Rik Henderson reviews the Montane Fast Alpine Stretch Neo Jacket which has been tested thoroughly on his recent round of the top 100 Welsh Peaks.
I hate Goretex!…….Ok that’s a little over the top, I think its more a case of Gores 3-layer waterproof fabric disliking me.
I run hot when undertaking any physical activity, truth be told I run hot all the time which is great when the better half wants to cuddle on a winter’s day, but a real hindrance when slogging it in the mountains, whatever the weather/temperature might be. The issue with being a radiator on legs is the amount of sweat you produce (I don’t smell, honest!), whilst being hot in the outdoors might sound like a real bonus, when you can’t control body moisture in exposed environments, wind chill can be a stone-cold killer!
The first thing you usually think about when purchasing a shiny new outer shell is how good does it keep the rain out, especially if you are based in Great Britain, we get the wettest of weather! If you’re like me though, breathability is ever so important, if not more important than weather protection. If you imagine the most breathable garment you could wear being a Rab C Nesbitt style string vest, and the most waterproof shell being a bin bag, essentially you need to get something that sits in between to keep you dry from the elements, as well as managing condensation from within. Outdoor manufacturers have been striving to achieve this since the beginning and is an ongoing struggle. Knowing how your body reacts to activity and thinking about what activities you will be undertaking, will help you pick the right garment for you.
On a winter’s morning in the Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia, North Wales, the weather was typical for that time of year, a smattering of snow, strong icy winds and sleet. I’d pushed up Pen yr Ole Wen at some pace and by this time I was sweating profusely, I had multiple but adequate layers on underneath a GTX shell and whilst it was doing a sterling job at keeping me dry from the wet weather, I was drenched inside and the wind chill was playing havoc with my body temp, truth be told I suffered that day and even though I have been known to say “you can’t have a bad day in the Carneddau” (it really is the crown of Snowdonia for me), this particular outing wasn’t my finest hour.
I started to look at other alternatives – I know of eVent and have items constructed of it, a fantastic shell and a definite contender for a more breathable option. Pertex, the daddy of windproof fabrics have delved into the waterproof sphere although recent reviews show it to not be as waterproof as one might hope. Paramo systems have always been of interest to me although they are renowned for being warm set ups, not a problem if you are someone who doesn’t run hot! My research led me to a relatively new fabric from Polartec, a company who have been at the forefront of outdoor fabrics for some time and who are probably best known for their synthetic fleece garments…..we all remember the classic brightly coloured 100, 200, 300 and even 400 weight fleece products of the 90’s. Neoshell was introduced to the market around 2013, a material that strives to offer the best weather protection possible without sacrificing the breathable performance needed when undertaking physical activities in the outdoors. Polartec even claim that Neoshell is “the world’s most breathable waterproof fabric technology”, achieving this by engineering “optimal pore size and placement” resulting in continuous air exchange…..sounds good right?!
There is a small handful of manufacturers who use such a system including Karrimor, Westcomb & Jottnar, but for me it had to be the brand who I have fallen in love with recently, a British company who keep designing first class mountaineering products, Montane. Their Fast Alpine Stretch Neo Jacket (massive name!) is no exception, a hard shell that feels more like a soft shell that boasts many great features and an active fit, perfect for mountaineering and other winter activities such as skiing and climbing. The jacket is extremely stretchy, soft and light, 600g to be precise. The jacket is quite short, much shorter than others in its field and whilst this can improve manoeuvrability, it does effect weather protection to the top of your legs, to be honest though in any substantial downpour donning waterproof trousers will eradicate this issue.
The jacket has reinforced shoulders and elbows, a great addition that will help with wear and tear, wearing a rucksack and generally scraping and roughing it up through gullies and scrambles. It has “Ratchet” cuffs which can be adjusted with just one hand – gloved or naked, two big chest pockets that will take a map and an internal mesh pocket, a lightweight Pertex snow skirt and a small zipped compartment on the left arm that would be perfect for a ski pass. The hood on this jacket is massive, specifically designed for use with a helmet, used without it can sometimes feel like over kill but there is plenty of adjustment to keep it either drawn in or rolled up. The hood has brushed microfleece on the inside of the hood around the collar so even though the hood can feel a bit overwhelming at times, there is no abrasion, in fact on horrible days it kind of feels like a warm and friendly hug!
The fabric is truly amazing, I have owned mine since April (2018) and it is still beading incredibly well, on long wet outings when the facia fabrics has eventually started to absorb water it somehow dries itself in no time at all, much better than shells I have previously owned in fact. The breathability is second to none and I have been able to wear this in all conditions so far, I can even wear it in warmer climates, using it like a softshell for wind protection over a thin base layer. Polartec Neoshell achieves this amazing feat by compromising on hydrostatic head values, in fact Neoshell achieves less than half of that of the market leaders, but this begs the question – is a massive hydrostatic head needed, especially if it sacrifices a garments breathability so much? I don’t think so.
Neoshell isn’t cheap, at an RRP of £370 this Montane jacket is biting at the heels of the big brand GTX trusted pieces. If you are someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors all year round though this price is easier to justify, shop around and you will find good deals as well. Over all I love this jacket and swear by its performance, I spend most weekends running around the mountains in all weather conditions and it never leaves my bag…..if like me you run hot then Polartec Neoshell might be the answer to your over heating problems, give it a go!
Point to consider;
- The sizing on this jacket is big, I’m a medium and have had to buy a size small, I’ve found that to be case with Montane overall, great products but some unusual sizing