Testing my Montane Air Jacket under the Sgwd yr Eira waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons

Waterproofs

November 19, 2012 · 21 comments

The top half

Next to boots, I think the most important kit to consider are waterproofs. Usually this means separate over-trousers and a jacket. When I was walking the Way of St James in France  in September quite a few people were donning a poncho style waterproof that went over the whole of the upper body including their back pack. I wasn’t attracted to them. They seemed to flap around in the wind and would still lead to wet legs if it’s raining unless you also wear over trousers.

Poncho style waterproof seen on the Way of St James (route St Jacques or GR 65) in France.

I remember getting my first Gore-Tex waterproof jacket years (made by The  North Face) ago when I was en-route to Scotland. Or was it the Lake District? Or did I get it in one of those lovely outdoor shops in the Peak District. I used to go there a lot.  As I say, it was a long time ago. It has served me well in certainly over 20 years use. And it is still in good condition, apart from some minor marks from adhesive. I lent it to a young man who was installing our satellite broadband in the pouring rain. Which was nice of me but I regret it because I really don’t like the marks he left on it.  Yes, on balance, I had rather he had got soaked.

There are several really great things about this jacket. It fits snugly without being too tight even if I am wearing a fleece. And it is quiet.  It has a nice outer shell that has a soft feel to it rather than a plasticcy (sp?) one, if you know what I mean.  Which means it doesn’t rustle when you walk. I am a wee bit over-sensitive when it comes to rustles. From what I can see on the racks in those wonderful outdoor shops, this finish is quite rare now, though I noticed the other day that my friend Bridget’s Paramo jacket was very soft. She climbs Munro’s and reports it being waterproof and good in the snow but I think I would find it too warm for ordinary walking.

North Face Gore-Tex waterproof modelled by Charles Hawes

My North Face Gore-Tex jacket has two good zipped pockets outside and one  inside and when I use the hood it also fits snugly round my face and is just the right size. It is very irritating to find that your hood keeps flopping over your face or flaps about.  The hood doesn’t have a peak, which might not be so good for those that wear glasses but I reckon if it’s wet the glass-wearers are going to have difficulties unless they have peak the size of a large pizza. The cuffs are Velcro – essential I think.  Much better than elasticated ones that will inevitably stretch over time. And it is a good length, so it goes over the top of the over- trousers comfortably. This is really important or you will get a wet bottom even if the over-trousers are 100% waterproof.

But of course, the most important thing is that it is a lovely blue/green. No, Ok, the most important thing is that it has nearly always kept me dry on top even in very heavy rain.

But in preparing for the Way of St James, where I was going be walking for 10 days in a row I decided I wanted to make my day pack as light as possible. My old jacket weighs 720 grammes which is relatively heavy -relative to the 21st century, waterproof tech has lightened up in the last 20 years. So I decided a new set of waterproofs was required.

I started with the jacket. I tried a lot of different ones on and did a fair bit of research on the internet and then I bought a blue Montane Minimus Jacket from Taunton Leisure in Bedminster, Bristol.  The guy in the shop seemed to know what he was talking about and recommended it for hiking. And it is incredibly light- just 240 grammes (large size).  The Montane  cost £140 which is a lot but you can pay a lot more than that for jackets so I felt pleased with my purchase.  The hood was a little too big but I compromised on that. I bought a pair of the same over trousers in black on the internet for £80, which was a good price.

Charles Hawews wearing a Montane minimus jacket on the Way of St James in France (Route St Jacques or GR 65)

In light showers they seemed to do OK. The material claims to have great breathability and water resistance. Breathability means that your body moisture (that’s sweat to you and me) is supposed to be able to get out of the jacket thus keeping you dry inside even if you are exerting yourself.  Gore-Tex is breathable, too. In fact everything claims to be breathable these days.  Our house paint is said to be breathable. We are about to have our chimney repaired by wrapping it in some very clever breathable system. My iphone probably breathes.

So when I was forecast heavy rain in September when I was walking a section of the Wales Coast Path from Llanrhidian I was quite pleased to be able to test my new gear. Until less than an hour of walking in steady but not torrential rain, when  I was quite certain that both my trousers and jacket were leaking. The fronts of my thighs were really wet and my upper body was, well, pretty damp.  When I later changed my clothes in my car it was clear from my sopping trousers and damp top that I had been let down.

At the first opportunity I took the jacket back to Taunton Leisure. The shop manager was not exactly helpful, arguing that the problem with the jacket was (despite its great breathability, remember) probably condensation of my perspiration. He wouldn’t offer me a refund and sent it back to Montane for testing.  It came back two weeks later saying that it was  fine.  But then I don’t believe that they had someone go for a walk in the rain wearing it and carrying a back-pack. So despite not believing that the gear was ok I took the jacket and trousers to France. And got wet again. Silly, ain’t I?

Inside of Montane minimus jacket showing how waterproofing is failing

On my return I contacted Montane and although they had some other possible explanation for the jacket leaking (perhaps it needed to be washed – I know, it’s difficult to get this, but apparently body fluids can clog it up). Or possibly my backpack was preventing the escape of moisture. Now I admit my backpack does sit on my back (but does have webbing designed to assist wicking away of moisture) and I could make sense of it being difficult for moisture to escape but I still thought that the fabric was at least partly to blame. The guy at Montane was pretty good, though and offered to sell me another of their jackets – the Venture  for a good discount. The Venture costs lots more than the Minimus and has a different fabric and although the jacket is significantly heavier than the Minimus  at 450 grammes it’s still quite light.

But given that I have currently shelled out £140 on what I now think of as expensive windproof  which is now sitting in the boot of my car for emergencies, I thought I should at least try on this jacket before spending money on another one. Montane were unable to identify an outlet in Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, Cardiff, Newport, or Carmarthen that had a Venture (not that popular, then) which pretty well exhausted all major towns and cities I was going to be passing by in the next few months. So Mr Montane then offered to lend me a jacket to test. But they didn’t have a Venture that they could lend. So they have lent me their Air jacket. This has the same e-vent waterproofing fabric as the Venture and it still sounds like it would be good for trekking. They only had it in Tangerine  (well you wouldn’t describe a Jacket as Satsuma would you – but why not?) to lend though, which I think is kinda intrusive in the countryside, but beggars can’t be choosers. And it weighs much less less than the Venture at just about 300 grammes.

Montane Air jacket modelled by Charles Hawes

Last weekend it got its first outing. It was a beautiful day and my friend Paul and I were meeting in the Brecon Beacons to do the waterfall walk from near Ystradfellte.  I didn’t wear it for most of the day so I can’t comment yet about how noisy it is or how it deals with my body fluids when carrying backpack but I did stand under the Sgwd clun-gwyn waterfall with it on and it kept me dry. But I was only there for a minute so the jury is still out. I’ll let you know the verdict as a footnote here in due course. I’m nice like that.

Image by Paul Steer of Charles Hawes under the Sgwd yr Eira Waterfall, Brecon Beacons, Wales. Walking in Wales.

 Paul very helpfully observed that he didn’t think I would get lost in the jacket, though what I really think he meant was that he thought it was a bit in your face as well..

Trousers

When I bought the Montane Minimus jacket the shop didn’t have the matching trousers  so I got those on the internet from Mountain Leisure in Perth at a good price (£80). Following their failure they were prepared to accept my word that they had leaked unreasonably  or maybe they just have a “no hassle” policy (wouldn’t it be great if everyone did) so they accepted them back and gave me a refund. They are nice guys so I recommend them.

Although my old over-trousers were quite lightweight, I don’t think that they were fully waterproof either. And besides, with a new jacket I would look much better with new trousers.  I found just what I wanted   in Field and Trek Gloucester. They are made by Outdoor Research and were in a sale at £79.99 down from £99.99 (a bargain!) and their guarantee says that “Outdoor Research Products are guaranteed forever”. Even for someone of my tender 57 years, “forever” seems like quite a long time and on my demise I will bequeath the trousers to someone who can continue to monitor this guarantee.  They are in the “M’s Foray Collection” (sounds like a fashion house, doesn’t it) and offer “3 season storm protection during alpine, trail, and paddling pursuits”. It was the paddling protection that was a clincher. I do love a paddle.  They are made from “3-layer 40D Gore-Tex Paclite fabric”. They weigh 280 grammes, which is ok.

Over-trousers can be a devil to put on – especially in a hurry when you are out in the open in the middle of a downpour, and  standing on one leg. My old ones had about a 12” zipping gusset on each leg but with a boot on this still wasn’t enough to avoid a struggle to get my booted leg through. This was the cause of much swearing. The Montane Minimus leg openings were even smaller.

These OR ones are fabulous. The zips are waterproof to start with. But the amazing thing about these zips is that they open up right the way up to mid thigh, which means that my booted leg goes through easily. Even standing on one leg (I do have a good sense of balance).  The only downside is that they are black, but hey, black goes with everything, so I won’t be making a horrible fashion mistake when I am wearing them. Here’s me putting them on ( I know, how much excitement can I take you are asking yourself).

Charles Hawes models putting on his Outdoor Research Foray Collection over-trousers.

 

 

Charles Hawes models putting on his Outdoor Research Foray Collection over-trousers.

 

Charles Hawes models putting on his Outdoor Research Foray Collection over-trousers.

Maintenance of waterproofs.

Read the label and do what it says. Easy eh! Most gear is machine washable but you may need liquid soap as opposed to detergent and watch out for the spinning and tumble dry advice.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Wareham November 19, 2012 at 11:18 am

Brilliant, one of your best! You’ll not get me walking but you keep me entertained. XXXXX

Reply

Charles November 19, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Thank you, my beloved. Entertainment is one of my important functions.

Reply

Charles November 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm

What could be better?

Reply

Paul Steer November 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I now know how to put on trousers, I have been doing it all wrong for years !

Reply

Charles November 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I’m glad I haven’t entirely wasted my time.

Reply

Charles November 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm

It’s taking them off that is telling….(best hint : always take your socks off first)

Reply

John November 19, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Another entertaining post (though the review of the trousers might, out of consideration for Anne, have included mention of ease of opening when caught short in the absence of public toiletry). Paul is clearly vying with you for the Charles Hawes Blog photo of the year prize!

Whilst I cannot engage in long distance walking, a slight (!) expansion of my waistline necessitates the purchase of new waterproof overtrousers as wot I call them. They need to (a) protect the trousers of a suit when work requires a trip outdoors in the rain – this means protection from rain and also not encouraging a build-up of bodily fluids inside them given the price of dry cleaning – and (b) potentially have “cuffs” wide enough to fit over wellies on those occasions where I indulge my masochistic streak by perambulating gardens in the rain. So I have two questions – (1) do you think they will make the nether regions warm or are they cool to wear and (2) will the “cuffs” extend enough to fit around my wellies?

Reply

Charles November 19, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Thank you. I don’t think I have to worry too much about Mr Steers efforts. Mind you he had his first lesson from me last week, so I will study his progress with interest. Anne would not be seen dead or alive in over-trousers, so no worries there. As to your needs, the OR trousers have a circumference of 35 cms at the “cuff” done up. Hope that helps. They do offer some insulation but I don’t think they would be too hot. I guess it depends on your particular nether regions’ normal temperature. I think we (men) vary on this question.

Reply

Paul Steer November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Mr Steer now is it ? I think my photograph captures the atmosphere of the falls brilliantly with my blurry wet lens. It was a true test of my ‘waterproofs’ which failed, more due to moisture retention than getting wet from outside…. so much for breathability. Hot nether regions….. Do they stay hot after the age of 57 ?

Reply

Charles Hawes November 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I have to create a professional distance when it comes to photography. I will be showcasing one or two of your pics on the blog I am writing now. My nether regions are never less than warm.

Reply

Paul Steer November 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Glad to hear about warm nether regions …it gives me hope. No problem with the distance thing, would never call myself a photographer.

J M Sherry November 19, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Overtrousers? So old hat. Go 4 Rohan trousers – not overtrousers, waterproof trousers.Comfortable,keep u dry, eliminates need 2 carry pair trousers(ie overtrousers)with u,no more standing in rain tryin 2 get overtrousers on, etc. The modern approach.

Reply

Charles November 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Thank you for commenting. Do all Rohan trousers claim to be waterproof ? And have you found them to be totally effective? Maybe I’ll see if Rohan would lend me a pair to test.

Reply

J M Sherry November 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Not ALL their trousers – they do special waterproof ones; check online. And yes, they ARE waterproof, certainly as good as any overtrousers (don’t think any garment could be guaranteed 100% in hour after hour of heavy rain). I’ve worn them, as has my other half, 4 walking in wet of Lake District for several years now &we are very happy with them – wouldn’t go back to overtrousers.

Reply

Charles November 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm

OK. I just have to try these Rohan ones!

Reply

Dru November 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

I used Rohan trousers (and indeed a rather sprightly bright yellow Rohan jacket) on my Big Welsh Walk- they were good and comfy, and kept the water out for a lot longer than the inferior trousers (and jacket) of my companion.

…what I started to yearn for, after two solid days of having rain flung at me and nowhere to run to, was a brolly. Maybe I’ll hunt out a brolly that’s robust enough to do service as a trekking pole. Grandmother always reckoned they’re good for discouraging rampaging cattle too. Well, you never know.

Reply

Charles November 20, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I do love a sprightly jacket. Its makes you go faster. A walking brolly! Now there’s an idea. As long as its not windy. Then it would be a PITA. As for inferior trosers. Well right now I would put my OR ones up against anything, but I will see if I can blag (I mean borrow) a pair off Rohan.

Reply

Simon Pritchard November 30, 2012 at 6:22 am

Hi Charles

If you needed advice, you should have asked your ‘gear freak, spends lots of his time on the internet researching gear, has bought (and sold!) lots of waterproofs, does go outside now and again, does blog a bit about it, husband of your niece’.

Have you tried (or heard) of Paramo? Works in a different way to ‘normal’ waterproofs and is frequently owned by the ‘more mature’ walker (and comes in ‘normal’ colours as well as the crazy ones!) (and I have owned one).

And I know Kevin Walker!

It’s a bit scary how alike we are…

Let me know if you want some advice?

Reply

Charles November 30, 2012 at 10:54 am

Simon, of course I should have consulted with you! Will make amends. And I’ll check out your website. Yes Paramo was mentioned in my post (pay attention!). What’s your theory about the brand being used by the more ‘mature’ hiker?

Reply

Simon Pritchard November 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm

To be fair to be, I was reading before 6am, so I think I should be let off!

Paramo wise – it’s not a theory, it’s fact!

Second post in: http://www.livefortheoutdoors.com/Community-Landing/Forum-Landing/Forum-Categories/Topic/?topic-id=39455&start-page=0

Debates rage everywhere about it!

Reply

Charles November 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm

OK you’re let off. And thanks for this further link. I will investigate. Lets lets have a raging debate here.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)