Montane’s Atomic Stretch Jacket: a lightweight, fully featured, mountain shell at a reasonable price.
Gear reviews haven’t featured on this blog up until now. This isn’t because I don’t like gear, quite the reverse – I love it. So when the nice people at idealo.co.uk
offered to send me a jacket in return for an impartial review I jumped at the chance.
The Jacket. As you would expect from a manufacturer of Montane’s calibre, this jacket is beautifully designed and finished to a very high standard. It has all the features I want and none that I don’t. (Edit 28/08/12 – having worn this jacket for a while I have decided that it would benefit from the addition of a small chest pocket for carrying mobile phone or mp3 player). The wire rimmed hood is roomy enough to fit over a climbing helmet. Two elastic drawcords, one round the edge of the hood and another encircling the scalp, ensure a snug fit. The two chest pockets are large enough to accommodate a folded OS map in an Ortleib case and have a mesh inner for venting or for drying gloves. Pocket and front zips seal up nicely to keep the water out. The addition of Velcro patches inside the front zip is a very nice touch; fastening these while leaving the zip undone gives an additional venting option. Velcro also features on the wrist cuffs, which have a large pull tab so should be easy to operate with gloves on. Montane claim 316 g in size large, this may be slightly optimistic as my medium tips the scales at about that weight but nonetheless it is an extremely lightweight jacket.
The Fabric. Pertex Shield Stretch is a new one on me. It’s claimed to be waterproof and breathable with an emphasis on durability. As the name suggests it does stretch – when you pull a section between your fingers it doesn’t feel like much, but it all adds up. The stretch is evident when making exaggerated arm movements and I expect that this will reduce the strain on the seams and prolong the jacket’s life. I haven’t checked the numbers but Pertex Shield is probably less breathable than eVent, Goretex or Neoshell. The numbers are pretty irrelevant anyway, unless you are a sponsored athlete who always wears brand new gear. In my experience all modern shell garments are great when new and if you’re lucky the first couple of wash / reproof cycles will restore that as-new performance. No matter how well you look after it, sooner or later (often sooner) your expensive jacket will wet out at the first sniff of rain and become as breathable as a twenty quid Peter Storm from Millets.
Performance. Testing has so far been limited to short but brisk dog walking in warm, humid, rainy conditions. The jacket has kept me dry, with no condensation build-up whatsoever.
Reviewer’s background. One man’s shit is another man’s sugar so I will give you a bit of background to help you decide whether or not to trust my opinion. Over the years I’ve tried several varieties of Goretex, eVent, Lowe Alpine Triplepoint, Mountain Hardwear’s Conduit and Paramo. I wear waterproof shells as little as possible and have relied on softshell jackets for the last nine winter seasons. I wear fluoro hard shells for cycling to work, but this is the first mountain hard shell I’ve owned for a while. Lately I’ve been using a Paramo Third Element, an idiosyncratic piece of gear that I love but which is most certainly not for everyone. Like everything else, Paramo has its pros and cons but a big pro for me is that (with the exception of a worn-out zip which I’m going to get repaired) after over four years of almost daily use the Paramo is as good as the day I bought it.
So there you have it. I expect this jacket to offer a good compromise between performance and value for money. I tend to use my gear to destruction so will update this review in due course to let you know how I get on with the Atomic Stretch.