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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Extremely Light Down Vest > Test Report by Kathleen Waters

MONTBELL EX LIGHT DOWN VEST
TEST SERIES BY KATHLEEN WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - November 24, 2009
FIELD REPORT - February 02, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - March 27, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: kathy@backpackgeartest.com
AGE: 59
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.60 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

Living in Colorado and being self-employed, I have ample opportunities to backpack. There are over 700,000 acres/280,000 hectares of public land bordering my 35-acre/14-hectare "backyard" in addition to all the other gorgeous locations which abound in Colorado. Over the past 15 years, my husband John and I have also had the good fortune to hike/snowshoe glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in exotic locations, including New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. I use a tent (rainfly if needed). Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) excluding food and water.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: MontBell Company, Ltd.
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
MSRP: US $130.00
Listed Weight: 3.6 oz (102 g) Women's Medium
Measured Weight: 3.6 oz (102 g)
Sizes Available: S/ M/ L/ XL
Size Tested: Medium
Colors Available: GM - Gunmetal and VER - Vermilion
Color Tested: Vermilion

Other details:(from Manufacturer)
* 900 Fill power goose down
* 7-denier Ballistic Airlight calendered nylon
* Standard 25-wash rated DWR treatment
* Fill Weight : 1.1 oz. (31 g)
* Single quilt construction for weight reduction
* Lightweight 3C YKK zipper
* Stuff sack included
US EX Light Down Vest
Picture Courtesy of MontBell


Made in China.

Warranty: MontBell's warranty covers all defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner for the lifetime of the product.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

According to Dictionary.com, an online dictionary, "vermilion" is defined as "a brilliant scarlet red". My brand-new MontBell US EX Light Down Vest (hereafter called simply the "Vest") is aptly labeled, color-wise, by MontBell. It is definitely a brilliant scarlet red. In it, I will be definitely standing out from the crowds, the forest and the trees this winter!

Overall, the MontBell website depicts the Vest very accurately, though the color I think is just a bit deeper. But as for construction, I had no surprises once I saw the actual Vest. And with the help of MontBell's size chart, I was able to choose the correct size.

Most noticeable, after the color, is the extreme light weight of the Vest. I knew goose down was light, but this is the first time I have had the chance to see/feel it for myself.

Vest side view
Side View Quilting Pattern
The cut of the Vest is very trim with the square front quilting on the diagonal and underarm "panels" being long rectangles, also on the diagonal. The final quilting design is small horizontal squares forming the stand-up collar. The construction is single quilt which means less weight (no separate lining). The hem is rounded and slightly, oh-so slightly, longer in the back than the front.

All seams are very small and covered. A very small storm flap is behind the nylon zipper which has a corded zipper pull ending in a rubber-like gripper.

A very small embroidered in white "mont-bell" is just above the front left hem.

Soft cloth tags at the inside back neckline informed me that the USA size "M" translates to a medium in Europe and a large in Japan, as well as contact information for MontBell. A tag on the left inside seam gives care instructions along with the materials used.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

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."

On the Vest care tag in English, Japanese and the International Care Symbols, the care instructions are listed as: "Do not wash. Do not bleach. Do not iron. Dry clean petroleum solvent only. Commercial dry clean only."

However, on the MontBell website, it indicated that machine washing on cold and gentle settings is permissible as long as a front-loading washer is used. I will be calling customer service to verify which is correct before I attempt either.

TRYING IT OUT

With a bust measurement of 35 in (89 cm) and a waist measurement of 28 in (71 cm), I barely squeak under the Medium upper limit per the MontBell size chart. Since I have other MontBell outerwear products, I felt safe ordering a Medium in the Vest. I was right, too. The Medium fits me perfectly. I can easily wear a couple of light base layers underneath it and with its lack of bulkiness, the Vest still slides nicely under my MontBell shell.

The individual quilted blocks appear to be rather flat but are very "puffy" with more loft than a quick glance provides. I was amazed at the amount of compressibility when I squeezed the fabric between my fingers. Very soft!

The nylon interior slid smoothly over my cotton shirt and the same-fabric exterior allowed the Vest to be a mid-layer just as easily.

The zipper worked smoothly and easily without any snagging.

Trying the Vest on for the first time, I was most impressed by its minimal presence. Once on, I couldn't even tell I was wearing another layer, weight-wise. But I could tell by the additional warmth of my core! That try-on was just indoors and a quick walk around the yard. Now, I can't wait until I can test this Vest out in the field this coming weekend.

SUMMARY

This concludes my Initial Report for the MontBell US Ex Light Down Vest. Below are the results of my first two months of testing, please check out how the Vest worked for me.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Wearing the Vest at Snowbasin
Snowshoeing with Kathryn Doiron at Snowbasin
With the Christmas holidays and then a bout with a nasty cold, I was only able to wear the MontBell Extra Light Down Vest on 3 day hikes during these last two months. I did take the Vest with me on my trip to Walt Disney World one day in Orlando, Florida and I sure was glad I had as the temps were around the freezing mark! Lastly, I wore the Vest on an all-day outing at Snowbasin in Utah for the annual All Mountain Day at the Outdoor Retailer Winter 2010 Show.

All the day hikes were in the mountains behind my land in Canon City, Colorado with the elevation upwards of 5600 ft (1700 m) to 5800 ft (1770 m). The weather was generally sunny to partly cloudy with temperatures from 38 F (3 C) to 65 F (18 C). The terrain is rocky to muddy with lots of ups and downs and scrubby pine to juniper and cactus vegetation. While I didn't hike in snowy conditions, I did encounter snow on the ground in patches.

At Snowbasin, it was very cloudy with heavy mist turning off and on to snow. That day combined walking around on snow-covered ground, snowshoeing a 7.5K (4.7 mi) trail and messing around with cross-country skis (don't ask!).

I also wore the Vest constantly at work and at leisure for extra warmth instead of a sweatshirt or sweater...

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

When this Vest arrived, I thought it was just too thin to be of any real value in cold weather. It was cute, to be sure, but useful? Boy was I wrong! This Vest is super! Wearing it for these past weeks has given me an appreciation of just how versatile it is. I've worn it over and under base layers, under a fleece, with a windproof shell and various combinations of these layers.

First, it is so lightweight that I don't even know I have an extra layer of clothing on when it comes to being overburdened with layers of fabric. However, I can tell immediately when I remove the Vest because my body cools down a lot.

It is thin enough to go under all of my tightest outer clothing and yet roomy enough to go over one or two base layers. It is trim enough to not be in the way with excess fabric, but doesn't constrict my movements. I find it is warm enough to be worn on its own (with just a medium-weight base layer) down to 50 F (10 C) when mildly active and down to 30 F (-1 C) when very actively snowshoeing and such. Just below freezing, I find adding another layer is necessary.

If I were to negatively comment on any feature of the Vest, I would have to point to the zipper and its tiny storm flap. More than once I have snagged the zipper on the storm flap when unzipping. The storm flap just gets in the way too easily for my liking and is very hard to un-snag. It most often catches at the top of the Vest and I've had to ask my husband to help me. I'm always worried I might rip the fabric.

Surprisingly, the Vest has survived my forays into the juniper and pine-covered hills where I usually roam. No rips, tears or snags have developed though occasionally an errant feather will escape. That is not unusual with down products, I know.

I have not had to wash the Vest yet - it looks brand-new - and I don't expect to do so in the near future. I did spill a bit of ketchup on it and a damp cloth made quick work of cleaning it off. The only care I have taken with the Vest is when not wearing it; I have it hanging up on a wooden hanger in my closet. It hasn't spent much time there though!

I also haven't yet used the stuff sack included with the Vest other than to try it out when I first received it. I have been too busy wearing the Vest to store it. With warmer weather approaching, I will most likely utilize the pouch so as to have the Vest handy when the weather turns colder as it is prone to do on the mountains I frequently hike.

SUMMARY

I like the look and color of the Vest and its comfort and utility continue to impress me. I'm still not sure I like the fit though. I think I prefer a longer hem so as to have my backside covered more when bending over and a slightly looser neckline. However, the Vest's stellar performance at keeping me warm definitely overrides those two minor points and I certainly plan on wearing the Vest a lot in the near future. It's a keeper.

Below is my update of this report after two months of additional field testing of the Vest.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

All of my testing of the MontBell Ex Light Down Vest from late January to the present took place 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 freezing to 10 F (- 12 C) just before dawn. Weather conditions were mostly cloudy with some sunshine in the mornings on my dayhikes. Light rain and snow mixes in the afternoons and overnight kept it interesting.

All of my hiking involved uphill climbs to high points and then downhill treks when homeward bound. Of course, none of these trails are just plain straight-up elevation gains; they all involve lots of "ups and downs". The trail conditions varied. Parts of the Newlin Creek Trail (one of my favorite hikes) are remnants of an old late 1800s sawmill road. The first couple of miles/kilometers of another hike, the Fremont Peak Trail, are over a very-rutted access road to a radio tower. Other sections of trails are simply beaten down pathways. And then, when I'm hiking in the Cooper Mountain area, there are no trails at all!

This means, the terrain runs the gamut of packed down dirt (or mud at this time of year) to pebbly rocks, to broken up shale to hard granite slabs. At higher elevations, there was also loose to packed snow and ice. Oh, and on the Newlin Creek Trail, there are 18 stream crossings which at this time of year are sheer, thickly rippled ice!

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

In February, I wore the Vest on two dayhikes and on two weekend overnights. In March, I added an additional overnight trip and 4 dayhikes. While I was not in the great outdoors testing, many days found me wearing the Vest during working hours anyway, just for the extra warmth.

During the last two months, the weather has been up and down so many times I've lost count. It's rained, snowed and been sunny. It's been up to 60 F (16 C) in the daytime and down around 20 F (-7 C), also in the daytime. Nights have ranged from freezing to 10 F (-12 C). Right now it's sleeting with predictions of 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) of snow and then tomorrow, it's supposed to be in the mid-60s F (18 C). Go figure!

This means when venturing out on the trail, the watchword was "layer, layer, layer" and my MontBell Vest was a big part of that. Mostly, I wore a light synthetic long-sleeved base layer top and in the colder temps I topped my base layer top with a mid-layer wool hoodie. These combos were completed with a shell, in all cases.

As examples of how the Vest worked for me, I decided to copy and paste two entries from my trip journal. I think my field notes say it all!
1.) Newlin Creek Trail, Wet Mountains, Colorado"... worn during the entire hike, over two base light synthetic layers and under a waterproof/windproof jacket. So light that it is unnoticeable. Kept my core warm without having to overburden my arms with an additional layer which would have inhibited my movements even more than the base layers plus shell. Not that comfortable zipped all the way to the top, but I could stand to lose a couple of pounds! I had to unzip to vent at times when walking uphill strenuously.

2.) Fremont Peak Trail, Fremont Mountains, Colorado..."This Vest is fabulous at keeping my core warm without any bulk at all. I wore it over my base layer and under a Gore-Tex hiking jacket. Due to the brisk and almost constant wind, though the jacket did not let the wind blow through, I could definitely tell the difference in my comfort level between the area of my body where the Vest was and where it wasn't. My arms were certainly colder than my torso. Again, there was no bulk or weight to call attention to the fact that I'm even wearing the Vest.
Wearing the Vest on the Trail
Wearing the Vest on the Trail

So far, I have not experienced any noticeable wear on the Vest at all. All seams remain intact with no pulled threads. I haven't snagged the zipper at all and the Vest looks almost new with the fabric still as bright as the day I got it! I haven't needed to wash it as there hasn't been any spotting, soiling or odors. I did spill some tea on the Vest on one trip, but the tea "beaded" on the Vest and I was able to just quickly brush it off with my glove to no detriment.

The Vest has been stuffed in its carrying sack for a day or so and when it is pulled out, a quick shake and it looks great. Of course, it hasn't stayed in the sack very much! I generally have it hanging in my closet when it is not on my back.

A very rare feather or two has worked its way out of the shell, but that's usually the case with down anything. Certainly, this Vest is holding up beautifully.

SUMMARY

I never really was a "vest" person before I had the opportunity to test this one. Well, I'm a devout convert now and singing the praises of this versatile piece of clothing. I wear it everywhere I can. It is so light as to be non-existent, weight-wise, but oh so warm. Who would have thought such an inconsequential amount of material could be so toasty?

I do wish it were a bit longer though.

Even though this test has concluded, I will continue to utilize this Vest a lot, most likely year round. When daytime temps are too hot to wear it, I'll still be toting it in my pack for higher altitudes, evening campfires and for extra warmth if needed at bedtime.

Thank you to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this special article of clothing!

Kathleen (Kathy) Waters

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

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