MontBell Permafrost Light Down Jacket
Test Series by
Initial Report: December 3, 2008
Field Report: February 8, 2009
Long term Report: April 6, 2009
Background: I went on my first backpacking trip as a Boy Scout
at the age of 16. Over the years I have hiked the Wonderland Trail in
Washington and section hiked parts of the Florida Trail and the
Appalachian Trail. In 2003 during a seven week period I hiked 740 mi
(1191 km) of the Pacific Crest Trail. Best vacation I ever took. I
continue to backpack and hike year round in the Colorado mountains. I
have evolved from a heavyweight backpacker to a lightweight backpacker.
My three day summer solo adventures (using a hammock) have me hovering
around a 10 lb (4.5 kg) base weight. However while backpacking in the
winter I will be using a tent and additional clothing. So my base
weight will climb to approx. 17 lb (7.7 kg)
||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
||210 lb (95 kg)
||48 in (122 cm)
|| 38 in (97 cm)
||Longmont, Colorado USA
description (From Website): The Permafrost Light Down Jacket is
a no-nonsense alpine tool. When designing this product we were struck
by the fact that Windstopper technology is not commonly found on
lightweight down jackets. We believe this Windstopper membrane to be an
ideal match to such garments. By integrating this time tested
technology we have greatly enhances the insulating properties of the
Permafrost Light while protecting the 800 fill power goose down against
moisture accumulation. This is accomplished with minimal weight penalty
allowing it to weigh in well under a pound at a scant 13.8 oz. When
winter conditions prevail, but a full on expedition parka would be
overkill, the Permafrost light makes a lot of sense. No gimmicks here.
Just your old stand by puffy infused with a little modern technology.
Generously cut to accommodate a variety of winter layering systems.
||13.8 oz (391 g) Size Med
||17.5 oz (497 g) XXL
|Weight of stuff Sack:
||0.4 oz (10.4 g)
||Gun Metal (Tested), Red Brick, Thyme
- Welded Single Quilt
- Micro fleeced line
- Zippered hand pockets
with fleece lining
- Slightly articulated
- One hand hem adjusters
for both sides
- Alpine elastic cuffs
with Velcro adjustments
- Water resistant
Specs (From Website)
- High quality 800 fill
power hypoallergenic goose down
- 30-denier Ballistic
rip-stop nylon shell
- 15-denier Ballistic
Airlight rip stop nylon lining
- Compresses: 5.1’’ x
9.3’’ (stuff sack included)
- Size: S/ M/ L/ XL/ XXL
- Fill Weight: 4.0 oz.
The jacket arrived and its style
and color match the website photo. Attached to the jacket were 4 tags.
Two of the tags were warnings. The first one says "Warning!!! Because
the product is using highly windproof materials for the outershell, the
air within the product may not compress quickly. Please compress slowly
or you may rupture the down compartments. I believe the warning is
there because the down compartments formed from the inner and outer
fabrics are "welded" not sewn. Maybe these welds are not as strong as
sewing and gentle compression is needed to keep these welded seams from
separating. I will be keeping an eye on this.
A second warning tag says "Down Leakage Warning! This product is using
superfine fabric to make it light and compact. It is down proof, which
prevents down fibers coming off the fabric. However, since a down fiber
is extra fine and the fabric is very thin, you see down fibers coming
off from stitch lines as you wear. It is caused by the expansion and
contraction of the fabric. When down fibers are stuck to your clothes,
they can be easily removed by using weak adhesive tapes". Being a
Japanese company this is probably an english translation that should
say "fibers coming OUT from stitch lines". Lots of words to simply say
"Some minor down leakage may occur through some of the seams". I have
not noticed any down leakage anywhere.
The third tag is a Gore "Windstopper Insulated Shell" tag. It is in six
languages and explains that the fabric has "Total windproofness and
maximum breathability". It has a nifty diagram showing the different
layers of the jacket and how they work.
The body of the jacket is made from 2 different nylon fabrics. The
inner fabric is a very thin and lightweight 15-denier Ballistic Airlight rip stop
nylon in a medium gray is very shiny and a bit crinkly. The exterior
fabric is dark gray (gunmetal) 30-denier Ballistic rip-stop nylon shell
with the Windstopper laminate. It is listed as "water resistant and
totally windproof". I will be keeping an eye on how well the exterior
breaths and if it can handle snow and light precipitation. I did hold the sleeve under a
water faucet and the water beaded up nicely and ran right off. A quick
and all the beads were gone.
I will also be evaluating how abrasion resistant the fabric is.
The jacket appears to be very well
made with no loose threads or funky stitches. The down is held in place
in single layer pockets. There is no baffle between the inner and out
fabrics. The exterior fabric has no stitch lines but a .25 in (.63 cm)
welded seam can be seen (see photo above). However the inner fabric
does have stitch lines. Not sure what the inner fabric is stitched to.
I will be evaluating if the single layer construction creates any cold
The collar is lined with a very soft open-mesh micro fleece and the top
of the zipper has a "zipper garage" to keep the zipper from rubbing
INSULATION: The jacket is stuffed with 800 fill power hypoallergenic goose down
in a single layer. Down fill power is determined by how many cubic
inches one ounce of down occupies. Different standards groups utilize
different criteria to determine their final measurements. MontBell
doesn't indicate which standard they use to determine their fill power
so a rating of 800 fill power can only be used as a guideline.
Basically the higher the number the more space the same weight of down
occupies. So lighter insulating gear can be made by using higher fill
The down thickness appears to be pretty uniform throughout. Trying to
measure the thickness of the insulation is never easy because the whole
jacket is a bunch of hills and valleys. But here is what I came up with
to give you a general idea. I let the jacket fully loft overnight. I
stretched out one of the arms on the edge of a table. I placed a ruler
on the edge measuring the center (thickest part) of the down vertically
and came up with approx. 2 in (5 cm). Now remember that this is a
measurement of 2 layers because I measured the arm. I measured several
other single layers and I can safely say the jacket has an approx. loft
of 1 in (2.5 cm) throughout.
& SIZING: I asked for and received an XXL. Mainly because I
want to be able to layer the jacket over a wide variety of base and
insulating layers. The jacket is long enough in the back to cover about
half my large posterior. When I sit down the back edge continues to
cover the top of my pants, so no cold spots.
The sleeve length is perfect for
me. With my arms at my sides and the cuffs loosened, the sleeves come
to about the middle of
my fingers. With the cuffs tightened around my wrists I have plenty of
room to raise my arms above my head and the jacket does not ride up
exposing my tummy to the cold cruel world.
All of the zippers are Aqua-Tect
water resistant zippers. The front zipper is backed with
a stiffened flap. This keeps the front zipper from snagging the thin
nylon exterior fabric. All the zippers operate smoothly but are a
stiff. I will see if the stiffness eases up after continued use.
The two front pockets are quite large and are lined with a similar soft
micro fleece as the collar but it is a solid not a mesh fabric. Plenty
of room for a hat, gloves and possibly a snack but not large enough for
a water bottle. Water resistant, 7.5 in (19 cm) zippers secure
the pockets. The pockets are located along the seam line of the front
and back panels. These pockets will not be accessible while wearing a
CUFFS: The cuffs have both a
small strip of elastic and a Velcro patch for adjustment. Plenty
of room when left open and they snug up nicely when wearing gloves.
jacket is a dream to wear. It is very warm and it is sized (for me) to
accommodate numerous extra layers underneath. I went for the largest
size they had (XXL) and I'm glad I did. It has primarily been used as
an outer insulating layer. It is the jacket I throw on when it is COLD
and my activity level is minimal (around camp, walking the dog or going
to work). It is also being used quite successfully as a chill preventer
when I stop for a break while hiking or backpacking briskly and
sweating lightly. I store the jacket in the top of my pack and the
first thing I do when I stop for a break is take my pack off, grab the
jacket and put it on top of everything I am wearing. It provides
locations and conditions:
past 2 months the weather in Colorado has been all over the place. We
have had highs between 65 and 20° F (18 and -7° C) and lows
between 35 and 0° F (-2 and -18° C). The Permafrost has only
seen usage when the temperatures have been near freezing. This jacket has been used on almost a
daily basis in and around
Boulder, Colorado. If the temperatures are above freezing it stays at
home. Below freezing I bring it. Winds during this time have also been
all over the place, from calm to gusts reaching 60 mph (97 kph).
I have worn the jacket on 4 day hikes and one 2-day, 1 night camping
trip to Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. All my day
been in the foothills of the front range between Boulder, CO and Lyons,
CO. Most have averaged between 3 - 6 mi (5 - 10 km). Elevations have
between 5000 - 8500 ft (1500 - 2600 m). My normal layering combination
starts with a midweight Merino wool base layer topped with a
shirt. I then add a microfleece pullover and I am good to about
freezing while hiking briskly. If I expect temperatures to be colder I
will substitute a midweight synthetic (Integral Designs Rundal) jacket
for the microfleece. This combination gets me from freezing
to about 15° F (-9° C). At every stop to
get some water or munch a snack I would become chilled, so I slide
on the Permafrost down jacket and I quickly warmed up and all is well
with the world again.
During my backpacking trip to Brainard Lake at an elevation of 10500 ft
the temperatures were COLD. Daytime temperatures topped out at 20°
F (-7° C) and nighttime temperatures were near 0° F (-18°
C). After reaching camp I can honestly say I never took it off until I
started hiking back to the car. I leisurely set up camp, melted snow,
cooked dinner and slept in the jacket. Even during mini, easy hikes
around the lake and surrounding area I wore the jacket. I never
overheated and I stayed wonderfully warm. At night I wore every piece
of clothing I brought with me and slept in a 20° F (-7° C) down
quilt inside a tent. I was warm, just barely, down to the 0° F (-18°
C) low it got that night. Without the Permafrost it would have been a
very uncomfortable evening.
During the day winds were brisk at 20 mph (32 kph) with gusts reaching 40 mph (64 kph) and the jacket did
an excellent job of buffeting the winds. Not once did I feel any breeze
penetrating the jacket.
Performance: The MontBell Permafrost Light Down Jacket seems to be
falling into my category of COLD weather outer layer insulation. It is
very warm for the weight, windproof, and is large enough to slip over
everything I am wearing. The jacket is just too warm to hike in even
when the temperature is 20°
F (-7° C). I have not been hiking in temperatures colder than that
but will try to head out if it gets colder.
Winter weather in Colorado is cold, windy and dry during January and
February. The humidity is low and the snow that falls is the light
powdery stuff the skiers love. This jacket seems to excel in this kind
of weather. During these 2
months of usage I have experienced no rain and only very
light blowing snow. It was too cold for any of it to stick to the
jacket. Hopefully during the next 2 months the temperatures will warm
up enough so I can test the jacket's performance in wet snow. If the
temperatures are warm enough to rain I probably will not have the
So far the jacket does not seem to accumulate much moisture. Even when
I put the jacket on over my damp hiking clothing (especially on my back
where my pack rests) it was not damp on the inside when I took it off.
During my overnight backpacking trip when I reached camp I was a little
chilled and a bit sweaty. I immediately put on the jacket and felt
warmer. By the time I went to bed I did not notice being sweaty any
more and felt quite warm and dry. When I took the jacket off, before I
started hiking back to the car, my clothes were dry and the jacket was
dry on the inside. Well that moisture had to go somewhere so when I got
back home that evening I weighed the jacket to see if any moisture
accumulated in the down. It weighed 17.9 oz (507 g) which means it only
retained .4 oz (11 g) of moisture from its original weight. That's not
whole lot, but it is also not a very long period of time (2 days and 1
night). My conclusion is that the very dry (low humidity) allowed my
body heat to push the majority of the moisture through the jacket and
into the surrounding air. I also want to add that I only wear the
jacket for brief moments when I am sweating and for longer periods when
my activity is minimal and I am not sweating. I personally regulate my
output levels during cold weather to make sure I don't sweat. If I
start getting sweaty I ventilate, take off a layer or slow down.
I have not washed the jacket yet and it does not smell or seem to
retain any odors. I have had no issues with the zippers or the
pockets. They are large enough and deep enough to accommodate my gloves
and hat when needed.
Likes and Dislikes: This is
easy. I like everything about this jacket. It is warmer, has superior wind resistance and is lighter
weight than other insulating
have used. The higher collar snugs up around my neck and keeps the heat
in quite nicely. If I had a wish list it would be a zip-off hood and a
simple pocket on the inside where you could store a small water bottle
or other items to keep them from freezing.
locations and conditions:
Sadly to say the weather has warmed up enough that the
Permafrost jacket has not seen much use. Over the past two months my
remained pretty much the same as my field report, consisting of day
hikes, walking the dog, shoveling snow and the occasional overnight
backpacking trip. For
Colorado, especially the Front Range, the winter has been mild with
little snow. Until last week that is. We got about 14 in (36 cm)
dropped on us. For me, just like during the Field Report the cut off
point for use still seems to be around freezing. If it is warmer than
freezing the jacket stays home. Colder than freezing I will at least
stuff it in my pack for backup. Lately the jacket has seen the most
usage in the early morning hours when I take the dog for a walk or head
to work. Early morning temperatures are still between 20 and 30° F
(-7 to -1° C) but quickly warm up after that.
Day Hike — Walker Ranch loop trail, 7.4 mi (11.9 km) in Boulder,
Colorado. The temperature started out at 40° (4° C) and quickly
climbed to 70° F
(21° C) with elevations between 6500 and 7500 ft (1981 and 2286 m).
I stuffed the jacket in my day pack but never took it out.
Day Hike — Heil Valley Ranch loop trail, 8.1 mi (13 km) in Lyons, CO.
This was a much cooler hike. Started out at about 35° F (1.6°
C) and warmed to about 50° F (10° C). Just about the perfect
spring hiking weather. Again I brought the jacket with me and only put
it on for about 10 minutes during my first break. Mostly just to take
the chill off because I was sweaty. Took it off when I started hiking
again. The weather was just too warm to wear.
Overnighter — Finch Lake, west of Allens Park, CO 4.5m (7.2 km) one
way. Elevations run between 6400 ft (1950 m) to 9900 ft (3017 m).
Temperatures were between 45-55° F (7-13° C) during the day and
during the night it got down to 20° F (-7° C). I brought the
jacket with me and wore it in the evenings around camp and to sleep in.
As an experiment I brought a lighter weight down quilt rated to 32°
F (0° C) and used the Permafrost as additional insulation. My upper
body was toasty warm all night. My lower body was only slightly chilled
as I only had on mid-weight Merino wool base layer with micro fleece
pants and my shell pants over everything. I think with thicker fleece
it would have been just the right warmth.
Performance: The Permafrost
is by far the warmest, most weather resistant jacket I have ever worn.
It fits me perfectly with 3 additional layers underneath. For winter
outings this jacket will continually be utilized as my primary top
layer insulation. For me, the ability to have lots of layers or just a
few to suit the weather gives this jacket extreme versatility over a
wide rage of temperatures. I have worn this jacket in 0° F
(-18° C) with a Merino wool base layer, a thin micro fleece
pullover and a mid-weight synthetic fill jacket underneath and I was
quite warm hanging out at camp. I am sure with thicker layers I could
go a bit colder. To be honest when it starts dipping below 0° F (-18° C) I'm just not
having any fun any more. I have also worn this jacket with just a
cotton t-shirt underneath in freezing temperatures while taking a walk
around the neighborhood and I was warm and toasty.
I have experienced winds approaching 40 mph (64 kph) and have not felt
any breeze underneath. The jacket also handles snow, both powder and
the wet heavy stuff extremely well. The snow that melts just beads up
and rolls off. Colorado winters typically have very low humidity so I
never experienced the down losing loft from accumulating moisture
either externally or internally.
I have washed the jacket once following the manufacturers
recommendations and the down lofted up as good as new. The welded seams
that create the down pockets appear to be holding up extremely well as
none of them have separated.
Summary: This jacket has found
a definite spot in my winter camping gear. While not a full on
expedition parka it serves my needs extremely well. I like everything
about it— the warmth, light weight, weather resistance, versatility,
fit and features. If I had any requests it would be a detachable hood
and an inside pocket to keep items warm.
I would like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and MontBell for the
opportunity to test this jacket.
Read more gear reviews by Bob Sanders