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I wanted a good waterproof jacket. For years I wore a Regatta Calderdale jacket. It served me well. It was good at keeping me dry, warm and did not restrict my movements when out on the hill. I found myself wanting to do more. I wanted to climb the crags, tall walls I kept seeing on my rambles. I absolutely loved the feel of the rain, sunshine, grass, rocks, trees around me. So I suppose it is natural to experience more.

As I started to walk over 600m I found that the excursion needed was producing more and more sweat but my jacket wasn’t coping with it. After about 30 mins after heating up it was like someone had poured a cup of water down my sleeves. The moisture was just pouring out. It coped with it because I wore synthetic base layers as I was kept relatively warm and dry.

When I started to scramble I noticed my jacket pinching under my arms and across my back. I could put up with it but I as I read more and more about outdoor gear I found myself wishing I could afford better gear.

One day I walked into an outdoor store and noticed they were looking for Christmas staff, so I applied. I got it. After Christmas I was asked to stay on. Here was my opportunity to get better gear but most importantly improve my knowledge of different materials and what clothing or apparel best used for different types of activities.

About the same time I decided to set up Freedom Expeditions, my outdoor adventure company. Of course, staff discount was a huge help. I bought the Montane Fast Alpine Stretch Neo jacket and the Berghaus Vellum jacket.

I chose these two because after much research I hoped I had the whole year covered plus some technical climbing in winter, including ice climbing.

What do I think of the Fast Alpine Stretch Neo jacket?

 The first thing I noticed when I held it my hands was the soft feel of it. It was not like other jackets that feel like plastic or have a hard feel to them. It feels like a hard face cotton that stretches in your hands. If you take the fabric in both hands and pull apart it stretches fantastically. I loved that. Having put it on, medium size for me, it was a great fit. Being an alpine fit I can actually wear it over my Rab Infinity Endurance down jacket, without any restrictions or feeling uncomfortable. What a jacket. Or I can wear it with just one or two base layers on underneath and both ways it fits great.

As I did more winter walking I found it more difficult to operate the various toggles and zips on jackets because of the big gloves I had on. With this jacket the hood as the standard three adjusting toggles one at the back of the hood and two either side. I can operate them with my gloves on and with one hand. Just pull on the toggle and it will self tighten. Brilliant.

The cuffs operate in a similar fashion as they self tighten by using a buckle so you can pull the velcro flap with one hand. Easy.

The zips on the jacket have large pulls on them making it easy to grasp them with gloves on.

What I wanted to know was how breathable was it. So I wore it when I did the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. It was raining all day with the temperature about 10c. So it was not that cold. I ran down hill from each peak. Got back to the car in Horton, took my jacket off and found not a bead of moisture on the inside. Perfectly dry. I shook the jacket 4 or 5 times and the water fell off the outer fabric. I found my jacket and love it to this day. It has never let me down.

It is not very heavy. Quite lithe for a winter jacket. I just zip it up, turn it upside down. Fold the arms in so I’m holding the hem and cuffs, then roll it up into its hood. Pull the toggles to turn it into a small bundle.

Quick points:

Montane Fast Alpine Stretch Neo Jacket:

Positives:

  • extremely breathable
  • fully waterproof to 10,000mm
  • active fit
  • articulated elbows
  • hip length
  • Pertex snow skirt
  • YKK waterproof zips
  • Helmet compatible hood

Negatives:

  • Lower waterproof rating than Goretex, which starts at 25,000mm
  • Thats it!

But I still wanted a lighter summer jacket. So I bought the Berghaus Vellum Goretex Active jacket. Goretex Active has been developed for high activity and meant to be highly breathable. It is nice and simple with fewer toggles, less material on the cuffs, the hem and shoulders and hood. Saying that, I can still wear it over my Rab Microlight Alpine down jacket with ease. So it’s great as a summer jacket. It fits into a little pouch that comes with it. It’s easy to carry and pack away. Two negatives are that it’s not easy to put it into the pouch. You need a bit of practice. Also the back of the jacket only covers the top of your backside. Most other jackets will cover down to the tops of thighs, so your whole backside is covered. So I would not recommend you wear this on hard mountain days. It is designed   for summer use and other activities like biking and running.

But saying all that I love it. I can use it an emergency, being lightweight means that I can’t tell I’m carrying it when in my backpack or wearing it. It is easy to scramble in. The hood is excellent with a stiff peak to keep the rain off my eyes.  Easy toggles on the hood that can be operated with one hand. Does it breathe? Does it ever. It is brilliant !Not a bead of moisture on the inside. I would recommend that you look after it though. If it’s not beading then it does not breath well so you get a little wet on the inside. But I wear my Mountain Equipment Eclipse Zip Tee so I’m nice and warm anyway.

Between these two jackets I am covered all year round.

Quick points:

Berghaus Vellum Jacket:

Positives:

  • Light weight
  • Extremely breathable
  • Waterproof rating of 20,000mm
  • Helmet compatible hood
  • Small pack size

Negatives:

  • Not recommended extreme bad weather days on the mountain
  • Short at the back so your backside is not covered
  • If the DWR coating is not good then the jacket does not breath that well

What about the layering system? It’s probably the most important concept to learn about outdoor adventuring. Whatever the weather you need to control one thing and that is your core temperature. So when I was getting too hot in my cheaper coat, I was uncomfortable. The synthetic base layers I was wearing were good but no way as good as merino wool or meco. I will come to these later.

So I started experimenting with my layering system. I run hot when moving but get easily cold when I stop for more than 20 minutes, especially my hands and feet. So I needed something that was going to help me regulate my body temperature. I tried the ME Eclipse Zip Tee and loved it. It has little felt squares on the inside. They wick moisture away and allow air to move from the body outwards through the gaps between the squares. When I stop the felt squares keep me warm. Even when the top gets wet it still works because it is made from Polertec. A brilliant material when even wet keeps you warm.

I went up to the Knott and the Highway from Patterdale, on a heavily raining day with winds of up to 60 miles per hour. I Vellum needed re-proofing, something I discovered on the mountain, so it did not breathe at all. I was fantastically warm and felt dry the whole time. Having got back to the car I discovered my Eclipse top was wet through but hadn’t noticed at all.

After this I realized it’s not about having something that is completely waterproof or warm. It’s about the fabric breathing. It works for me. Someone who always feels cold I would suggest wearing something that doesn’t breathe as well, so more air is trapped to keep the warmth in.

The same applies to my hands. After buying loads of waterproof gloves I had the same problem. If my hands were cold and wet trying to put on gloves was a nightmare. The inner lining would stick to my skin and I would do this weird dance as I’m trying to pull them on whilst its raining and usually high winds. So I got a pair of cheap running gloves that are synthetic and very thin. These I use a baselayer. Then I have a pair of Rab Vapour Rise gloves. They have a Pertex outer so are water repellent. So it rains and my base layer gloves get wet. Once I feel the cold I then put on my Vapour Rise gloves. They slide on easily. My hands are instantly warm. The Vapour Rise technology works like a sponge and soaks up the moisture from the inside and pushes it to the outer fabric of the glove where it evaporates. Once the Pertex gives up and the glove lets all the water in my hands still keep warm because of the base layer glove. The Vapour Rise keeps the soaks up the water but I can’t feel it. Every so often I squeeze my hands to ring out the gloves of the water and I can instantly feel more warmth in my hands. I can do everything I need to do from access my backpack, belay, tie knots, put crampons on because the Vapour Rise gloves are not that thick. For really cold weather I have a pair of Montane Alpine Stretch glove which fits over the Vapour Rise glove. This 3 layer system allows me to hold an ice axe and put ice screws in. If I need to remove the Alpine Stretch glove for delicate work whilst on the job then can do so as they are clipped into my jacket sleeve so I don’t lose them. My Montane Fast Alpine jacket has a clip ring on each arm about 2 inch above the wrist. My Alpine Stretch glove has a deep cuff to keep air in and snow out so locks on perfectly with the jacket.

The best trousers I have bought are the Montane Terra and Montane Super Terra trousers.  They are really tough, fantastically light weight, comfortable and stretch in all the right places. The Terras are water repellant and dry in about 20 minutes from soaking wet. The Super Terras are brilliant winter trousers and can be worn with a harness. They have stretch on them so climbing is not restricted in anyway. I love them. I wear The Terras nearly all the time. In summer they are great because if you get hot they have long vents down each leg.

The Terras are super lightweight. One thing really used to bug me was after a while of walking you get a lot sweat build up around your waist. As you get hot your backpack encourages sweat to build up around your lower back. I would find myself frequently pulling my trousers up as they kept slipping. Any belt would be useless because to stop my trousers from slipping I would have to tighten it so much that it became very uncomfortable. The Terras have a felt inner waist band that is also stretchy round the lower back. Wow…so comfortable. In the 1 year of wearing them I have not pulled my trousers up once…once! I feel totally at ease in them. They are also made from Cordura fabric. I’ve bashed them against rocks, trees, (my poor legs), gone swimming in them, slid down mud slides and roles about in the snow. Not on mark on them. It is as if they are new.

Being comfortable is everything. Another important concept is making good decisions when walking, climbing, with a group or leading a group. These decisions can mean the difference between a good and fun experience or a bad ‘I’m never doing that again!’ experience. In the rare occasion between life and death.

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