Many of us are all rounders, doing a bit of hillwalking here and a little climbing there; the occasional backpacking journey; winter mountaineering when the chance arises; infrequent trips to the Alps. In an ideal world you might own a couple of shells, each dedicated to a particular niche - a summer lightweight and a winter workhorse, for instance. But budgets don't always stretch that far, and some will prefer a single do-it-all waterproof, one jacket (and perhaps trousers) to cover as many bases as possible.
"Looking for a "one size fits all" jacket for low level walks in the Peak and mountain walking with possibly a bit of scrambling/climbing thrown in" went a recent post from forum user Gordonbp, asking about the relative merits of the Pac Plus XT jacket. As it happens, I think Gordon's query neatly sums up the broad remit of this waterproof jacket (and matching trousers).
Tough enough to take some rocky abuse; lightweight yet sufficiently protective for winter hills; packable enough to chuck in your crag pack just in case; well-cut for climbing and scrambling; and with a good set of features - the Pac Plus XT is a very capable all-rounder at what seems in the circumstances a fair price.
I've had both jacket and trousers on review for several months, taking me from midwinter, through what passed for the highland spring, and into summer. The jacket has inevitably seen a lot more use than the trousers, but I really like them both. As a set that'll cover you for a variety of activities (not running perhaps) and a good range of seasonal weather (except the very worst of winter), the Pac Plus XT would be a great choice.
Pac Plus XT Jacket - £250
Earlier this year we published a group test of shells in the £200 ballpark. Stretch just a little more and you could have a Pac Plus XT, arguably a better all-rounder than most of those, and one that's equally suited to hillwalkers, backpackers and mountaineers. I do have two quibbles. One is that its Gore-Tex Paclite Plus fabric is officially among Gore's less breathable offerings, and though I've yet to feel much difference in use that may be a consideration if wanting to wear it for higher output activities. My other moan is the hood, which is annoyingly borderline for use with a helmet. Aside from that it's pretty much all good.
At 395g in my size L review jacket (Montane say 375g, size not given) this counts as a light-midweight shell. For running, summer hiking, or bean-counting backpacking you could go considerably lighter, but cutting weight does tend to mean compromising on durability, fit or features. Though the Pac Plus XT is no spartan ultralight, only the most committed weight watchers would resent carrying it just in case. I can stuff it into a small summer pack and forget it's there.
At the opposite extreme, committed winter mountaineers would be better off with something more durable and protective, but they'd pay a weight (and financial) cost for it. If you're only out in winter conditions occasionally, and generally on a semi-decent forecast, then you'd more than get by with this lighter jacket. As a jack of all trades rather than a niche specialist, the Pac Plus XT strikes a very sensible balance between weight, durability, and functionality, and this middle course is its chief selling point.
This model comes in both men's (S-XXL) and women's versions (8-16). In a nod to its potential use in winter it's a roomy jacket, and in my standard size Large there's space to fit it over several warm layers without feeling restricted. It's long in the hem too, sitting well below waist level and dropping at the rear to offer a good amount of bum coverage - longer is clearly better when it comes to keeping out the elements, so it's nice that Montane haven't shortened the hem to try to save a bit of weight. The length also works well when climbing, as I find the jacket stays reliably tucked under a harness.
A shell that rides up when you lift your arms is no use for scrambling or climbing, but thanks to some excellent tailoring in the sleeves and underarms I get very little of the dreaded hem lift with the Pac Plus XT.
The sleeves on lighter summer-oriented shells can be a bit narrow, but while the cuffs on the Pac Plus XT are not quite as generous as on a typical technical winter mountain shell, they're still sufficiently roomy to fit over insulated gloves (though can be a bit of a struggle with bulkier gauntlets). It's also possible to push the sleeves up over your forearms, an expedient I often seem to resort to in warmer conditions. A simple hook and loop tab gets the fit nice and close to your wrist when you don't want that volume.
It's also worth noting the high collar, which can completely cover the neck and chin, helping you feel warm and protected on a cold windy day even if the hood is down. For comfort, there's a brushed chin guard. I'll talk about the hood separately, since it's such an important part of any shell.
The jacket uses a 40D Gore Paclite Plus fabric, which is designed to be lightweight and packable while still offering decent waterproof and breathable performance. Thinner than any of my full-blown winter mountain shells, but beefier than summer or running-oriented lightweights, the fabric strikes a good compromise for a shell that you could happily wear year-round, in a variety of settings from walking to climbing, but one that's also light enough to pack just in case without paying too much of a weight/bulk penalty.
Its 2.5 layer construction laminates a tough outer fabric onto the Gore-Tex membrane. Instead of using a third layer under that (as per 3L Gore Pro, for instance) the membrane is given a protective inner coating, which constitutes the nominal half layer. For Paclite Plus, Gore add another abrasion-resistant treatment that's designed to boost the fabric's durability. In practise this means it should be tougher than plain Paclite, though not as burly as Pro.
While it doesn't offer the armour-like feel of a Gore Pro shell, or similar, and wouldn't be the best choice for full-on winter mountain weather or the rigours of regular Scottish winter climbing, I've used it happily on snowy hill days in less testing conditions. Though the fabric is fully windproof, I've found the limitation in cold weather is that it's thin enough to flap in the wind, and this does reduce your feeling of protection and to an extent compromises the insulation of the layers you're wearing underneath. Still, it feels tough enough for scrambling and mountaineering. If you're taking it winter climbing then you'll just have to have realistic expectations of its relative longevity: think spring ice climbing on The Ben, or speeding along a classic snowy ridge, rather than squirming up a granite chimney in rivers of January spindrift (I'm not really up for that either).
For end users and reviewers alike, a garment's breathability is a hard thing to gauge objectively. When comparing one jacket with another, the test-based figures occasionally provided by brands are useful to a point, but come with some heavy caveats. It's worth remembering that different labs may achieve different figures, not all companies use the same test criteria, and some fabric manufacturers don't headline their numbers in consumer material in the first place. Two different values are typically quoted, MVTR and the less familiar RET. The latter is the scale that Gore use. But what is it?
RET (Resistance to Evaporative Heat Transfer) tells you the resistance a material has to water vapour passing through it. The lower the RET value, the less its resistance to moisture transfer and therefore the higher its breathability. By the definition of this standard, an RET of 0-6 is 'extremely breathable' (comfortable worn at a higher activity rate); 6-13 is 'very breathable' (comfy at a moderate activity rate); 13-20 is 'satisfactory' or 'breathable' (uncomfortable at a high activity rate); and anything over 20 is going to boil you in the bag (I paraphrase).
Gore's figures refer to the raw fabric, not finished garments:
- Gore-Tex Shakedry <3
- Gore-Tex Active RET <4
- Gore-Tex Paclite RET <6
- Gore-Tex Pro Most Breathable RET <6
- Gore-Tex Paclite Plus RET <9
- Gore-Tex Pro Most Rugged RET <9
- Gore-Tex RET <9
On this scale Paclite Plus is one of the less breathable of their products, and I think it's fair to say that it does prioritise lightness, packability, and relative toughness over ultimate breathability. Nonetheless as an end user I can't say that I've much noticed. While I wouldn't want to go running in it, I've found the Pac Plus XT Jacket comfortably un-clammy for its intended end uses, mountaineering and hillwalking in all weathers and temperatures, from snowy and sub-zero to warm and wet. Perhaps walking hard uphill counts as moderate activity (though it feels like high output to me)? Having worn it a lot, over several months, I'd say the Pac Plus XT Jacket is totally fine for that.
Modern DWR treatments may be less environmentally damaging than those of yesteryear, but experience shows that they're not particularly long-lasting. Thanks to dirt, grease, suncream, and plain old use, these polymers can soon wear off. When that happens the surface of the fabric will begin to absorb moisture, or wet out, and you may feel clammy inside. After several months of fairly intensive use my review jacket is beginning to show the signs. The key to a shell that goes on performing is regular washing, and slightly less regular re-treatment, so I'll need to get onto that.
A decent hood is essential on any mountain shell, and with an all-rounder it's got to work both with and without a helmet. It's surprising how often hood designs let jackets down, and despite getting some key basics right, Montane haven't quite pulled it off here.
Though it's described as helmet-compatible, I'd say the hood is too small to be a really successful match. While you can pull it over a helmet, comfort and mobility both become compromised when you then fully fasten the zip; head movement is restricted looking up or side to side, and the collar pulls too tight across the mouth and chin. Drop your zip below chin level and it's all freed - but of course you're not then fully sealed against the elements. I've used the hood with a helmet when winter mountaineering, so I'd concede it will just about do for an occasional such day, but if you're regularly climbing in the Pac Plus XT I suspect it'd get annoying.
More convincing is the fit minus helmet. With three points of adjustment, the hood can be tightened nicely around the face and the back of the head, creating a weatherproof seal without limiting mobility. The toggles are unfortunately of the old fashioned small and external variety, which are a fiddle when wearing gloves, but at least the ends of elastic are directed down inside the jacket to prevent them whipping you in the eye when it's gusty. And with the wind in mind, Montane have given you a proper wired peak here - something a lot of lighter jackets fail on, but an addition we'd consider more or less essential for use in the stormy UK hills.
Three pockets are provided, which seems plenty. The two hand pockets are large enough for bulky gloves or an OS-sized map, and positioned high enough to remain accessible when wearing a harness or rucksack hipbelt. They are also mesh-lined, which helps with the jacket's overall breathability (better than two layers of Gore-Tex), and means they provide a bit of ventilation if left open. The single chest pocket is big enough for a smartphone, and it's the obvious place to carry one.
YKK Aquaguard zips are used throughout - water resistant, if not fully waterproof (none really are in wind-driven downpours). The main zip has an internal strip to help keep draughts out and to channel away any water that does find its way through, though I've noticed this strip tends to fold back on itself so I suspect it's not always reliably in position.
Perhaps in part to help compensate for not using a more breathable Gore fabric, the Pac Plus XT jacket is fitted with pit zips. In a winter jacket that's typically worn in colder and wilder weather I'm not convinced that underarm vents offer enough of an advantage to offset their obvious downsides, but since this shell is more of an all-season layer which is going to see service in warmer weather, they make sense here. I've certainly been using them.
The twin hem drawcords can be tightened one handed, though as on the hood they are a bit more fiddly than the modern type built into the seam.
- For more info on the Pac Plus XT Jacket see montane.com
Pac Plus XT Waterproof Pants - £160
Though they're designed, say Montane, for 'fast and light mountain activities' the Pac Plus XT trousers are thicker and more robust than the jacket, perhaps reflecting the extra abrasion that legwear tends to get when climbing or scrambling. In fact I think the description is slightly misleading, in the sense that these feel more like mountaineering overtrousers than something you'd wear running. Nevertheless they're still light enough for year-round use, be that hillwalking, backpacking or climbing, and they pack down sufficiently small to carry just in case. If you don't need such a beefy feel, and want to save weight, the Pac Plus (not XT) Waterproof Trousers offer a lighter alternative.
My pair of size M trousers comes out at 350g (Montane say 325g, size not specified), which looks comparatively heavy beside the jacket, as per the thicker fabric. They're very robust and well made, and I still don't mind shoving them in a small summer rucksack, but they do feel slightly more winter-oriented.
For easy layering and freedom of movement for the legs, waterproof overtrousers tend to come out on the baggy side. The Pac Plus XT are true to form, albeit a bit less shapeless than many. However the sizing is if anyting over-generous. At 1.83m tall, not skinny, and with a pretty chunky set of pins, I tend to take a size Large top and bottoms; but in this case I was lost in L, and had to go down to Medium - not something I did with the jacket. The men's sizing goes up to XXL (16 for women), which must be massive. Perhaps you too might consider going down a size from your usual; it'd certainly be a good idea to try before buying.
With a diamond crotch, and a decent cut at the knee, these overtrousers offer good leg movement, and I've worn them all day without feeling at all restricted. They'd be fine to climb in, and fit neatly under a harness.
Here Montane have paired the Gore-Tex Paclite Plus membrane with a far thicker 150D Nylon fabric than that used on the jacket. This is very robust for climbing in all seasons, and offers a protective feel in windy conditions thanks to its extra stiffness. While the Pac Plus XT jacket is about as skimpy as I'd want a shell to get for winter climbing or even summer scrambling, the trousers can definitely take more abuse, and could quite sensibly be used as your regular winter climbing shell legwear. If you want maximum durability at a sensibly packable weight, you might struggle to do better. My one minor moan is how loud the fabric is, something I've noticed more with the trousers than the jacket.
To boost their winter cred, and the overall feeling of durability, you get very robust Kevlar kick patches on the inside ankle. These have proved great for use with crampons, but they're not so rigid that they feel like overkill in summer.
Three quarter length side zips allow for easy access without having to remove your footwear. As on the jacket these are YKK Aquaguard zips, with the added insurance of an internal storm flap to gutter away what rain does make it through. There's no lower leg gusset for use with chunky ski boots, but you do get a drawcord to take the volume in around the ankle - useful when wearing slimmer summer boots or trainers.
For roped climbing, really the one drawback - and this only applies to male users - is that there's no fly. If you need a pee while harnessed up then you're in for some shenanigans.
- For more info on the Pac Plus XT Waterproof Pants see montane.com