MONTBELL U.L. THERMAWRAP PARKA
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
INITIAL REPORT November 16, 2008
FIELD REPORT January 26, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT March 27 2009
||Catskills, New York
||6' 0" (1.85 m)
||215 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from
a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no
means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to
carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In
recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within
the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
Color: Black (N.B. the website shows only dark navy, rust, and gunmetal)
Shell and lining: 15-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon
Insulation: Exceloft synthetic insulation, 80 g/m2
Waterproofing: Polkatex DWR (claimed good for 100 washes)
Listed weight: 12.8 oz (363 g) for size medium, as noted on website
Measured weight: 14 oz (396 g) for size XL
Stuffsack: Included (weight lower than my scale can measure)
Claimed size in stuffsack: 4.9 x 9 inches (13 x 23 cm)
Measured size in stuffsack: 5 x 10 inches (13 x 25 cm) [diameter variation within measuring error]
Place of manufacture: China
MontBell Thermawrap U.L. Parka
The jacket arrived uncompressed, and in fine shape. It was pretty much exactly as I had expected from the website, with the exception of the color, which is one not presently listed. I was immediately impressed at how light this parka is in comparison to most of my insulating pieces with synthetic fill, yet the insulation depth (approximately 1/2 of an inch, 1.25 cm, although this varies somewhat according to how and where it is measured) appears adequate for a garment of this type. There were three hang-tags attached. One detailed MontBell's Thermawrap series (a jacket, vest, and pants are also produced); the other two pertained to the insulation and the shell fabric. I tried the jacket on at once, and found that the fit was excellent, apparently with enough room for at least a light insulating vest underneath, yet not so capacious that it felt loose.
The MontBell warranty (taken from the website) reads in part "MontBell’s warranty covers all defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner for the lifetime of the product. If a product ever fails due to a manufacturing defect, MontBell will repair the product, or replace it, at our discretion. This warranty does not cover damage(s) caused by accident, improper care, negligence, alterations, or normal wear and tear. Damage(s) not covered under warranty will be repaired at a reasonable rate and a fee will be charged for shipping." There is more, but the warranty is pretty much industry standard.
Design and materials
My immediate impression of the garment was that it was impeccably made and carefully designed, something I have noted with every MontBell item I own. (I own quite a few things from this manufacturer.) My opinion has not altered upon closer acquaintance. I don't know how MontBell does it (every time, in my experience), but the construction of this parka is typical in that it radiates quality, with a high stitch-count on seams etc., no hint of any mis-sewing that I could find, and nary a loose thread. While in practical terms such perfection of production may not always be critical, aesthetically it is very satisfying, and in the long run it's generally a good indication of durability and performance.
The fabrics used have a very pleasant, soft hand, and feel quite luxurious. The nylon shell has a slightly matte finish, and is very "quiet," i.e. it doesn't make noise when it crinkles or rubs. MontBell remarks on these facts on their website, and my preliminary observation is that these claims seem accurate. When in the stuffsack (which is well-made, with a drawstring and toggle), the length of the package is slightly greater than that advertised, but this may be a function of the larger size I take (the website, at least for weight, is discussing a size medium).
The parka uses a sewn-through construction, with the compartments running circumferentially on the body and on the arms. The hood is differentially cut, with seven compartments. The full-length main zipper, a sturdy YKK with a nylon pulltab attached to the draw, is backed with a narrow draft-tube. When the zip is fully closed, it is housed in a small "zipper garage." Where the draft-tube rests against the neck and chin, there is a microfleece lining intended to prevent chafing. The waist hem tension is controlled by a system with two toggles, attached to the garment with thin webbing. The overall fit is excellent for me; as noted, not overly loose but with room for a light insulating garment underneath.
The sleeves are slightly long, but this is (I feel) as it should be, as it enables a good fit under or over gloves. They have an uninsulated gusset at the wrist end. The softshell fabric used for this is elasticized, and while the fit is slightly loose on my bare wrist, I'm hoping that on a gauntleted winter glove it will be reasonably weathertight. This is one aspect I will be examining closely during the test.
The jacket has two capacious pockets, each of which zips shut. The line of the zip is barely discernible when these are closed, and MontBell describes them as "concealed." Both are insulated externally, but have just the lining on the side facing the body. Though MontBell on its website seems to state that only the Thermawrap jacket and vest have true handwarmer pockets, these certainly look adequate for that purpose to me.
The hood has a pair of adjusters, flexible rubber (or possibly nylon) fittings, each of which is recessed into the sleeve through which the hood's elastic cord runs. Initially these were slightly fiddly to get at, but once a small loop of cord has been teased out, further adjustment (or at least further tensioning) seems easy enough, even when I tried it with gloves. Releasing the tension is a little less easy, and I found it slightly awkward gloved. The rake of the hood is adjusted with a standard hook-and-loop tab system; the male tab adheres to a female patch towards the rear of the hood. The result, as a preliminary assessment, is a roomy, well-fitting hood that stays in place and doesn't obscure vision if correctly adjusted. I have not tried the hood yet with a helmet.
The laundry instructions, attached to a label sewn to the interior of the parka, are straightforward. The garment is to be hand-washed cold, and line dried in shade without wringing (or tumble-dried at low heat). Dry cleaning and ironing are not recommended.
My initial examination (and some preliminary casual use) gives me hope that this jacket has the potential to be an extremely versatile addition to my kit, a good all-rounder. The DWR treatment, combined with the fact that the insulation is synthetic, may make this more suitable to wet conditions than the down jackets I usually use. This is of especial note as I often encounter mixed rain and snow conditions in the mountains in winter. While I have never yet soaked a down jacket, this mishap must always be a concern when the weather turns ugly. Synthetic insulation retains far more of its ability to retain body heat than down when wet. The light weight and small packed size are an advantage also. I will have no hesitation throwing this in a daypack or backpack. Finally, having a full hood on an ultralight garment is generally a big plus when conditions get downright nasty, and having a hood to flip over my hat for lunch stops and the like is always welcome in cold conditions.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka over the past two months or so, in one of the coldest winters here in the North-Eastern US in the past several years. During this Field Test period, the Parka has seen varied use, ranging from a liner under my business coat on chilly morning commutes, to two nights of backpacking under nearly Arctic conditions (-15 F, -26 C, or possibly colder). It was worn in camp (under a down layer), and also in my sleeping bag for extra warmth. I have used it extensively as a shell for cross-country skiing, on two of these occasions in fierce winds; and for general hiking and walking, though I have not used it off-trail (other than it being present in my pack as one of several layers for stops). Use was in the Catskill and Shawanagunk Mountains of New York, to elevations of about 4000 ft (1220 m). Conditions included deep snow cover, strong winds, as well as rain and occasionally ice-slicked rock, with day temperatures from about 15 to 32 F (-9 to 0 C), give or take a few degrees.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Thermawrap Parka is an exceptionally adaptable cool- and cold-weather tool. It has some of the qualities of a windshirt, in that it is extremely effective against quite fierce winds. In 15 F degrees (-9 C), with winds at 20 mph (30 kph, and gusting much higher), I cross-country skied along the banks of the Ashokan Reservoir near my home. I was more than adequately warm. In the same sort of temperatures (and engaged in the same activity), this time without much wind, I have been far too warm, but one of the beauties of this garment is that it is very breathable indeed (moisture rapidly percolates to the outer shell), and it retains its warmth when damp. I should stress that I am normally very careful about temperature regulation in winter, and was doing this to examine how well the garment functions under difficult conditions. The answer is "pretty darn well."
Indeed, it is as active wear that the Parka comes into its own, in my opinion. It obviates some of the need to keep changing layers. It's also pretty good for just standing around in the cold, but not, I feel, as cozy as a down garment of the same weight. Because of its thin profile, it is ideal for layering with other garments, ranging from rain and snow shells, down layers, and sleeping bags, all the way to the previously mentioned business coat! On its own (with a merino shirt underneath) it keeps me pretty comfortable if I'm just standing around, down to about 20 F (-7 C). Having the hood is a plus, as I find that if I start to chill, flipping it on immediately makes me feel warmer. These numbers are specific to my metabolism. I certainly wouldn't advocate this in the place of a belay-style garment for stationary use in cold temperatures, though it is a useful adjunct to one. Because of the low bulk it is perfect for use in a sleeping bag, and I think it's a natural for a sleep system for cooler temperatures. The two times I have used it (with winter-weight bags) it has been very pleasant, especially when bringing the bag up to warmth.
Speaking of the hood, I have found it a very good fit. With a little adjustment, I can keep unimpaired vision, and a good seal around my face. The sleeves are just the right length to fit well into (or even over) gloves. I've used everything from heavy mountaineering mitts to thin Capilene gloves with success. The elasticized gusset at the end of the sleeve is a very intelligent idea.
One tiny criticism is that the main zipper can be a tad balky. It is fairly easy to catch fabric in it, momentarily jamming the zipper. Perhaps something slightly stiffer than the webbing or ribbon that's used would be an improvement. It can be awkward to handle in heavier gloves, although there's an element of "luck of the draw." Sometimes I can slot the zipper halves together and pull the garment shut straight away with no fuss, other times it can take a moment, and I'll need to remove my gloves. I've also noted on occasions that the zip somehow rubs my neck slightly when closed, despite the "garage." The pockets are really handy, and I've carried lots of odds and ends in them. They are also terrific as handwarmers, well positioned for this. The zips on these operate smoothly, with no jamming so far.
Because I have used the Parka under conditions of heavy activity, and have sweated into it, I have already washed it. This was straightforward. I handwashed with a sports detergent, carefully rinsed, patted the worst of the water out with a towel, and tossed it in the dryer. This was set a little warmer than I had intended--a bit, but not a lot more than the recommended "low heat," but no harm was noted.
I've had the Parka in light rain, and found that the DWR works well. If I were going to be subjected to torrents (which hasn't been the case), I'd certainly use a shell over it, but for a light shower it repels water very well. If any rain penetrated the insulation, it didn't noticeably affect the warmth.
As a U.L. garment I have avoided putting it through the bushwhacking mill, which is death to good gear, but it's certainly proved sturdy enough for most purposes I've encountered thus far.
The MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka has been a splendidly versatile garment, in large part because of the combination of seemingly windproof but breathable textiles, and synthetic insulation. In my experience to date, it remains warm while damp with perspiration, or water of any kind. It is extremely useful as part of a layering system. I don't have any significant criticisms or issues to date, and indeed have become a real fan. My long-term test results will be available in March.
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
For the past two months I have carried the MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka as an insulation layer on all of my hikes and backpacks in the Catskills and Shawangunks. Temperatures during February were still quite cold, with day temperatures well below freezing. March has been significantly warmer, with daytime temperatures up to 50 F (10 C) during the day, though nighttime temperatures have generally been cold, especially at elevation. Snow cover in the hills has been deep, and only now is starting to melt back. The Parka has generally seen some use on every outing, as well as miscellaneous use around town, for commuting, etc.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Parka has proved to be a very versatile garment, handy for both day-hiking and backpacking. While it needs to be supplemented by a down layer for camp use in winter, I have found that it supplies just the right amount of warmth for many winter uses, stationary and active. Indeed, I shall continue to carry it as a year-round layer; it's perfect for cool evenings of the kind that can occur at any time of year, and the weight and bulk are pretty nominal.
The condition of the garment, despite a couple of washings and intensive wear over the test period, remains extremely good. I have avoided using it under conditions where it might get snagged by brush; in such settings, when I have used it, it has been layered under a breathable shell. While lightweight, the Parka seems to be made of pretty durable materials. The only real improvement I can think of would be a slightly sturdier zip, and perhaps a better system to help avoid fabric from catching in the zipper than the webbing ribbon.
The MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka is a lightweight, breathable, windproof (and somewhat waterproof) layer, well suited to a very broad range of applications. It offers a lot of warmth for the weight. The hood fits well and provides good visibility, and while it adds a little weight to the basic garment, it's very handy for additional warmth. The Parka is an exceptionally useful garment, and is very well made and designed. I shall continue to use it year-round.
Many thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this parka. This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org
Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Edward Ripley-Duggan