Montane Alpha Guide Jacket (2013)

The story behind this pretty but initially unremarkable-looking jacket from Montane is the fabric. The Montane Alpha Guide uses the brand new Polartec Alpha, the latest innovation from the Massachusetts-based synthetic insulation wizards who have been keeping us warm and cuddly for over 30 years. The wheeze here is breathability and warmth, together as one in a jacket that – at a push – could be described as ‘puffy’. The result is a light jacket boasting a high inherent warmth and robust water-resistant insulation that cuts down on weight, which can be used for actual hillwalking without you drowning in sweat. The jacket is a hybrid construction, with the insulated areas covering the same core areas a gilet would. A stretchy, smooth-face fleece fabric makes up the arms, underarms and hood, allowing very good freedom of movement and decent reach in the areas where you need it. The insulation is certainly subtle: you wouldn’t know it was there if you couldn’t feel the benefit, or did a thumb-and-forefinger pinch on the insulated area. The outer on this core zone is a Pertex Microlight Stretch shell, which offers decent wind resistance and just a tiny amount of give, making this a particularly subtle, soft-shell-like jacket to wear.

Inside is lined with PEAQ nylon, which is comfortable in use. Wind resistance is good in the core area, and reasonable in the arms. The July heatwave meant that during testing water resistance couldn’t be fully explored, though a later dousing confirmed the Pertex shell was fairly water-resistant. However this makes no claims to be a rain jacket, though helpfully its insulation will continue to work when it’s wet: the big advantage of synthetic over down. Happily the mugginess did allow us to assess breathability, and it was certainly more impressive than other insulated jackets I’ve used before: the only area likely to get overly clammy is the back, so a rucksack with a floating back system is advised. Problems: not many, though the Montane Alpha Guide’s hood is a non-adjustable head-hugging affair that – given it is designed to allow use under a helmet – looks pretty awful without one, though it must be said feels fine, and competitor jackets fare little better looks-wise. Thumb-loops on the sleeves will be a love-them-or-hate-them feature, and highlight the appeal of the jacket for multi-activity users, as does the harness-compatible two-way zip.

Overall though the Alpha Guide is a solid product with some truly useful applications, principally as a fairly light fleece alternative that will keep you warm both in a chilly camp and on the move. Liveried in Montane’s pre-iconic blue/orange combination (though also available in black and yellow for Navy SEALs fans), it cuts quite a dash in the style stakes, too. 

Price £130
Weight (men’s M) 464g
Shell Pertex MicroLight Stretch; Mt Thermo X Stretch
Lining PEAQ Synthetic
Insulation Polartec Alpha
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes none

A quietly important debut by a useful fabric in the shape of a jacket that will no doubt become a minor classic. The Montane Alpha Guide is perfect for chillier walks in all seasons.

Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine September 2013