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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Extremely Light Down Vest > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
MontBell Ex Light Down Vest
Test Series by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Initial Report: December 2, 2009
Field Report: January 30, 2010
Long Term Report: April 6, 2010
Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Height: 5'5" (1.65 m)
Weight: 135 lb (61 kg)
Location: Sunnyvale, California
Item: Ex (Extremely) Light Down Vest Women's
Available Colors: Gunmetal (pictured and tested) and Vermilion
Listed weight: 3.6 oz (102 g)
Measured weight: 3.3 oz (94 g) (including stuff sack)
The Montbell Ex Light Down Vest is a basic garment designed with weight in mind. The materials and minimalistic design are clearly the result of a choice to focus on weight and quality as its primary features. The vest appeared exactly as I expected based on their website.
Upon receiving the box from Montbell and opening it to find the vest loosely packaged inside, I immediately joked to my husband that they could have shipped it cheaper by putting it in a normal 1st class envelope and slapping a stamp on it. Having owned some of the earlier generations of the jacket version of this vest, I knew what to expect, but it still is amazing to have a jacket practically float to the floor like a feather. Like all Montbell items I have purchased and tested in the past, an initial inspection revealed flawless construction; even the embroidered Montbell name was perfectly stitched.
The hangtags that arrived with the vest describe the major features of this vest, all of which contribute to the extremely low weight, but not without their trade offs. The 900 Fill-Power down is top-notch, providing a greater insulating value than a lower Fill-Power down for less weight. The trade off is, of course, price. The nylon shell which helps the vest feel as light as a cloud also has its trade off - durability. The hangtag specifically warns of this with the message "Please be aware that this fabric will NOT fare well if exposed to sharp objects, high abrasion situations, or the occasional campfire spark" Followed by one particularly good pearl of wisdom: "Going ultra-light does some with some inherent responsibility"
Trying it Out
The Vest comes with a stuff sack for transport, but like all down, it should be stored uncompressed. I will store it hanging in a closet with the stuff sack hanging around the hangar's neck. It will only be stuffed when it is taken out for a spin. That said, the stuff sack is rather large for the jacket and it doesn't require a lot of heavy compression to get it in the bag. Even so, the bag is only about 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) in diameter and 6 inches (15 cm) long. Not only is this small and easy to throw in a pack for an outing, I can even toss it in my purse or laptop bag!
SummaryThe Montbell Ex Light Down Vest is clearly designed with weight and basic functionality in mind. With its negligible weight and compressed size, I look forward to trying it out on the trail.
This concluded my Initial Report of the Montbell Ex Light Down Vest. Please check back in mid-January for the Field Report.
Although the MontBell Ex Light Down Vest is a very targeted piece of outerwear (in that it is designed with a very specific user in mind) I've found it to be useful in a wide variety of conditions and situations. During the Field Testing period the MontBell Ex Light Down Vest has accompanied me on two overnight snowcamping trips, two cross country ski outings, and several rainy day hikes, while also functioning nearly daily as a regular 'around town' piece of outerwear.
This is a very functional piece of gear, performing exactly as promised. It is simple yet it has been with me almost every day for the past two months.
Perhaps the best quality of the MontBell Ex Light Down Jacket is its size and weight. At 3.1 ounces it is a negligible amount of weight to throw into a pack, be it a long haul trip where every gram counts or a short and quick overnighter where a bit of extra weight is normal. I never hesitate when I pack this vest. There is no better option when it comes to the warmth to weight factor.
Even at this light weight the vest is very warm. I have turned to it on almost a daily basis here in the winter season in the San Francisco Bay Area. Morning temperatures are usually in the 40s to low 50s and this vest is a perfect layer to toss on to keep me warm until the heater in my car has a chance to catch up. Best of all, during the recent deluge of record-breaking rain storms, the Ex Light Down Vest has been a constant companion of my Gore-Tex outerwear. It fits perfectly under the jackets that keep my dry but not warm, working as an ideal complementary system in the cold and wet conditions.
The vest packs down small enough that I can stuff it in its stuff sack and tuck it into the laptop bag I carry to and from work. Because of its usefulness and size I've found myself using it on a frequency I never would have expected. Additionally, it even looks nice. The fit matches the shape of my body quite well and it doesn't look like a typical big and poofy down vest. I don't feel silly wearing it into the office or around town.
But MontBell didn't send this vest to me to test out in the office - so how does it perform in the real world of outdoor adventure? Again, because of its weight and size I threw it in my pack for every outing in the past two months, regardless of the conditions, strenuousness, or type of outing.
The vest was a perfect layer for those moments when I stopped and needed to throw on a quick layer to keep warm. Whether hiking in the rain or sitting around in a snow kitchen in camp I would throw the Vest on just over my base layer and under my outer waterproof or windproof layer. It is thin enough that even my tighter outer layers still fit with it on, yet the warmth it provided was significant. Even if I didn't end up needing the Vest, thanks to its weight I never felt frustrated that I had needlessly hauled along a piece of gear.
As an example of how warm this vest is, I turn to an afternoon at Dewey Point. We had snowshoed out to the Point on New Year's Day and set up our campsite in the snow. After the warmth-inducing activity of setting up the tarp and digging the kitchen, we all sat down in our kitchen to relax and heat some food and drink. I was wearing, from bottom layer to top - mid-weight wool, MontBell Ex Light Down Vest, Patagonia R2 Fleece, and a Gore-Tex Paclite shell. Temperatures were just below freezing and a light snow was falling.
I decided to change into the clean layers I expected to spend the night in, so I stripped off all the layers, changed the wool base layer (to a similar weight, but clean and dry), then put everything back on and headed back to the kitchen. After about ten minutes I could not figure out why I was getting so cold. I had been more than comfortable enough a few moments before in the same conditions. I went back to my tarp and pack to grab another layer and saw the Vest laying there - I had forgotten to add it back in its proper place in the layering system. I put it back on and was perfectly comfortable until the sun went down and the temperature dropped. It really pleased me that the Vest provided that amount of warmth.
Such a lightweight vest does have drawbacks, but I have found them all to be compromises I am more than willing to make to have such warmth at such weight. There are no bells and whistles on this vest. For example, there are no pockets. I constantly find myself absentmindedly reaching for a pocket, but they aren't there. The collar around the neck does not go up very high, nor does it have any kind of soft lining, so sometimes I notice the cold material against my neck, or I wish it was higher and warmer. I usually pair the Vest with a neck gaiter for this reason (see the photo above, where a Merino Wool Buff is performing the role of neck gaiter).
The lightweight shell material feels very delicate but even with regular day-to-day use there has been no damage or signs of wear. There has been no down leakage whatsoever. I have been careful to treat the Vest carefully, however. For example, when car camping I removed the vest and switched to an older jacket when we had a campfire. I did not want to risk any embers hitting the material.
Since the Vest is so thin, it can lose its insulative qualities if the down gets even a little bit wet. For this reason I haven't worn the Vest when wearing a pack and active. I don't want the down to be compressed between a pack and my sweaty back. In the photo above, we took a short stroll from our snow camp to a point on the rim of Yosemite Valley. In this case I wasn't wearing a pack so the Vest made for a perfect weight layer for staying warm in the winter sun when paired with my wool base layer.
So far I have been incredibly pleased with the performance of the MontBell Ex Light Down Vest and look forward to many more days of use in the Long Term Testing period. Please check back here in two months for the conclusion to this test series.
The MontBell EX Light Down Vest has become an absolutely essential piece of my gear kit. I have rarely left the house without it, even if I am just running to the store. During the Long Term Testing period it has been carried or worn for over 75 miles (121 km) of dayhiking, as well as on a three day camping trip where there was little hiking (it was primarily a photography trip) but a lot of variation in weather.
My observations from the Field Report still stand 100%. Focusing on the Long Term Durability in this report, I have to say that the Vest has held up beautifully. It does not look a day old, yet I have worn it on a nearly daily basis, hiked and sweated in it, and stuffed it into a pack more times than I can count. I haven't seen a single feather leak from it and it still puffs up the same as it did the day I got it.
The two photos above were taken on the same day, a couple of hours apart. In the first photo, I was out photographing wildflowers in a pair of running pants and a long sleeve heavyweight wool shirt. Over this was the Vest. I was incredibly comfortable wandering the fields of Carrizo while a gentle breeze blew and temperatures hung around in the mid-40s F (~7 C). Several times I had to lay down in the grass or brush to get the shot I wanted, but there was no damage to the Vest. I kept this Vest on for the entire 3 day trip, switching out the layers above and below it, and I was comfortable from 28 F (-2 C) on one of our early mornings in camp to 71 F (22 C) on the warmest afternoon.
In the second image, I am wearing the same clothes, but this time I have added a Windstopper jacket over the Vest due to the wind blowing across the dry salt lake. This particular Windstopper jacket is designed for active use so it is a bit form-fitting and not really meant for wearing over a down layer. While the Vest was definitely noticeable, I was pleased that I was able to layer these together, and even zip up the 'tight' outer jacket. I was even happier when I saw the photo above and I didn't look like a Marshmallow Man monster. Together they played nicely, the down keeping me plenty warm and the Windstopper keeping me protected from the wind. And I didn't feel constricted or 'over-layered' like I tend to do when I put many layers together.
I see a very bright future for this Vest; I am looking forward to carrying it as my 'emergency' warmth on my many backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada this summer. At its incredibly light weight I can't see a reason not to carry it - the benefits significantly outweigh the negligible weight to bring it along. Thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest for providing me with this great piece of gear.
Read more gear reviews by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Extremely Light Down Vest > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
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