People buy outdoor gear for all sorts of different reasons. An old friend (we called him Arctic Dave, not because he’d ever been to the Arctic, but because he never went anywhere unless he was sporting the very latest in harsh weather clothing) used to buy a new Gore-tex jacket every few months simply ‘because the old one’s a bit dirty’, and there are lots of folk who just go berserk with the credit card whenever they hit the outdoor shops. All those bright colours, sparkling bits of climbing kit, useful gadgets that you just can’t live without, and the absolute latest technological advancement in woolly hats can make it very difficult for people to rationalise, and that’s fine.
I meet people in my work all the time who can reel off all the manufacturer’s jargon on the new products that have just hit the shelves, or that will hit the shelves next month, or who know why such-and-such a manufacturer discontinued their NeverWet range of socks, or who can tell you who the CEO is of every gear maker in Europe, and that’s all fine too.
However, I’m not that kind of person. I work in the hills pretty much every day of the year, and all I really care about is whether the stuff I’m buying is fit for purpose. I want to be comfortable, have kit that will help keep me safe, and I don’t want to have to buy new gear all the time – frankly there’s a hundred and one other things I’d rather spend my money on. So, when I do step inside the outdoor gear shop I only do it when I need, and I really do mean need, something that I know will keep me cosy, be a sensible purchase for hill use, and be durable. I don’t buy gear so that I will look good on the hill, and I don’t go up mountains so that I’ve got somewhere suitable to display what I’ve bought.
My most recent purchase is a jacket. Now I confess that I do have a few outdoor jackets. I tend to buy a heavyweight waterproof for winter use, and a lightweight one for summer. I wear them till I have completely trashed them, and then they become dog walking jackets. Once even the dog won’t go out with me if I’m wearing one of these old-style garments they become something I wear for chopping logs in rain, or for other manly, dirty pursuits like that. So, any jacket I buy will be around and in full use for a good five years or more. Hence I have a few.
My latest buy had to be fit for purpose. Something that I will wear endlessly whilst rock climbing, scrambling, and hillwalking. I’ve been keeping an eye on Montane recently, and thought I’d give one of their jackets a try. They produce one that they claim is ‘Revolutionary. The World’s lightest super minimalist shell’. Wow! Who wouldn’t be tempted?
My Spektr Smock arrived in a small pouch and weighed less than a map and compass. Minimalist it certainly is. First let’s look at its main features. Well, the Spektr doesn’t seem to actually have any. That’s what this garment is all about. It’s designed for ultra-light use and that is truly what it does the best. Montane have taken away all those extraneous bits and bobs, like pockets, zips and wired hoods, and brought to us a brilliant piece of breathable waterproofing that is indeed fit for purpose. Instead of a zipped closing system Montane use what they call a ‘Tornado roll’. This works on the same principle as the dry bag. I was a bit sceptical at first, I must say. So, I took the jacket up Ronas Hill in a downpour to see how wet I could get in it. The worst thing I can say about the Spektr is that I did discover a bit of seepage up the sleeves – there’s lycra-bound elasticated cuffs instead of the usual velcro – but to be honest you get that with absolutely any jacket, velcro or no velcro.
I do occasionally wear my Spektr Smock for general hillwalking, but I think where it really comes into its own is when you need something that weighs next to nothing in your pack in case the weather turns. For hillwalking I’m happy carrying a heavier jacket, and do prefer one with pockets for map, hands, or whatever. But, for rock climbing or scrambling this is one of those jackets that I’ll wear until it falls to pieces. It’s light enough to clip to the back of your harness for those long rock routes (in its handy little pouch of course), and yet is a superb windstopper and waterproof should the need arise – and most importantly, it is incredibly breathable too. Come next spring I’ll be putting it to the test for backpacking, when every gram of weight really does count, and I can see it being great for mountain marathons, and fast Alpine climbs too.
So, would I recommend the Montane Spektr Smock? Well, it depends on what you’d want to use it for. For any outdoor pursuit that demands ultra-lightweight kit, definitely. However, if weight isn’t the most important consideration, then I’d go for something a little bit more robust, including that wired hood, hand pockets, and a map pocket too. Will I wear it this winter? For rock routes, yes, if the weather’s good for that, for snow and ice, definitely not (but again, it’s not intended for a full-on British winter). As for price, the manufacturers recommended retail price of £220 is steep, but in practice you can pick up a Spektr for around £120-£130 which is good value for a jacket of this type.
The technical stuff:
The Spektr is made from highly breathable and waterproof eVent® Super Lightweight 3 layer fabric. Seams are micro-taped. It has pre-adjusted waist, hood and wrist cuffs, and has the benefit of articulated arms for when you’re stretching for those high holds.