I spent much of spring, summer and autumn 2021 wearing various items from Montane's VIA Trail Running collection, and was universally impressed by the comfort and quality. We published a review of some of the more summer-oriented items some months ago.
Throughout the winter so far I've done much the same with warmer products from the range, and these are the focus of this second review. Whilst I'm aware that there are people who can run around in shorts all winter, I'm not one of them. I like to be warm (but not too warm) and for there to be a margin for error, so that if things don't quite go to plan I'm not going to find myself dangerously ill equipped. As a result, kitting up properly throughout the colder months is crucial not just to my enjoyment, but for my safety.
Many items in the range are available in both a men's and a women's version, some have an equivalent female model under a different name, and others are unisex. We've listed the women's alternative where applicable.
Dragon Long Trail Tights - £60
Women's equivalent: Katla Long Trail Tights
As per the introduction, I'm not one of those people that wears shorts year round. Partly it's a safety thing, but another reason is a simple sense of self preservation as far as my knees are concerned, because I'm not sure that being cold is a particularly good thing for your joints or muscles. As a result, once things get cooler I'll tend to start wearing something that provides a little bit of protection - either 3/4 length or full length tights.
The Dragon Long Trail Tights are, like their 3/4 length counterparts, constructed using recycled Carvico/Econyl fabric. I've been really impressed with this material, not just because of how comfortable and stretchy it is, but also its durability. Even after a lot of miles, neither the 3/4 length tights (which I reviewed earlier in the year) nor the long trail tights (on review here) have shown even the slightest sign of wear. They've also managed to avoid the bobbling that some tights seem to suffer from, especially running where I tend to amongst the heather on the Peak District moors.
When it comes to features, the Dragon Long Trail Tights are blissfully simple, with gel pockets at the side, a zip pocket at the back, and zips around the ankles. Ordinarily I don't find myself using zips much on tights such as these, but the fit of the Dragon Long Trail Tights around the ankle is quite tight, hence I've tended to undo the zips to get them on. This is a bit annoying when you're in a rush, but it does mean that they continue to have a nice, snug fit (whereas if they did have more room, they might be more prone to bagging out).
Thermal Trail Tights - £80
Thermal Trail Tights are also available for women
Of all the products on review, these are without doubt my favourite, not least because of the level of luxury. When it's cold and windy and you really don't want to go outside, the Thermal Trail Tights are exactly what you need and are the perfect companion on a day when things feel arctic. Whilst I'm often reluctant to quote temperatures when talking about something as subjective as clothing, because other variables such as wind chill and humidity make it an inexact science, I'd guesstimate that I've used these most when it's close to freezing, because too much warmer (maybe 5 degrees and above) and I think you'd be better off with the Dragon Long Trail Tights instead.
The Thermal Trail Tights feature a thicker material throughout, which gives them a warmer and more wind resistant feel than their lighter weight cousins. Nowhere is this more noticeable than around the thighs, where a Thermal Dynamic stretch fabric is used alongside a Granite Loft outer, which helps to provide even greater warmth and wind resistance. This is particularly effective at keeping your larger muscle groups warmer.
When it comes to fit, they are - as you'd expect - quite a slender, active cut, although the elastane/stretch does mean that they'll conform to a wide variety of body types/shapes - even my thunder thighs. The sizing is accurate, with medium feeling very much like medium (in my case). Due to the elasticated waistband being nice, comfortable and snug I've never had to use the drawcords, although they are there for those that need them.
Aside from this it features a similar set of features to the Dragon Long Trail Tights, including a rear zipped pocket, two gel pockets, ankle zips, and reflective strips.
The women's equivalent is the Katla Pull-on Fleece Jacket
Fleeces like the Dragon Pull-On are underrated, as they're light, breathable, adaptable, and impressively warm. However, much like the Thermal Trail Tights, you've got to be a little careful in when you use it, because it is deceptively warm.
Whilst it may seem ridiculous to list the ways in which I've used it, I'm going to, simply because it has varied depending on the conditions:
- Cool Days: as a base layer, next to skin
- Cold/Frosty Days: as a mid layer, with a base layer beneath
- Cool-Cold/Windy Days: one of the above, combined with a Featherlite Smock
- Icy/Snowy/Windy Days: as per the above, but with the Spine Jacket
Less a jacket, more a jumper, the fit of the Dragon Pull-On Fleece Jacket is slim and active, with an exceptionally long set of arms. Being that I have an exceptionally long set of arms, this feature has been welcome, as there's fewer things more annoying than a jacket or fleece with short arms (but conversely, if your arms are shorter than your sleeves, that can also be a pain). Part of the reason for their length is that they also feature thumb loops, plus a novel 'emergency mitt' function, where you can flip over a flap to provide a makeshift windproof mitt. Whilst I didn't find myself using this a lot (I tended to favour just pulling the sleeves over my hands, rather than making the actual mitt) it's a neat, simple design that would provide options for when your gloves aren't accessible, or when you're trying to save time on those marginal days when there are some moments you might want the protection, then others where you don't.
Beyond that, the only other feature to mention is the 1/4 zip neck. Were there one feature I'd add it would probably be a small chest pocket, but I equally like the simplicity of the Dragon Pull-On as it is, without any clutter.
- For more info on the Dragon Pull-On Fleece Jacket see montane.com
Via Shift Glove - £50
I must admit, when I first saw the Via Shift Gloves I wasn't convinced. They look pretty strange, and I kind of dismissed them as being a bit of a gimmick; however, over the course of a few months they were a product that people kept mentioning time and time again, usually with a glowing report of how good they were. So I thought I'd give them a second chance.
Whilst the Via Shift Gloves do indeed look a little peculiar, they shouldn't be judged for it - they should be judged on the basis of the efficiency that their 2 in 1 system brings. What you essentially get is a system that offers a quick, easy and adaptable way of adjusting to the conditions. If it's cool, you can just use the fleece glove; if it's cold or windy, you can flip over the mitt. Changing between the two takes a matter of seconds, which is ultimately where their strength lies. It'd take you a lot longer, and be a lot more faff, to change between two different pairs of gloves than it would to simply flip over the mitt feature and back again.
The warmth that the Pertex mitt provides is remarkable too, just taking that edge of the breeze, and allowing the fleece layer to do its thing.
I actually feel a bit guilty about my initial assessment. Yes, they look a bit weird, but they are also the pair of gloves I find myself reaching for on more marginal days (although on outright crap days I still opt for Buffalo Mitts).
VIA Trail Ankle Gaiters - £26
It's perhaps no surprise that this product stemmed from a brand based in the North East, close to The Cheviot, and some of the boggiest bogs around. When the going gets that boggy, one of your biggest issues is keeping the wet and muck from getting into your shoes. At best, it's annoying; at worst, it'll lead to rubbing, hotspots and blisters - something that's always worth avoiding. Whilst I've focussed on mud thus far (it is winter, after all) another area where the VIA Trail Ankle Gaiters excel is on rocky and dusty terrain, although it's worth mentioning that for warmer, drier climates there is a lighter weight sock version available. Here I'll focus on their performance in wet environments, as that's what I've been faced with over the last few months, and likely - at least in this country - what most people will be after them for.
The VIA Trail Ankle Gaiter is constructed using a blend of Montane's Granite Stretch Fabric, which is both stretchy and breathable, with a reinforced nylon, that helps provide durability. Given that they are in such a high wear area the latter is crucial, although so too is the former, because they are basically something that you want to forget you're wearing. Following on from that note, there's an elasticated cuff around the top in order to keep them up and the same around the base, with a silicone strip around the back, in order to keep a good non-slip seal around the shoe. This is aided by the bungee cord, which goes around the sole of the shoe. You have to cut this to size and you definitely want it to be on the snug side. In case of wear, you get a replacement pair provided, and even if those wore you could easily use standard bungee. Finally, at the front there's a lace clip in order to keep the rest of the gaiter taut. This is fine with most shoes, but for those that have a guard/gaiter over the laces it does make it challenging (even impossible) to fit.
On the note of fit, when it comes to sizing I used a Medium for a UK 9 running shoe, which was perfect. If you're going much beyond a 10.5 then a Large would realistically be best. Whilst I haven't personally tried a Small my guess would be somewhere around sub UK 7. As with all items of clothing/kit, make sure you do get a good fit, and make sure they seal properly around your shoe, because if not they there's no point in owning a pair.