MONTBELL FROST LINE PARKA
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
INITIAL REPORT: October 16, 2011
FIELD REPORT: January 2, 2012
LONG TERM REPORT: March 11, 2012
||Catskills, New York
||6' 0" (1.85 m)|
||220 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from
a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no
means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to
carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In
recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within
the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: MontBell Co., Ltd.
Year of manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Web site: www.montbell.us/
Color: Black (also available in Pure Indigo, Terracotta, Burnt Umber)
Size: XL (sizes available XS-XXL)
Manufacturer Listed weight, medium (M): 24.3 oz (690 g)
Measured weight, XL: 29.5 oz (840 g); weight with hood detached 26 oz (740 g); stuff sack weight approximately 1 oz (30 g)
Stated fill weight, medium (M): 6.7 oz (190 g) of 800 fill power goose down
Dimensions in stuff sack: 14 inches long, diameter 8 inches (36 cm, 20 cm)
Note that MontBell claims a compressed size of 8.3 x 8.9 inches (21 x 22 cm) for size medium; no compression sack is included
Shell: 30-denier Ballistic rip-stop nylon shell
Lining: 30-denier Ballistic nylon taffeta lining
Construction type: Box
DWR treatment: Proprietary Polkatex (claimed to be good for 100 washes)
Country of manufacture: China
MSRP: $235 (source, MontBell website)
MontBell Frost Line Parka
The jacket was received in good order, with several small hang tags attached. I carefully examined the quality of the garment's construction, and found it first-rate, with a high stitch count, precise sewing of seams, and a complete absence of loose threads or poorly sewn areas. No down leakage was noted. I did find one problem with the hood, noted below in the section on the hood. It's not crucial, but I will contact MontBell and ask them to address the issue. One of the hang tags describes the jacket shell as intended for inner use (i.e. under an external shell) especially so in high-abrasion situations. Other tags detail how to deal with occasional down leakage (i.e. the poke-through of a piece of down or feather); describe the Polkatex DWR; and note that the zip is a YKK water-repellent zipper, with water resistant coating applied to the zipper tape. MontBell's warranty is described on the website (lifetime, with reasonable caveats for misuse etc.).
The jacket fit was as expected for the XL size requested; not especially loose, but with room for additional insulation, such as a down sweater or shell layer underneath. It is cut fairly long, mid-butt in the rear and to the groin area in the front (noted when stationary). Movement wearing the jacket is not constrained by binding or stiffness. The sleeves are quite long, with adjustable cuffs that can be sealed tight with a hook-and-loop closure, an indication that this will work well with winter gloves. The loft is substantial, but it does not look bulgy when I wear it, as my heaviest-duty parka (which is about expedition weight) does. I tend to treat high loft parkas in winter as an insurance policy, absolutely essential if I am stationary for a while, at my campsite, or if (worst case) an emergency bivouac is called for. I don't normally hike in them unless for some reason I have become chilled and need to quickly bring my temperature up.
Design and materials
The outer shell of the Frost Line is constructed from MontBell's proprietary Ballistic rip-stop nylon in 30-denier gauge, a strong (though hardly indestructible) weight. The surface is treated with Polkatex water-repellent coating, also proprietary, which the company claims will retain 90 percent of its repellency after a hundred washings. As I generally wash down garments once a year, if that, the DWR will outlast me and my heirs, if true. The lining is a pale gray nylon taffeta, with a very soft hand. The high collar is lined with a soft gray perforated microfleece. Between lining and shell is the down, described as 800 fill power (which is a very high-lofting, high quality down, on a par with that used by most other high-end down garment manufacturers). Much down wear is sewn-through i.e. pockets for the down are created by sewing together compartments directly joining lining and shell. With this jacket, MontBell has opted to use the box construction found in sleeping bags (and other high-end parkas), in which the compartments are separated by a thin mesh sewn between shell and lining. Technically, this allows for a higher lofting garment (although generally at the cost of slightly higher garment weight); how effective this strategy proves is a significant aspect of my testing. Box construction also allows down to be manually shifted to areas in need of greater insulation (and, in badly constructed gear, it can create cold spots if the down accidentally shifts over time).
The hood on the Frostline is detachable, so it can be used as a simple down jacket. It attaches by means of a pair of snaps, one at either end of a zipper. The hood is large enough for a climbing helmet, and uses a combination of a hook-and-loop tab and a pair of tensioning cords and a lock to control the angle of the hood. One of the two cords is not attached to the rim of the hood on the garment I received, and this is almost certainly a flaw in the manufacture of the garment. It was received in this condition. There is also a cord running round the front circumference of the hood, with two nylon toggle adjusters, to control the way the hood conforms to the brow and face. Other than the noted defect, the hood appears very serviceable indeed, and I very much like the fact that it is removable.
The front zipper of the garment is a robust YKK water-resistant zip. It moves smoothly, and is backed by a thin but apparently adequate down-filled draft tube. There are two deep external pockets, lined with the same microfleece used for the collar, and are well suited as handwarmers. Both can be zipped closed. The three zippers (the front and two pockets) all have neatly attached pulls.
In addition to these large external pockets, there are two hook-and-loop sealed internal pockets, deep enough for a quart of water or a quantity of food. Inner pockets like these are very useful in winter, as body warmth can be used to prevent water or food freezing. There's also a neatly zippered internal pouch over the interior pocket on the left of the parka, suitable for a GPS, car keys and what-have-you. Speaking of internal features, there's a handy hang loop at the collar, just above the manufacturer's label.
Hood, collar, lining and inner pockets
On to a few final observations. I very much like the fact that the waist drawstring can be cinched by cord pulls from within the external pockets. I have other jackets with this feature, and find it handy, as it avoids fiddling with the toggle adjusters. The whole procedure can be done from the waist itself (and the cinched waist must be released using the toggles). I am a little surprised by the stuff sack, which seems far better suited to long-term storage of the jacket than as a stuff sack for field use. It's pretty large, and I will have to dig around to find a lightweight compression sack for backpacking use. It would have been ideal if this was included.
The MontBell Frost Line Parka appears to be a very carefully thought-out garment, and I am looking forward to testing it. So far, I'm impressed with its very full set of features. It looks to be a great addition to my winter jackets, bridging a gap between lighter parkas and expedition level wear.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
This has been one of the mildest late autumns we have had in recent years, both in terms of temperature and snowfall. Today the daytime temperatures are well above freezing, unusual for early January. Other than a very destructive and freakish early snow, lower elevations in the Catskills have mostly seen nothing more than hard frosts. At elevation, there was light snow cover, but the lowest temperature I encountered was on a recent overnight backpack; when I went to bed it was about 15 F (-9 C), and it actually warmed up overnight. Another trip was warmer still. These are hardly tough winter conditions for this region.
All mountain use has been among the Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains of New York, to elevations of about 4000 ft (1220 m). I've also worn the jacket (generally without the hood) for commuting (it can get chilly waiting for a bus at 6 AM) and for puttering around the garden or going into the village on colder days.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I have found the Frost Line an excellent parka to keep handy in my pack for stops on both dayhikes and backpacks, for lunches, taking in a view and the like. It's pretty much windproof, and very cozy. Though not as compressible as my jackets and parkas without baffles, it's not at all bad in terms of bulk, and it fits well enough at the top of a pack for such occasions. Given the uncertain weather we have been having, it's reassuring to have an insulation piece accessible that will handle unexpected cold. I have also noted that it sheds light misty rain very well, presumably thanks to the Polkatex waterproofing, though I would never deliberately subject it to more rain than this.
It's a good choice during camp setup and cooking, usually the time that (if I don't watch it) I easily get chilled. In fact, despite wearing a comparatively light summer weight boot in snow, on a recent trip where I was setting up at 15 F (9 C) I was really toasty. Even my feet remained comfortable while I pitched my tent and cooked and ate dinner, a sign that my body was not losing too much heat. My companions, whose jackets were perhaps a little less robust, both mentioned mildly cold feet while cooking and eating dinner. A few chills, especially to the extremities are pretty typical for winter camping, and I'm sure that having a robust jacket helped, though comparatively mild conditions played their part. Customarily I'd expect temperatures of 0 F (-18 C) at night on a late December mountain excursion in this area, and the lack of snow and mild temps were why I was wearing lighter boots to begin with. I was pleased to note that the two interior pockets are both big enough to handle a 2L Platypus so I can stash up to four liters of water against my body when wearing the jacket, a great asset for winter camping.
In an alpine style bag (a fairly roomy Valandre Shocking Blue), the Frostline helped make sliding into bed a cozy experience, with no warm-up period. Indeed, I felt so snug I left the jacket on for several hours after zipping in, but eventually found myself getting excessively hot. I took it off, but draped it over my bag in the early dawn hours when there was a faint hint of chill. It's definitely a terrific layering piece, although this tactic would be counterproductive in a tighter bag, where either the down of the bag or of the jacket would be compressed and would lose insulating ability. The Valandre bag is comfort rated 11 F (-12 C), so I am sure I would have been comfy enough even without the jacket (I was in a small tent, which also helped), but a warm transition to slumber never hurts. More to the point, the fact that the jacket fits well in the bag is an added level of protection against an unexpected downturn in temperature when I'm in the hills. I hope to test to what extent I am able take my sleeping bag lower than its comfort rating when wearing the jacket. The combination of a down jacket and bag (and other clothing pieces) for camping in low temperatures is a conventional technique ofteb used in both winter hiking and alpinism.
I have experienced no durability issues with the jacket, beyond the fact that I find the occasional plumule adhering to my clothes. I find this a bit mysterious, as I have yet to see any protruding feather shaft. Otherwise, I'd say that the jacket is downproof. It does seem to me (but this is subjective) that the down chambers could perhaps handle rather more down than they contain, but what there is (and there's a lot) shows no sign of shifting, and is plenty warm. The shell is fairly sturdy, but I take great care in camp against protruding sticks and the like, none the less. The hood is well shaped and easy to conform to the head, but (so far) I have mostly had it detached, and have carried it with me as a little extra insurance. I have used it enough to say I find it helpful in high winds, and I like the option to use the jacket with or without hood as conditions dictate.
In terms of fit, it is sized amply, but not to excess. I have worn several layers underneath without feeling constricted, and I'd describe the fit as "comfortable," even on my somewhat less-than-trim body. It is not so bulky that a shell of sufficient size will not fit over the parka, although in cold temperatures I usually wear my shell beneath my insulation layer.
I'm absolutely delighted with the quality and warmth of the jacket. It's already proved very useful piece for winter backpacking and hiking, and a dandy addition to my sleep system.
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
In late January, my wife suffered a catastrophic accident that caused me to be sidelined as I took over her role in the household and dealt with medical issues, so the use I report is limited solely to the period between the previous report (January 2) and the weekend of January 21, the last time I was able to get out before her accident. This period encompassed the one period of reasonably cold weather in what has otherwise been the warmest winter in the Northeastern US on record. There has been only light snow cover in the mountains, only one period in which cross-country skiing was feasible, and the coldest temperature I experienced wearing the jacket was about 15F (-9C), at an elevation of 3600 ft (1100m). Only one overnight is reflected in this brief period; all other use was day use. I will add further information to this report as opportunity permits, though it looks as if winter will wind down early this year. For us, it is close to being a year without a proper winter.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The jacket has proven warm and durable, and the hood when used has been very effective, and can be positioned so that there is no interference with my vision. The ability to remove it when needed is very handy, as I'm not a fan of attached hoods. I'm really delighted with the performance of the jacket, which has exceeded my expectations in terms of warmth. The only cavil I have is trifling. The inner pockets are sealed with hook and loop fasteners, and the hook side of the fastener faces in, and as a result tends to mildly abrade some softer wool layers. I would like to see the positions of the two sides fastener switched, so that the loop side projects.
The Mont Bell Frost Line Parka is a first-rate insulation layer for winter use, at least to the temperatures at which I have been able to test it. The shell seems sufficiently durable, in that it has not torn when gently snagged. The deep interior pockets are well suited for protecting water or foodstuffs against freezing, and the length of the jacket is, for me, ideal, as is the ability to secure the waist with the adjustable elastic hem.
I have not laundered the Frost Line. The instructions suggest only one wash per season is likely to be required, and there is no evidence of soiling or odor.
My thanks go to Mont Bell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Frost Line Parka. This report was partly created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer
Version 1.5. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.