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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Montane Trailblazer Stretch Jacket > Test Report by Duane Lawrence
MONTANE - TRAILBLAZER STRETCH JACKET
BY DUANE LAWRENCE
I have been an avid outdoor enthusiast for the past 25 years. I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities including mountaineering, day hikes, multi-day backpacking trips, river and ocean kayaking, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and rock climbing. I have climbed and hiked throughout British Columbia, the United States and when opportunity presents itself in Europe and India. I carry a wide variety of gear depending on the type and length of trip. I am a Search and Rescue team member in the Southern Rockies and am part of the swift water, rope rescue technical teams and ground search team.
The Montane Trailblazer Stretch Jacket is promoted as a waterproof, breathable shell that moves with the wearer. The jacket fabric is a 115g/m² 30 denier interlocking polyester microfiber knit with microporous bi-component laminate that creates a hydrostatic and hydrophilic effect. The design has, what is listed as, four way stretch properties allowing for comfort during dynamic movements. The fabric is called "Aquapro Dynamic". The properties of this fabric create a waterproof shell that also breathes, allowing for moisture to escape when the wearer is exerting themselves. The jacket is fully seam sealed with 15 mm (0.59 in) tape and has a 12 - 13 stitch count on all the seams. The designers have also reduced seam bulk and overall weight of the jacket by allowing no more than a 3 mm (0.12 in) seam.
The jacket is constructed to limit the lower hem from raising up when reaching and incorporates articulated arms to prevent constriction over the elbows and biceps. The permanently affixed hood has three points of adjustment and a stiff wire within the hood brim for extra durability. An added drawcord allows the hood to be rolled down and stowed away while not in use. The jacket has two pockets located above where a backpack harness sits and uses YKK Matte Aquaguard zips. The inside pockets are mesh lined for added breathability. The front zip also uses a full length YKK Matte Aquaguard zip with an internal storm flap and incorporates a stretch panel to either side of the zipper allowing for greater body movement.
The collar uses bonded, brushed, fine microfleece on the inner collar and roll over beard guard which prevents the zip from contacting the mouth or chin.The shaped cuffs have adjustable Velcro which allow for adjustments of the cuff. The lower hem incorporates a Montane single pull 'penny cord lock' for adjusting the hem tightness. The Montane Trailblazer Stretch Jacket is listed for multi-sport use including running, backpacking, mountaineering and climbing.
My first impression of this jacket was "Wow, what a nice looking jacket." Pulling it out of the box I was first impressed by the feel, then the weight, then the look. I was throughly impressed just picking it up. This is not your everyday rain shell. It is soft, flexible and light weight. Everything about this jacket just radiates quality. I must admit, though, that my next thought was one of optimistic skepticism. I was asking myself if this light-weight stretchy jacket was really waterproof as the manufacture states. Although I will find out soon enough, looking at the level of detail relating to the construction of the jacket I will be very surprised if it does not live up to being fully waterproof and breathable. Looking closely at the jacket I noticed the tight stitching and fully taped seams. All the cords and zip tabs are well integrated into the jacket and low profile. The zippers for both the pockets and front zip are tight and create what appear to be a waterproof seal. The designers have incorporated a small 'pocket' which houses the zipper tabs when the pockets are closed which appear to add to the jackets water tightness. When I put on the jacket for the first time I noted how thin the material is and enjoyable to wear. This rain jacket is soft and stretchy, something I have never associated with a rain shell before. Lastly I noted the well thought out placement of the pockets which reside around my midriff, well above my hips where a backpack waist belt would sit. Overall I was very impressed with the jacket and am looking forward to testing it out. I could only wish it was closer to winter as I think this jacket might be a wonderful addition to my backcountry ski layers.
Seeing that the Montane Trailblazer Stretch Jacket is listed as a waterproof breathable jacket I am foreseeing a few hikes in the rain in my future. Over the next four months I have four week-long trips planned in and around the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies, as with most mountain ranges, have the propensity to throw everything, weather wise, at hikers. At elevations ranging from 1000 m to 2500 m (3281 ft to 8200 ft) I anticipate hiking in rain, wind, sun, hail and even the possibility of snow. My four main trips will be for four or five nights ranging from 30 km to 50 km (18.6 mi - 31 mi) with a few weekend trips of 20 km - 30 km (12.4 mi - 18.6 mi). During the trips I'll be looking at the weather-proofness of the jacket including how it can handle both rain and perspiration. Comfort and range of motion will also be front of mind when testing the Montane Trailblazer Stretch Jacket.
I am really looking forward to testing this jacket. On first glance it is a very aesthetically pleasing garment that is light-weight, flexible and well constructed. The zippers look watertight and the positioning of the pockets appear to be located in an ideal spot, high enough to get away from a backpack belt but low enough to be usable and comfortable. The fabric that is used is what intrigues me the most. It is soft, light and stretchy which is not what I would normally expect in a rain shell. Overall I was quite impressed with the Trailblazer and am looking forward to using it throughout the summer. I am even hoping for some inclement weather to see how it stands up in the rain.
I was worried about being able to really give this jacket a fair test being that it is summer and the forecast for this year was for above average temperatures and lots and lots of sun. Apparently I need not to have worried. So for I have been able to test this jacket in all sorts of rain from light mist, to drizzle and nice steady precipitation to torrential down pours during an alpine thunderstorm with a little bit of sideways rain courtesy of a slight breeze off the neighboring mountains. Thus far I have had this jacket out on four trips including a two night trip in Northern Montana in early June. The hike consisted of a 35 km (21.75 mi) hike up to the Ten Lakes area with temperatures ranging from a balmy 25 C (77 F) at the trail head and a cool 7 C (44 F) during a short thunderstorm that rolled past. I’m not sure about the total volume of water that was dumped on me but I believe it really gave the Trailblazer a run for its money. The second trip of note was a five day 110 km (68 mi) hike with an estimated 7,000 m (22,966 ft) of cumulative elevation gain in Mt. Assiniboine National Park located in the Southern Canadian Rockies. Weather-wise I experienced everything from 30 C (86 F) down to 5 C (41 F) and pretty much every type of rain I can imagine. As a bonus I had a couple of days that included a wonderful breeze off of neighboring mountains that brought with it some nice rain and hail stones. I even lost count of the how many times I put on and took off the Trailblazer as the weather changed so often throughout the day. Regardless I couldn’t have asked for better weather to test the Trailblazer although I would have preferred a nice sunny week rather than the mixed bag of sun and rain!
Findings So Far
Overall I must say that the Trailblazer’s ability to deal with inclement weather is fantastic. It was able to handle a 40 minute downpour and showed little evidence that the jackets ability to repel a significant amount of water over a short period of time was compromised. I was happy to find out during my Assiniboine trip that the jacket dried out very quickly after short rain falls. I literally had to put on my rain gear five times during one day. I was expecting at the end of the day to have a soggy jacket but was pleasantly surprised to find out that each time I pulled the Trailblazer out of my pack it was virtually completely dried out. Throughout this portion of the test period I have yet to experience a time when this jacket was not able to handle either mist or rain.
I was also very please by the look, feel and wear of the jacket. It’s very soft to the touch which is very pleasant for a rain jacket. It’s a little sticky to pull on and cool to my bear arms when I first put it on but otherwise very comfortable. Wearing it underneath a full pack or just on its own it was very comfortable. The jacket is incredibly lightweight and can be stuffed into a very small space in my pack. The one thing I did notice during a hike up one of the local mountains in Mt. Assiniboine National Park was that the Trailblazer does not seem to provide much insulative value. It was a great windbreaker and kept the rain off me, even when it was blowing sideways but I got much cooler than I would have anticipated and had to layer up.
Overall I was able to use the Montane Trailblazer on 21 nights, 30 plus days and over 200 km (124 mi) in the backcountry this summer. Although I would have preferred all my trips to be sunny with no sight of rain, I was not so lucky. Great for testing a rain jacket, not so great for blue sky photos. Weather included solid days of rain, off and on showers, snow and sleet, sideways rain on a mountain ridge and pretty much every other type of precipitation. For locals I was lucky enough to use the jacket in the alpine of the Canadian Rockies, through the Alberta Prairies and during a five night ocean Kayaking trip in the Broken Group Islands located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Needless to say it was a great year for outdoor excursions.
Fit & Comfort
I would say that the Trailblazer is one of the most comfortable rain shells that I have ever worn. It is light weight, flexible and fit well. The stretchable fabric is something that I would never have thought of seeing in a rain jacket but it works. The jacket conformed to my body and didn’t ride up when backpacking. The only down side to the stretch is that putting it on can be annoying at times when it is moist out. The jacket tended to stick to my bare arms which made it hard to get my arms into the jacket. Putting on a long sleeve shirt negates this but during the summer I do not wear long sleeves so found it mildly annoying. The two pockets were good. They are positioned well above the hip belt of the pack so that they are completely accessible. They are also deep enough that I could comfortably rest my hands in them. The jacket zippers seal very well yet were easy enough to open and close. Regarding the hood, I generally hate hoods but this one I found very comfortable and quiet. I never felt that I had something over my head and ears which was very pleasant.
My only complaint is with respect to the length of the arms. For myself I found them exceedingly long. I have a 22 in (56 cm) sleeve, not the longest arms in the world but for this jacket, which had the end of the sleeves run past the tips of my fingers, an additional 7 in (18 cm), made me feel I had extremely short appendages. I must say that I would rather have the sleeves too long than too short but this seemed excessive. I actually found during one of the rain events I experienced that I had pools of water collecting at the cuffs because the sleeves were so bunched up.
To give readers an idea of just how well this jacket performs, picture this. A pleasant 17 km (10.5 mi) hike, 800 m (2625 ft) of elevation gain and loss over two alpine passes and a full pack of about 55+ lb (25+ kg). Luckily it doesn’t start raining until the camp is packed up but after that 9 hours of rain, sleet, snow and a little wind. And, just so readers understand I am referring to real rain, not just a little drizzle or off and on showers. If it wasn’t raining it was snowing or a mix of rain and snow. At the end of the day, happily walking into camp, I was dry. When I first got the jacket I was skeptical of its ability to protect me against adverse weather, not anymore. During the course of the test, as noted in the Field Report, I found that the Trailblazer was able to handle anything mother nature could throw at it. Rain, snow, wind driven rain and snow, off and on summer showers, sleet etc. The only thing I would comment on is that the jacket, although totally wind proof, is a light rain shell. It does not retain much heat as a layer. Great in the summer, okay when it’s windy, so-so when it is cold out, definitely needs additional layers when it’s cool and windy. I would say that this is not a deficiency rather a just limitation of the design.
I always find it hard to comment on breathability but wanted to comment on it regardless as the manufacturer lists it as a waterproof breathable jacket. As far as I was able to tell it did breathe fairly well. I find it hard to tell if it did a good or great job as when I was backpacking I was still damp under the jacket but then again it was pouring rain so everything was damp. When it wasn’t raining I took the jacket off because I get warm very quickly while hiking. So, in the end I believe it breathed well but cannot say how well. I am confident that it did breathe though as I never felt that I was wearing a rubber suite or a garbage bag so there is that.
Lastly, I wanted to make a note of how fast the Trailblazer dried off. I was very impressed by this. During my Assiniboine trip it was on and off rain for five days. I would put on the jacket when it rained and take it off when it stopped. Every time I was pleased to notice that the jacket was essentially dry when I needed to put it back on. What I took away from this is that the jacket deflects and sheds water exceptionally well. A very nice feature especially during trips where the weather is unstable.
In the field report I noted that the stitching came undone in both sleeves but am happy to report that no other stitching popped and the jacket seams are still in excellent shape. The seam sealing is still holding everything together and there is no evidence that the seams are unravelling further. I am not certain if the original problem was self-inflicted or a manufacturers defect. I did contact the manufacture, who replied to my inquiry within a day, and was willing to exchange the jacket if it was a defect.
The rest of the jacket was constructed very well. The seams are all water-tight and seam sealed. The toggles are well placed and easy to access. Over the course of this test I could find no evidence of wear on the fabric and it is still unbelievably clean. Either the rain washed off all the dirt or it is just really resistant to staining or the collection of dirt.
Aside from the seams and the extra-long arms the Trailblazer is an exceptional rain jacket. It handled everything and kept me dry and comfortable. It’s not as warm as I normally expect a rain jacket to be but the addition of a layer took care of this easily. I can honestly say that this will be my go to jacket for the foreseeable future for several reasons. It's light weight, weather resistant capabilities and overall comfort are excellent and make the Trailblazer and winner for me.
Arms are too long
This concludes my report on the Montane Trailblazer Jacket. Thank you to Montane and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this jacket.
Read more gear reviews by Duane Lawrence
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Montane Trailblazer Stretch Jacket > Test Report by Duane Lawrence
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