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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest > Test Report by John Waters

MONTBELL ALPINE LIGHT DOWN VEST
TEST SERIES BY JOHN R. WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - February 03, 2010
FIELD REPORT - April 20, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - June 23, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: John R. Waters
EMAIL: exec@bysky.com
AGE: 61
LOCATION: White Lake, Michigan USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 178 lb (80.70 kg)
BOOT SIZE 10.5 US

My backpacking began in 1999. I have hiked rainforests in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland, 14ers in Colorado and Death Valley's deserts. I hike or snowshoe 6-8 miles (10 km-13 km) 2-3 times weekly in Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, with other day-long hikes on various SE Michigan trails. I also hike in Colorado and am relocating there, which will increase my hiking time and trail variety tremendously. My daypack is 18 lb (8 kg); overnights' weigh over 25 lb (11 kg). I'm aiming to reduce my weight load by 40% or more.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: MontBell
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
MSRP: US$ 129.95
Listed Weight: 8.5 oz (241 g)
Measured Weight: 8.5 oz (241 g)
Colors Available: Charcoal Black, Steel Blue and Olive Green (men's) - Charcoal Black and Garnet (women's)
Color Tested: Charcoal Black
Sizes Available: Small, Medium, Large and XLarge (men's and women's)
Size Tested: Large

Product Features:

* Material: [Shell] 30D ripstop nylon; [Lining] 30D nylon taffeta
* Insulation: 800-Fill down
* Pockets: 2 Hand pockets
* Water-resistant
* Recommended Use: Backpacking, mountaineering, alpine climbing
* Made in China.
* Warranty: MontBell's warranty covers all defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner for the lifetime of the product.
Alpine Light Down Vest
Picture Courtesy of MontBell

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

MontBell's website does such a good job of presenting their products, so there were no surprises in the Alpine Vest's appearance when it showed up on my doorstep. I had anticipated a good-looking puffy vest and that is what I received.

It is a puffy vest, but not objectionably so. MontBell packs a bunch of down into the available space and that space looks to be very small as evidenced by the size of the included stuff sack.

Construction of the Vest is in three pieces; the back and two front sides, right and left, topped with a stand-up collar. Horizontal baffling holds the down filling in place throughout the body of the jacket and also in the collar. The baffling also attaches the outside of the Vest to the 100% nylon lining which is, in my case, charcoal grey. The black 100% nylon surface has a slightly shiny surface. The Vest is waist-length, measuring 30 inches (76 cm) from the bottom of the collar to the hem in back.

The full-length zipper is nylon with a storm flap behind the right side of it and a zipper "garage" at the neckline to minimize chafing. I will be looking to see if the storm flap has the snagging tendencies my wife's vest has.

The hem of the Vest and the armholes of the Vest are finished off with a stretchy binding. From the outside of the Vest, the stand-up collar shows a thin trim at the top which is a dark grey color brushed fleece. This trim continues into the inside of the collar making a soft lining of the collar. The collar lining feels very much like a favorite base layer of mine or a baby's receiving blanket.

There are two very large outer pockets and two same-sized inside pockets located on each side at the front of the Vest. The outside pockets are edged with the same binding as the Vest's hem and armholes. Entry to the vertically-aligned outside pockets is along the side seams. The inside pockets are accessible from a top horizontal opening. I can easily see the inside pockets carrying maps, my cell phone, food bars and more, while I've already found the outside pockets to be roomy and warm.

A small, but noticeable "mont (logo) bell" is embroidered on the left chest in white. I like the logo, it is discreet and classy.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

I found conflicting information on the care of MontBell's down products between the website and the Vest's care tag.

On the MontBell website, it indicates a front-loading washing machine and cold water can be used to wash down products with a gentle setting.

However, inside the Vest on the left side seam, there is a sewn-in care tag in English, what I'm guessing is Chinese (since the Vest is made in China) and the International Care Symbols. The care instructions are listed as: "Hand wash cold. Do not bleach. Do not iron. Do not dryclean. Tumble dry normal. Low heat."

Looks like a call to customer service is in order before I attempt to do either.

According to the MontBell website: "Cleaning down garments can optimize performance advantages and thermal properties, while helping to maintain its amazing warmth to weight ratio."

TRYING IT OUT

Wearing the Vest
Cold and Grey Day
I've become a fan of vests over the last few years. I like the freedom of
movement and that a vest keeps my core warm without making me sweat. So when I had a chance to test this MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest, I jumped at it.

I went to the MontBell web site to get sizing so I could order the proper size. The chart on the site says that a Large Vest will fit a 42 chest with a 34 waist or an Extra Large will fit a 46 chest with a 40 waist. Being in the middle, I was not sure which one to select. So I called customer service. They told me to use the Extra Large. That sounded like it would be way too loose, so I went with my gut (ha ha) and ordered a Large, which is what I normally get for jackets and shirts. It fits fine. It fits fine in the waist without stretching and fits fine in the shoulders without being tight under the arms. It's quite comfortable. I wear a 42 jacket and a 36 waist and the large works just fine for me.

My first impression when I took it out of the box was "Wow, this is really lightweight!" At 8.5 oz (241 g), it's not an "extreme" lightweight vest, but it certainly is impressively light. Also, for a lightweight vest to have pockets like this Vest does, I was even more impressed.

The material feels great. Nothing has snagged yet and I've been wearing this Vest a lot already; doing a lot of work and play. The interior is soft and quite comfortable and the interior material when rubbing against my neck feels soft. I've had this Vest on in 32 F (0 C) weather when the wind was blowing briskly at over 20 mph (32 kph) and my core felt warm and cozy. In fact, it was interesting that when I stuck my hands in the front pockets, I could feel the warmth immediately and could warm my cold hands.

The Vest looks great. Tailoring is trim and attractive and I have received a lot of compliments on how it looks. I'll be sure to not let it out of my sight when I take it off.

SUMMARY

This concludes my Initial Report on the MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest. See below for the results of two months' testing.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I did all of my testing of the MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest from early February 2010 to the present (April 19, 2010) in the Wet, Fremont, and Cooper mountains of south central Colorado. The elevation I hiked in ranges from a low of 5300 ft (1600 m) to a high of 8400 ft (2400 m). Temperatures fluctuated from 20 F (-7 C) to 60 F (16 C) during daylight hours and in the evenings and early mornings, from 20 F (-7 C) to 10 F (- 12 C). Weather conditions varied from cloudy with some sunshine, to bright sunshine and blue skies, to light rain and snow.

Almost all of my hiking took me on trails with elevation gains between 400 ft and 1100 ft (122 and 335 m). So we would start, say at 5300 ft (1600 m) and end up at 8400 ft (2400 m) for example. The trail conditions varied, but almost everything around here except the tourist river walks, have quite an elevation gain. Of course, the objective is to get high and see far.

On the Newline Creek Trail
Resting on the Newlin Creek Trail
The Newlin Creek Trail in south Fremont County courses over the Newlin Creek 18 times on the 4 mi (6 km) trek to the remnants of an old late 1800s sawmill. In the winter it is quite magical with frozen waterfalls and long treks over glass-like river sections. In the Spring, portions are difficult to cross because the water flows so hard.

We did a lot of hiking in the Cooper Mountain area (NOT the ski resort - that's Copper Mountain) where there are no trails at all. Our 71 acre ranch backs up to this wonderful area with over 420,000 acres of state and federal land that can take us all the way from our door to Pike's Peak, about 30 mi (48 km) away, without crossing any private land.

So we hiked on a lot of different terrain, from packed dirt, sticky mud when it snows or rains, pebbly rocks, broken up shale, sandstone striations, to hard granite. At higher elevations, there was also snow and ice. In all, my estimate is that this vest was worn over 300 miles (482.8 km) on hikes, for business and pleasure.


PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Yes, I wore the vest for pleasure. It is quite well styled and very cool looking. I got lots of great comments.

I wore the MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest on almost all treks when I thought my arms could be exposed. I never hiked bare armed. I always wore a shirt or base layer. For backup, I always had a winter shell or rain jacket in, or attached to, my pack. Having never had a high quality down vest like this, I was not sure what to expect.

I was very pleasantly surprised. This vest kept my core warm and made getting around in temperatures down to 30 F (-1 C) quite pleasant. In fact, there were some mornings where the temp was around 20 F (-7 C) that I was wearing the vest quite comfortably until the wind started to blow at over 30 mph (42 kph) and my arms started to get cold. Putting on a shell over the vest at that temp though was warmer than I needed. The vest wears quite warm under a shell. Don't get me wrong. My arms got cold. The vest is quite wind proof. It kept me warm in less windy conditions, but a strong wind still cooled off exposed areas.

I had a few chances to wear the vest during light snow and/or light rain. The DWR finish performed well. I could see the snow and rain beading up on the surface and the vest did not get soaked at any time. However, I have not worn the vest in pouring rain or in a swimming pool (heck, there are no warnings on the wear label). I'm getting into Spring here in Colorado, but we will be tripping up to Pikes Peak at 14,000 ft (4270 m) and I'll be wearing the vest again then as well as other summit treks.

It held up very well under my packs. I was concerned about the thin outer layer, but after extensive use it shows no sign of wear. Even when worn with my 10mm EA Witness pistol in a holster clipped to my pack, it didn't even crease - even after I fell on my butt on one crossing of that frozen Newlin Creek (while Kathy laughed at me on my back because she was wearing those cool trail shoes with embedded glass fibers and had better traction).

Yes, around here we have mountain lion, bear, and other creatures, so we carry protection on a lot of our treks; pistol and bear spray. Of course, Kathy says she can run faster, so she's not worried.

The vest has really nice deep inside pockets. My HTC Touch Pro smart phone slides securely right into the left inside pocket and I have no worry at all that it'll pop out. I have to reach way down into the pocket to get it. In fact, on some short hikes, I was able to use the vest just by itself with no pack; with my smart phone, some food bars and tissues easily fitting into the vest. (It does make me look a little fatter though.)

On an overnight with temps down to under 20 F (-7 C), the vest was all that was needed in the tent. I could not wear the vest in the sleeping bag, which was also down, because the thing would have made me sweat. But when compressed into its carry sack, it easily fits in the sleeping bag so it is warm and easy to throw on in the morning.

The compression sack is so small that it can also be carried in my shell pocket. It takes up little room in my pack and can easily be clipped to my belt. Since it is so light, it doesn't bang hard against me when walking and I don't even know it's there.

The fit is great. No problem with the elastic being too tight or too loose. No problems with fit under the armpits, either. I'm 5 ft 9 inches (1.8 m) 182 lbs (82.6 kg) for reference.

SUMMARY

So far, I have to say, I like this vest a lot. It has been warm, comfortable, handled wind well and was easy to pack. It's a keeper.

This concludes my Field Report on the MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I began the final portion of this 16 week test in April 2010. As it worked out, even though we were hiking here in Colorado at locations between 5,300 ft and 7,400 ft (1615 m and 2255 m), this has been a warmer than usual Spring with temps between April and now (June) between 50 F and 100 F (10 C and 38 C) . Thus, I have not had any additional opportunities to test this down vest on the trails because it has been too darn warm to wear it.

I have had it in the gear closet ready to go since mid-April, carried the vest in its pouch on a couple of hikes, but there has just not been an opportunity that fit the wearing of the garment for any location we were trekking in or any location I visited.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Since I didn't wear the vest in the field during the last two months, I don't really have anything to add to the praises I gave in the Field Report. The vest spent most of its time hanging on a plastic coat hanger in my gear closet.

On at least two backpacks, I did pack the vest into its included pouch just in case I needed it. I didn't. However, I was pleased at how small the pouch was, how well and easy the vest stuffed into the pouch and how quickly the vest regained its loft when released from the confines of the pouch. I initially thought it would look messy after being so compressed, but it didn't.

I never did have to wash the vest despite the fact that black isn't a good color choice here in the high desert where dust covers everything when the wind blows which is often. A quick shake of the vest has kept it looking decent. I only used a wet cloth once on a spot where some sap oozed onto the vest and no residue remains.

SUMMARY

I think the MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest is wonderful. It has been extremely comfortable, warm, dry, durable, and packable and has nice large pockets. In my book it is a keeper. It is just not something to wear when the temperature goes over 50 F (10 C).

I will definitely be wearing the MontBell Alpine Light Down Vest in the future. It will be the first outer garment I grab as soon as the weather permits.

Thank you to MontBell. and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this new product.

John R. Waters

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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