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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell Thunderhead Jacket > Test Report by David Heyting

Montbell Thunderhead Jacket
Test Series
Initial Report June 11, 2008

Field Report August 19, 2008

Long-Term Report October 21, 2008

Tester Information:
Name: David Heyting
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Height: 6’ 0”, 1.83 m
Weight: 205 lb, 93 kg
Chest: 46", 117 cm
Waist: 38", 97 cm
Sleeve: 36", 91 cm
City, State, Country: Snoqualmie, Washington, USA

Backpacking Background:
I have been hiking and backpacking for over 15 years. A great deal of the backpacking that I do is related to mountaineering and rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest. When not climbing, I’m a hiker that tries to go light in order to push more miles. My main areas of exploration are the Washington Central and North Cascades, but I have done lots of hiking in the British Columbia Coastal Range as well as the Oregon Cascades. I am also an avid adventure racer and compete in several races each year ranging from 2 hours up to several days in duration.

Product Information
Manufacturer: Montbell
Model: Thunderhead Jacket
Listed Weight: 11.3 oz / 320 g (Med)
Measured Weight: 12.4 oz / 352 g (XL)
MSRP: $325.00 US
Size: XL
Color: Brick

Product Description:
The Thunderhead Jacket is a waterproof breathable jacket that features Gore-Tex technology. The Jacket has been designed to offer waterproof protection in a light weight package. The jacket is semi-fitted, so it can accommodate seasonal layering. There are two 12 inch (30 cm) zip pits, one in each arm to offer venting. The Jacket features a 2 inch (5 cm) drop tail to help promote better coverage and drainage. There are two 8 inch (20 cm) zippered pockets on each side. The sleeves have an elastic and Velcro cuff system that can be used to cinch down the sleeves on my wrists. Montbell also promotes their “smart sewing technology” that supposedly adds seam strength and weight savings. The company also has incorporated its “Aqua-Tect zippers” which are designed to provide better storm protection for each zipper.

Thunderhead Hood

The hood has a bendable bill that can be adjusted for better comfort. There is also a cinch cord and toggle system that can be used to tighten the hood around my head. There is also a similar cord and toggle system at the hem of the jacket that can be used to bring the jacket tight around my waist.

The jacket came with its own stuff sack and when fully stuffed, as about the size of a Nalgene bottle. The Jacket features fully taped seams that are designed to keep water out.

Initial Report
June 11, 2008

Initial Impressions:
At first glance the jacket is pretty impressive. It is very lightweight, for a Gore-Tex shell and by appearance seems like it will stack up well the elements. The lining is interesting as the inner fabric is a non-woven fabric. In looking at my other clothing that features Gore-Tex technology, the lining using is made from woven fabric. It will be interesting to see how the lining performs. I also like the fact that the Jacket is semi-fitted. This means that it will fit close to my body which great for doing more technical activities, but it also has space to allow for seasonal layers.

Montbell logo

I really like that fact the jacket comes with its own stuff sack as that is something that is nice to have when trying to keep my pack as organized as possible. I was also impressed with the two side pockets, as I am able to fit a Nalgene Bottle in each pocket. All of the zippers feature a pull cord to make it easier to open and close the zipper.

In my initial tinkering, I have also felt the hood is easy to adjust and seems to provide a good seal around my head. The bill also is easy to adjust and the fact that it is moldable makes it great for changing the way the hood sits on my head.

All in all this appears to be a pretty tough jacket that comes in a very lightweight package.

Stuff Thunderhead compared to a Sigg Water Bottle

Expected Testing
I plan on using this jacket as my main shell during Primal Quest, which is a 10 day adventure race that is being held in Montana. I am expecting to see some rain and possibly some snow on this upcoming trip. I also plan on using the jacket for most of the day hiking and my longer fast and light hiking trips that I do mainly in the Central Cascades.

Initial Likes and Dislikes:

Likes: The lack of weight

Dislikes: Nothing so far!

Field Report
August 19, 2008

Field Conditions and Locations:
The Thunderhead Jacket was one of my pieces of mandatory gear for Primal Quest, which is an expedition adventure race. The 2008 edition of the race took place in Southwest Montana near Bozeman. I trekked into the Bridger, Crazy, Madison and Gallatin Mountain ranges. Mandatory gear means that I was required to carry the Thunderhead Jacket throughout the entire race. I was on the course for nine days and traveled over 500 miles (805 km) on foot, bike and kayak. The race featured several long treks of over 40 miles (64 km) of which all of them consisted of night travel, which is where I found the Thunderhead to be very useful in keeping me warm as I trekked through the night. The weather was sunny every day with temperatures being in the low 80 F (26 c) most of the time. Night temperatures were a little bit hard to judge based on the elevation, however the coldest night was in the mid 30’s F (0 c) for sure. I experienced one short thunderstorm that did provide some rain which was all of the rain that I saw during the race. The high point of the race was 11,500 ft (3505 m) and most of the race was held at altitudes between 6,000 ft (1800 m) and 9,000 ft (2700 m).

Along with Primal quest I also competed in a 24 hour race in Central Oregon. This race took place near the town of Oakridge. Again the Thunderhead accompanied me as mandatory gear and was used during the night. The race was held near Waldo Lake and saw a long traverse on the seldom used Bunchgrass trail. The temperatures were in the low 80’s F (26 c) and most of the race was held at around 5,000ft (1500 m). The total distanced traveled was about 60 miles (95 km).

I also brought the Thunderhead Jacket along with me on three hiking trips. Two in the Alpine lake region and one in the Issaquah Alps. All three hikes ranged from 3 to 6 miles round trip (4.5 to 10 km). All of these were some of my local hiking trips that I consistently do.

In total I spent 14 days in the field during the Field Report period and traveled just under 600 miles (966 km).

Field Performance:
The Thunderhead is super lightweight which was great for the adventure racing that I did. It was a very easy call to make this jacket part of my required gear as it is very light and appears to be very tough. I found that it packs down quite nicely and I really like the fact that it comes with a little stuff sack. The jacket is semi-fitted, which I have found to be great. This means that I am able to still layer under the Thunderhead for warmth, but still feel like I have great range of motion while doing intense and technical activities. During Primal quest I had a t-shirt, long sleeve tech shirt, a lightweight fleece and then the Thunderhead as my layer system. With all of this on, never did the jacket feel too big or bulky on me. I did some technical ridge walking during Primal Quest and felt the jacket fit great and did not interfere with any of my movements.

The pit zips are easy to open and close and the two side pockets are more than adequate in terms of size. You can fit a softball into each pocket. The hood is easy to adjust in the field and I found that it will fit over a helmet, which can be a nice plus.

However I really feel that my Field report is a little bit incomplete as I did not spend any significant time in the rain to see how the Jacket performs for what it is designed for. In terms of the activities that I was able to do, I found the Thunderhead to be incredible in terms of its fit, ease of use (opening pit zips and adjusting the hood) and lightweight design.

In the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area

Field Summary:
So far I have found the Thunderhead to be a great performer for technical activities (which means that I also think it would be great for all uses as well!). The semi-fitted design is great for layering and the jacket has all of the items that I deem necessities in a hard shell jacket. From multiple ways to adjust the hood, to pit zips to large pockets, elastic waist belt, lightweight design, this Jacket packs it all.

Items for Continued Testing:
Rain, rain and more rain. I need to get out and get wet with the Thunderhead to fully be able to test how the Jacket performs. I have some exciting trips planned for late summer and early fall, so I am really hoping that I will get into some inclement weather to see how this jacket does.

Field Report Likes and Dislikes:

Likes: Semi-Fitted design and the weight – it is light!

Dislikes: Nothing this Jacket is the real deal.

Long-Term Report
October 21, 2008

Long-Term Conditions:
During the Long-Term testing period, the most fascinating trip I took was a 15 mile (25 km) trip to the top of Three Fingers, which is a peak in Cascades off the Mountain Loop Highway. The peak is 6,850 ft. (2089 m) high. The route can best be described as a high alpine route with a little bit of scrambling at the top. I wore the Thunderhead exclusively on this trip at elevations above 4,000 ft (1,200 m). On the upper part of the route there were a couple of snow crossings with some light wind. Along with this trip I spent a night near Silver Peak (5,605 ft, 1700 m) in the Central Cascades just off of I-90. I also did several hikes in the Issaquah Alps area, in the Central Cascade foothills. Twice I hiked up to a lookout on Tiger Mountain, which is at 2,000 ft (600 m) the route is about 2.5 miles (4 km) one way. I also did a long loop on Cougar Mountain which was about 12 miles (20 km). All in all during the Long-Term period, I went on a total of 5 trips with the Thunderhead.

I have to say that I unfortunately, still was not able to get the Thunderhead out in some horrible weather! I was fortunate to have some great weather for all of my trips during this period. I was able to use the jacket while doing some scrambling on Three Fingers and some scree fields on Silver Peak, thus I was able to once again wear the jacket in a more technical setting to evaluate its performance.

Long-Term Performance:
I have continued to be impressed with the performance of this jacket. I really like the semi-fitted cut of the jacket. The jacket has enough room that I am able to layer to keep warm. However it is not so bulky that I felt that I lost range of motion. During my trip on Three Fingers, I was able to do a little bit of scrambling, so I was able to test the jacket when using my hands and feet to reach the top of the summit. I felt comfortable with the Thunderhead on while reaching for handholds and moving across rock. I also felt that the jacket breathed quite well during my trips. I never had the “balmy” feeling that I have often got before, while wearing a waterproof jacket. I did use the pit zips frequently to keep myself at the optimal temperature.

High on Three Fingers with the summit in the background

I have found that the Thunderhead is very durable. Through all of the use and abuse that this jacket has had during the testing period, it has held up quite nicely. I was interested to see how the non-woven lining would perform. I have seen no unusually or abnormal wear and tear on the jacket. I had initially thought there might have been some delamination issues; however this was not the case at all. During my scrambling, I was also pretty rough on the jacket as I was climbing on rock. The jacket handled scraping over granite rock with ease. With the jacket being lightweight, I had thought that maybe this would mean that it would be a little be fragile, however this was not at all the case. I feel just as comfortable with this jacket in terms of abrasion resistance, than I have with any type of similar jacket.

The pit zips have been easy for me to access and open, the pockets are an adequate size and the hood adjusts down easily around my face. The Thunderhead covers all of the basics.

Continued Use:
I plan on using the Thunderhead as my main Gore-Tex jacket from now on. I found the fact that the jacket is lightweight, but still seems to be very durable is a huge plus in my book. The design of the jacket lends itself to be used for technical activities which I do a lot of. It also packs down nicely, so it will be a constant in my pack.

Its a long way down

All in all I think a great choice for a waterproof shell that is lightweight and can be used for intense activities. It has all of the basics that are necessary in terms of adjustable hood, pit zips, front pockets, fully taped seams and an adjustable waist. It even comes with a great little stuff sack. Really the Thunderhead has it all.

Long-Term Report Likes and Dislikes:

Likes: Everything

Dislikes: Nothing – the Thunderhead packs a punch.

This concludes my Test Report. Thank you to both BackpackGearTest and to Montbell for this fantastic opportunity to test the Thunderhead Jacket.
Read more gear reviews by David Heyting

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > MontBell Thunderhead Jacket > Test Report by David Heyting

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