentials.
Beneath the Neoshell that day I wore the Montane Alpha Guide Jacket, with which I was similarly impressed. Being insulated with Polartec Alpha, a highly stable synthetic insulation which uses an open weave to encourage air permeability, it complemented the breathability of the Montane shell jacket perfectly. Along with a breathable baselayer (my trusty Lowe Alpine Dryflo 150 crew), the Montane layering system kept me warm, comfortable and dry from mid-morning til dusk. The thing that impressed me most about the Montane combo was the fact that I didn’t need to remove or put on a single layer of clothing throughout the entire duration of the walk, yet remained comfortable throughout – no word of a lie! Conditions were mostly dry with infrequent cloudbursts, temperatures around 5-6 degrees C, the wind strong and gusty.
The typically athletic Montane fit worked well for me in the case of both garments; leaving minimal space for drafts and cold air, whilst still allowing me excellent freedom of movement thanks to articulated arms and stretch panels in the case of the Alpha Guide Jacket. Even though I didn’t get the chance to climb in either jacket, I can appreciate that they’d be great for it, as there’s no noticeable ‘ride-up’ at the waist when you raise your arms, and there’s an active ‘drop-tail’ cut on both garments so that freedom of leg movement doesn’t come at the expense of bum protection! Montane size Small is a perfect fit for me, being a long-armed, skinny 5ft9″. I am aware though that my body type is not the norm, so broader individuals will probably find that they need to choose the size up from what they would normally wear in other brands.
Onto features; again, no real complaints. I did find myself craving slightly larger pockets on the Montane Neo Jacket, as they are barely large enough to take an OS map… but that’s a pretty minor complaint. The Neo Jacket has a great hood, with a wired peak, high chin guard and 2-way adjustment. It allows for excellent peripheral vision, and although it’s not listed in the product spec by Montane, I’m sure it would fit a helmet for climbing or snowsports – there’s certainly space for a serious hat. The Velcro-adjustable cuffs and YKK Aquaguard zips work great on the Neo, and the attention to detail is impressive, with neat zip housings, toggles and internal seam taping. Overall weight is low for such as a well-featured jacket at 480 grams, and in terms of feel the Neo Jacket strikes a good balance between light weight and reassuring ruggedness. It should indeed prove rugged thanks to 50 denier ripstop face fabric throughout.
The Montane Alpha Guide Jacket was also a pleasure to wear, with its brushed fleece liner giving it a supremely comfortable feel in combination with it’s pleasantly snug, stretchy fit. I found the exotically named “Mt. Thermo X Stretch” fabric in the arms, shoulders and hood to be more wind-resistant than I expected, and in fact the stretchy under-helmet hood proved more efficient than my hat at keeping my head protected from the chilly blast. As with the Neo Jacket, the Alpha Guide has loads of neat details including thumb loops, brushed chin guard and adjustable hem. One thing I would say about the Alpha Guide is that it is very much a user’s piece, in that it feels fantastic on, has loads of useful features, but does look a bit ridiculous (especially with the hood up) if worn in town or a casual environment. In this respect I would agree with Montane when they say that the Alpha Guide is not so much a piece of clothing as a piece of climbing equipment!
To round up, I had a great couple of weeks with the Montane duo, and was sad to give them up when the test period came to a close. Having tried out the much-hyped about Polartec NeoShell and Alpha technologies, I can now appreciate how their breathability figures translate into real-world comfort, and I would happily invest in either in the future! In short, if you’re seeking high performance, functional mountain protection, the Montane Further faster Neo Jacket and Alpha Guide Jacket tick all the boxes.
Thanks for reading!