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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell Thunderhead Jacket > Test Report by Bob Sanders
MontBell Thunderhead Jacket
Test Series by Bob Sanders
Initial Report: June 13, 2008
Field Report: August 18, 2008
Long Term Report: October 21, 2008
June 13, 2008
INITIAL IMPRESSIONSThe jacket arrived and style of the jacket matches the website. The color however seems a bit different to me. I included the photo from the website so you can make your own determination. My perception was that the body of the jacket would be more of a charcoal color with the sleeves being an olive green. The body of the jacket is more of a dark teal green color with olive sleeves. Works for me, it just appears different than the website.
FABRIC: The jacket is made from 2 different waterproof Gore-Tex fabrics. The main body is made from 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell fabric. Across the shoulders and surrounding the front pocket openings is a Stretch Gore-Tex Paclite fabric. The Gore-Tex Pro Shell fabric has a hard finish and is kind of crinkly and a bit noisy when you move around. The Stretch Gore-Tex Paclite is just the opposite and has a soft finish and is very quiet. I kind of wish they had made the entire jacket from the softer stretch fabric.
I held my sleeve under a water faucet and the water beaded up nicely and ran off. A quick shake and all the beads were gone. We will see how waterproof and breathable the jacket is with further testing in the next 4 months.
CONSTRUCTION: The jacket appears to be very well made with no loose threads or funky stitches. The jacket is manufactured with a process called "Smart Sewing" which reduces the size, weight and bulk of the seam. At first glance they do seem to be smaller and tighter. All of the seams are covered with waterproof seam tape.
FIT & SIZING: I asked for and received an extra large. I was not exactly sure what size to order as there is no sizing chart on their website. Luckily there is a MontBell retail store in Boulder, CO which is just south of where I live so I went and tried on an XL and it was a good fit for me. The jacket is not snug at all and there is plenty of room underneath to add numerous layers if needed. The jacket also does a good job of covering my large posterior and covers the top of my pants even when I sit down.
The sleeve length is perfect for me. With my arms at my sides the sleeves come to about the middle of my fingers. That means my gloves are covered and when I raise my hands above my head the sleeves don't expose my wrists. I like longer sleeves on a rain jacket because I can withdraw my hands up into the sleeves keeping them dry.
ZIPPERS: All of the zippers are Aqua-Tect water resistant zippers which eliminate the need for storm flaps. 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 huge. Plenty of room for a hat and gloves during the cooler months. Water resistant, 8 in (20 cm) zippers secure the pockets. The pockets are located high enough to avoid the waist belt on a pack. I will report later on how well they function while wearing a pack. The pockets are not lined with mesh, which helps with ventilation, but with what appears to be more waterproof fabric. This second layer of fabric extends quite high and basically adds two layers of fabric to almost the entire front of the jacket. I will be keeping a close eye on if this second layer impedes breathability on the front of the jacket.
HOOD: I really like the hood. It snugs around my face really well and the adjustment truly was one-handed. A quick pull on the elastic cord brought the sides of the hood around my face and an adjustment to the Velcro tab pulled the brim up out of my eyes. The brim has a small plastic foam piece along its front edge which gives it enough stiffness to hold it out away from my face and shield my eyes.
VENTILATION: The jacket has good sized 12 in (30 cm) pit zips to allow for ventilation under the arms. But with the pockets not being lined with mesh, ventilation on the front of the jacket will be limited. We will see how this works out with further testing.
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 needed.
August 18, 2008
It was beginning to look like testing a rain jacket in this area of Colorado was going to be a wash, so to speak. I have carried this jacket with me on every hike I have been on for the past 2 months and it has been hot, dry and sunny. I never even pulled the jacket out of my daypack. I kept watching the weather hoping to see some moisture. Well it finally rained. Not just a little bit but nearly 4 inches in 3 days during a 3 day 2 night backpacking trip to Indian Peaks Wilderness in the Rocky Mountains. Cutting it a little close as this was the weekend before this test was due.
Three Day Trip: Packed everything the night before and hit the trail bright and early Friday morning, August 15th. This trip I took the Buchanan Pass/Pawnee Pass loop trail (24 miles). Elevations are between 9,000 and 12,500 ft (2,743 and 3,810 m) The weather starting out was cloudy and cool at 55° F (13° C) but warmed up to about 70° F (21° C) by midday on Friday. From there temperatures just kept heading down. At night it hovered around 35° F (1.6° C) and Saturday and Sunday it never got above about 50° F (10° C) during the day. Did I mention it rained. It started drizzling at about 5:00 pm on Friday and it didn't stop drizzling until late Sunday night. In between drizzles it poured. I basically put this jacket on Friday evening and wore it almost constantly until I got home Sunday night (though I didn't sleep in it).
Performance: Of all the waterproof jackets I have owned this jacket did an exemplary job of keeping me warm and dry under the circumstances. On Friday it didn't begin raining until about 5:00 pm so I put the jacket on and only hiked for another hour or so in the drizzle. Since it was very light rain I had both pit zips fully open and both pockets open. I was hiking slow and steady as the trails were wet, muddy and slick and by this time of the day most of the mileage was behind me. I was wearing shorts, a long sleeve nylon shirt and the Thunderhead Jacket over that. A few sweaty patches formed in the middle of my chest and on my back where the pack was. At a slow pace in a light drizzle the jacket ventilated extremely well. The only time I began to feel chilled was after I had set up the tent and was wandering around looking for a place to hang my food bag. By then the temperature was about 50° F (10° C).
All day Saturday and half a day Sunday was just more of the same. I am comfortable hiking in a light rain/drizzle but when it starts to pour it is just no fun and I try to find some overhead shelter. Even if it is just a clump of trees to stand under. Lucky for me it only poured for about 10 minutes at time. Once again, because everything was wet muddy and slippery my pace was slow but steady. I never felt like I was over heating because of exertion. The day time temps never got above about 50° F (10° C) so I was now wearing long nylon pants, a black garbage bag kilt, a long sleeved lightweight Merino wool top with the long sleeved nylon shirt over that and then the jacket. I did keep the pit-zips open but I kept the pockets closed. I did notice a small wet patch on each side of my shirt starting about where the bottom of the pit-zip ends. Probably a little leaked in as I swung my arms while hiking. I also still had the sweat patches on my chest, back and under my arms. To me this is perfectly acceptable because I experience these hiking in good weather with no rain jacket on.
One of the aspects of this jacket that I really like are the extra long sleeves, which are long enough in fact that I can pull my hands up inside the sleeves and keep my hands reasonably dry.
Waterproofness: I did not experience any leakage through any of the seams. Including those across the shoulders where my pack straps were rubbing. The DWR is also quite good as even light drizzle just beaded up and eventually rolled off.
Durability: The jacket has held up very well. While hiking I have brushed up against trees, limbs and boulders with no sign of abrasion or durability issues.
• The hood — adjusts well, fits my big head and keeps the rain from leaking in around my face
• Breathability — ventilation is good and the Gortex membrane breaths well under moderate exertion in very wet weather
• Long sleeves so I can pull my hands inside and long back which keeps my pants covered even while sitting
• Fabric is kind of crinkly and a bit noisy
October 21, 2008
This jacket is a keeper! I have thoroughly enjoyed testing this jacket and it has found a place in my pack. In the past 2 months I have worn this jacket on 5 day hikes and 2 additional backpacking trips.
Trip Conditions: September and October have been spectacular. Between all the leaves changing and the cool crisp air, the fall is definitely my favorite time of year. Daytime temperatures have been between 70° and 50° F (21° and 10° C) with the night time temperatures between 45° and 30° F (7° and -1° C). All day hikes have been in the foothills near my home with elevations between 6000 and 7500 ft (1828 and 2286 m). My backpacking trips have been at higher elevations up to 9000 ft (2743 m).
Both backpacking trips were in the Indian Peaks wilderness area. For the first trip I spent the night at Rainbow Lakes and hiked to Caribou Lake along the Arapahoe Glacier Trail for the second night. The weather was dry and the humidity was low. The second trip I started at Forth of July campground and hiked to Jasper Lake and then on to King Lake and then back to Forth of July where my car was parked. The weather was cloudy most of the time and on the second night we got a very light dusting of snow. In the morning it was still snowing but by the time I hit the trail it had stopped. There was really no accumulation and most of it had melted in an hour or so.
Performance: This jacket adds a good amount of warmth when it is cool/cold out. It also works extremely well as a wind jacket. On the morning of all the day hikes and backpacking trips the temperature was around 40° F (4° C). I would wear a Merino Wool base layer and a micro fleece zip neck pullover over that with the Thunderhead as my shell layer. I also wear a thin fleece stocking cap and thin fleece glove liners. This worked well as I packed up and got moving. As I would hike and begin to warm up the first thing I would do to regulate my temperature is to unzip the pit zips. Next I would remove my hat and gloves. This works well as my head seems to generate a lot of heat. If I continued to warm up as I hiked I would unzip the front of the jacket and the neck of the pullover. This set up was usually good till it reached about 50-55° F (10-13° C). Beyond that I would take the jacket off and just wear the base layer and pullover. At rest stops I would put the Thunderhead Jacket back on to keep from becoming chilled. If it was windy (which is almost always at higher elevations) I would take the pullover off and just wear my base layer and the jacket.
In warmer or very wet conditions you can overwhelm the breathability of this jacket. In dryer/cooler conditions the breathability of this jacket is excellent. Either way it is important to regulate my body temperature to keep from sweating too much. Personally I like to hike just on the edge of cool. It seems to benefit my energy and comfort level.
Maintenance: I have washed this jacket once following the manufactures care tag. Machine wash in warm water, gentle cycle, no bleach and line dry. It does say you can iron the jacket. Not sure why someone would do that, though I have read somewhere that on some jackets it helps bring the DWR back to life. After the jacket had dried I tested the waterproofness once again by sticking the arm of the jacket under a water faucet and the water just ran off like before. So one washing didn't seem to have any affect on the DWR.
Summary: This jacket does everything I expected it to do. It kept me warm and dry, even on the inside, as long as I regulated my body temperature. The fabric is durable and lightweight. The jacket fits me well including the hood. Without being baggy there is lots of room underneath for plenty of extra insulation. The jacket is extremely waterproof and is long enough in the front and back to keep pants covered. As the weather turns colder this jacket is going to see a lot of service.
If I had to find one fault and it is very minor, the fabric is still a bit crinkly and noisy when you move around, even after being washed.
I would like to thank MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this item.
Read more gear reviews by Bob Sanders
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell Thunderhead Jacket > Test Report by Bob Sanders