Thursday 28 June 2012

Gear Review – Montane Volt Fleece Jacket

Montane Volt-2-2
Back in Norway in September things got pretty cold and so did I. Owing to the length of the trip and having to carry everything for 7 days I tried to balance an appropriate amount of clothing with a reasonable weight. On that score I failed slightly by being a little cold at times. Insulation was a Rab Micro Pull-on fleece and a Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket which I had hoped would be enough for most scenarios when worn with a merino base-layer. Sadly this wasn’t always the case and I started to take a look at my insulation more closely when I returned home and conceded that I probably needed more. It was research time!

I knew I wanted something that would be slightly warmer than a 100 weight micro-fleece but also something that wouldn’t add too much bulk. The Rab fleece weighs in at 274g for a medium so I wanted something that was warmer but not too heavy. I looked at a number of options, but settled on 3 that seemed to be pretty much in the ball-park: The Mountain Equipment Touchstone, the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man and the Montane Volt.

As you will have guessed (you intelligent people you) in the end I settled on the Volt. This was for a number of reasons but also owing to a bargain ‘price match’ deal I managed to haggle from a large outdoor retailer!

Montane say the Volt was designed with the full year in mind, as opposed to simply designing a summer or winter weight fleece. They claim that that the mixed use of Polartec Thermal Pro Honeycomb and Polertec Classic Micro make the jacket comfortable in a number of scenarios and climates. Polartec claim that the Thermal Pro Honeycomb “creates air pockets, trapping, retaining body heat and endowing the Volt with outstanding warmth without weight”.

This all sounds nice and fluffy but in all honesty it was none of this technical or marketing blurb that caught my eye initially – it was simply how incredible it looks! Without further ‘a-do’ here’s my thoughts (for what they’re worth) on this turbo-charged fleece:

What’s it got?
Well, it doesn’t have a hood (which I didn’t need or want) but does have a full zip, two large hand-warmer pockets (one which will handily hold a map) and a discrete chest pocket for smaller bits and bobs. The zips are all YKK and good quality and the pulls are very simple nylon with a small Montane motif – nice touch! All seams are sewn flat so no rubbing chaffing on harnesses or shoulder straps. Overall its simple but very well designed and technical enough to get most people excited.

Montane Volt-1
What’s it weigh?
I couldn’t help but worry that all of this would add unnecessary weight. Montane claim a medium weighs in at 470g and my size small weighs in at exactly 410g on my scales. This makes the Volt 140g heavier than my simple Rab fleece but would this equate to better warmth or just more technical faff – I was eager to find out.

How does it look?
It takes the humble fleece to a whole new level of style and fit. It’s nothing like any of my other fleeces with a truly tailored look and beautiful contoured panels that follow the line of the body. Not just that but it feels as good to wear as it looks and Montane has successfully challenged the ‘boxyness’ of the traditional fleece to great effect.

Montane Volt-2 
The flip side, of course, is that this extreme athletic cut won’t flatter everyone and could be quite unforgiving on anything other than an athletic shape. If you’re sleek then its fine but if, like me, you have a little paunch from too much cheese and wine…….and beer…..oh and curry then, like me, you’ll have to do a little breathing in when showing it off to all your mates and loved ones. Having said that (Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7) the material has a nice stretch to it to ensure it doesn’t feel uncomfortably tight which,importantly, also allows perfect freedom of movement.

Montane Volt-3
Like most of Montane’s clothing, the quality of the finish and features are all very good. It looks extremely well made and the fabric seems of the type that will take a bit of wear – perhaps more so than a normal fleece which, for me at least, tends to go a bit ‘bobbley’ after a handful of washes.
The cuffs are simply finished in a non-adjustable elasticated band.  All of my current fleeces tend to terminate cuff and waist hems in just the fleece itself. The waist is finished in a similar way which tends to be a bit tighter than the cuffs and should keep out any unwanted drafts up the back – or the front for that matter, provided your tum isn’t too big!

Montane Volt-4
How does it perform then?

I wore this bad boy out on the hills in a cold and snowy February in Buttermere for the first time. It was an extremely hostile day up on Fleetwith Pike, with strong icy winds and driving snow creating white-out conditions at times. I wore this over a merino base layer and under my Marmot Mica. Despite moving slowly (with inexperienced friends) I never felt cold and it was reassuring to feel that I could come to a stop and not feel that familiar chill begin to take hold the moment I stopped.

Fleetwith Pike whiteout Feb 2012
Unusually I’ve been using it when I take Lolli out for walks in terrible weather and even when moving fast there are lots of options for venting if necessary but the fabric is permeable enough that a stiff breeze will get through without a wind barrier.
I thought about removing this paragraph from the review but what the heck: I actually think that this looks and feels so nice that its in real danger of being worn quite a lot out of an outdoors scenario. I should point out that this is not something I would normally endorse  nor even see myself doing!

I plan to continue to wear this under a shell or wind proof  for walking in the hills and expect that it will be perfect for autumn, winter and early spring with the layering approach.
I have to admit I was reluctant to have to change my proven layering system and even perhaps to concede that I do sometimes need more warmth than I have prepared myself for. With this in mind I’m pretty happy that this serve me across a number of seasons and give me more flexibility in colder conditions. If nothing else it will simply mean I can spend a bit more time drinking whisky and watching the sun go down whilst not being confined to my sleeping bag!
I’ll post back on how it performs during the course of the year and feedback any further findings.

Historically the humble fleece has really been that interesting to me, but the Montane Volt has probably just changed the ball game somewhat and hopefully it will be a winner from the off with no chance of going to penalties…..

Sunday 24 June 2012

MLD Trailstar – First Pitch Hysteria

I’ve been on holiday for two weeks but, in a cruel twist delivered by the Gods, my Trailstar arrived super early from MLD – 4 weeks early. This might not seem like that cruel an act at all, but it might be considered a little so when I tell you it arrived the day before I flew out!

It arrived and I was excited. I packed it in my case (we were renting a rather large house in the hills of the Costa Brava) and got even more exited. Then I tried to fit my poles in my case too which was swiftly followed by some swearing.

In any case I’m back now and today I found a recreational ground big enough to pitch it on for the first time. I know there are lots of words written all over the internet about first impressions and how to pitch the thing so I’ll keep this brief.

I pitched it.

Trailstar pitch 1 

It was cheesy peas to pitch and even a twerp like me managed to do it quite well first time and in a stiff breeze too. I certainly think I can cope with the space available! I still need to seam seal it but again I’m going to have to hire a festival size field to do this and allow drying time. Question is: Do I take it out with me to Wales this Friday, pitch it, seal and sleep in it all at the same time? Do I dare?

Trailstar pitch 2

Trailstar pitch 3

Overall I’m really pleased with it, even with the high pitch I ended up with here (I forgot to measure pole height before I set out and later found the height was nearly 50 inches). Its a really nice looking shelter and was feeling pretty weather-ready with just 6 tie-outs anchored down.

More on my actual experience of it, along with my Borah Gear Bivy after next weekend.