MONTBELL TEC DOWN JACKET
TEST SERIES BY MATT MIODUSZEWSKI
April 05, 2010
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Mattanuska AT gmail DOT com
5' 8" (1.73 m)
145 lb (65.80 kg)
I did small weekend trips growing up in Michigan. In 2007 I hiked most of the Appalachian Trail during a 5 month hike. I live in Portland, OR and frequently hike in the Columbia River Gorge and OR and WA, Cascades. I generally do day hikes, and weekend over nighters, with 5-15 lb (2.3 - 6.8 kg), but carry 25-30 lb (11.3 - 13.6 kg) on multi-day trips. I enjoy doing steep climbs, 2000-5000 ft (610 - 1524 m) over 1 to 4 miles (1.6 to 6.4 km) of distance. I have begun to do winter hiking with traction devices, snowshoeing, snow camping, and mountaineering in 2009.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: MontBell America
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
Listed Weight: 11.3 oz (320 g) ( size medium)
Measured Weight: 10.8 oz (306 g) (size medium)
Fill Weight: 2.9 oz (82 g) high quality 800 fill power hypoallergenic goose down
15 denier Ballistic Airlight nylon shell and lining
50 denier nylon taffeta reinforced panels
Polkatex DWR treatment rated effective for 100 washes
DWR flat coil zippers
Fleece lined collar
2 external zip hand-warmer pockets half lined with fleece
2 internal tall pockets
elastic cuffs with hook and loop fastener pieces for additional tightening
Waist cinch elastic cord integrated into inside of external pocket
stuff sack (.2 oz (5 g))
My initial impression of this jacket upon receiving it was that it really seemed ultra light! Even though this is advertised as an Ultra Light jacket, I was still surprised by how light it felt for a mountaineering and unique backpacking down coat. It did not seem very bulky at all. The red sections of the jacket made of 15 denier Ballistic Airlight nylon seem translucent. The down insulation is semi-visible behind these translucent red sections. This 15 denier fabric is used throughout the entire inside of the coat and is very soft and smooth. The heavier duty 50 denier nylon taffeta areas of the coat felt thicker and were visibly less wrinkled. The reinforced areas include the entire neck area, front and back, down to the shoulder seam, the elbows, down to and around the cuff, and the underarm area on the torso, down to the hem and around the bottom of the jacket. The jacket is sewed in a quilted construction with the seams going through both sides of the fabric. A few down feathers were sticking through the lightweight sections of the jacket. I tried my best to pull them back into the coat.
The two hand-warmer pockets are half lined with the same soft micro-fleece that is found on the back of the collar. This feels even softer than the 15 denier fabric and is on the front part of the pocket, which lays against the back of one's hand. There is a narrow draft tube behind the main zipper. All zippers on the jacket have small diameter corded plastic pulls on them. When out this weekend using the jacket, I noticed that when looking down to pull the zipper there is a blue, translucent section of the plastic pull. I had not previously noticed this and think that the brightness of being in the snow made the blue clear area stand out brighter than the surrounding solid gray plastic.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
Instructions were only for the cleaning of the coat which basically revolves around making sure the down is cleaned with a very mild soap in a gentle manner. In addition, low heat tumble dry is recommended.
There was also a tag titled "Down Leakage Warning" which reads the following:
"This product is using superfine fabric to make it light and compact.
It is down proof, which prevents down fibers coming off the fabric. However, since a down fiber is extra fine and the fabric is very thin, you see down fibers coming off from stitch lines as you wear. It is caused by the expansion and constriction of the fabric.
When down fibers are stuck to your clothes, they can be easily removed by using weak adhesive tapes."
TRYING IT OUT
I wore this jacket this past weekend for the first time when practicing mountaineering skills above Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, in the Mount Hood National Forest. We were at approximately 6,100 ft (1,860 m). The weather report I heard placed temperatures between 23°F and 29°F (-5°C to -1.6°C) with winds at 20-25 mph (32-40 kph) gusting up to 35 mph (56 kph). We placed snow anchors and set up a pulley system to practice crevasse rescue. This was one of the worst days I have experienced on Mt. Hood, with white-outs and heavy snow. With multiple layers under, and a shell on top of the MontBell U.L. TEC down jacket, I felt cold while standing still, but like most cold weather activities, quickly overheated when I exerted heavy physical exertion trying to pull my heavier climbing friend out of a simulated crevasse using a pulley system. After pulling for 5 to 10 minutes I faced away from the wind and felt I needed to unzip my shell and the Montbell jacket in order to cool quicker. As we were wrapping up our practice, I noticed a few places that seemed like I was feeling an itch or a poke that was irritating and not going away.
When we returned to the lodge and I removed my shell and the MontBell U.L. TEC down jacket, I noticed perhaps 10-15 areas on my wool undershirt that had down stuck into it. I found this a bit concerning as it was both physically irritating where the shafts on the down feathers poked my skin, and concerning that the jacket was losing down through the light-weight, 15 denier Ballistic Airlight. However, I have known new down garments or sleeping bags to sometimes lose a bit of down during the first few uses and then stop losing any significant amount of down during future use.
When I tried the jacket on indoors before going into the snow, the hook and loop fastener on the cuff of the sleeve felt irritating on my hand. The hook and loop fastener backing goes to the very edge of the cuff and is rather stiff and sharp. I was worried this would continue to be uncomfortable during use in the field, but happily did not notice the hook and loop fastener backing edge at all once I had under-layers and liner gloves on. The hook and loop fastener tightening helped to reduce drafts coming in when the wind would gust.
It was cold enough that snow hitting the jacket when my shell was unzipped did not melt. Thus, it was hard to see if the DWR finish was repelling the water or not. The jacket did not feel damp or wet at all when I took it off in the lodge.
I will be heading out to climb Mt. Hood or Mt. St. Helens during the Thanksgiving break and will continue to observe these points and test the jacket more.
This jacket seems very well constructed and has the small features that maximize its functionality, such as hook and loop fasteners on the cuffs, a waist draw cord, and 4 pockets in total. It packs very small and does not weigh a lot, two very important aspects in mountaineering and ultra light backpacking. I will continue to test the jacket's warmth, durability, and features through a full winter season.
Please check back in a few months for my Field Report. Thank you to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me the awesome opportunity to test this jacket during mountaineering, snowshoeing, snow camping, and other winter activities!
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
In addition to the use during a crevasse rescue practice session on Mt. Hood, I have used the MontBell Tec Down Jacket a number of other times in the Mt. Hood National Forest
I tested it during a climb of Mt. Hood where we had a base camp setup at 9,000 ft (2743.2 m) before climbing to the top of the mountain. Temperatures were around 20 F (-6.6 C) for most of the trip, with light winds for the most part and clear skies. Here is the jacket functioning beautifully at the top:
I again tested it during a climb of Mt. Hood by a different route under clear and extremely cold and windy conditions. The climb took 13 hours and I wore the jacket for nearly the entire trip. The temperature was 7 F (-13.9) when we started, and as we gained elevation, it dropped to around 5 F (-15 C). An Arctic air mass was moving into the region so temperatures did not get any higher than 10 F (-12.2 C) during the day. Winds were around 35 mph (56 kph), gusting to 50 mph (80 kph). It was extremely cold and my climbing partner even received some frost bite on his toes. I can only imagine what the wind-chill values were.
This is a shot of me actually wearing the jacket while we climbed the last bit of the way up to the summit ridge (Yocum Ridge in background), and a shot on the summit ridge of Mt. Hood. There were shots of me climbing up steeper sections but the coat was not particularly visible from underneath me.
I used this jacket during milder temperatures (right around freezing) while staying at a fire-tower lookout in the Mt. Hood National Forest. And I have twice used this while snowshoeing and telemark skiing around Mt. Hood with air temperatures around 25 F (-3.9)
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I have been impressed with the MontBell Tec Down Jacket so far in field use. First, I would like to address the small down loss I noticed during the first field use. To my satisfaction, the jacket has not continued to lose down. Occasionally a feather will poke through but it has not been chronic or seemed unreasonable compared to other down-filled products I own.
Other than during the first field test, I have not worn it in damp falling snow. It has primarily been cold and clear, thus I cannot speak in great detail about the water repellent tendencies. It is reassuring to know that it should be able to shed a light amount of snow or rain, but as a down product with a water resistant coating on the shell, it is not intended to be used in specifically wet conditions in the first place. I can say that when spindrift and other snow has gotten on the jacket, it has not become wet.
The jacket compresses small and is very light, while still being very warm. That is one of the biggest strengths that I observe. The hand-warmer pockets work well, though they are not big enough to fit a hand with a heavy glove on inside, but that is somewhat besides the point for a hand warmer pocket.
During the overnight high-camp stay on Mt. Hood I found a very neat feature in the jacket that I had not anticipated. We had set up our tent right as it was getting dark, which also meant it was getting colder and windier out. I had forgotten my spork and because my Mountain House brand meal took ~10 minutes to hydrate, I cooked it first and then let my partner cook his instant soup. It was around 20 F (-7 C) with some evening winds around 20 mph (32 kph). I did not want to set my Mountain House meal down on the snow as I knew it would chill it quickly. I found that the single-serving size vacuum packed Mountain House meal fits neatly into the inside pocket of the jacket. This was great! As we had stopped moving and had not yet eaten, we were cold, and this allowed me to both keep the meal warm while it hydrated and receive some of that warmth in the process! I felt like this was a very good use of the inside pockets which I had not previously used. I will use them in the future in the same manner.
On the durability front, the jacket has held up very well! I have used it with a pack on 2-3 times and see no signs of abrasion, stretched fabric, or loose seams in the high wear areas of the shoulder. I know that the arms came against some icy snow and rocky areas when climbing through an ice chute on the Reid Head-wall area of Mt. Hood, in addition to having my ice axe and second climbing tool occasionally make contact with the lower hem. I cannot see any signs of damage from these occurrences. I believe this reflects good material selection and application of the thicker fabric in high-wear areas. Armpit areas did get slightly damp during climbing, but it was not noticeable and seemed to be dry by the time I put my gear away at home a few hours after getting home.
I found wearing the jacket with a t-shirt and long sleeve mid-layer was ample during the cold climbs of Mt. Hood. This is a very warm puffy jacket, though not a high-elevation Himalayas or polar conditions type parka. I am impartial to the lack of hood on this jacket. A hood would have added weight and bulk. In my uses while climbing it is a given that I have a hat on my head, if not a balaclava, and a frequently a helmet. I believe keeping a hood off of the jacket does keep it simpler and more straight forward. It provides the necessary core warmth that a puffy jacket should. It is great for immediate core warming when taking breaks during snowshoeing, hiking, and telemark skiing. If it is not well below freezing, it would have been overkill to use during aerobic activity.
Finally, I wanted to provide additional information about the zipper pulls I described in the Initial Report. When in low light, the zipper pulls look grey with an area of black in the middle. However, as demonstrated in the image below, the center of the plastic zipper pulls are translucent blue plastic. The blue only seems noticeable when in bright light.
The Montbell Tec Down Jacket has performed above satisfaction during a range of different winter outdoor activities. It has been durable, warm, and lightweight. It has performed excellently while mountaineering, which was one of the manufacturer's primary uses listed. It has kept me quite warm when only relatively cold, near freezing. It provided the right amount of insulation and weight to size for my activities when the temperature was well below freezing. The use of the inside pockets for storing a warm meal or a liter sized Nalegene are a great design feature.
I will continue to test this jacket during winter activities. It is a low snow year so far in the Cascades due to an El Nino weather pattern. However, as the base slowly builds up I will participate in some snow camping and in creating a snow cave and am looking forward to using the jacket then. A winter or spring climb of Mt. Rainier has been discussed by my climbing partners, and the jacket may be tested there if we are able to act on our plans.
Thanks to MontBell and BGT for allowing my the wonderful opportunity to continue to test this Jacket!
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
My continued use of the MontBell U.L. TEC down jacket has been around Mt. Hood. I used it on an overnight hike/snowshoe up the Gumjuwac Trail, east of Mt. Hood. Temperatures were right above freezing throughout the day, and dropped just below at night, as evidenced by the lack of snow/water dripping from the trees once the sun went down. It rained a bit on our exit, but I was not wearing the jacket then.
The jacket served me well while I hung out at the summit of Mt. St. Helens for over an hour in February. Temperatures were below freezing, probably in the range of 20 F, (-7 C), with bountiful sun and wind.
I also used it on a climb of Mt. Hood's Cooper Spur, though do not have any pictures of it in action as it was only used at rest breaks during the coldest (20 F, -7 C) part of the climb, at night. Conditions were windy and sunny.
Lastly I carried it with me on two day hikes up high on Mt. Hood to bring some non-climbers as close as is safe to the upper-reaches of the mountain. One day it was not cold enough to use. The other day it functioned as insulation, along with a heat pad, over my fiance's boots while she sat still for an extended time. Both times conditions were windy and sunny.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The MontBell U.L. TEC down jacket has continued to perform great! Other than the occasional spine of a feather sticking through the material I have found little constructive criticism for the Jacket. I am finding that I am a little more partial to hoods than I once thought, as they cover the small areas around the top of the neck and under the ears that hats do not. Thus, if I could offer a possible addition, it would be to offer this jacket with a hood, for those who desire such a feature. However, that is a personal preference and in no way speaks detrimentally to this Jacket's design.
On the durability front, this jacket has continued to perform at an excellent level. It has seen the straps of 3 different packs, rubbed against snow pickets, ice axes, and other climbing equipment. It has also been used with a climbing harness. I can detect no abrasion, down absence, or other impact in these areas of wear (shoulders, hem, pockets)
On the Cooper Spur climb of Mt. Hood, there was approximately 7500ft (2286 m) of nearly continuous elevation gain from the trailhead. This was an excellent example of where the light-weight and warmth-to-weight ratio of this Jacket excels. It was only used during three 10 minute stops during the night and early morning before being in direct sunlight. Thus for the majority of the climb, the jacket was in my pack. However, I would consider a puffy layer as an essential item when climbing, especially during the winter, thus having one that can provide the necessary warmth when needed without any excess weight is important.
During the overnight camping trip, in addition to using the MontBell U.L. TEC down jacket for warmth while talking and hanging around at camp, I used it as a pillow. I found it far too soft and compressible generally, needing to really fold it up and keep it contained to work well as a pillow--but I am not terribly picky about pillow use so it served the function fairly well. I did not need to supplement my sleeping bag's warmth on this trip, but I would not hesitate to use the Tec Down jacket laid over my legs, or on my torso, if I wanted more warmth while sleeping.
Lastly, on the aesthetic and fit side, I have liked the colors, cut, and styling from the start, and maintain this opinion. It looks sharp, I enjoy the rich red color of the lighter-weight panels.
I would have liked to try to use it in a snow-cave environment (very humid and wet) but was unable to find the time, snowpack, and partners for this activity. I would like to made an addendum to the report, if I do participate in this activity before the snow-pack melts.
The MontBell U.L. TEC down jacket is a great puffy Jacket for warmth. While MontBell markets this jacket as engineered for serious mountaineering, and it performs great in that extreme environment, the weight, durability, and warmth of this jacket would make it an attractive piece for a variety of outdoor activities when cold temperatures would be encountered.
It is warm, light, and durable. Generally these three characteristics compete with one another, sacrificing one aspect for the gain of another. However, MontBell has reached a fine balance of all three in the U.L. Tec Down Jacket.
I will absolutely continue to use this puffy coat in cold conditions in the Pacific Northwest cascades. I will probably also use it as a camp-warmth piece during summer backpacking at higher elevations, simply because it is so lightweight and compressible, for the amount of warmth it provides. The only time I would err against its use would be during prolong periods of rain when the jacket cannot be protected from soaking through by a waterproof shell layer on top of it.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Matthew Mioduszewski