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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell EX Lite Down Jacket > Test Report by Kathryn Doiron

MontBell Women's Extremely Light Down Jacket


Test series by Kathryn Doiron
Initial Report: Oct 3, 2008

Field Report: Jan 6, 2009

Long Term Report: Feb 17, 2009


Image of MontBell jacket
Image of MontBell EX jacket from MontBell website



Personal Information:
Name: Kathryn Doiron
Age: 32
Gender: Female
Height: 5' 8" (1.7 m)
Weight: 150 lb (68 kg)
Email: kdoiron 'at' gmail 'dot' com
Location: Washington DC, USA

Brief Background: I started backpacking and hiking seriously almost four years ago. Most of my miles have been logged in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I have recently finished 1200+ miles (2000+ km) of the Appalachian Trail. My style is to be as light as possible while not spending a fortune. My pack weight tends to hover around 25 lbs (11 kg) with two days of food and 16 oz (0.5 L) of water. I have recently started getting into winter hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking.


Product Information:


Manufacturer: MontBell
Year of manufacture: 2008
Website: http://www.montbell.us/
MSRP: US $160
Colours: Leaf Green, Off-White, Red Brick
Material: Nylon shell, 90% goose down and 10% goose feather
Weight: (stated) 4.7 oz (133.2 g) for medium size
Weight: (actual) 5.8 oz (165.3 g) for extra large size (0.2 oz/6.55 g for the included stuff sack)
Colour/size received: Leaf Green, Extra Large



Initial Report:
October 3rd 2008

The MontBell EX light down jacket is one of the lightest jackets offered in the MontBell line. This jacket is very light weight and very minimal. The jacket features a soft nylon shell and 900-fill down. There is no hood or pockets. Sizes range from small to extra large. The cuffs are soft and slightly stretchy. The nylon is 7-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon. This should keep the down in and the wind out. The included stuff sack is made of the same nylon material and colour, and comes with a toggle and drawcord. The bottom of the bag has a grab tab for easy removal of the stuffed jacket.

Detail of the cuff
Detail of the cuff

My initial impression of the jacket was how light it was. This jacket seems to be made of air. I was pleased with the fitted cut and that the sleeves are nice and long. The sleeves actually cover my wrists when I hold my arms out in front of me, meaning I can drive and not get cold wrists. I was also struck by how minimal the jacket is. There is no hood, pockets or drawcords. The nylon shell and lining are soft and silky against the skin but feels very delicate. The hangtag does caution that the material will not fare well against sharp objects, high abrasion or campfire sparks. The jacket is quilted in a diamond pattern all over except on the sides under the arms where the quilting is in a trapezoid pattern. The quilting goes straight through the jacket with no baffling. The down pockets are small enough that down shifting to the bottom of a cell should not be an issue. One issue I will be looking into is how well the nylon will resist wind along the quilted lines. The green colour is pleasing although the zipper is a brighter green.

Detail of the side and front quilting pattern     Close up of the collar
Detail of the side and front quilting pattern             Close up of the collar of the jacket showing it is a half collar

I opted for the extra large size as according to the Montbell sizing chart I was between the large and extra large. I felt that going a little bigger would allow for a little more room to add layers underneath. The jacket fit is a little roomy with a t-shirt on but otherwise it is a good fit. My test plan over the next couple of months will be to use the Montbell EX down jacket on all my outdoor activities. This will include backpacking, day hiking trips in the George Washington National Forest and the Shenandoah National Park as well as occasionally after kayaking or walking to and from work. I will be looking into how warm the jacket keeps me both in windy and non-windy situations. I will look into how well the jacket works with a pack on and how well the material holds up to pack wear. I don't anticipate doing a lot of backpacking wearing the jacket in the fall as I sometimes overheat, but I anticipate using the jacket on some winter trips maybe in combination with some layers. I do see the jacket getting a lot of use in camp, and on day hikes were the pace is slower. I will be interested in how well the nylon resists wind especially along the quilted lines.



Field Report:
January 6th 2009

I have used this jacket on 3 overnight trips, one big day hike and several smaller dayhikes. Depending on the hike, I generally wear a support layer and a thin wool thermal layer followed by the down jacket and a rain/wind shell. Once I am warmed up, I shed the down layer and just wear the wool and wind layers. On one occasion, the weather was so windy and cold, that I gave my wind shell to someone else and hiked with the down layer both for warmth and to keep the wind from ripping away my heat.

Trips:
The first overnight trip out was a three day two night trip with temperatures expected to be around freezing. The first day out I didn't wear the down jacket until camp. The temperatures weren't so bad that I needed the down layer to stay warm while moving. I donned the jacket once I got to camp in order to remain warm. I also kept the jacket on once I went to bed. The next day I again removed the jacket for hiking and donned it back at camp. The temperatures each day and night were similarly cold. The second night out was at a shelter were a fire was allowed. I didn't stray too close to the fire as I was afraid to get any of the embers on the jacket. The material is so light I was afraid it would singe instantly. Unfortunately, someone stirred the fire and a few embers managed to land on my back and singe through the first layer of the light material. A few pieces of ripstop tape have covered the holes. The next day was icy from an overnight ice storm and while hiking out I wore the down jacket as it wasn't a long hike.

I took the jacket out on a big day hike to St. Mary's Rock in Virginia and must have picked the windiest day possible. This was a great test for the wind fastness of the jacket as I ended up giving my rain jacket to someone else who was not as well prepared. The day was just below freezing but the wind was at least a constant 30 mph (48 kph) with gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) on the exposed summits. I was wearing the down jacket in combination with a thermal top, light wool base layer and halter top. On the summits, since I was standing around I eventually did start to feel the cold leeching in. But I didn't feel cold immediately especially at the cuffs. I was a little chilled around the collar due to a thin scarf that allowed wind to creep in. In the shelter of the trees I was able to maintain an adequate heat level whether moving up hill or down hill. I found going down hill I didn't generate as much heat but I was still able to stay warm.

I have taken the jacket out on several smaller dayhikes. Depending on the weather I would either wear the jacket and hike slower to prevent heat build up, or I would shed the down layer within a few minutes after warming up. Most of these short day hikes took place either at Difficult Run in Virginia, or at the Gold Mine loop in Maryland, both of which are along the Potomac River near DC. Distances are about 5 - 6 mi (8 - 9.6 km), with temperatures from 25 - 45 F (-4 to 7 C).

I took this jacket out on an overnight trip and found it still makes for an excellent camp jacket or lunch stop jacket for maintaining warmth. Inside the sleeping bag, I used the jacket under my head in an attempt at a pillow but that didn't work out so well. It did keep the jacket warm for midnight runs and getting up in the morning. As I had cold feet, I am thinking of sticking my feet into the arms and zipping up the jacket around my legs to see if it will keep my feet warmer overnight.

The next trip out was a car camping trip with a nice 6 mile (9.6 km) day hike. The weather was a cool 40 F (4 c) at night and went up to a surprising high of 65 F (18 C) during the day. I wore the jacket for the first few minutes of hiking before shedding the layer. At those temperatures, it just isn't possible to hike comfortably with a down jacket on. I did pull the jacket on every time we stopped for a substantial break. I would simply pull the jacket on over top of my rain jacket and could feel it keeping the warmth in. At base camp, I would put the down jacket on under my rain coat after adding more thermal layers.

Comments: I am overall very pleased with this extremely light weight jacket so far. The material while delicate to the touch as actually withstood branches brushing by while doing minor bushwhacking to the bathroom tree. I like the relaxed fit, which gives me room to add layers or wear it over a light baselayer. I find that the sleeves, with the gentle elastic wrist cuffs, allow me to pull up the sleeves as needed to keep the cuffs dry. I did find that wearing the jacket while hiking with only a short sleeve baselayer isn't a great idea. The inner nylon tended to stick to my skin then it was hard to pull off the jacket once stuck on with sweat.

The pros so far for this jacket are the shell material is pretty tough, its wind-proof nature and the relaxed fit. I have worn it while day hiking and have brushed bast branches with no ill effects. The literature that was provided with the jacket does mention that the material is delicate and to avoid fires. While I did my best, apparently embers can jump further then I expected and a small hole was created in the jacket. Overall, the jacket is a great fit, works well on its own even in high wind and in combination with other layers, both over layers and under layers.

I have two cons for this jacket so far (and they are pretty minor) is the collar and lack of pockets. I wish the collar was a little taller so I could protect more of my neck or to fold it down when I didn't need it. The collar opening is of sufficient size though to accommodate a scarf. I also find I miss pockets. But I understand this is a very light weight jackets and lack of pockets are the sacrifice.



Long Term Report:
February 17th, 2009

Over the long term testing section, I have taken this jacket out on 2 more overnight trips plus 2 day hikes. Each overnight trip was a 3 day 2 night trip and temperatures were cold enough to give the jacket a good work out.

Trips:
I took this jacket out on a car camping trip where the temperatures were expected to drop to -20 F (-29 C) overnight. I arrived at the campsite around 11:00 and set up in -20 F (-29 C) temperatures, the temperature continued to drop. Setting up camp with the jackets on and a wind breaker shell, I found I wasn't very comfortable. I eventually had to pull on another down jacket over top. These are extreme conditions though so I was prepared to be cold. The jacket stayed with me inside my sleeping bag behind my head so I wouldn't have to warm it in the morning. The following morning I stood around camp with all my layers as the temperature slowly recovered. We went snowshoeing for about 6 mi (9.6 km) that day. Temperatures rose to a balmy high of about 25 F (-4 C). I wore the jacket with a rain shell to prevent snow from wetting the down. Underneath I wore a thin wool base layer and a mid wool base layer. I found when I was moving down hill I felt a little warm with the down jacket on but not enough to remove it. I finally removed the jacket when we started heading back up hill and I was exerting myself more.

Jacket out on a very windy cold day

I took the jacket on another hike in snowing conditions and again had a rain shell over top to prevent snow from wetting the down. While I started with the jacket on, I eventually had to take it off as the elevation gain on the trail was causing me to become too warm with the jacket on. The jacket was stuffed into my day pack and I continued on. I eventually put the jacket back on at the trail head to keep me warm.

Another day hike saw the jacket mostly stuffed in my day pack due to the unusually high temperatures. The jacket stuffs very nicely into whatever available space I have and the loft returns when I pull it out. I didn't have the stuff bag for the jacket but feel for stuffing into a daypack it isn't really required.

The last trip out saw me using the jacket as a thermal layer around camp but also as a foot warmer while sleeping at night. The temperatures the first day were about 32 F (0 C) with a low of 24 F (-4 C). The next night was colder with a low of 21 F (-6 C). I did start hiking with the jacket on but once I warmed up, I removed the jacket and stuck with a wind shell. Around camp, I was wearing a thin base layer, with 2 mid layers and a thick thermal layer under the jacket. The first night this worked fine, but with the temperature drop I found I was a bit cooler.

Impressions and Comments:
I have continued to wear the jacket to work and have not noticed any wear issues associated with all the use this jacket has seen. It is very comfortable to wear, both against the skin or over layers. Against the skin, I do have to be more aware of how hot I become because if I start to sweat, the jacket will stick to me and become difficult to remove. The sleeves are the perfect length for me and the elastic wrist gives me enough space to pull the jacket sleeves up when washing hands or getting water. The cuffs also fit nicely over my thin wind and/or liner gloves when hiking, but not enough to fit over heavy bulky gloves. I have enough room to layer underneath when sitting around camp, yet it still has a fitted look to allow wearing it alone without too much extra space. I do notice that if it is windy, sometimes wind will enter from the flared bottom and chill me from below. I wish this had a light draw cord at the base for just such a situation.

Overall, I have been very happy with the jacket. Since this is a very light weight jacket, there are no pockets which is a shame. The jacket is light enough that I can pack it away in my pack and pull it out at need. The loft returns almost immediately upon pulling it out. It has been doing a good job of keeping me warm when combined with appropriate under layers. So far the jacket has not shown any signs of wear or stress to the material. I did notice that one of the baffles near the cuff had the down shift away from the cuff, this might have been due to my gloves but has not affected anything. The jacket is very delicate in feel but has been quite tough in use. I haven't noticed any snags from when I pushed through brush. The material is sensitive to embers. I did get a small ember melt through the top layer when the fire spit.

Pros:

    - very light weight, small pack size
    - flattering fit, and soft elastic cuffs

Cons:

    - could use a draw cord at the bottom to stop drafts
    - no pockets

This concludes my long term report on the MontBell EX Light Down jacket. Thank you for following this report series, and I hope you have found this report helpful. Thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and Montbell for letting me play with this down jacket.


Read more reviews of Mont Bell gear
Read more gear reviews by Kathryn Doiron

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell EX Lite Down Jacket > Test Report by Kathryn Doiron



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