Gear Review: Montane Volt Fleece

Montane Volt Fleece - Quien Sabe Glacier - North Cascades National Park
Montane Volt Fleece – Quien Sabe Glacier – North Cascades National Park

Note: This review precedes my affiliation with The North Face. 

I carefully unwrapped my new Montane Volt Fleece from the shrink wrap and ran my hands over the coarse material. While it wasn’t exactly soft to the touch, but it was light. In alpine environments, where I am frequently, a mid-layer fleece can be the difference between trapping essential body heat, and getting dangerously soaked in sudden snow and rain. What I was looking forward to was having a piece that would be as essential at altitude as at camp and would push the limits of my sleeping bag.

The Montane Volt performed exceptionally over the course of my climbing season.

One of the first things I instantly liked about the Volt is the Polartec lining. Polartec is a stretchy, soft fabric that traps heat but wicks away moisture, keeping the body warm and dry. This was especially an essential component when I was pushing up a face, hiking through a snowbank, or hanging around at camp during a particularly day. I never felt clammy, and I really loved the breathability. During a bivvy in the North Cascades where our sleeping bags were on tarps against the snow, the Volt kept my body heat trapped, and it was nice to have an already warm layer ready to go for the alpine start. I also liked the stretchy cuffs, which fit snugly around my wrists so there’s no “riding” up when I’m taking off my storm layer.

Climbers spend days out in the hills. No showers, few wash-cloths, and a whole lot of glorified stink. Our gear should reflect that. Lodged for days in the bottom of a pack, freshly graced by rain, snow, and pounding wind. Taking out the jacket should contort the face into shapes that it shouldn’t. When I took out my fleece after days at the bottom of my pack, it smelled as fresh as mountain snow, with only a hint of sunscreen for extra fragrance. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to cringe after wearing it for days at a time, and I could take it on multiple trips including the Cascades, a hike to Mt. Baker, and Rainier before I had to wash it.

IMG_3745

While the Volt can take a pounding, it does come with a few shortcomings. The Napoleon pocket has a comically small zipper which is hard to find when lost in the folds of the fabric. While the pocket easily fit my phone or a small camera, unzipping it with large gloves in a crucial moment left me scrambling to find the pull. I was also lamenting the lack of hand warmer pockets. When I’m lounging around camp, or on a belay ledge, I’d like a moment to stick my hands into my sides, and one thats high enough so I can do so while wearing a backpack with a waist strap. It’s always fun to watch the guy fumbling for his hand pocket to realize he doesn’t have any, and then realizing he’s just patting himself down.

The Montane Volt is certainly a contender as a great mid-weight fleece. It’s breathable, it can take a bruising before it needs refreshing, and it’s great for on the peak or throwing back celebratory beers at camp. I really like the stretchy, customized fit that makes it feel more like a base layer than a mid-piece. While it packs a punch, it’s upended by shortcomings like the small zipper and the lack of side pockets. Despite its flaws, the Volt shines as a valued member of my alpine kit.

Montane Volt Shirt Fleece

Material: Polartec

Weight: 400 g

Price: £85.00 ($135.00)

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Stink-free for miles
  • Warm and stretchy
  • Breathable

Cons:

  • Small Napoleon pocket zipper
  • No hand warmer pockets
  • Bulky packing
  • Coarse outer material

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