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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Highland Down Jacket > Test Report by Steven M Kidd

MONTBELL HIGHLAND JACKET
TEST SERIES BY STEVEN M KIDD
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - December 07, 2012
FIELD REPORT - March 18, 2013
LONG TERM REPORT - May 04, 2013

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Steven M Kidd
EMAIL: ftroop94ATgmailDOTcom
AGE: 40
LOCATION: Franklin, Tennessee
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 173 lb (78.50 kg)

Backpacking Background: I've been a backpacker on and off for over 25 years. I backpacked as a Boy Scout, and then again almost every month in my twenties, while packing an average weight of 50+ lbs (23+ kg). In the last several years I have become a hammock camping enthusiast. I generally go on one or two night outings that cover between 5 to 20 mi (8 - 32 km) distances. I try to keep the all-inclusive weight of my pack under 20 lb (9 kg) even in the winter.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Image Courtesy MontBell


Manufacturer: MontBell Co.
Year of Manufacture: 2012
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
MSRP: US $129
Listed Weight: 12.2 oz (346 g) {Based on Medium}
Measured Weight: 13.5 oz (383 g) {Large}; 12.4 oz (352 g) {Medium}
Stuff Sack Weight: 0.5 oz (14 g) Large Stuff Sack, 0.4 oz (11 g) Medium Stuff Sack
Down Fill Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
Sizes Available: S/M/L/XL/XXL {Originally ordered a Large, but exchanged for a Medium}
Colors: Charcoal Black, Indigo, Meadow Green, Rust {Large was Charcoal Black, the Medium is Indigo}

The MontBell Highland Jacket is a 650 fill power down coat. The shell and lining are made with a 40-denier nylon taffeta. The Highland features sewn through construction, two zippered hand warmer pockets, two interior drop pockets and elastic cuffs. It also includes a stuff sack.

The website states the jacket material is treated with a standard durable water repellent (DWR). The zipper, also treated with DWR, is a VISLON. This trademarked zipper is made with injected plastic elements and is lighter than metal zippers in corresponding sizes.

MontBell states the following concerning the Highland: "This simple, lightweight insulating layer flaunts two traits that define great gear, versatility and value." They market the jacket as warm and good looking for use in town or on the trail without putting the customer's disposable income in jeopardy.


CUSTOMER SERVICE INTERACTION

After being selected to test the MontBell Highland down filled jacket I reviewed the sizing chart on their website, but still decided to go up a size in my coat selection. I did so because I've historically had to do this with every other Montbell clothing article I've worn in the past. When the large sized jacket arrived, I quickly photographed it and inspected it for quality, then donned it shortly thereafter. The Highland was a fit well to minimally loose in the chest area, but was quite baggy through the waist. I was a little confused as every other item from this manufacturer always worked for me when ordered one size too large, including a down filled vest I purchased within the last month. I was concerned the bagginess in the waist would diminish the insulating properties of the goose down.

I reached out to MontBell to see about exchanging the jacket for a medium, and had an in depth conversation with a product representative. I suggested the Highland had a more liberal cut than most Montbell clothing. He agreed that as an entry level article it was cut more loosely than some of their more technical slim fitting items. However, he also stated that nearly all MontBell clothing has been redesigned in the past few years to keep up with the growing waistlines of their customers. He clarified that even a technical item of today is different than one of five years ago.

After asking my measurements, the product representative said that he'd generally still suggest a large jacket for me, but much of a proper fit is quite subjective. I mentioned that I'd lost a considerable amount of weight and still plan on dropping another 14 lb (6 kg) throughout the test series. Based on that, he felt comfortable that a medium would be more suitable for me as a large would certainly create air gaps, but again reiterated the subjective nature of a proper fit that varies from customer to customer.

In conclusion I decided to exchange the jacket for a medium with the understanding it may be a little snug in the chest/pit area at my present weight. I don't want an uncomfortably tight jacket on the trail, but I certainly don't want one that swallows me. I'm probably in between the best size for me presently. I currently await arrival of the medium, look for updates on the fit and feel in my next report.

IMAGE 2
Front - As Arrived
IMAGE 3
Back - As Arrived























INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Much like every MontBell item I've owned in the past, I found the Highland to be a well designed with quality construction. I noticed no loose threads or inconsistent stitching patterns. The 40-denier nylon taffeta shell was smooth and slick to the touch. It has a shiny appearance and the material does not appear to have a rip-stop design.

Although the coat I received was a little too roomy for me, it has a very comfortable material that I look forward to wearing in a proper fit. I was impressed with the overall weight of the Highland. The large, coming in at 13.5 oz (383 g), was comparable in weight to several 800 fill goose down jackets I've worn. The material didn't appear excessively thin and the cut as mentioned isn't extremely fitted. That stated, MontBell continues to baffle me with their lightweight designs.

IMAGE 4
MontBell Highland


One way I believe they saved weight for the gram conscious outdoors person was to eliminate any shock corded draft barriers. Neither the neck nor the waist had a cinch cord or toggle that would go along with such a feature. The jacket also has sewn through construction versus a baffled design. As I understand this can save weight in an article, but theoretically creates an opportunity for cold spots. I look forward to reporting on the Highland's warmth in the ensuing months. I was certainly toasty warm within minutes of trying it on. Save the VISLON zipper and the two aforementioned features, I'm simply not sure how MontBell designed such a lightweight jacket at a relatively cost effective price point, but I'm certainly excited that they have!

The jacket was accompanied by a stuff sack that compresses the Highland to approximately 4 x 8 in (10 x 20 cm). The sack weighs a half ounce (14 g), and since I'm weight conscious with the gear I take on the trail I will mostly likely not utilize it. Rather, I can turn the coat into itself and stow it into one of its own interior drop pockets. This doesn't compress the coat as tightly as the stuff sack, but works for me and saves me a few grams.

SUMMARY

The MontBell Highland jacket appears to be a nicely designed and quality constructed item. I'm excited to test it in the ensuing winter months, both in the backcountry and as the manufacturer suggests...in town.

The initial coat I received was a little too roomy of a fit to make me feel comfortable with extended field use, but the representatives were polite, educated me and were quite accommodating. I like the design of the coat and look forward to reporting how it performs. I certainly have no qualms with wearing it in public. It doesn't give me that 'Stay Puft Marshmallow' complex that some down items have a tendency to create. I look forward to the medium arriving and starting the trial as cold front is expected early next week!

I give the Highland roses on what I consider a lightweight design for a 650 fill jacket. I also like the stylish look and color options offered. The only thorn that concerns me is the lack of a rip-stop in the shell material. I fear an unintentional snag on a branch could cause a snow storm of down being released in the wilderness.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1
Snow Day Fun

23-24 December, 2012: The Fiery Gizzard Trail, South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee. This was a 2 day, 1 night outing. Elevations along the 14 mile (22.5 km) trek were roughly 1500 ft (457 m) to 1800 ft (549 m) with temperatures ranging from just above freezing to around 40 F (4.5 C). The sky was grey and overcast until around 9 PM on the first evening until the skies opened. After it began to rain, it never stopped until we exited the trailhead around noon on day 2.

30-31 December, 2012: The Fiery Gizzard Trail, South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee. A second 2 day, 1 night outing; but a short 4 miles (6.5 km) in and out each way on the south end of the trail. Elevations were a fairly constant 1750 ft (533 m) on this short mileage outing and skies were clear and cold. Temperatures hovered just below freezing in the daylight hours and dropped to as low as 21 F (-6 C) in the night hours.

7-10 March, 2013: The Savage Gulf, South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee. This was a 4 day, 3 night 'group hang' with 25 hammock campers covering 23 miles (37 km). On the first evening temperatures dropped to as low as 22 F (-5.5C), but by the final day temperature were rose as high as 63 F (17 C). Elevations ranged from 1100 ft (335 m) in the gulf to 1850 ft (564 m) on the rim. On the final evening, although the temperatures were balmy compared to the first night or two, the winds did blow as high as 30 mph. Winds like these can easily effect hammock campers as there is 360 degree air circulation.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

After completing the Initial Review on the Montbell Highland I was happy to receive a size Medium. The Indigo Blue weighs in at 12.2 oz (346 g) with a 0.4 oz stuff sack (11 g) and fits much better than the larger one. I'm again impressed with the Montbell customer service.

Throughout this field portion of the test I wore it on three separate outings, but I also used the jacket for primary casual wear for easily 90% of the time.

Although the coat is considered an entry level or lower end version from Montbell I found it to be similar in quality to many other down coats at a higher price point. I questioned the lack of cinch cords around the waist and neck at the onset of the test, but to this point I've have no problems with cool spots in either area. I've not chilled ever in the coat, and as mentioned I've worn the coat to temperatures as low as 21 F (-6 C). This was also sitting around camp, not moving along the trail.

In light rain the coat repelled water sufficiently enough for me, but I never tested it in a downpour. On one rainy evening, I donned a shell over my down jacket and stayed warm and dry throughout the evening around the campfire. I did wear the coat out with my children on a snowy Saturday afternoon to include an hour of sledding with no moisture compressing the down to jeopardize the insulating power. I was impressed.

Another question I had concerning the Highland was the lack of ripstop in the shell material. To date I have no snags, tears or other concerns with it, the material has held up admirably. I do like the fact that if and when I spill something on the jacket it has easily wiped off with a damp cloth.

I wear the Highland often and I rarely notice down leakage, so that has impressed me as well. In fact, of the nearly a dozen Montbell down items I've owned in the last decade and this has the leaked the least amount of down to date. I attribute this to the heavier denier fabric this item offers.


IMAGE 2
Annual New Years' Eve Outing

IMAGE 3
Hammocking in the Savage Gulf


































SUMMARY


As winter wanes and spring is on the horizon I hope to get as much use as possible out of the Montbell Highland in the final phase of the test series. I've been pleasantly surprised with the jacket. As I look back I question why I was surprised as I've never had a Montbell product I that didn't satisfy me. Although the Highland is a lower end product from this company, I find it to be sewn as well or better than many higher end competitive products.

I do wish the jacket had ripstop material, but I'm overly impressed with the weight considering it is a 650 fill power down. The lack of cinch cords have caused me zero concern to date.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

29 - 30 March, 2013: South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee. I took a 2 day, 1 night outing with minimal mileage just to get away with a buddy at the CCC campground near Tracy City, TN. Minimal distance was covered, save the trip to the campsite and temperatures never dropped below 45 F (7 C) on the warm spring evening.

19- 21 April, 2013: The Fiery Gizzard Trail, South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee. A 3 day, 2 nights outing; that covered a little over seven miles. With my 4 and 5 year old children in tow we descended the Climber's Loop and summited again near Foster Falls, staying one night at Father Adams and a second at the Small Wilds area. Though, they've been on many multi-night trips, this was their first true multi-site backpacking experience. Elevations were a fairly constant 1750 ft (533 m) save the trip in and out of the gulf which included very quick elevation changes of around 300 ft (91 m). Temperatures were in the mid-50's F (~13 C) during the daylight hours and mid-30's F (~2 C) at night. It was dry, but the ground was soaked on the first night, and the rain-fed creeks were gushing.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

IMAGE 1
Foster Falls (A completely rain fed waterfall)

March and April here in middle Tennessee tended to be either unseasonably warm or cold and wet...very wet! Therefore, I didn't get to use the Montbell Highland to the extent I'd hoped. I probably grabbed it out of the closet to wear around town two or three times during this phase of the test, whereas I was regularly wearing it earlier on. When it was cool it was so wet I didn't want to be wearing a down product...even with a DWR.

I took the coat on an overnight outing in late March, but it was unneeded weight, as I never even pulled it from my pack. However, in late April I went on a multi-night outing with three adults and five young children and I used it each evening.

I continue to have nothing but positive things to state when reviewing the product. Montbell simply makes solid products. They are functional, stylish and most importantly to me they are lightweight. None of the original concerns I posted earlier in the report ever came to fruition.

SUMMARY

I'm very impressed with the Montbell Highland. In my opinion, and based on a conversation I had with a representative, this jacket is designed to be sold as an entry level product. For such an 'entry level' design I personally find that it excels in many of the aforementioned ways. I also find the price point for this product very attractive. I love the coat and hope to wear it many years into the future.

I feel as if I've praised it throughout the report and even though none of my concerns developed I have one key question that continues to circulate through my mind. What would a jacket like the Highland weigh if Montbell were to use an 800 or 900 fill power down? This is not a concern with the product by any means, simply a question that a weight conscious backpacker poses.

I'd sincerely like to thank MontBell Co. and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to test the Highland jacket.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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