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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell PermaFrost Light Down Jacket > Test Report by Bob Sanders

MontBell Permafrost Light Down Jacket

Test Series by Bob Sanders

Initial Report: December 3, 2008
Field Report: February 8, 2009
Long term Report: April 6, 2009

Name: Bob Sanders Backpacking 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)
Age: 51
Gender: Male
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 210 lb (95 kg)
Chest: 48 in (122 cm)
Waist: 38 in (97 cm)
Email: sherpabob(at)mac(dot)com
Location: Longmont, Colorado USA


December 3, 2008

Web Photo   Front View   


Manufacturer: MontBell America Manufacturer's 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.
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US $249
Listed Weight: 13.8 oz (391 g) Size Med
Measured Weight: 17.5 oz (497 g) XXL
Weight of stuff Sack: 0.4 oz (10.4 g)
Colors available: Gun Metal (Tested), Red Brick, Thyme

Features (From Website):
  • Welded Single Quilt Construction
  • Micro fleeced line collar
  • Zippered hand pockets with fleece lining
  • Slightly articulated elbows
  • One hand hem adjusters for both sides
  • Alpine elastic cuffs with Velcro adjustments
  • Water resistant Aqua-TectTM zippers
Tech Specs (From Website)
  • High quality 800 fill power hypoallergenic goose down
  • WINDSTOPPER® insulated Shell
  • 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.

Zipper & fabric Closeup      Collar


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.

FABRIC: 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 shake and all the beads were gone. I will also be evaluating how abrasion resistant the fabric is.

CONSTRUCTION: 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 spots.

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 your chin.

Measuring loftINSULATION: 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 power down.

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.

FIT & 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.

ZIPPERS: 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 little bit stiff. I will see if the stiffness eases up after continued use.

POCKETS: 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 pack.

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.

Cuff Adjustment   Stuffsack   Hem Adjusters



February 8, 2009

This 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 instant, luxurious warmth.

Testing locations and conditions: Over the 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 hikes have 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 lightweight wind 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 (2900 m) 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 jacket with me.

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 a 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 jackets I 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.



April 7, 2009

Winter SnowstormSadly to say the weather has warmed up enough that the Permafrost jacket has not seen much use. Over the past two months my testing has 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 very 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.

Testing locations and conditions:

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 pants it would have been just the right warmth.

Overall 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 and MontBell for the opportunity to test this jacket.

Read more gear reviews by Bob Sanders

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell PermaFrost Light Down Jacket > Test Report by Bob Sanders

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