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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell EX Lite Down Jacket > Test Report by Will Rietveld

Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket

Test Series by BackpackGearTest.org

| Initial Report  | Field Report  | Long-Term Report |


Tester Information

Name: Will Rietveld
Age: 65
Gender: Male
Height: 6 ft (183 cm)
Weight: 170 lb (77 kg)
Email: (willi_wabbit at bresnan dot net)
City & State:  Durango ,  CO  81301
Location for Testing: Southwestern United States (Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico).

Backpacking ExperienceóI have been an avid backpacker for 50 years. Backpacking is my passion. I backpack the year around in the Southwestern United States ( Colorado,  Utah,  Arizona, and New Mexico).

Backpacking StyleóI have been a lightweight backpacker for 35 years and an ultralight backpacker for 9 years. My wife and I give presentations on lightweight and ultralight backpacking in our local area, and have developed a website called Southwest Ultralight Backpacking (http://home.bresnan.net/~swultralight/) to share information.

Initial Report (October 6, 2008)

Product Information
Manufacturer: Montbell
Manufacturer Website: http://www.montbell.us/
Product Tested: Menís Ex Light Down Jacket
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Size Tested: Menís Large
Colors Available: Blue, charcoal, and red for menís jacket; green, white, and red for womenís jacket
Sizes Available: Menís S to XXL, womenís S to XL
Weight: Measured weight 6.3 oz (179 g) for menís Large; manufacturer weight 5.7 oz (162 g) for menís Medium; stuff sack weighs 0.24 oz (6.8 g)
MSRP: $160 US

The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket is constructed of 900 fill power down and 7 denier shell fabric and is super light (photo from Montbell website)
The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket is constructed of 900 fill power down and 7 denier shell fabric and is super light (photo from Montbell website)

Product Description
The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket is the ultimate minimalist lightweight down jacket. There is no hood or pockets, and very few features; this jacket is very Spartan. The jacketís materials are cutting edge: 900 fill power down and 7 denier nylon rip-stop shell fabric with a surface DWR treatment. The Ex Light is wind and water-resistant and can be worn as either an outer layer or mid layer, depending on the temperature and activity. Montbell claims that the Ex Light Jacket provides sweater warmth with half the weight. Because of its ultra thin shell fabric, the Ex Light Jacket requires special care to avoid damage.

Features (Compiled from the Montbell website and hang tags on the jacket)

  • 900-fill goose down
  • Shell and lining are 7 denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon with DWR
  • Full length #3 front zipper, single pull
  • Sewn-through quilted construction
  • Stand up insulated collar
  • Simple elastic cuffs
  • 7-denier Ballistic Airlight stuff sack

Initial Impressions
The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket is amazingly light. Itís hard to imagine an insulated jacket getting any lighter than this. Besides the thin shell fabric, a lot of weight was saved by eliminating features like a hood, fleece-lined collar, hem drawcord, pockets, and adjustable cuffs. I am an ultralight backpacker, and I can see a lot of uses for this super light down jacket. Overall, my initial impressions of the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket are very positive.

Assessment so Far
Materials and ConstructionóThe outer shell fabric is 7 denier Ballistic Airlight nylon rip-stop with a surface DWR finish. This 7 denier fabric weighs just 0.74 oz/yd2 (25 g/m2), which sets a new standard for a lightweight shell fabric. Ballistic Airlight has a very tight weave and is calendered, which is a heat and stretching process equivalent to tensiling steel. The resulting fabric (according to Montbell) has one and a half times more abrasion resistance and three times more tear strength. On the downside, calendering reduces the breathability of the fabric somewhat.

While the shell fabric is very thin, itís also very soft to the touch. The shell fabric does not seem to be as fragile as other thin fabrics I have seen that snag very easily, even from contact with Velcro. That said, I note that Montbell (on their hangtag) makes a point of saying: ďPlease be aware that this fabric will NOT fare well if exposed to sharp objects, high abrasion situations, or the occasional campfire spark. Going ultra-light comes with some inherent responsibility.Ē I commend Montbell for including this very appropriate message, and I fully agree with it.

Insulation is 900 fill power down, which is the volume that 1 ounce (28 g) of down will expand to. This is the highest fill power down presently available, and of course it is more expensive. The amount of down in a size Medium jacket is 1.8 ounces (51 g).

The quality of construction is superb. All stitching is tight with a high number of stitches per inch (2.5 cm). I examined the jacket closely and did not find any flaws.

Size and FitóI opted to get the Ex Light Down Jacket in my usual size, which is a menís Large. I found the fit to be a ďnormalĒ size large. The sleeves are adequately long, and the body has a trim fit but is not tight. The jacket extends down about 6 in (15 cm) below my waist. There is enough room inside the jacket to wear it over a thick baselayer or sweater. My measurements on the jacket (menís Large) are: sleeve length 35 in (89 cm), body length 27 in (69 cm), body width 21 in (53 cm) under the sleeves tapering to 20 in (51 cm) at the waist.

LoftóThe menís Ex Light Jacket is insulated with 1.8 ounces (51g) of 900 fill-power down (size Medium). The actual amount of down in the jacket will depend on the jacket size. I measured the jacketís two layer loft (thickness) at 1.5 in (3.8 cm), which means the single layer loft is around 0.75 in (1.9 cm). I held the jacket up to a bright light and observed that the down is very uniformly distributed. The down is held in place by a 3 in x 4 in (8 x 10 cm) sewn-through quilted pattern.

The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket stuffed in its stuff sack measures 9 in long x 4.5 in wide (23 cm x 11 cm).
The Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket stuffed in its stuff sack measures 9 in long x 4.5 in wide (23 cm x 11 cm).

FeaturesóThe jacketís features are listed above. What is remarkable about the Ex Light Down Jacket is its lack of features, combined with its premium down and fabric, to create an exceptionally light jacket. Its warmth to weight ratio is among the highest to be found. The jacket contains only ďessentialĒ features like a full front zipper and simple elastic cuffs. There is no hood and no pockets of any kind. It has an insulated stand up collar, but there is no fleece lining on the inside. Also there is no drawcord on the hem and no adjustment tabs on the cuffs. In other word, this is a minimalist jacket intended to be as lightweight as possible.

Field Report (January 11, 2009)

Amount and Type of Use
Over the past two months I tested the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket in a variety of activities, terrains, and conditions on 19 trips totaling 39 days, broken down as follows:

Activity

Number of Trips

Number of Days

Elk Hunting

1

5

Canoeing

1

9

Day Hiking

9

9

Car Camp/Day Hike

1

6

XC Ski

3

3

BC Ski

3

3

Ski to Hut

1

4

Totals

19

39

 

My testing of the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket included a nine day canoe trip on the Green River in southern Utah (left), and numerous backcountry skiing trips (right).

My testing of the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket included a nine day canoe trip on the Green River in southern Utah (left), and numerous backcountry skiing trips (right).

During the first two months of testing I wore the Ex Light under the following conditions:

  • As a mid-layer while elk hunting in light snow that turned to drizzle accompanied by high winds
  • As a mid- and outer layer in camp, and in my sleeping bag, while canoe camping, with nighttime lows going down as low as 22 F (-6 C)
  • Fall day hiking in a wide variety of conditions, wearing the jacket in the morning, on breaks, and when it was cold and/or a wind came up, with temperatures ranging from 25 to 50 F (-4 to 10 C)
  • On cold mornings and evenings, and in my sleeping bag, while car camping in southern Utah, with lows going down to 19 to 22 F (-7 to -6 C)
  • As a mid-layer on cold mornings and on breaks while cross-country and backcountry skiing, with temperatures in the 20ís (-7 to -2 C)
  • As a mid- or outer-layer while skiing 9 miles (15 km) to a backcountry hut, on breaks while skiing around the area, and in a snowstorm while skiing out, with lows down to 10 F (-12 C)

Performance as an Outer Layer
I wore the Ex Light as an outer layer one day while purposely walking in a snowstorm. The jacketís shell fabric readily shed water, but after a couple of hours some water soaked through the seams. While day hiking in the mountains on chilly fall days, I mainly wore the jacket in the mornings and evenings when it was colder, and I also put it on when a wind came up. I found it too warm to wear while hiking midday, unless it was very cold or windy. The jacketís Ballistic-Airlight shell is very wind-resistant. Its warmth depended a lot on my activity level. While standing around in camp I found the jacket (worn over a base-layer) to be warm down to about freezing (0 C), but it was warm down into the low 20ís (-7 to -2 C) while actively hiking or skiing.

The Ex Lightís Ballistic Airlight nylon shell has an excellent DWR finish that readily repels water and snow.

The Ex Lightís Ballistic Airlight nylon shell has an excellent DWR finish that readily repels water and snow.

Performance as a Mid-Layer
My favorite combination for wearing the Ex Light Down Jacket is as a mid-layer, worn between a wicking base-layer and a thin shell jacket. For me, this clothing system provides the most versatility. The Ex Light Jacket provides more warmth when worn under a shell jacket that holds the heat in, and the outer shell also provides protection for the Ex Lightís thin fabric when bushwhacking. On really cold mornings (10 to 22 F/-12 to -6 C in my testing so far), I wore a hooded synthetic jacket over the Ex Light and stayed toasty warm.

The Ex Light Down Jacket held up to a strong light reveals that the down chambers are fairly uniformly filled with down, but there is little insulation near the seams. The jacket is warm, but it definitely has limits.

The Ex Light Down Jacket held up to a strong light reveals that the down chambers are fairly uniformly filled with down, but there is little insulation near the seams. The jacket is warm, but it definitely has limits.

Performance in a Sleeping System
The Ex Light arrived too late in the year to take it on an ultralight backpacking trip, but I did take in on a nine day canoe trip, a six day car camping trip, and a four day ski hut trip. On each trip I wore the jacket in camp in the mornings and evenings, and in my lightweight sleeping bag at night to extend the bagís warmth. The Ex Light allowed me to sleep comfortably in a 25 F (-4 C) sleeping bag in temperatures down to 19 F (-7 C). From my tests, I expect it will work well for ultralight backpacking next summer when I wear it in a 32 F (0 C) sleeping bag in temperatures down to about 25 F (-4 C).

Durability
Hiking through some brush and swiping a few tree branches have not damaged the Ex Light Jacket. Also, I do not see any damage in the shoulder region from wearing a backpack over it. Its 7 denier nylon shell fabric is remarkably strong and abrasion resistant, but I am still cautious with it. Ultralight gear such as the Ex Light Jacket requires careful use to avoid damage. On several occasions I observed a feather coming out through a seam, but I have not seen any feathers penetrate the fabric.

Long-Term Report (February 17, 2009)

Amount and Type of Use
During my second two months of testing, I used the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket on 14 additional trips totaling 22 days, detailed as follows:  

Activity

Number of Trips

Number of Days

Backcountry Skiing

9

9

Cross-Country Skiing

1

1

Ice Fishing

2

2

Car Camp/Day Hiking

1

6

Igloo Camping

1

4

Totals

14

22

Overall, over four months of testing, I used the Ex Light Down Jacket on 33 trips totaling 61 days, which is a lot of use. This does not count days that I carried the jacket in my pack but did not use it.

My backcountry skiing trips were day trips in our local southwestern Colorado mountains at altitudes ranging from 10,500 to 11,500 ft (3200-3505 m) and daytime temperatures ranging from 10 to 35 F (-12 to 2 C), with light snow on some days. We typically started at a mountain pass, climbed about 600-1000 ft (183-305 m) using climbing skins on our skis, then skied to the bottom of the pass with a descent of about 1600 ft (488 m).  On these trips I typically wore the Ex Light Down Jacket as a midlayer under a shell jacket on cold days and during rest stops.

My single cross-country ski trip was on skinny skis with a group of eleven people, where we broke trail on a 12 mile (19 km) trip on gentle terrain. The temperature ranged from 9 to 20 F (-13 to -7 C) with a 10-15 mph (16-24 kps) wind on a clear day. I wore the Ex Light Jacket as a midlayer at first, but soon took it off because I was too hot, and then wore it only on breaks the remainder of the day.

We get an early morning start for ice fishing, so the temperature is very cold initially and gradually warms up. I wore the Ex Light Jacket in the mornings when the temperature was about 5 to 20 F (-15 to -7 C), took it off midday, and then put it back on in the afternoons when the wind started blowing. I wore a shell jacket over it.

On our winter car camping trip in the southern Utah backcountry we established a remote basecamp and day hiked in nearby areas. I wore the Ex Light Down Jacket in camp on cold 19-23 F (-7 to -5 C) mornings, cool 32-34 F (0-1 C) evenings, and for extra warmth in my sleeping bag. We slept in a roomy double wall tent. I did not wear the jacket in the warm 50 F (10 C) days while hiking because it was not needed.  

My testing ended with a winter camping trip where we skied into the Weminuche Wilderness in southwestern Colorado , built an igloo to use as a basecamp at 11,500 ft (3505 m), and went on daily backcountry skiing trips from camp. I wore the Ex Light Jacket in the igloo as a midlayer, in my sleeping bag for extra warmth, and while skiing when we took breaks. Temperatures in the igloo were 25-35 F (-4 to 2 C).

On a winter camping trip in February, I wore the Ex Light Down Jacket as a midlayer in an igloo. My clothing system consisted of (from skin out) a wool baselayer, microfleece top, Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket, Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket, and Rab eVENT shell jacket. The photo does not show the outer two layers.

On a winter camping trip in February, I wore the Ex Light Down Jacket as a midlayer in an igloo. My clothing system consisted of (from skin out) a wool baselayer, microfleece top, Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket, Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket, and Rab eVENT shell jacket. The photo does not show the outer two layers.

Performance
My extended testing has reinforced my comments in my Initial Report and Field Report and I basically have little to add.  The following bullets summarize my experiences and findings while testing the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket over a four-month period:  

  • The Ex Light should be regarded as a down sweater or very lightweight down jacket. The only features are a full front zip and elastic cuffs. Its very thin shell material and high loft down insulation give it an extremely high warmth to weight ratio.
  • The jacket is sized and fitted very well. I found the Ex Light to be a typical US size Large. It has enough room inside to layer over a thick baselayer or sweater.
  • This jacket contains only 1.8 oz (51 g) of down and has sewn-through construction, so it is meant for cool conditions rather than really cold conditions. However, its 900 fill-power down gives it 0.75 in (2 cm) of single layer loft, which is remarkable for the jacketís 6.3 oz (179 g) total weight.
  • The jacket performs equally well as an outer layer or as a midlayer. I wore it mostly as a midlayer because I tested it in the wintertime.
  • My testing while walking in snowy, rainy, and windy conditions showed that the jacket is very water and wind resistant. It sheds water quite well, but water will eventually soak through the stitching.
  • The jacket is especially warm when worn as a midlayer (over a baselayer and under a shell jacket) because the shell holds the heat in.
  • For me, the Ex Light worn under a shell jacket while climbing was too hot most of the time. I could wear it while climbing and carrying a pack only in cold temperatures (10 F/-12 C or lower), overcast conditions, and windy conditions.
  • Overall, I found it most useful as a layering piece in camp, in my sleeping bag, and on breaks or other conditions where my activity level is low.
  • After four months, the Ex Light has no snags resulting from Velcro, walking through brush, or contact with branch stubs. The thin shell is rather durable, but the jacket still requires reasonable care to protect it from damage.
  • The shell fabric is downproof, but I did have an occasional feather coming out through the stitching in a seam. After four months of use I did not detect any loss of loft.
  • Although I was not able to test the Ex Light for ultralight backpacking (because it was winter), my opinion is that it should perform extremely well, especially if worn under a shell layer on cold mornings.
  • Overall, I found the Ex Light Down Jacket to be an extremely versatile garment. As shown in the table above, I found a lot of uses for it and wore it constantly in a range of activities.
Acknowledgement
I would like to thank Montbell and BackpackGearTest.org  for selecting me to participate in this test.

Will Rietveld


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Read more gear reviews by Will Rietveld

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