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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell Highland Down Jacket > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs
MontBell Highland Jacket Men's
Test Series by Andy Henrichs
May 4, 2013
The MontBell Highland Jacket is an insulated jacket filled with 650-fill Goose Down. The shell is constructed of 40-denier nylon and the baffles are sewn through. MontBell describes the jacket as providing "sweater weight warmth suitable for work as a winter-mid layer or on its own during chilly conditions." It has some nice standard features including a full-length front zipper, two exterior zippered hand pockets, and two interior drop pockets. The sleeves have elastic cuffs, and there is no drawcord at the bottom hem of the jacket. The jacket stuffs into the included stuff sack and measures around 9.5 in x 5 in (24 cm x 12.7 cm) when stuffed. The MontBell website claims the jacket compresses to 7.7 in x 4.3 in (19.6 cm x 10.9 cm), and I don't dispute this. My measurements were taken with the jacket stuffed, but not compressed. When I squish the stuff sack down, it compresses down quite a bit more.
The zippered exterior pockets measure approximately 7.5 in (19 cm) wide by 9.5 in (24 cm) tall. The inner drop pockets measure approximately 7 in (18 cm) wide by 11 in (28 cm) tall. The MontBell logo is embroidered on the left chest of the jacket. There is a care label tag sewn into the lower left side of the torso with down-garment-specific care instructions. According to a hang tag, a water-repellent coating has been applied to the zipper tapes on this jacket. In addition to the aforementioned zipper information hang tag, there is another hang tag with advice for how to deal with down leakage, as well as one with general information about the jacket. According to this last hang tag, the Highland Jacket contains 2.8 oz (79 g) of down and the shell has a 25-wash rated DWR applied to it.
The MontBell Highland Jacket appears to be a very nice and well-made garment. All of the stitching looks solid and I was impressed with how much the jacket lofted after I removed it from the packaging. When first trying it on, I was a bit surprised at how large it was. My measurements aligned perfectly with those for a size Large on the MontBell website, but the jacket feels a bit roomy. I wish I would have had a chance to try on a medium before settling on the large, but I do feel that the extra room will accommodate other layers very well and will probably be more functional in actual use.
I've only really worn the jacket outside on a couple of occasions, but it seems to provide a good amount of warmth. I'll need a lot more use in varied conditions before I can make a more definite comment on the warmth it provides. The elastic cuffs on the sleeve are only moderately snug. Right now I like that because they're not cutting off my circulation in my wrists, but I'll be curious to see if it becomes an issue with letting wind gust up my sleeves. The exterior pockets are a good size and easily accessible. The interior drop pockets are just as roomy and accessible, but I really don't have much experience with drop pockets. The fact that the contents could fall out makes me a little nervous, but I guess I'll just have to avoid doing handstands to prevent that from happening. The one strange thing about the pockets is that the contents of the interior pockets sit in front of the exterior hand warmer pockets. Basically, if I'm using both pockets, the contents of the interior drop pockets sit against the back of my hands (which are in the handwarmer pockets). It's probably not a big deal, but I had my headlamp in one inner pocket on a recent walk, and I wasn't fond of having it dig into the back of my hands while warming them up in the exterior pockets.
I've been fortunate to get a good amount of use out of this jacket during the Field Report phase. I've taken it on two three-day hut trips as well as 15 backcountry ski daytrips. The hut trips were at two different huts in Central Colorado. The first featured a 3.5 mi (5.6 km) approach with three days of cold, windy, and snowy weather. Temperatures rarely broke 25 F (-4 C) during our trip, and I estimate they dropped to around 0 F (-18 C) the first night. I wore the jacket while shoveling and doing other activities outside near the hut. Additionally, I wore it intermittently during our ski tour the second day. During this tour, I generally wore it while taking rests, as well as during the descent since the temperatures were fairly cold. The second trip entailed a 6.5 mi (10.5 km) approach, and we were fortunate to have blue skies without wind the entire time. We also had very cold temperatures, with a high the first day of 12 F (-11 C). It warmed slightly the other two days, but temperatures were still rarely above 25 F (-4 C). During this trip, I wore the jacket much more. When we got to the hut, we found the interior at 15 F (-9 C), so we all bundled up and huddled around the wood stove until we thawed out. In addition to this initial hut use, I wore the jacket at various rest stops during a ski tour on our second day there. The Highland jacket saw regular use on all of the backcountry skiing day trips I went on. All of these trips were in the mountains of Colorado, and elevations ranged from 8500 ft (2600 m) to 13000 ft (4000 m). These trips took place in everything from blue skies to gray, windy to still, driving snow to light flurries. Temperatures on these trips ranged from 10 F (-12 C) to 35 F (2 C). In general, I would wear the jacket while getting geared up at the trailhead, stuff it into my pack for the skin, and put it back on for the ski out and while back at the car.
I have been quite impressed with the MontBell Highland Jacket so far. I know MontBell advertises it as a " sweater weight" garment, but I feel that it provides more warmth than that phrase conjures in my mind. I'm generally been quite comfortable wearing it as an outer insulation layer or just under a windproof jacket. If I were to regularly explore in temperatures much colder than I have been, I would probably add another layer to supplement. While I had some initial misgivings about the sizing (it seems to run large), that hasn't been an issue for me. I like that the roomier size allows me to layer underneath it without feeling constricted or compressing the insulation. While I haven't actually washed it yet (it's probably due), I have spilled on it on more than one occasion. I was impressed how easily a damp cloth removed the obvious stain. That said, I can tell that it's getting dirty when I look closely at it, and I plan on actually washing it during the Long Term Report Phase.
Over the testing period, I've noticed that the jacket has lost a fair number of feathers, or at least parts of feathers. It's not an extraordinary amount, but I would guess I've lost 2-3 per week. As I mentioned in the Initial Report, MontBell included a hang tag on how to deal with down leakage. Unfortunately, most of the plumes I've seen have come from seams, and are therefore unable to be worked back inside. I've also noticed some loose ends of stitching coming to the surface. They've all been quite short, and none have seemed to be structural or serious, but it's something that I'll keep an eye on for the remainder of the test period. My one true issue with this jacket is the two interior drop pockets. As I mentioned in the Initial Report, contents of the drop pockets sit against the back of my hands when my hands are also in the exterior handwarmer pockets. This may seem like a very small thing, but it's proven to be fairly annoying in actual use. Even something as small as a map in the drop pockets makes me not want to use my handwarmer pockets. I feel like this is the one issue that MontBell should address in future versions of this jacket.
Over the course of the LTR phase, I've been able to use the MontBell Highland Jacket on one overnight backcountry skiing hut trip, one overnight river trip, a two night backpacking trip, and five day-long backcountry skiing trips. The days of the hut trip were rather chilly and blustery. Skies were overcast and a decent amount of snow fell most of the days. Temperatures peaked at around 20 F (-7 C), so I wore the jacket any time I was outside. The river trip featured weather that was much more fair. We had clear skies, an occasionally period of wind, and temperatures that ranged from 65 F (18 C) down to 35 F (2 C). We camped in a deep and narrow canyon, so we lost sunlight fairly early in the evening. I ended up putting the jacket on shortly after we lost sun and wore it until we set off down the river the next morning. My two night backpacking trip was in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, and weather was mixed. Most of the time the skies were cloudy, but the sun managed to punch through now and then. Temperatures ranged from 30 F (-1 C) up to 65 F (18 C). Again, I was camping at the bottom of a canyon, so the Highland Jacket came in very handy once the sun set behind the canyon rim. My use of the Highland on the day-long backcountry skiing trips was the same as my use during the Field Report phase. All of these trips were in Colorado, and I only used the jacket for warmth at longer rests during these trips.
The Highland Jacket has continued to serve me well. It has provided adequate warmth on all of my excursions during this phase, but I still feel that I would either want a jacket with more warmth or an additional layer to supplement for true winter camping. The size continues to meet my needs well, as it allows for generous layering underneath the jacket. My trips during this phase of the test subjected the jacket to slightly harsher conditions, including brief periods of bushwhacking. I've been impressed with how well the jacket has held up in these conditions. I've still noticed a few small down plumes leaking, but I don't feel like I've noticed quite as many as I did during the Field Report phase. I did recently wash the Highland, and I'm happy to say it came out looking like new. I followed the directions on the MontBell website, but used a Nikwax product instead of their recommended plan. Since I only have a top-loading washing machine at home, I hand washed it in a large bucket. After many rinses, I was able to wash out all of the soap and into the dryer it went. After a couple of long cycles to ensure all of the down was dry, the jacket came out clean as ever.
Thank you to MontBell America, Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this jacket.
Read more gear reviews by Andrew Henrichs
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell Highland Down Jacket > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs