Montane VIA Fang 5 Review

Montane VIA Trail Series Fang 5 Backpack Review

Montane VIA Fang 5

Montane VIA Fang 5

I have used a Montane Jaws 10 running pack for a while now on long training runs, certain long races and for my day to day running work and so I was interested to see what changes had been made for the 2016 updated VIA Trail Series. Here I test the smaller Fang 5 pack.

Features:

The VIA Fang 5 pack comes in two sizes: S/M and M/L. I have the S/M which weighs 270g when empty. The most notable feature of the new Trail Series version is that it no longer uses rigid water bottles affixed to the shoulder straps, but opts for twin 500ml soft-flasks (supplied) instead – so no more sloshing! These are housed in pockets on the front straps of the pack, one of which is zipped, the other an open top stretch mesh. Above these are two smaller pockets, again one with a zip the other open topped stretch material. With the soft-flasks stashed in the lower pockets the upper ones are ideal for storing gels, compass, phone, car keys etc. The zipped pocket contains a small emergency whistle which can be removed if required.

Montane Fang 5 front view

pockets galore!

In addition to the four front pockets there are also two stretch pockets, one on either side of the pack above the hip. These are easily accessible whilst wearing the pack and are ideal for storing hat, gloves, food or a folded map section.

Montane Fang side pocket

accessible side pocket takes hat, gloves etc

Although the Fang 5 comes supplied with two soft-flasks there is also the option of using a bladder (not supplied). A large rear pocket with hanging loop will house a 1.5 litre bladder whilst loops on the right hand side of the pack retain and route the hose. If you choose not to use a bladder, this pocket can be used for additional storage but you’d need to pack it carefully as the mesh material offers little in the way of padding.

Montane Fang bladder pocket

large rear pocket takes a bladder (optional)

Low down on the back of the pack is a zipped, water resistant pocket that is large enough to carry a set of lightweight waterproofs. This ensures that the bulkiest items are carried low down and adds to the pack’s stability. An elasticated bungee cord allows the pack to be cinched down if required although I have never needed to use this. Two smaller bungee loops form an attachment point for carrying poles; not something I would use in fell running although the higher loop makes a handy attachment for a compass lanyard.

Montane Fang water resistant zipped pocket

water resistant zipped pocket and bungee cord

The pack is fastened using a wide, elasticated hook and loop belt at the waist and an elasticated chest strap that can be adjusted by clipping to any of four attachment points on the front straps.

Montane Fang chest strap

adjustable, elasticated chest strap and compass in top pocket

The elasticated waist belt allows the pack to be fastened snugly and because the belt stretches, along with slight elastication in the main chassis, the pack expands with your ribcage rather than feeling constrictive.

Montane Fang waist belt

elasticated hook and loop waist belt

On the top of each shoulder strap a small elasticated tab allows a rolled up map to be carried and forms a retaining point for the optional hose system.

Montane Fang map loop

map can be carried in shoulder loop

What I Like:

The Fang 5 is a very comfortable pack. I like the way the elasticated waist belt can be fastened tightly so that the pack fits snugly and doesn’t bounce around when running quickly or whilst descending. Despite the snug fit the Fang doesn’t feel constrictive, if you bend forwards to adopt a hands on knees approach to attack steep climbs the elastication in the pack adapts to your change of position rather than restricting your movement and breathing.

The amount of pockets and hydration options make it a really versatile pack. There is plenty of accessible storage from the hip and front pockets and using both soft-flasks gives you up to a litre of drink. Take just one soft-flask and you have another spare pocket or add a 1.5 litre bladder and you have enough fluid for a long run or race where replenishing water supplies is an issue.

What could be improved:

Very little. If I was being picky I would say that the hook and loop material sometimes snags on things such as other pieces of clothing and so I find it best to store the pack with the waist band fastened. The chest strap only fastens on the right hand side meaning you need to undo it with your left hand, whereas my older Jaws pack fastens on the left so it takes a little getting used to.

When would I use it:

The new Fang is ideal for long training runs or longer races when I want to carry more kit than I can comfortably fit in a bum bag. It would be a good choice for long days out or 24 hour attempts such as the Bob Graham Round. I used it on the Marsden to Edale “Trigger” race when the bad weather conditions meant that I wanted to carry more kit than on a normal race. The race required frequent use of map and compass which were easily accessible in the front pockets, much more so than with a bum bag.

Montane Fang in use

Using the Fang on the Trigger fell race

Verdict:

A comfortable, versatile pack with lots of storage options. I’ll use it a lot.

fell running guide

 

running in deep snow

10 things you need for winter fell running

Trail and Fell Running can be a bit more difficult in winter.

Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.

Waterproof Jacket

It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point.  These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.

waterproof running jackets

a decent waterproof is essential

Fell Running Shoes

Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

Inov-8 Mudclaw’s aggressive grip – ideal for winter

Head Torch

Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.

head torches for night running

head torches for night running

Warm Layer

You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.

OMM Rotor Smock, excellent warm layer

OMM Rotor Smock – an excellent warm layer

Decent Gloves

Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.

winter running gloves

warm hands are happy hands – waterproof mitts & windproof gloves

Debris Socks / Gaiters

Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

Emergency Kit

I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.

Blizzard Bag in use

Blizzard Bag in use

Rucksack

This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Micro Spikes

I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy.  I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.

Snow Spikes for running on ice

Snowline SnowSpikes for running on ice

Ski Goggles

If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.

running in ski goggles

ski goggles for eye protection

So, winter’s coming but you can still get out trail and fell running – just get your kit on!

running in deep snow

bad weather? No, just challenging conditions!

fell running guide

Montane Litespeed Windproof

Montane Litespeed Windproof Review

There’s one single piece of trail running and fell running equipment that I use more than anything else: my windproof jacket.  To be more precise, my Montane Litespeed windproof jacket.

I’ve had one for over 6 years now and although I wrote it’s obituary on a previous blog post, I couldn’t bring myself to retire it and so kept on using it.  But now I’ve finally bitten the bullet and replaced it.

Montanr Litespeed jacket

out with the old, in with the new!

What do I look for in a windproof?  Basically three things: it has to be small, lightweight and not least needs a pocket to stow a section of map and a compass for when I’m racing, training or working.  (The need for the pocket is why I prefer the Litespeed over the slightly simpler Featherlite jacket).  So how well does the Litespeed meet these criteria?

Size (I’ve got the small): Packed in its own stuffsack it’s about the size of a large orange .  I rarely use the stuffsack, preferring to simply stuff the jacket into my bumbag or rucksack in order to best fill the available space.

size of a big orange

size of a big orange

Weight:  The jacket feels light and the small version tips the scales at 177g including the stuffsack.

lightweight Litespeed

lightweight Litespeed

Pocket: The Litespeed doesn’t disappoint here, the chest pocket on the new model is even bigger than on my original, and easily swallows a printed section of map without the need to fold it.  The new version lacks the little tab attached to the zipper which makes it tricky to locate the zip (especially if wearing gloves), a minor flaw that I can fix myself.

Montane Litespeed

big pocket easily swallows a map section

Other Features:  The jacket also has an adjustable, stowaway hood; to be honest I rarely use this as I either wear a hat / buff or if it’s really hammering down wear a full waterproof.  However it’s good to know that the hood’s there for the odd occasion I might get caught out.

Montane Litespeed

little red adjustable hood!

Elasticated cuffs give a snug fit and keep the weather out whilst the adjustable hem can be cinched tight to prevent the jacket flapping whilst running.

adjustable hem prevents flapping

adjustable hem prevents flapping

Based on my experiences with my old jacket I can say that the ripstop Pertex is very durable; after 6 years use and abuse it is showing signs of wear on the shoulders under where my rucksack straps go, but there are no holes or snags despite numerous encounters with trees, bushes and other foliage.  The durable water repellency has long since worn off, but that is to be expected.  The once bright red fabric is now faded but the zip is fine and it’s still windproof – it just looks a bit tatty that’s all, so in the true spirit of fell running I’m still going to use it, just not for best!

So my fading star has been replaced by a bright new light – the Montane Litespeed, my favourite piece of running kit.  Here’s to another 6 years!

Montane Litespeed - my favourite bit of running kit

Montane Litespeed – my favourite bit of running kit

A Year of Trail and Fell Running

Another year of trail running and fell running and some great memories.

January gave some cold, crisp, blue sky winter days, probably my favourite running conditions.

the joy of winter running

my favourite running conditions

In February I organised a “navigation for fell runners” course.  It was great to meet new people and pass on skills to help them gain confidence for more remote runs and races.

navigation for fell runners

navigation for fell runners

March saw winter return with a vengeance, instead of spring sunshine it was deep drifts – exciting running adventures!

deep drifts

interesting running!

The snow stayed into April on the high moors.  Where some people see bad weather, others see perfect conditions for practising navigation!

fantastic weather - for practising navigation!

fantastic weather – for practising navigation!

In May I led a recce for runners who had entered the Dig Deep races including the Ultra Tour of the Peak District.  When they did this section in the race they would be 55 miles in!

race familiarisation run

race familiarisation run

June, summer.  Not the month you’d expect me to be testing a new waterproof!  The Montane Minimus coped well with the horizontal hailstones, my legs not so well!

Montane Minimus Smock

Ouch –  me legs!

July, the Ultra Tour of the Peak District sponsored by Mammut, and here he is!  Well done to all runners who undertook such a tough event on a scorching day.

Mammut, Ultra Tour of the Peak District

The Mammut behind the UTPD

August, and much to the amusement of my friends a familiar face is seen on the cover of Trail Running magazine.  A beautiful landscape shot spoiled!

Trail Runner Mag

cover star

In September the sun shone as I trained on the hills of the Peak District.  I never tire of the fantastic views from my playground.

Hill Reps in the Peak District

hill reps in the Peak District

October and more blue skies.  Seen in green testing Mammut’s trail running range, available at Outside, Hathersage.

Mammut trail running kit

going green with Mammut

November, and still the sun shone.  Chill, crisp autumn days and enjoyable running.

autumn running

crisp autumn sunshine

Finally December and before the storms we had more blue skies.  I was found enjoying a photo shoot with the excellent Summit Fever Photography  here capturing my favourite Inov-8 Roclites in action.

Inov-8 Roclites

getting to grips with gritstone

So that was the year.  Thank you to those who have helped including;

Inov-8 (Roclites and Mudclaws have been my shoes of choice throughout the year) Montane, Mammut and LED Lenser.  Also to Summit Fever for their brilliant photographs and video clips.

Finally thanks to everyone who has used Fell Running Guide this year, for coaching, navigation training, race preparation and guided running.  Hope to see you again next year.

Best wishes, Dave

coaching for trail and fell runners

 

Montane Minimus Smock

I really rate Montane jackets for fell running & mountain walking.

I have a Superfly jacket for long days on the hill where I’m likely to be walking rather than running and my most used piece of running kit is my trusty Litespeed windproof jacket.  So I was keen to get my hands on the Minimus Smock, reputed to be one of the lightest, truly waterproof jackets on the market.

My first impression was Wow – that’s light!  The kitchen scales showed it to be 144 grammes (for the small) including stuffsack. Take off the weight of the sack and you get 136g.  I then weighed my Litespeed which was 145g without sack so the Minimus is actually lighter.

Montane Minimus Smock

Wow – it’s light!

So it’s minimal in weight but what about features?

The material is Pertex Shield, a highly breatheable, lightweight waterproof fabric with micro taped seams.  The zips are YKK (if you’re precious about your zip manufacturers!) Aqua Guard with storm flaps.

When I’m leading a run or teaching navigation I need constant access to map & compass so a pocket is a must.  The smock has a handy chest pocket that easily swallows a section of map, compass, gels etc.  The interior of the pocket is mesh so you can open the zip to vent if things get too warm.  It has an elasticated hood, cuffs and hem (which I prefer to a drawcord) and gives a snug fit when worn over a simple long sleeved base layer.

Handy zip for map & compass

Handy zip for map & compass

My first chance to try it out was on a group guided run in the Peak District.  The weather was cold and foggy with a threat of rain, conditions when I would have normally worn my Litespeed.  A few runners commented on the good looks – a distinctive electric blue with orange zips.  The day was a stop start affair, frequently pausing to look at the map and so with the chance of getting cold. The Minimus certainly kept out the chill wind and pulling up the hood and running for a few moments made a real difference and I found I quickly warmed up again.

group run

Distinctive colours

I like the idea of a smock; no faffing around trying to do up the zip on a windy day with cold or gloved hands and also less weight and less to go wrong.  The zips do have extenders making gloved use more easy.

A second, more rigorous test came when I was caught out in squally shower with hailstones mixed into the almost horizontal rain.  It was great to have a hood to prevent rain going down my neck and the Minimus did a great job of keeping out the weather.

dealing with bad weather

The Minimus dealing with bad weather

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is what to use on a windy day with the forecast of rain.  The Litespeed is great in wind but is mine has long since lost its DWR coating and so I need a waterproof as well.  I have a Kamleika smock which is great but quite a bit bulkier than the windproof.  It seems that the Minimus answers the problem – it’s as light and compressible as the Litespeed and waterproof too so could be the “one size fits all” solution.  Whilst supporting a recent Bob Graham round I knew I would be on the go for 8 hours or more and that saving weight in my pack was crucial so the Minimus was the obvious choice.

Races run under Fell Runner Association (FRA) rules stipulate that windproof / waterproof clothing must be carried on certain races.  Again the dilemma of “what to take?” is a common discussion point between runners on the start line.  For me from now on it’s a simple answer “the Minimus” it’s as light as a windproof but it’s also waterproof.

Any downsides?

There’s no such thing as a waterproof, breatheable jacket! – if you’re running hard in wet conditions your sweat will condense on the inside to some extent.  This is true of the Minimus, but no more so than with my OMM Kamleika smock or a Lowe Alpine top I used previously.

The super light fabric seems that it might not be very durable, but only time and repeated use will tell.  As with any waterproof it needs to be looked after; washing with soap and reproofing occasionally with Nikwax TX Direct.

My one gripe is that having used the Litespeed for years I am used to reaching for the pocket zip with my right hand but the Minimus zip closes left to right (as worn) so needs the left hand!  I’m sure I can live with that.

So for me it’s a winner; racing, training, guiding runs – from now on I’m going Minimus!

Putting the Minimus through its paces

Putting the Minimus through its paces

 

Fell Running Guide

Montane Litespeed my Old Friend

We’ve been together a long time my Montane Litespeed and I.

running in the Montane Litespeed jacket

running in the Montane Litespeed jacket

Seen some good times, some pretty rough ones too and it’s certainly not always been easy, not always fun;  Remember that time on Kinder when the visibility was so bad that I had to have the map in hand all day?

Bad weather navigation

Fog on Kinder

Or when we found ourselves thigh deep in snow when I thought it would be a good idea to do a winter run, off tracks in the Peak District – it took us ages!

snow wading

deep in snow

Or this winter when the wind was so strong I had to wear goggles and the drifts were so high it was incredible.

deep drifts

deep drifts

But we’ve had some good times too; the stunning winter day on Cranberry Clough, just us two and not another soul around all day.

Stunning winter running

Stunning winter running

And the fantastic views from our favourite run up Win Hill.

Blowy day on Win Hill

Blowy day on Win Hill

Down from Win Hill

Down from Win Hill

You’ve been around the country with me, done loads of races (even won a couple) and always looked after me (a lot better than I’ve looked after you), even on the darkest of nights.

dark nights

dark nights

Now it hurts me to say this, but you’re starting to fade, to get old, you don’t shed like you used to…. I know, I know, it’s my fault; I didn’t read you right, you always said “non bio and re-proof” but I ignored you and just chucked you in with everything else.

fading favourite

fading favourite

I’ve been looking around recently, seen someone else, a younger model with a lot to offer.  It doesn’t mean that I want you to go, you’ll still be there, just that we won’t be spending as much time together that’s all.  We’ll still do the odd trip, I’ll take you along on sunny days when conditions are right. Course I still love you, just in a different way.

So, thanks for the memories, for being there when I needed you, for putting up with the conditions and, my Montane Litespeed, for being my favourite piece of kit.