Toby Archer tests a summery combination of windproof top and light softshell trousers.
Lite-Speed Jacket - £100 (men) £110 (women)
The Lite-Speed has been a staple of Montane's line for a long time, but like most longstanding products it has gone through many different iterations. For the first week of using the 2019 version I thought it was a complete triumph; probably the best windproof jacket I've ever used (and I'm a huge fan of windproof jackets, believing them to be one of the most versatile and useful pieces of mountain clothing available).
Then one half of the plastic press-stud, that backs up the bottom of the main zip, pulled out of the fabric. This happened almost at the same time as a similar popper on the cuff of the Montane Stretch Terra Pants, that I was reviewing alongside the Lite-Speed, failed in the same way. If it had happened with just one, I would have put it down to bad luck. But as the failure happened with two identical press-studs, I suspect that there is a problem with the design of poppers that Montane are using this year. Particularly with the Lite-Speed jacket the popper isn't particularly important - it happened whilst I was on a week ski touring trip in northern Norway, and the next day I used the jacket again all day without any problems, although a double zip does mean the jacket can begin to creep open from the base now. So, is the popper pulling out of the fabric it is seated in a major problem? Not really. But is having something like that break on a £100 jacket after only a handful of days of use annoying? Yes, absolutely.
Montane, to their credit, have traced back both the jacket and trousers and know they were made in the same factory and season of production, so have been checking for any further issues with other products from that period. Montane also have a UK-based in-house repairs service, that will be able to replace the offending press-studs. I haven't yet had the chance to use this service but just knowing that it exists I believe is very important. Beyond these poppers failing, the jacket and the trousers work well. From a sustainability perspective, we are glad that these products can be repaired and not simply replaced.
I tested a pair of Montane Terra pants as one of my earliest reviews for UKC back in 2009 (see here) and I still regularly wear them 10 years on; all the press-studs on them still work. Paying a premium price for a product becomes good value if it lasts well, as well as lowering the environmental costs of our consumption. Of course a company could "fix" a small problem like this with their product by giving the consumer a new item. But with the faulty item likely to end up in landfill, more and more of us feel that is not the right approach. Although it would be better for the product to be flawless from the start, I would argue that Montane is doing the right thing by having a repair service rather than simply replacing a faulty product.
Let's move on to why the jacket is otherwise so great...
The Lite-Speed is, unsurprisingly, light! My size medium weighs 168g, a whole 7g less than Montane's official weight, and if squashed down hard it is about the size of a large apple. There are lighter windproofs out there but unusually the Lite-Speed has a proper hood, that fits well over a climbing helmet and has a stiffened brim. The hood has an effective volume adjuster on it meaning it also fits well when you are not wearing a helmet. Other features include semi elasticated sleeve cuffs and a full length zip. Unzipping the jacket or pulling the sleeves up both allow you to dump heat effectively if you are getting too hot. The jacket also has a good sized chest pocket which doubles as a pouch that it can be packed into - there is a clip in loop on it, for carrying it on a harness. The hem of the jacket is also elasticated and adjustable.
The Lite-Speed is made from a nylon fabric that Montane call "Wind Barrier Dynamic fabric". It's a stretchy windproof with a pleasant, soft 'matte' finish, as opposed to that 'shiny' feel that some windproofs have. It's perfectly comfortable to wear against the skin and seems to wick sweat well and dries very quickly. It is treated with a DWR that repels drizzle or soggy snowflakes, although I've washed mine a good number of times after using it a lot on days out when I was getting really hot skiing, hiking or riding uphill, so the DWR has degraded a little.
The Lite-Speed is close to perfect for mountain use when you want protection from wind and maybe light rain or snow, but don't want to put on a hardshell because, even with the best fabrics and best designs, they simply don't breathe in the same way that a non-proofed nylon windproof like the Lite-Speed does.
In the late winter I climbed Sharp Edge on Blencathra before dropping down and climbing snowfields and gullies on Foule Crag. On my own, moving reasonably fast on grade I terrain, the Lite-Speed worked perfectly over a base layer marching up through blizzardy squalls and then over a thin mid layer whilst climbing and walking around on a windy summit - loads of protection but not the sweat build up I tend to get in a hardshell in those kind of conditions. I used it extensively ski mountaineering in Lyngen at Easter, where on long skins up to the summits just over a baselayer again its breathability and light weight made it the perfect outer. In fact, with a week of mainly decent weather my hardshell rarely came out of my pack.
I've since used it walking, rock climbing and mountain biking in the Peak District, and for mountain rock in Snowdonia. The material seems very abrasion resistant (anyone else squirmed up the chimney on Tryfan's Gashed Crag?), although there is slight bobbling developing around the armpits of the jacket where rucksack straps pass.
On the understanding that Montane can fix faulty the press-stud, overall I'd say that the Lite-Speed is one of the best windproof jackets I've used. In particular its hood makes it very well suited for any mountain activity where you wear a helmet. It is available in both men and women's fits although oddly the female version is ten pounds more expensive.
The ultimate windproof for the mountains, our iconic Lite-Speed Jacket has been upgraded with a more breathable and stretchy Wind Barrier Dynamic fabric, offering an improved fit for an unrivalled combination of weight and performance with an enhanced feature set.
- Price: £100 (men) £110 (women)
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) 6-16 (women)
- Weight: 168g size M (our weight)
- Fabric: Breathable and stretchy windproof Wind Barrier Dynamic fabric with DWR
- Fully adjustable helmet compatible roll-away hood with wired peak
- Articulated arms with engineered tailoring
- Abrasion-resistant printed shoulders and forearms
- Two-way YKK full-length front zip
- Large zipped YKK chest pocket
- Adjustable hem
- Pre-elasticated cuffs
- Stuffs away into own chest pocket
For more info see montane.co.uk
Terra Stretch Pants - £95
The Terra Stretch Pants are a good pair of general outdoor trousers that I've found to work well for climbing as well as more general use.
They are made out a synthetic fabric that Montane calls "Granite Stretch Dynamic", with contrasting patches of what is called "Granite Stretch Tough" on the knee and instep. Interestingly this "tough" fabric feels thinner than the "Dynamic" but isn't as soft so presumably is made with very tough yarn. All parts of the trousers stretch, so even though Montane make more climbing specific trousers, the Terra Stretch work very well even for athletic bridging and the like. The trousers make no claims to water resistance but dry quickly if damp.
Compared to my decade old original Terra pants, the material used for Terra Stretch is slightly thicker, softer and much more stretchy. It doesn't quite feel like classic light softshell but it is going in that direction. The materials also seem abrasion resistant and the trousers still look good despite having done a fair amount of rock climbing and hiking in them. The stitching in particular seems very good quality, with a lot of neatly finished reinforcement visible.
The Terra Stretch have plenty of features, some which I find more useful than others: They do up with a button and press stud, but also come with a low profile webbing belt and plentiful belt loops - no problems with them slipping down but I haven't found the belt or the button and press stud cause any discomfort when wearing a climbing harness over the trousers. They have two zipped hip pockets, which are deep and seem secure. There is also a zipped back pocket, although I tend never to use the back pocket on any trousers. Inside the right hip pocket is an inner zipped security pocket - a really nice touch and good place to put a car key knowing it will still be there after a day in the hills! There is no thigh pocket, which I miss, particularly for climbing (Montane do make some mountaineering pants that have a thigh pocket).
You get two thigh vents, backed with a mesh to protect your modesty! I find the trousers as breathable as any similar trousers so I don't think the vents add much to their comfort in warm weather or when working very hard. I'm sure some people love them, and they are a bit of a signature on different models of Terra pants now, but personally I'd take thigh pockets over thigh vents.
At the ankle there are zips that go to a bit below the knee. Again, I'm not 100 percent sold on these. I can't see a time when I would be putting on the Terra Stretch without taking boots off first. They are the type of trouser I put on in the morning and happily wear all day, so I don't need to put them on and take them off like waterproofs. The ankle can tightened using press studs which makes them nice and trim around walking boots, or when climbing. It was one of these press studs that quickly failed on my pair, so I need to return them to have it fixed. With the press stud broken the bottom of the leg is a bit flappy, not to any huge degree, but when rock climbing I've started rolling the trousers up a bit to make sure I can see my feet properly.
The Terra Stretch Pants look reasonably smart, if a bit "technical" (plenty of zips and contrasting knee patches, although you can get them in just black). They wouldn't be my choice of evening out trousers, but if a day in the hills end with a pint in a pub, you don't feel self conscious (says the man who once went night clubbing in Aviemore in Tracksters and plastic boots…). Overall they continue the Terra-family reputation for being good mountain trousers for the UK, and work very well for scrambling and climbing where the Stretch really comes into its own.
In black it is available in a big mix of waist size and leg length, but the grey and black is only available in regular leg, but waist S to XXL. Unfortunately there isn't a female fit of the Terra Stretch, though women get a number of other models.
A modern classic, designed for 3 season multi activity mountain use. Combining tough, wicking and weather resistant GRANITE STRETCH fabric with reinforced knee and instep panels for added abrasion resistance.
- Price: £95
- Sizes: XS-XXL (men)
- Weight: 360g (Montane's weight)
- Fabric: GRANITE STRETCH Dynamic with DWR; GRANITE STRETCH Tough knees and insteps with DWR
- Microfleece lined waistband with press stud and button closure
- Removable webbing belt
- Two zipped hand pockets and rear zipped pocket
- Extra zipped security pocket inside right hand pocket
- Mesh lined zipped thigh vents to aid cooling
- Articulated knees with engineered tailoring
- Zip and press stud ankle adjustment
- UPF 50+
For more info see montane.co.uk