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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Mistral Parka > Test Report by Ken Bigelow

MontBell Mistral Parka
Test Report Series by Ken Bigelow
Initial Report - June 3, 2008
Field Report – August 3, 2008
Long Term Report - September 28, 2008

MontBell Mistral Parka

MontBell Mistral Parka

Personal Biographical Information:

Name: Ken Bigelow
Age: 30
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 8" (1.7 m)
Weight: 175 lb (79 kg)
Chest: 40 in (102 cm)
Sleeve: 33 in (84 cm)
Waist: 34 in (86 cm)
Email address: krb84108 (at) yahoo (dot) com
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Backpacking Background:

My adventures vary in length from a weekend to over two weeks.  I am shifting my backpacking style to a lightweight approach.  I use hammocks and lightweight tents to reduce weight.  From spring through fall I typically backpack in the mountains or desert, while in winter I often go snowshoeing.  I typically see a wide variety of climates ranging from -5 F (-20 C) with snow to 90 F (32 C) and sunny with just about everything in between.


Initial Report
June 3, 2008

Product Information:

Manufacturer: Montbell
Website: http://www.montbell.com/
Year Manufactured: 2008
Color Tested: Black (Maroon & Thyme also available)
MSRP: $109 (US)
Listed Weight: 5.6 oz (Medium)
Measured Weights: Parka – 6.0 oz (170 g), Stuff Sack – 0.2 oz (5.7 g)
Size Tested: Large
Measured Packed Dimensions: 6 in x 4 in x 2.5 in (15.2 cm x 10.2 cm x 6.4 cm)

Product Description & Initial Impressions:

The MontBell claims that their Mistral Parka is a lightweight, water resistant wind jacket.  The black and grey Mistral Parka arrived with a glossy black stuff sack and some hangtags attached.  The fabric appears to be well made and I can detect no defects upon my initial inspection.  I would say that I received what I expected after looking at MontBell’s website.

Parka in Stuff Sack
Mistral Parka in its Stuff Sack

The Parka is treated with 100-wash rated Polkatex durable water repellent which (according to the hangtags) is supposed to retain 90% of its water repellency after 100 washings.  The main fabric is made of Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon which is described by MontBell as a fabric that is “one and a half times more abrasion resistant than other similar weight fabrics and boasts three times the tear strength of nylons that are almost 20% heavier.“  This fabric is created by heating and stretching the material and makes the fibers stronger (similar to steel beam fabrication where the stresses of the material are reduced dramatically).  I like the fabric’s texture overall, but it is a bit glossy for my taste (this won’t matter to me in the long run if it performs well).
Front View
Mistral Parka Front View
Back View
Mistral Parka Back View
The Mistral Parka has gusseted grey stretch nylon on each side and along the underside of each arm.  The same material is also all around the cuffs and neck.  There is a small MontBell reflective logo on the left breast and another one in the center of the back.  There is a main full-length zipper with a pull tab in the front of the Mistral Parka with a single cinch cord around the hem located on my right side. The hood has an internal cord around it with two plastic adjusters located at the top of the chin guard.  There is also a small brim on the hood that has a stiffener element sewn into it.
Mistral Parka Hood
The Mistral Parka's Hood

The Mistral Parka has two zippered pockets. The pockets are symmetrical around the main zipper.  The pocket entrances are approximately halfway between my nipple and naval which is higher than I typically see on other jackets.  I really like this location.  With other jackets the hipbelts on most of my packs either partially hamper or fully obstruct access to the side pockets.  I am really looking forward to seeing if the pocket locations have solved this problem I typically encounter.  Both pockets have zippers with a pull tab.  To open the pockets I need to pull the zipper down which is the way I prefer them (as I tend lose whatever I store in them or the pockets end up spewing their contents when they open downwards.  The pockets are mesh lined and fairly deep.  They extend down to about an inch (2.5 cm) above the hem. 
Mesh Pockets
Mistral Parka Side Pockets

Based on MontBell’s website sizing chart I could probably squeeze into a Medium, but I am a fan of layering so I went with a Large (I typically do this with all the shells that I wear).  The wind shell is not too tight or too loose in any area that I can tell.   The Mistral covers my waistline and is comfortable to wear (at least initially)

Summary:

The MontBell Mistral Parka is a lightweight wind jacket that has some features I’m really looking forward to testing out.  I’m thrilled with its compressibility and like its pocket layout.  The black fabric portion of the parka is a bit shiny for my taste, but that’s just my personal preference. I love this wind jacket so far.

Things I like so far:
  • Lightweight
  • Compresses to a small size
  • Location of the pockets and their zipper directions
Things I’m not thrilled about:
  • Reflective, glossy nylon fabric


Field Report
August 3, 2008
Mistral Parka on Katahdin
Mistral Parka on Katahdin

Field Locations & Conditions:

So far I have used the MontBell Mistral Parka on at least 27 days.  I spent fours days backpacking along Washington’s Wilderness Coast in Olympic National Park, I did an overnight backpacking trip in Cedar Mesa Region of Southern Utah.  I continued to backpack in Utah’s High Uintas for three days and spent a total of seven days backpacking in the Wasatch Mountains.

I used the Mistral Parka for two days camping and hiking just outside Bryce Canyon National Park in Southern Utah and for three days in Maine’s Baxter State Park.  I used the Mistral Parka on five dayhikes in the Wasatch Mountains and for a short stroll in countryside of Southern Maine.  I wore it occasionally around town (both walking and riding my bike) in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It also saw brief action around Seattle Washington, and Portland, Maine.

I’ve wore the Mistral Parka at elevations ranging from sea level to 11,500 ft/3,500 m The terrain I’ve covered has included lots of boulder hopping, rocky terrain, snow covered trails, muddy (sometimes flooded) pathways, sandy washes, sandy and gravel beaches, and dry dirt.  I have worn the parka in temperatures from 29 F/-2 C to around 65 F/18 C and seen both very low and very high humidity.  I have seen light, moderate and heavy wind.  I’ve also experienced various degrees of rain, cascaded down a snowfield and splashed water on myself while wearing the Mistral Parka.

Field Performance:

I have been using the MontBell Mistral Parka primarily as a wind jacket in the mountains while hiking.  It has been the perfect gear for me while hiking along ridges and resting at summits where it is almost always windy.  In Maine’s Baxter State Park I hiked the mile/1.6 km “Knife’s Edge” route to the summit of Katahdin and had the parka on the entire time.  The wind was blowing the whole stretch and I was perfectly comfortable boulder hopping along the section.  It worked so well on Maine’s “Knife’s Edge” that I elected to try in on the “Knife’s Edge” in the Wasatch Mountains (as I think the Wasatch one, although shorter, is a little trickier).  I once again found it to be the ideal parka for me.  It did a superb job of shedding the wind (which again blew constantly) and did not reduce any of my mobility as I scrambled over boulders along the narrow ridge.  I also experienced no overheating issues on any of the hikes which is good because I don’t like having to stop and remove clothing on narrow, exposed terrain.
Knife's Edge in the Wasatch Mtns
Knife's Edge en route to the Pfiefferhorn in the Wasatch Mountains

The jacket breathes very well indeed.  While backpacking along Washington’s Olympic Coast I lived in the parka for the last two and a half days of the trip which included some boulder hopping and hiking on all kinds of coastal debris and felt perfectly comfortable the entire time.  I pulled water duty and had to pack 9 L/2.4 gallons back a ways to camp.  I wore my pack while carrying the load and never felt the need to remove the parka. I’ve been hiking until well after dark on a few occasions in the Wasatch Mountains.  Wearing the Mistral Parka is definitely the way to go for me when summer night hiking.  It keeps me warm enough that I’m not the least bit chilly, but the jacket breathes well enough that I’m not too hot either.  Where my shoulder straps and hipbelt pressed the parka into my body were the only areas that felt slightly sweaty afterwards, but this is typically the case even when I don’t have an outer shell on. When temperatures get above about 65 F/18 C (and the wind isn’t blowing) I do find it a little too uncomfortable to keep on, but I typically never wear a wind jacket in those circumstances (that’s why I carry a poncho).

I’ve exposed the Mistral Parka to rain in Washington (it rains there, big surprise I know), Maine (another shocker) and the Wasatch Mountains.  I was never outside of a shelter in a torrential downpour but it has seen enough moisture to make me a believer in its water repelling ability.  Water beads up on the parka whenever it’s falling from the sky and precipitation has never penetrated the parka at all as best I can tell.  The only time I ever had moisture get into the jacket was when I slid down a snowfield in the Wasatch Mountains.  When I saw the snowfield on the steeper slope I debated about whether to glissade or try and hike down it.  I elected the latter and regretted it half way down and ended up sliding a good 30-40 ft/9-12 m before arresting.  Afterwards my open pockets (both on the parka and my shorts) as well as my shoes were completely filled with snow.  The black 15-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon actually managed to stay dry and only had beads of moisture on it, but the gray, 40-denier stretch rip-stop nylon side gusset and cuff soaked through completely.  I was very surprised and delighted that the Mistral Parka had survived this spill without any noticeable damage.  I honestly can’t say I’m surprised at moisture getting in under these circumstances as the Mistral Parka is not designed to be used in this condition.

When I first received the Montbell Mistral Parka I initially carried both it and a rain shell as the Parka is advertised as only being water repellent (and I wanted a backup until it had proven itself).  After a few trips (and exposing the Mistral Parka to water) I’ve left my waterproof shell at home and carried the parka as my outer layer (with a 1.6 oz/45 g emergency poncho as backup).  This has allowed me to shave my shell weight almost in half (my rain jacket weighs 13.8 oz/369 g while the poncho/parka combo only weighs 7.6 oz/215g) which I absolutely LOVE!

The Mistral Parka has also been a good insulation layer for me at night in camp.  The jacket fits a little loose with only a shirt on, but if I have an insulation layer on it fits me perfectly.  On every trip I’ve worn the parka around camp at night and it has been successful as keeping the chilly temperatures at bay during the dusk hours.  I’ve pitched my tent, cooked dinner, made water trips and hung food while wearing the parka and don’t even notice I have it on.  I was borderline on what size to test (based on MontBell’s sizing charts I could go with either a Medium or a Large) but elected to go up to a Large to allow for better layering.  This was a good idea on my part.  On more than a few occasions I’ve worn a lightweight fleece underneath as an additional insulation layer.  This has worked great when the temperatures have dropped in the mountains at night. I used to carry a down jacket when I went to sleep (as I sleep cold), but can now leave that at home during the summer months.  This system (while in my summer sleeping bag) has worked well at keeping my upper body warm and I slept comfortably down to 29 F/-2 C (the coldest I have experienced thus far).

I only have used the hood a few times as it does limit my peripheral vision some, but I find this is the case with almost any jacket I have ever worn.  The Mistral Parka has a visor on the hood that can be tucked up into the hood or exposed out to provide protection from trickling precipitation.  I’ve noticed a much greater loss of my field of view when the visor is out and exposed so I like the ability to flip it up and tuck it away inside the hood (this can be done one-handed without much effort).  I can wear the hood when I have my bike helmet on, but prefer to leave if off so I have a wider range of vision (and it hasn’t rained very hard anyway while on my bike).
The Mistral Parka's Hood
The Hood with the Visor In (Left) and Out (Right)

One thing I did not expect to use the wind jacket for was protection from bugs, but it works well for me in that category too.  I neglected to soak my clothes in permitherin this year.  I realized my stupidity right away on my first trip to the High Uintas (much to the amusement of my hiking companion).  The mosquitoes and biting flies were horrendous and I thought about putting rocks in my clothes to prevent them from carrying me away. I managed to find some DEET which helped for a bit, but I had to don the Mistral Parka to keep them off of my face, neck and upper arms (where I neglected to apply the DEET) while setting up my tent and escaping to its secure interior.  I was initially concerned that the material was too thin and that the bugs could bite through the fabric, but it actually did a splendid job of preventing them from sucking me dry.  I used the same system to keep the biting bugs in Maine from eating me alive while out for a quick stroll in the countryside after I had forgotten to put any DEET on before going out.

I’ve only washed the Mistral Parka one time (that was to remove the campfire smell).  I followed the instructions per the tag on the jacket (machine wash warm gentle or delicate, do not bleach, iron low under damp cloth, dry clean, petroleum solvent only, line dry in shade, do not tumble dry, do not iron on print, do not iron on zipper). I used a wash warm on delicate, no bleach and I line dried in the shade – I did not iron as I don’t care about that sort of thing and it sounds like extra work.  After washing it I noticed that the interior mesh pockets turned from white to gray and the parka seems to have lost a little of it’s shimmer.  The performance has remained fine though so neither of these side-effects bothers me in the slightest.

Summary:


So far I have found the Montbell Mistral Parka to be the most comfortable shell I’ve ever had. It provides superior protection against the wind and does and excellent job of keeping out water and bugs.  While wearing the parka I cannot detect any loss of movement and it works splendidly in my layering system.  I do lose a little peripheral vision when the hood is on and particularly when the visor is flipped out, but that is not uncommon with most jackets I’ve worn.

Things I like so far:
  • Superb wind protection
  • Doesn’t hinder my flexibility
  • Repels water well
  • Excellent breatheability
  • I can layer underneath it without any trouble
  • Good protection against bugs
Things I’m not thrilled about:
  • Lower visibility with hood on - especially with the visor out

Long Term Report
 
September 28, 2008
MontBell Mistral Parka

Long Term Locations & Conditions:
 
For the last two months of the test period I have been limited to only 11 days of field use.  I used the Parka on a three day/two night trip in Great Basin National Park, Nevada and on a three day/two night trip in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness.  I also used it dayhiking in the Wasatch Mountains on five day hikes and occasionally in and around Salt Lake City
 
I’ve worn the Mistral Parka at elevations ranging from 4,200 ft/1,300m to 13,100 ft/4,000 m.  The terrain I’ve covered has included lots of boulder hopping, rocky terrain, snow covered trails, muddy pathways, and dry dirt.  I have worn the parka in temperatures from 25 F/-3 C to around 65 F/18 C.  I have seen light, moderate and heavy wind.  I’ve also experienced various degrees of rain and even some hail while wearing the Mistral Parka. 
 
Long Term Performance:
 
The more I wear the Mistral Parka above tree line the more I am impressed with it.  In Great Basin National Park I used the Mistral Parka on a late summit of Wheeler Peak.  I didn’t get on the trail until the evening and had to summit during the early evening.  It was extremely windy from about 11,500 ft/3,500 m to the summit at over 13,100 ft/4,000 m.  There were a number of rock shelters along the trail but I didn’t need to use any of them as the parka allowed me to catch a quick breather without becoming too cold from the wind chill.  I was able to enjoy a gorgeous sunset on the ridge going down, but would have had to miss it had I not had protection and warmth provided by the Mistral Parka.

  Mistral Parka on Wheeler Peak
MontBell Mistral Parka on Wheeler Peak

Coming down I ended up hiking well after dark and noticed I had forgotten my insulation layer so I switched into trail running mode as the temperature began to drop.  I was very impressed that the Parka never seemed to get too hot or clammy the entire trip whether I was hiking up to the summit or trail running (even when I dropped into tree cover where I was protected from the wind a lot more).  The Mistral Parka’s breathability is outstanding!

  Backpacking in Great Basin National Park
Backpacking in Great Basin National Park

Backpacking in the same park the Parka was again invaluable as I went over the passes where the wind would always chill the air.  I was glad that I was able to take my time and enjoy the views instead of scurrying around to seek protection from the wind.  I also wore the Parka while hiking during the chilly morning hours and the early evenings when the temperature began to drop.  At night I used the Parka as part of my sleeping system and while my legs were slightly chilly my upper body was warm (I had the same thing occur in my earlier field testing as well as in the High Uintas Wilderness during long term testing).  I had to set up camp in the late evenings on this trip and the Mistral Parka again performed superbly in keeping my warm while doing various camp chores.  Sitting around in camp I wore the Parka alone down to 45 F/7 C without the need for additional insulation and I get cold easily

  Heading up to Devil's Castle
Hiking in the Wasatch

While hiking in the Wasatch Mountains the Mistral Parka offered the perfect protection from the wind while hiking from Germania Pass up and over Sugarloaf and then across the ridge before scrambling up Devils Castle.  In a few places I had to put my poles away and use my hands to work my way across to the summit.  I was very glad that the Parka allowed me to maneuver my body en route to the top.
 
After four months of use I have not be able to detect any damage to the MontBell Mistral Parka.  I cannot see any loose threads, holes or abrasions.  It repels water just as well as when I received it and its performance has remained phenomenal throughout the test period.  
 
Summary:

MB Mistral Parka

After using it for four months (and some days living in it) I can say that the MontBell Mistral Parka is a wonderful addition to my layering system.  The Mistral Parka has done a fantastic job in helping me adapt to a bunch of different environments and I would easily pay the money to have a fine piece of equipment such as this in my gear closet.
 
Things I like so far:
  • Superb wind protection
  • Doesn’t hinder my flexibility
  • Repels water well
  • Excellent breatheability
  • Durable
Things I’m not thrilled about:
  • Lower visibility with hood on especially with the visor out (addressed in the Field Report)
This concludes my Long Term Report.  Thanks to MontBell and backpackgeartest for allowing me the opportunity to test the Mistral Parka.

 

 

 



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