Montane VIA Fang 5. Just a running pack, right?
Well no, not really. I’ve a hook on my bedroom wall and it holds a collection of the things. I’ve inov-8, OMM, Mountain Hardwear, HOKA and Ultimate Direction. All of them brilliant in their own way.
But the Montane VIA Fang 5 still provides a level of comfort, stability and usability to rival the best of them. However, before I elaborate….
…a quick word about the issues of the past.
If you (like me) had reservations about the Montane run packs in the last few years, it was likely down to the fit (Montane introduced the Dragon/Jaws/Fang collection in a ‘one size fits all’ version originally, but it didn’t fit tightly enough on those who were slim, or ran a lot, so you can imagine…). If fit wasn’t your problem, then it may well be that you took one look at their bottles and thought they looked a little ‘clunky’. I certainly did. They featured a flat side which was supposed to sit flush against the body and they hooked into the front of the vest, rather than sitting in their own bottle pockets. Problem was – when bottles weren’t necessary, or you’d opted for a reservoir in the rear, you didn’t have empty pockets on the front for extra storage. So not very versatile.
Fast forward to 2016 and hey-presto! Everything has been streamlined and readied for action. The result is an evolution of that earlier design.
Gone are the loose fit vests, since Montane fixed that pretty quick and created S/M M/L options.
The bottles have been replaced with 500ml softflasks for an ergonomic fit against the body, without the sloshing noise of hard bottles and most importantly, fitted inside their own bottle pockets. One of which is an open top, the other a fully zippered pocket, which I’ll come back to in a minute….
So the flaws have been removed and in their place are some seemingly standard features all the same. The difference is in the construction and the performance once on your body.
Thanks to the FREELIGHT CHASSIS, weight is evenly distributed with an elasticated stretch feel and you’re kept cool by the CONTACT Flyte Mesh material. The straps across the torso are velcro and hook/eye in turn. Both allow freedom of movement while maintaining a secure hold and can be adjusted for an individual fit.
Above those bottle pockets are additional stretch mesh pockets, again with one open, one zipped. I can happily stow my smart phone at the front without any problems, letting me get to it in a hurry or for frequent photo opportunities.
Aside from the ample storage, the cherry on top is the large side pockets, once again stretch mesh and perfect for large bags of food or just a set of keys, that thanks to the elasticated construction – remain still and don’t rattle/jingle.
So from arrival at my desk, to the present – I’ve pretty much made the VIA Fang 5 my ‘go to’ pack on ultra distance events. I’ve done a couple of 50mile runs in 3 weeks and enjoyed the practical advantages along with the comforts of this vest. There’s plenty of room in the main chamber, so much in fact, that I’ve not yet managed to fill it, but I’m sure that in winter, it’ll get stuffed with warm layers and waterproofs, etc.
The lower zipped pocket at the rear means that items for urgent attention, such as head torch, hat and gloves or map/compass can be reached almost without having to remove the pack, but in any case without emptying the main compartment. The back of the vest features a bungee compression system which allows you to keep contents from moving about, or just reduce the volume when not filled completely – though in practice I don’t find that it behaves badly for a half empty bag. The secure fit of the Chassis seems to hold everything in place and the rear pocket is deliberately placed at the bottom to ensure that it has balance and is held by the structure of the vest itself.
All in all, I haven’t had a negative experience in this vest. And my preconceptions based on the previous versions have been completely laid to rest. They’ve been shattered.
And a word more about that zippered bottle pocket – it turns out that where I used to advise people to store the spare in the zippered pocket, relying on the open top pocket for access to drinks – it was actually much better in reverse. Instead of wrestling with the soft flask every time you took a sip, I simply unzipped the pocket, drank, replaced and zipped back up.
It really wasn’t worth the trouble of squeezing the bottle back through the elastic rim on the pocket, or indeed, fighting to reach the part empty bottle once it had lost volume and sunk. Leave the bottle where it is and change it only when the zippered one is finished. Seems really obvious now.
Montane’s VIA Fang 5 has leapt to the top of my favourites list and is likely to become a firm fixture in my daily commuting to/from work and on my longer runs when training toward ultra distance events (not to mention race day itself). Supremely comfy. Never too warm when on. Stable and practical, with ease of use and well thought out solutions to everyday problems. Ideal for those who run between half marathon and ultra distance and are looking to remain self sufficient for up to 20 miles at a time.
Chris Hough – Team Accelerate