MontBell Permafrost Light Down Jacket
Test Series by Kurt Papke
|| Kurt Papke
|| 6' 4" (193 cm)
|| 220 lbs (100 kg)
|| kwpapke at gmail dot com
|City, State, Country:
|| Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Backpacking background: mostly in Minnesota - I have hiked all of the
Hiking Trail and Border Route.
My preferred/typical backpack trip is one week, mostly in the
seasons, but doing more in the winter as of late. I do periodic
day hiking in
Michigan, Wisconsin, Utah,
Colorado and Oregon. I do a fair amount of winter snowshoeing and
cross-country skiing, so keeping warm in cold weather is important
Tester Measurements &
MontBell Sizing Chart Germane to Jackets
|MontBell Sizing Chart
(body size, not garment dimensions)
For XL (size tested)
As can be seen from the table above, I am very long-waisted. A
U.S. "large-tall" size normally fits me best, but many manufacturers do
not sell men's tall sizes so I often have to opt for an extra-large.
The MontBell Permafrost Light Down Jacket (hereafter referred to as the
Permafrost) is a lightweight down jacket with a GORE-TEX WINDSTOPPER
membrane laminated beneath a 30-denier nylon shell. The intent is
to combine the insulating properties of 800 fill power down with the
wind-blocking capability of the WINDSTOPPER membrane to prevent both
conductive and convective heat loss. The product labeling
indicates "When winter conditions prevail, but a full on expedition
parka would be overkill, the Permafrost light makes a lot of sense"
The size and weight discrepancies are easily explained by the
difference between a men's medium and extra-large size jacket.
||MontBell Co. Ltd.
|Year of manufacture:
(Men's Medium size)
(Men's Medium size)
(Men's XL size)
|5.1 x 9.3 in
(13 x 23.6 cm)
|5.1 x 9.3 in
(13 x 23.6 cm)
|5.25 x 11.5 in
(13.3 x 29.2 cm)
From the outside-in, the jacket is constructed of:
- A 30-denier ballistic rip-stop nylon shell. The fabric has
just a bit of a "crinkly" feel and sound to it, and a nice sheen.
The color is attractive.
- A GORE-TEX WINDSTOPPER shell. This fabric is designed to
allow essentially zero wind penetration, yet still be breathable.
It is a water-resistant layer, but not water-proof.
- 800 fill down.
In fact, the label on the garment indicates 90% goose down, and 10%
- A 15-denier ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon lining. The
lining is a gray color, and soft to the touch.
- The collar adds a perforated micro fleece lining, also in
gray. The pockets also have a non-perforated fleece lining on the
outside, also in gray.
Zipper: the front zipper runs the length of the jacket, and is
described as an Aqua-Tect
design. It supposedly repels water and snow, and thus MontBell
chose to not include a storm flap. There is an inner flap that is
protected by an additional layer of stiff fabric to prevent the zipper
from catching on the shell. This flap should prevent air leakage,
and keeps the cold zipper away from the body. The zipper color is
slightly darker than the fabric. There is a corded zipper pull
with a plastic pull tab. At the zipper top is a triangular piece
of fabric to protect the chin from scratching on the zipper.
The zipper operates smoothly, but not effortlessly. It does offer
substantial resistance when pulling.
The Aqua-Tect zipper design
is quite interesting and can be seen in the above photo. When
closed, the seam is almost undetectable and appears indeed quite
Collar: the collar is
approximately 2.75 in high (7 cm), and as previously mentioned is
fleece-lined. At the base of the collar is a hanger loop, as can
be seen in the first photo in this report in the sizing section.
Pockets: there are two
pockets located just above the hips with zippered closures similar to
the one on the jacket front. As previously mentioned, they are
fleece-lined on the outside of the jacket. They are a very
generous size - big enough to get my whole hand plus a good portion of
my wrist inside.
there are two hem adjusters, one on each side of the jacket.
These can supposedly be operated with one hand, but so far in my
limited trials I seem to need two hands. These are tethered to
the jacket as can be seen in the photo at left. The adjusters
operate smoothly. The cord in the hem is very elastic.
Cuffs: have Velcro
adjusters and are also elastic. There is not a lot of elastic in the cuffs - when
tightened over my glove cuffs, it wasn't easy for me to get the cuffs
back on again without releasing the Velcro, though there is enough
"give" to it to allow me to get the jacket on with my hands passing
through the cuffs without releasing the
Velcro. The Velcro tabs have a bit of extra fabric on the ends to
allow them to be gripped with the fingertips, though field use will
show how easy this is to do with gloves and mittens on.
the website and labeling claims the elbows are slightly articulated for increased
freedom of movement. The articulation was not obvious to me from
a quick visual inspection.
|November 26, 2008 7:15AM -
|November 30, 2008 8:00AM -
|About 6 miles (10 km)
|750 to 875 ft (230 to
|18 to 25 F
(-8 to -4 C)
|23 F to 24 F
|5 to 12 mph
(8 to 19 kph)
|Near 100% --
some ice fog
lightweight polyester T-shirt
A pity my first use had no wind to stress the WINDSTOPPER, but this
winter will see plenty of that... A few observations:
The purpose of the second walk was to test performance in snowfall and
somewhat warmer conditions. Observations:
- I was toasty warm immediately at the outset of the walk.
Normally on this same walk in
similar conditions with my Polartec Windbloc fleece I'll be cold for
first 30 minutes or so. Not with the Permafrost, I was warm from
the moment I stepped out of the car.
- After an hour of walking I was too warm and had to unzip the
jacket 2/3 of the way, even though the temperatures were still in the
low 20's F (-5 C).
- The sleeves rustle a bit when walking and swinging my arms, but
- The elastic in the hem adjusters makes the jacket ride up my butt
if they are tightened too much. After I loosened them a bit, the
problem went away.
- The insulating properties of the Permafrost were such that I had
almost no snow melt - the precipitation simply bounced or slid off the
- Conditions were a bit warm for a down jacket. I was able to
vent quite a bit by unzipping the front of the jacket, loosening the
cuffs and the hem adjustors. This was quite effective at
regulating the temperature.
A close inspection of seams and fabric turned up absolutely no
flaws. I could not find a trace of a loose thread anywhere.
The construction of the garment is impeccable.
This jacket oozes quality: the sheen and feel of the fabric, the
operation of the zippers and cuff give the impression of attention
to all aspects of design.
I had some concerns before the garment arrived that the XL
not fit my long torso, but those concerns turned out to be pretty much
: about right,
though I would have liked to see a just a little more length in the
back. My kidneys could get a little chilled if I am squatting or
: the labeling
indicates that the jacket is "Generously cut to accommodate a variety
winter layering systems". The chest was sized well, but I felt I
had a little too much bulk in my lower back. When layered over a
fleece it was a little more snug.
The Permafrost stuffs
nicely, but not very tightly into the supplied sack. I suspect
under pressure from other items in my backpack, the sack will compress
quite a bit more than what is depicted in the photo at left.
Some jackets are now designed with the stuff sack integral to the
jacket fabric. This is not the case with the Permafrost, so the
sack will have to be stowed in a pocket when in use.
There is a special slip packed with the jacket that states "Because
this product is using highly wind proof materials for the outershell,
the air within the product may not compress quickly. Please
compress slowly or you may rupture the down compartments."
Indeed, I found when stuffing the jacket into the sack I had to do so
quite slowly to allow the air to gradually come out of the baffles.
Concerns - Things I'll be Looking For
This is a jacket, not a parka. Protection below the waistline is
minimal. I'll be looking to see if I get a cold butt or groin in
windy conditions. This concern is exacerbated by the fact that
the jacket is not really sized for a person like myself with a long
The jacket collar is not particularly high. I have a fairly long
neck, and I'm very sensitive to a chill on my throat. I may have
to use a neck gaiter with this jacket in very cold temperatures -- time
This is a down jacket, and the WB membrane is on the outside.
I'll be watching to see how much loft is lost due to perspiration, or
just extended use in cold conditions.
The Aqua-Tect zippers look like they'll shake off water nicely, but I
have some concerns about how stiff of a pull they are. I'll be
looking to see how easy it is to zip/unzip the jacket in bitter cold
This is a very attractive garment. I'll be wearing this jacket
every day this winter.
|Superior Hiking Trail
near Silver Bay, Minnesota
|About 14 miles (23 km)
|750 to 1250 ft (230
to 380 m)
|-2F (-19 C)
to a high of 15F (-9 C)
|calm to 16
mph (26 km/hr) gusts in the night
|6-11 deg F
less than the temperature
on day 3
pullover, 200 wt Polarfleece
This trip pushed the temperature limits of the jacket, but did not
demonstrate the wind-blocking properties of the Windstopper barrier as
it was quite calm.
OK, so I looked a little foolish with the balaclava and headband on,
but the picture of the thermometer above was taken just before this
self-portrait -- it was chilly! Observations:
- I found the Permafrost to be most useful in camp or on
breaks and not as useful while in motion. Even at temperatures
around 0 F (-18 C) I was just too
warm while hiking to wear the jacket.
- This jacket was a blessing in camp. Its hard to describe
the instant warmth I felt even at these cold conditions as soon as I
put the jacket on in the morning. It was really nice to have the
jacket in camp in the evening when I could cook dinner and make camp
without feeling cold. At 0 F (-18 C) I was warm enough with light
activity (as in the above picture) to not require major additional
insulation. In fact, in the above picture my Polarfleece pullover
is visible in the lower left corner - I wasn't wearing it underneath
- The jacket served a second purpose at night: I used it as extra
insulation in the SuperShelter system of my camping hammock. I
placed it beneath my torso in between the SuperShelter OCF pad and the
Exped MultiMat, and it kept me very warm at night.
- Packing in the stuff sack was easy. The stuffed jacket fit
nicely in the lid of my backpack where it was easily accessible on
- The jacket takes a few minutes to re-puff after being compressed
most of the day.
- The collar height was adequate when used with a balaclava.
- I would occasionally get a draft up my back when sitting down or
bending over. I had the hem adjusters pulled pretty tight, but
the jacket would still ride up enough to give me a momentary draft.
- When I put the Permafrost on during a break or when I arrived in
camp, if my fleece pullover was damp quite a bit of the moisture would
migrate into the Permafrost within minutes. After the first time
this occurred I was careful to remove my damp clothing before donning
the Permafrost to avoid getting moisture in the down, which is
difficult to get back out at these temperatures.
|January 11-13, 2009
|Superior Hiking Trail near Finland, Minnesota
|About 10 miles (16 km)
|1322 ft to 1726 ft (400 m to 525 m)
|High of 15 F, low -27 F (-9 C to -33 C)
|Calm to 25 mph (40 km/hr) gusts in the night
|Forested with lakes and rivers
Rolling hills with no steep ascents
|Merino SS T-shirt, Powerdry LS
pullover, 200 wt Polarfleece pullover
I wore the Permafrost in the
evening of night one of this trip and the morning of day two (pictured
at left). It
was much colder the second night, but I elected to wear a large parka
that evening to stay warm.
My hiking partner and I arrived at our camp at 3:30PM on January 11,
and I immediately put on the Permafrost to stay warm during camp
setup. We chose our camp location behind some fir trees to
protect us from the wind whipping across Egge Lake. The
temperatures were dropping rapidly, but despite the 10 F (-12 C)
temperature I was plenty warm.
Once camp chores were completed I added another layer: my Marmot Precip
rain jacket, on top of the Powerdry shirt but underneath the 200 wt
Polarfleece. This was in preparation for sleeping that evening,
and to keep me warmer during the more sedentary evening
activities. The strategy was to use my Marmot Precip jacket (and
pants) as a vapor barrier layer. This proved very successful.
During the evening I kept my beverage warm in my 1 L (1 qt) Nalgene
bottle by tucking it into my jacket pocket. I was very pleased
could easily fit the bottle in the Permafrost pocket.
Sean and I cooked dinner, then sat around outside and chatted until
about 9PM. We had no fire or other external heat source. I
was plenty warm all evening until just before retiring.
Temperatures by this time dropped to about 5 F (-15 C).
Just before climbing into my sleeping bag I took off the jacket and
once again used it as insulation under my back in the SuperShelter.
The next morning I wore the jacket during morning camp chores when the
temperature was about 0 F (-18 C). The photo above shows me
wearing the jacket while melting snow and filling my hydration
reservoir. The Nalgene that fits into the pocket can be seen with
the blue cap tucked into the snow on my left in the picture.
On the second night I used the jacket again as insulation beneath my
hammock, but this time augmented with my 30 F (-1 C) down sleeping
bag. It was bitterly cold that night, -27 F (-33 C), and I
appreciated the extra down underneath me during the night.
I used the jacket again on many dayhikes during the Field Report
period, I'll comment on just a few of the exemplary ones.
Walk: Monday December 15, same location as listed in Trial Walks in the Initial Report.
Temperature -7 to -5 F (-22 to -21 C), winds were brisk at 10-20 mph
(16 - 32 kph) so this was a good test of wind chill performance.
Worn beneath: midweight Powerdry LS shirt.
Walk: Wednesday December 17, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in
Chanhassen, hiked about 6 miles (10 km). Altitude: 980 to 1100 ft
(300 to 335 m). Environment: 1 to 5 F (-17 to -15 C), light winds
0 to 7 mph (0 to 11 kph), sun was shining brightly. This hike was
notable in that I was carrying a daypack, which I found fit well over
the jacket. I was comfortably warm throughout the hike, just
slightly overly warm.
Walk: Monday December 22, same location as listed in Trial Walks in the
Temperature -14 to -5 F (-26 to -21 C), winds were negligible.
Worn beneath: midweight Powerdry LS shirt. Same daypack. In
these very cold conditions I noticed a chill at the front of my armpit,
and around the base of my ribcage. The pack straps were drawing
the jacket taut across my chest. My torso was warm, in fact the
jacket was pretty damp with perspiration at the conclusion of the hike.
Walk: Monday December 29, same location as the week before.
Temperature hovered around 24 F (-4 C), but this was the windiest
conditions so far with NNW winds from 7 to 25 mph (11 to 40 kph),
mostly at the high end of the range. I felt no wind penetration
of the jacket during the walk, and had to vent periodically at the neck
starting after about 30 minutes of activity.
Observations from these dayhikes:
- The jacket performed exceptionally well. Even in the cold,
windy conditions I was warm. The wind did not penetrate the
- In the extremely cold conditions and in moderate cold with high
winds I did not overheat, i.e. I did
not need to open the jacket to vent.
- The jacket performs well with a daypack, though in extreme cold
in the environs of -14 F (-26 C) the pack straps do compress the loft
at the front of the jacket enough to feel the cold.
- Cuffs: I prefer elastic cuffs rather than the Velcro design of
the Permafrost. I find elastic faster and easier to re-tighten
after removing my gloves. That said, the wide Permafrost cuff and
the large amount of adjustability do give me the option of going over
or under my glove cuffs. Going over the glove cuffs worked the
best for me. When I wore them under the glove cuffs the slippery
fabric of jacket caused the gloves to work their way loose over
time. The jacket cuff Velcro tabs were large enough to grip with
gloves on (to adjust the second glove after the first one is put on),
but it felt awkward.
- Pockets: the deep pockets are great for storing gloves
unfolded. The stowed gloves did not cause the belly of the jacket
to puff way out as often happens to me when I need to fold gloves in
- My headgear had difficulty keeping pace with the performance of
the Permafrost. I longed for a hood on the jacket.
- Collar: the collar seemed too short in windy conditions. I
noticed this more on the dayhikes because I was not wearing a balaclava
as I do in-camp when backpacking. I often added a neck gaiter for
warmth, which worked well but the collar was too tight to zip over the
I really like having this
jacket on cold weather hikes. If someone wants to take this
jacket away from me, they'll have to pry it from my cold, dead
hands. I appreciated the instant warmth
in-camp, and I have been pleasantly
surprised at how I have been able to multipurpose the garment as
under-hammock insulation at night.
- Toasty warm!
- The WINDSTOPPER membrane is very effective at blocking cold winds
- Ability to layer a fleece underneath
- Easy to pack
- Multitasking use as under-hammock insulation at night
- Deep pockets store gloves without needing to fold them and can
hold a 1 L (1 qt) Nalgene bottle comfortably
This concludes my Field Report on the MontBell Permafrost Light Down
- Could be a little longer in back
- Readily absorbs moisture from underlayers
- The zippers can be a little reluctant
- A hood would be wonderful, but at a minimum I'd like to see a
taller collar to avoid wearing a neck gaiter.
- I prefer an elastic cuff to the Velcro
Long Term Report
|February 12-14, 2009
|March 6-8, 2009
|March 28-April 4, 2009
|Porcupine Mountain Wilderness in Michigan's
|Eagle Mountain in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Wilderness of northern Minnesota
|Ozark Trail in south-central Missouri located in
the Mark Twain National Forest
|778 ft to 1600 ft (237 m to 490 m)
||1700 ft to 2297 ft (520 m to 700 m)
||925 ft to 1650 ft (280 m to 500 m)
|Nighttime lows of around 15 F (-9 C), daytime
highs of 30 F (-1 C)
||Nighttime lows of 15 F to 20 F (-9.4 C to -6.7
C), daytime highs of 25 F (-4 C) to 32 F (0 C)
||Coldest nighttime low was 26 F (-3 C), warmest
daytime high was about 70F (21 C)
|Light during the day, 15-20 mph (24-32 kph) at
|Mostly light, except blowing snow at 10-15 mph
(16-24 kph) on the morning of March 8
|This was the windiest trip I've ever
taken. They blew consistently at 10-20 miles/hour (16-32 km/hour)
with gusts up to 40 miles/hour (64 km/hour) on top of Bell Mountain
|Forested with lakes and rivers. The trail
was along an escarpment with some steep grades.
||The first section was on rivers, lakes and
creek beds, then a scrambling steep ascent of Eagle Mountain, followed
by a gradual descent on a Forest Service trail
||Heavily forested with oak and hickory.
Many streams, one lake. Continual climb & descent of Ozark
Porcupine Mountains from the Escarpment Trail
Once again the Permafrost did an admirable job of keeping me warm
in-camp. This time I did notice considerable loss of loft by the
morning of day 3. I attribute this to the near-constant snowfall
during the trip and the high humidity which can be seen in the photo
above of the escarpment view of Lake of the Clouds; also the warmer
temperatures caused me to sweat
profusely. I believe the moisture got into the down from the
inside, when I put the jacket on during breaks over wet clothing.
The falling snow was mostly "pellet" in consistency, and simply bounced
off the jacket outer shell.
When I arrived home I turned the jacket inside-out and hung it up to
dry. By the next morning it had completely dried out and once
again demonstrated its usual high loft.
The Permafrost accompanied me into my sleeping bag for the first time
on this trip. We slept with our bags on the ground with no cover
over us at all. The first night was on a frozen river bed with no
possibility to hang a tarp, the second night was in a forested
campsite. Days were warm and sunny, so there was lots of snow
melt during the day which created very damp conditions on the ground at
On the first night I woke up around midnight shivering, despite the
warm 25 F (-4 C) air temperature and my 0 F (-18 C) rated sleeping
bag. I put on the Permafrost,
crawled back into my bag and warmed up immediately.
On the second night I put the jacket on before climbing into my
bag. It thought it was going to get colder that night, and indeed
it did. I woke up again around midnight shivering, but this time
it was due to a poorly adjusted draft collar and mummy face
closure. Once I properly sealed up my head, I immediately warmed
up and went back to sleep.
My take away from this trip is that the Permafrost jacket can be very
effective nighttime insulation in a sleeping bag.
The weather called for nice spring weather
with cold nights, so I thought I would pack the Permafrost just in
case. Good thing. The first morning I woke up to 4 inches
(10 cm) of snow as shown in the photo at left with temperatures around
freezing. The night before I left it got down to 26 F (-3
C). I used the jacket to keep warm in camp, primarily in the
mornings when the temperature was lowest. I did use it in the
evening on Bell Mountain which despite the relatively balmy
temperatures of around 45 F (7 C), the wind made it feel much
colder. The Permafrost kept me toasty.
Every night save one it resided underneath me in my hammock. On
the last night I did not expect it to get quite so cold, but got out of
my shelter shivering at around midnight and wrapped the Permafrost
around my hips and thighs as that's where I felt the cold the
most. The result was instant warmth.
This was the only trip with the Permafrost where I had to be concerned
with it getting wet from rain, and rain it did. Fortunately I had
a spare 4L dry sack in my car that the jacket fit perfectly into.
I wonder whether the Permafrost would not benefit from waterproof
lining. This would prevent interior moisture from degrading the
down's insulating properties on multi-day backpacking trips. I
would argue that with the WINDSTOPPER membrane on the jacket exterior,
moisture will not really vent to the ambient air anyway, but most
likely be trapped in the down where it freezes.
My bottom line after 4 months of Minnesota winters with this jacket has
not changed from the Field Report: this is a terrific piece of outdoor
gear that I intend to wear for years to come. The combination of
light weight, compactness when stuffed into its sack, warmth, and wind
resistance is a winner. I was pleasantly surprised how useful it
was even on my spring hike to the Ozarks; its light weight, compact
size and wind resistance have made it my jacket of choice even in the
Many thanks to MontBell Co. Ltd.
and BackpackGearTest.org for the
test this product.
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke