Montane Fleet Jacket | Review - Outdoors Magic

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Waterproof Jackets

Montane Fleet Jacket | Review

An in-depth test of Montane's new packable and lightweight jacket

New for winter 2018, the Montane Fleet waterproof jacket is the successor to Montane’s original Spine, mountain-running jacket, but unlike its super-focussed, uncompromising predecessor – it had, for example, just one, small chest-pocket – it’s much more of a lightweight mountain all-rounder.

It may weigh just 40g or so more than the equivalent Spine, but it has more adjustability, a larger chest pocket, two venting hand-pockets and a more protective hood with a wired peak compared to the Spine’s minimalist stiffened brim.

It’s also cut appreciably looser, giving more space for insulation layers, natural or otherwise, and has strategic heavier duty Gore-Tex reinforcement panels at hips and shoulders to cater for pack or, it says here, harness use.

All of which makes the Fleet a better lightweight hill and mountain all-rounder than the Spine, but also makes it looser and flappier for running or biking use.

The Fabric

Like the previous Spine, the Fleet uses Gore-Tex Active, which is Gore’s most breathable three-layer fabric. It’s designed primarily for fast-moving, sweaty, high tempo stuff like running and tanking up hills like a loon.

It’s decently light and in this version has a very soft and quiet feel. What it isn’t designed for, is long-term durability, but Montane has added panels of a slightly tougher, but still soft and quiet in use, Gore-Tex micro ripstop fabric with a C-KNIT backer at hips and shoulders.

The idea is to increase durability with pack and, potentially, climbing harness use. Arguably you could make the same jacket from the tougher, but still light and decently breathable Gore-Tex Pro fabric, but it would end up around 100g heavier and also have a stiffer, noisier vibe.

Bottom line: it’s a fabric designed for comfortable, fast and hot use rather than long-term toughness, though Montane has added a bit of that with the reinforcement.

YKK Aquaguard zips feature throughout the jacket. Photo: Harsharn Gill

Performance

My first take on the Fleet was just how much looser than the Spine Jacket it felt. It doesn’t look particularly roomy in the images, but compared to its predecessor, which had a really neat, athletic cut, it’s got an extra couple of inches everywhere. It does share its medium/short length.

In the pics, it’s being worn over a close-fitting Polartec Alpha mid-layer and there’s still plenty of space. On the plus side, it does mean you can fit more layers underneath and it’s more forgiving of a bit of natural excess ballast. The pay-off is that it’s less neat for faster-moving stuff like running or cycling when it feels loose and flappy.

Finally, there’s something weird going on with the upper sleeves in particular, which are quite voluminous in an Arnie-friendly sort of way. Just odd. And I think, it contributes to the overall loose feel of the jacket.

Once you get past the fit though, there’s lots to like. The fabric’s as breathable as pretty much anything else out there bar Gore’s own ShakeDry and Polartec NeoShell. For normal walking use, it’s very comfortable with no steaming horrors and I found I could use it as a windproof most of the time without getting uncomfortable.

It helps that the soft, light fabric is nice and quiet in use with none of crisp-packety crackling you get with stiffer materials like Gore-Tex Pro in particular.

Go harder and, as with any waterproof fabric, you’ll find its limitations. You can unzip the pack belt-friendly hand pockets for a little extra venting, though in the proper wet, that’s not an option as they tend to gape open. Cue damp tummy.

Hoody Goodness

Put the fit to one side and the Fleet is hard to fault. The Spine Jacket arguably took minimalism a little too far, with just a single, phone-sized chest-pocket for stowage. The Fleet gets a larger one of those, but also those two venting hand-pockets that sit just above pack-belt level.

“For faster moving stuff like running and biking though, a sleeker cut would arguably work better…”

It has fully adjustable hem and cuffs, all easy to use wearing gloves, and a hood complete with wired peak. It’s a really effective hood too. Unusually for a lightweight jacket, it gives pretty much full facial coverage, with just enough space for a pair of goggles. The adjusters are easy to use with gloves. And not only is protection good, but it moves with your head well enough to pass the seminal ‘crossing a busy A road without dying’ test.

It will also, though not specced to, just about accommodate a climbing helmet, though not in a full movement, totally protected way. Handy if you’re on the rock and a sudden shower sweeps in though.

The Montane Fleet features a soft Gore-Tex Active fabric. Photo: Harsharn Gill
The hood is adjustable and has a wired peak. Photo: Harsharn Gill
Velcro tabs on the cuffs. Photo: Harsharn Gill

Limitations

It’s a bit of a hint that Montane has chosen to use small panels of standard, harder-wearing Gore-Tex with the soft C-KNIT backer on pack wear areas like the shoulders and hips.

Gore-Tex Active is guaranteed by Gore to keep you dry for its ‘entire useful life’, but the pay-off for its combination of lightness and breathability is that it’s not as long-term durable as heavier grades of Gore-Tex and the mountaineering-orientated Gore-Tex Pro in particular.

Normally the fabric is used for lighter, faster-moving garments which are unlikely to get extended pack use or abraded against rocks when climbing, but the all-round design of the Fleet means it’s more likely to get a general hammering and we’re a little wary of how it’ll hold up long term with heavy use.

For perspective, a friend eventually found the waterproofing on a Berghaus Vapour Storm failed after a couple of years of regular hard use, though for perspective, he did complete the Spine Race wearing it, so it had a hard life.

Bottom line: we’re not saying the jacket will disintegrate in weeks, but if your priority is durability then have a look at something built from a heavier, tougher fabric. It may not be as breathable or be as light and comfortable in use, but that’s the compromise you make.

Verdict

If you’re after a decently light, comfortable, well-featured, very breathable, all-round hill and  mountain waterproof with an excellent, protective hood, the Montane Fleet ticks a lot of boxes.

The Gore-Tex Active fabric is soft and light and breathable enough to be used as a windproof layer a lot of the time, which makes the jacket a nice place to be, even when it’s bucketing down.

There are a couple of caveats though, the Fleet’s a bit of a left-field platypus of a shell in the sense that it uses a fabric that’s specced for hot and sweaty, fast-moving activities, but has a cut that, for me at least, is a little too generous for running or biking use, particularly in the upper arms.

Note those slightly baggy arms… Photo: Harsharn Gill

The advantage of that is you can layer up happily underneath – for me, I could wear a microfleece plus a medium weight shelled Polartec Alpha top – and it’ll accommodate a wider range of body shapes than the preceding, more athletically cut, but less versatile Spine Jacket.

Our other question is over outright, longer term durability, even though the added tougher panels may reinforce areas specifically vulnerable to wear from packs, we wouldn’t expect the Fleet to cope with regular pack use in particular as well as a shell using a heavier fabric. If that worries you, bear in mind that you’ll still be covered by Gore’s lifetime waterproofing guarantee.

Where it would work brilliantly, is as a lightweight trekking jacket where it would double as a windproof as well as an occasional waterproof.

For faster moving stuff like running and biking though, a sleeker cut would arguably work better and a more featured version of the Spine would have been interesting. If you do want a closer-fitting, lightweight Montane jacket for running and biking, maybe check out the Minimus Stretch.

‘Put the fit to one side and the Fleet is hard to fault’. Photo: Harsharn Gill

Magic: Decently light, very breathable, strategic reinforcements, soft and quiet in use, excellent hood, plenty of pockets and adjustability, space for layering underneath, strategic C-KNIT reinforcements.

Tragic: Cut is slightly loose for running and biking use with oddly voluminous sleeves, question marks over long-term durability and waterproofing particularly when used with a pack.

Grabbit? The successor to Montane’s original, minimalist Spine Jacket uses the same super-breathable Gore-Tex Active fabric, but in a less uncompromising, more featured design with three pockets and a very protective hood. It’s also cut more loosely. The plus side is that it’s a useable, well-specced, super-breathable all-round hill jacket that layers easily over extra insulation. However the looser fit works less well for running and biking, where it can feel a little flappy.

Tougher Gore-Tex C-KNIT panels at shoulders and hips cater for backpack use, but we’re still a little dubious over its long-term durability if you do choose to carry a pack regularly. If you can live with that, it’s a quiet, light, comfortable waterproof jacket offering decent all-round protection, that’s also breathable enough to double as a windproof shell for hiking and trekking. It would make an excellent deluxe packable trekking shell.

Full Specifications

Gore-Tex Active main fabric with 40D Gore-Tex rip-stop reinforcements at shoulders and hips / YKK Aquaguard zipped chest / twin zipped, mesh-lined venting hand pockets / adjustable hood with wired peak / adjustable hem and cuffs / YKK Aquaguard Vislon front-zip / microfleece chin guard.

 

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