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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket > Test Report by Mark Thompson

MONTBELL PLASMA 1000 JACKET
TEST SERIES BY MARK THOMPSON
LONG-TERM REPORT
April 08, 2014

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Mark Thompson
EMAIL: markthompson 242 at gmail dot com
AGE: 49
LOCATION: Parker, Colorado, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (2.10 m)
WEIGHT: 170 lb (77.10 kg)

Outdoor adventures started for me at an early age, my passions have grown to include backpacking, rock climbing, hiking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, cycling, skiing and snowshoeing. Most of my adventures presently take place in Colorado's amazing Rocky Mountains. For trail hikes, my pack typically weighs 15 lbs/7 kg (summer/fall), 25 lbs/11 kg (winter/spring) and trail speed ranges from 2.5 - 4 mph (4 - 6 km/h) depending on elevation gain. For backpack trips, my pack weighs 40 - 45 lbs (18 - 20 kg) and my trail speed drops to 1.5 - 3.0 mph (2 - 5 km/h).


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: MontBell Co., Ltd
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.us
MSRP: US $269.00
Listed Weight: 4.8 oz (136 g)
Measured Weight: 5.2 oz (147 g) measured without stuff sack
Other details:
Size tested: X-Large
Color tested: Dark Mallard
Fill: 1000 fill power (FP) Down
Shell: 7-denier Ballistic Airlight Nylon

IMAGE 1
Photo courtesy of MontBell

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Wow, what an incredibly light jacket! I almost believe that the manufacturer included the brochure just so the post office wouldn't think the box was empty, in fact, the brochure weighs more than the jacket!

Clearly, MontBell designed this jacket with the ultra-light enthusiast in mind. I had envisioned that this jacket would take the place of a down sweater that I have been using, but after a short day near Berthoud Pass this past Saturday, I found this would be a much better replacement for my fleece pullover. Like my fleece, this jacket is void of the weight adding features such as pockets and drawstrings, but it weighs in at less than half of my basic fleece.

IMAGE 2

The sleeve cuffs are quite basic (elastic cuff) no added weight here, but that is the point with this product.

IMAGE 3
The center closure and waist (elastic) are, again, functional with the focus on weight conservation.

MontBell's sizing chart seems to be in line with "the rest of the world" and enabled me to select a size that was right for me. With an active lifestyle and sporting interests which include mountaineering and ice climbing, I tend to need and want more than plenty of room for movement or an extra layer. These interests have developed a tendency to prefer a little more chest and shoulder room in upper body garments which generally drives me to X-Large shirts, jackets etc. This, coupled with the fact that I fell at the top of MontBell's Large range (in chest measure), I opted for the X-Large. Specifically (using data from MontBell's sizing chart):

IMAGE 4


The fit of the jacket is on the athletic side of the spectrum, but still accommodates those with a few extra pounds. The sleeve length was appropriate for me, even though the chart would seem to indicate that the sleeves would be 2" (5 cm) too long. I did enjoy the collar comfort and expect this to work well with my other cold weather garments including a balaclava.

The jacket is comprised of an inner and an outer layer of 7-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon. According to MontBell, this particular material is 1.5 times stronger than other products of the same weight. Sandwiched between these two layers, using sewn-through construction, is 1.6 oz (45 g) (size M) of 1000 FP Goose Down. Given the extraordinarily light and thin nature of the inner and outer layers of the jacket, the manufacturer does warn that special care may be required.

SUMMARY

This jacket is the ultra-light enthusiasts dream! Clearly the focus on designing this item was on weight minimalization. With the design intent in mind, I have only compliments. In terms of strength and durability, time will tell, I will share my findings in a couple months!


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Since the Plasma 1000 Jacket gracefully floated across my threshold, I have had the opportunity to test this fine piece on three hikes and a week at our family cabin, high in the mountains. Regrettably, the arrival of this jacket coincided with the need to address some medical issues which has restricted my outdoor pursuits, so recovery hikes and snowshoes have been filling the schedule with backpacking on the docket during the next two months!

Snowshoe, December 2013
Rocky Mountain National Park, Fall River Road (closed to cars in the winter)
Distance traveled: 5 miles (8 km)
Temperature: 18 deg F (-8 deg C)
Total Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet (305 m)
Weather: Overcast with winds at 15 mph (24 kmph)
Skies were overcast and winds mild
The hike/snowshoe was an out and back, with a fair amount of elevation gain. The terrain was mild given the fact that we were on a dirt road, other than the sections where the road was washed out by the recent flooding.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Loch Valle Trail
Distance traveled: 2 miles (3.2 km)
Temperature: 14 deg F (-10 deg C)
The skies were clear to the east, and appeared clear all around from lower elevations. However, when I reached the trail head, conditions were much different. The wind was blowing at 20 mph (32 kmph) sustained with gusts to 35 mph (56 kmph). I ended up cutting this hike short due to the excessive winds and improper head and eye protection.

Roosevelt National Forest, Allenspark, CO
St Vrain Mountain Trail
Total Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km)
Total Elevation Gain: 600 feet (183 m)
Weather: Overcast with winds 25 to 40 mph (40 to 64 kmph)
Temperatures: 12 to 14 deg F (-11 to -10 deg C)
Skies were clear to the east, but the high winds caused a lot of snow to be picked up and present the illusion of an approaching storm.


PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

As mentioned, I have tested the Plasma 1000 on three hikes/snowshoe trips as well as throughout a full week in the mountains where the elevation was above 8,300 ft (2,530 m) with temperatures consistently below freezing. These experiences revealed:

- While actively hiking and/or snowshoeing, I consistently found, regardless of the weather, that I overheated and had to remove the jacket and replace with a garment that provided either less insulation or less wind protection. The picture below was taken relatively early into my trip on Fall River Road during which the ambient temperature was 18 deg F (-8 deg C). In this picture, I had already completely unzipped the jacket and shortly after this picture was taken, I did remove it and put on a soft-shell.

IMAGE 1

- After stopping for a rest or lunch, I did have trouble maintaining a comfortable temperature. Clearly, the ambient temperature and wind had a significant impact, but it seemed that the jacket is so light that it didn't provide a sufficient level of insulation for the winter mountain temperatures encountered during this phase of the test.

- While hanging around my family cabin with some physical exertion, I found the wind protection and amount of insulation to be very comfortable.

One of the characteristics of the Plasma 1000 that initially caused me some concern was the shell material and the perception that it would not provide a sufficient level of durability. I am pleased to state that I have found that my initial concerns were unfounded. I have been pleasantly surprised by the material's resistance to snagging from trees and other common hazards.

Despite having to remove the jacket due to overheating on my more strenuous activities, I have really enjoyed how compact the jacket becomes when having to stow it in my pack. My snowshoe trip on Fall River Road, was fairly soon after surgery and I was unable to carry a pack on my back so I opted for a waist (or fanny) pack. The Plasma 1000 easily fit inside the small pack!

SUMMARY

The Plasma 1000 is a super light piece that has presented me with some challenges in terms of finding the "right" weather or season. My personal experiences so far have been limited to cold winter conditions where I found the jacket has been too hot for higher levels of exertion and too cool when I am sedentary. I did find it to be just right for mild levels of exertion.

Pros:
- super light weight
- great wind resistance
- awesome packability

Cons:
- nothing against the jacket, just need to find some milder weather for use after hiking or super cold weather for wearing while hiking


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the Long Term Reporting period of this test, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to test this jacket on 5 more "trips" with a variety of weather conditions. These five trips have included:


Location: Castlewood Canyon State Park, near Franktown, CO
Event: Basic Mountaineering School Instructor Refresher Course
Total Distance: very little (maybe a mile or 1.6 km)
Total Elevation Gain: very little, 100 feet (30 meters)
Weather: Clear and sunny, but the previous 24 hours had brought a fair amount of snow
Temperatures: 28 to 56 Deg F (- 2 to 13 Deg C)

Location: Lincoln Falls, near Alma, CO
Event: Ice Climbing
Total Distance: very little, maybe two miles (3.3 km)
Total Elevation Gain: approximately 800 feet (244 meters)
Weather: Sunny and very windy!
Temperatures: 14 to 26 Deg F (-10 to -3 Deg C)

Location: Mt St Vrain, near Allenspark, CO
Event: Snowshoe Trip
Total Distance: approximately 8 miles (12.9 km)
Total Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet (732 meters)
Weather: Overcast, snowing and windy
Temperatures: 18 to 22 Deg F (-8 to -5 Deg C)

Location: St Charles Peak, near Rye, CO
Event: Snowshoe Trip
Total Distance: 9.4 miles (15 km)
Total Elevation Gain: 2,800 feet (853 meters)
Weather: Started clear and turned overcast with heavy snow showers and significant wind
Temperatures: Started near 45 Deg F (7 Deg C) then dropped to 28 Deg F (-2 Deg C) as the storm (and wind and snow) moved into the area.

Location: Arches National Park, near Moab, UT
Event: Hiking and Exploring Trip
Total Distance: 4 to 6 miles (6 to 10 km)
Total Elevation Gain: minor overall
Weather: clear skies and sunny, some wind (but hey, it's Utah)
Temperatures: 56 to 68 Deg F (13 to 20 Deg C)

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

This particular jacket has presented some intriguing opportunities and challenges due to it's construction and insulation capabilities. The jacket is super light weight which is made possible by the frugal use of high quality materials. The insulation is second to none but the total volume of this material is limited. The shell material is super light weight as well and weight savings is garnered through the limited addition of features. Certainly, no frills on this jacket.

IMAGE 1

As mentioned previously, I found it very difficult to determine the "right" weather for this jacket. Almost without regard to the ambient air temperature, I quickly became over heated during any outdoor physical activity. I admit that I tend to maintain a rather brisk pace when hiking or snowshoeing, but it didn't take long after leaving the trail head that I would have to stop and remove the jacket for something that provided much better breathability. My standard layering system (during winter hikes and snowshoe trips) includes a base layer, a breathable t-shirt, a fleece and a soft shell. I tried to replace the fleece and the soft-shell with the Plasma 1000, but, as mentioned, I would quickly over heat.

After several repeat occurrences, I thought that maybe the jacket would be better suited to rest periods. Unfortunately, I found that I would cool off so much that I became cold when the ambient air temperature was below freezing. Ultimately, I did find that the jacket was well suited to periods of limited activity where the ambient air temperature was between 45 deg F (7 deg C) and 60 deg F (16 deg C) (the higher being with some wind). I also found the jacket to be of the right weight and compacted volume to be superb for rock climbing. I specifically mention this sport as it is very common for the "belayer" (the person maintaining the rope while another is climbing) to become cold while waiting for their partner to complete a pitch. I found this jacket to be quite suited for the sport as it provides some warmth, wind protection and is so light and compact that it is very easy to carry on a multi-pitch climb. I discovered this during the BMS instructor refresher outing and was quite pleased. I plan to use the jacket in this exact way during the early and late portions of the climbing season as well as a part of my survival kit.

SUMMARY

This is a really unique piece of gear, specifically because of its great weight and volume. The size and insulation capabilities of the jacket do add some limitations as mentioned.

Pros:
- super light weight
- awesome compactability

Cons:
- limited temperature range

A special thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for enabling the test of this fine piece of gear.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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