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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Tec Down Jacket > Test Report by Ray Estrella

MontBell UL TEC Down Jacket
Test Series by Raymond Estrella
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - November 23, 2009
FIELD REPORT - January 19, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - March 28, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 49
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 210 lb (95.30 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, plus many western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly UL, I try to be as near to it as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with brother-in-law Dave.


INITIAL REPORT

The Product

Manufacturer: MontBell Co
Web site: www.montbell.com
Product: UL TEC Down Jacket
Size: Extra Large
Year manufactured: 2009
MSRP: (US) $175.00
Weight listed (size Medium): 11.3 oz (320 g)
Actual weight of mine, size XL: 12.2 oz (346 g)
Insulation type: 800 fill power goose down
Fill weight: 2.9 oz (65 g)
Color: Gunmetal

MontBell TEC
Courtesy MontBell Co

Product Description

The MontBell UL TEC Down Jacket (hereafter referred to as the TEC or the jacket) is a lightweight down jacket aimed at weight conscious backpackers. Here is how MontBell describes them and their use.

"The TEC Down pieces are engineered with serious mountaineers in mind, but satisfy the unique needs of backpackers and active mountain town dwellers. Inspired by our highly successful UL Down products, the TEC Down jacket is considerably warmer with roughly 30% more insulation, while being resistant to the elements and more durable in technical situations."

Not so puffy


The TEC is made with sewn-through, quilted construction. It is a bit thinner in loft than I expected from looking at the pictures on the web site, which can be seen in the first picture above as I nabbed that one from MontBell. I got the (fill) powerAfter sitting out overnight on my blueprint table I only measured the loft (doubled up as it was layered over itself) as 1.5 in (3.8 cm). The down fill is rated at 800 as is embroidered on the sleeve of the TEC, so hopefully the nicer fill will add up to extra warmth.

The body and lining of the TEC is made from 15-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon. This is grey on my model. It is extremely smooth and slick to the touch. It feels wonderful with the highly compressible 800 fill down inside. The darker, almost black, areas on the shoulders, side panels, and lower outside arms are reinforced with 50-denier nylon taffeta to handle the abuse that a jacket can get when pack straps are rubbing on it, or a descent through trees sees branches that need to be pushed aside.

The jacket has a full zipper accented with a superb pull that is easy to grab while gloved up. The zipper is backed by a 0.75 in (2 cm) insulated draft stop. When zipped all the way up the collar of the TEC will stand straight "cadet" style. The inside of the collar is lined with micro fleece for warmth and comfort. The same micro fleece is found in the two hand-warmer pockets on the sides of the jacket. These pockets are accessed by way of 7 in (18 cm) zippers running vertically.

Want more pockets? Look inside the TEC. To each side are some truly cavernous drop pockets that measure 8 x 12 in (20 x 30 cm). They are big enough to each hold a 1 L Nalgene bottle WITH an insulated cover over it. (Although I do not know how wise it would be to carry that kind of weight for very long in a jacket of this type.) I know how I am going to use these pockets but will save it for the Field Report. (Now you have to come back…)

To keep wind and cold at bay the TEC has a draw cord around the waist that is adjusted by pulls hidden inside the hand-warmer pockets. To loosen it again though, the cord locks must be released inside the jacket body, down near the bottom of the zipper. The ends of the sleeves are tightened by some elastic and can be adjusted further with hook-and-loop straps on the cuffs.

It is said to come with a Polkatex DWR treatment that is 100-wash rated. I can't imagine washing one of my down pieces 10 times, let alone 100, so hopefully it will not wear out.

loosely stuffed


The jacket comes with a 0.3 oz (8.5 g) stuff sack. What is amazing is that I can easily compress it to half the stuffed size seen here in its sack.

The jacket comes with laundering instructions that are pretty common to all my down gear. Hand wash cold. Tumble dry normal, low heat. Do not do anything else (bleach, dry clean, iron, beat on rocks in a stream…)

Well, that is it for this session of Show-and-Tell. I am taking the TEC out for three days at the end of this week to see how it does in the field. Please come back in two months to see how this sweet little goose-filled garment works for me. Oh, it's that time huh? Well here is the Field Report.


FIELD REPORT

Quick & Dirty, Nitti Gritty

The MontBell TEC Jacket is remarkably warm for as light and small packing as it is. It especially shines when worn under a shell. It is a bit lacking in cold wind as there are bare spots in the quilted sections that let the cold seep in. Please read on for the details.

Field Conditions

My first trip with the TEC I spent a snowy, rainy day trying to get to a couple of trailheads and finally gave up due to snow. Instead of hiking I camped at Indian Flats where it rained solid most the time. It got down to 34 F (1 C) at night.

Next was a 50 mi (80 km) backpacking trip that started in San Bernardino National Forest, skirted two Indian Reservations and ended in northern San Diego County. This up-and-down hike saw lingering snow in the trails on rocky terrain up high and sandy desert terrain lower. The temperatures ranged from 25 F to 42 F (-4 to 6 C) and one night saw very strong winds.

Dave and I did a 24 mi (39 km) section of PCT. It was 34 F (1 C) starting out but I just carried the TEC in my pack for most of the trip.

While in Minnesota I spent the night in the snow at Buffalo River State Park. It had warmed up to 18 F (-8 C) and I was too warm in my Cassin Ridge bag, but during the night it dropped and was at 9 F (-13 C) when I left. The picture below of me setting up the tent is from that trip. Five days later I was back to the same park (with a different tent) when it was a bit colder.

The next month I was in Minnesota for three weeks during one blizzard and a spell of very cold weather. I wore the TEC almost every day in temps as low as -29 F (-34 C).

Bending stakes in frozen tundra

Observations

I am very impressed by the MontBell TEC Jacket so far. I love how light it is and how small it packs down to. I have really been able to put it to good use this winter, both in California and even more so in Minnesota.

I got to test the water repellency of the nylon on its first trip out. It snowed or rained all day long. Every time the rain would stop I would take my shell off but next thing I knew it would start again. At no time did the TEC wet-out from the water that it took before I would get the shell back on. During the times I was in the snow I did not even bother with the shell, I just shook the snow off of the TEC.

The next week I was in some heavy winds on the second day of a hike. The TEC shed the wind quite nicely. Here is a picture of me wearing the TEC as I try to use rocks to keep the wind from pulling my tent stakes out. (Did I mention they were strong winds?)

Rock out


That trip made me realize another use for the TEC too. I had already determined that the TEC does not make a good pillow as it has takes up so little volume that it does not fill up a backpacking pillowcase enough to offer any meaningful support. That's OK though as I use (and tested, see report) MontBell's Comfort UL pillow. But I had a problem on night one when the temperature dropped to 25 F (-4 C). The air filled pillow transferred the cold straight to my face as I was using a backpacking quilt, not a hooded sleeping bag. I was able to wrap the pillow with the TEC jacket which worked great to block the cold and made it more comfortable to boot. Since that trip I do this every night.

I found the first shortcoming in the TEC on my last trip to Minnesota that saw its normal high winds and brutal cold. I know that MontBell never positioned the TEC as an Arctic parka replacement and I have been impressed at how well it does in those conditions. But while digging a tent site out I was plenty warm in the TEC with the exertion of moving a few cubic yards (meters) of snow. But I noticed that I had cold spots on my upper back. I took my gloves off and slid my hand inside the TEC and felt cold places on my base layer.

Later I held the TEC up to a bright window and could see areas in the quilted cells that were lacking in fill. It seems to be mostly near the upper back/shoulder. While getting ready to write this I have let the TEC sit on a shelf in my office for a few days so that it would be as uncompressed and well-lofted as possible. I then put a light inside a deep box and put the TEC over it, then turned out the lights. The following picture shows the spots that are low in fill. Where it is the brightest are also the places that cold was traveling through the jacket, the darkest areas are the locations of the most down. (I love looking at down…)

Your results are in Mr Estrella...


But I am not complaining, well not much. The TEC is great. It has been getting great comments from others too. On my last trip to Minnesota I was flying in during the end of a very bad blizzard. The temps were well below zero. I was wearing a T-shirt on the plane and after getting upgraded I had to change seats. All my new seating companions saw my shirt and my small laptop pack. One asked if I knew what the weather was like where we were landing, and what was I going to do for a coat? I told her that I had one in my pack which had her and a few others wanting to see it as they were skeptical to say the least. I took the TEC out and watched it get passed around as everybody wanted to feel how light and poofy it was. Maybe MontBell will give me a commission on future sales. ;-)

So far I have seen no issues with durability from all the wear, stuffing, pillow use and stranger mauling it has received. But I shall serve it up another helping of use and abuse over the next two months of winter. Please come back then to see how it fared. I will leave with a picture of it keeping me warm at Buffalo River State Park in November.

Hubba Hubba


LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Conditions

First the TEC was used in San Jacinto State Park at 9000 ft (2750 m) elevation, there was 7 ft (2 m) of snow on the ground. Temperatures got down to 17 F (-8 C).

I went back up to San Jacinto State Park in a big snow storm for an overnighter. I stayed at 8900 ft (2700 m) in Tamarack Valley. Temps ranged from 22 F when I started and got down to 13 F (-6 to -11 C). It snowed all day and most the night, 6 to 8 in (20 cm) total accumulation after I stopped. I purposely used the TEC as part of my sleep system.

Dave and I went down to Mexico to do the bottom of the PCT. It was raining and snowing like crazy the week we went. We hiked only 7 miles (11 km) in pouring rain and grauple snow. The trails were running with water up to 4 in (10 cm) deep. Dave hurt his knee and while we were waiting for a break in the rain to set up the tents we decided to bail on the trip. As my rain shell wetted-out during the hike I ended up wearing the TEK jacket the rest of the day, which saw me in and out of the rain.

Then Dave and I went to try 3 days on the PCT in the Mojave Desert. We could only do two days due to snow at the higher center section. Rained and hailed the first day, solid rain the next. Temps down to 33 F (1 C).

Then I took the TEC to Minnesota where I used it for a week around town, but also got another overnighter at Buffalo River State park where they had a lot more snow than last time. Temps ran from 10 to 30 F (-21 to -1 C).

Next Dave and I did 40 miles (64 km) on the PCT from Campo to Mt Laguna. Very cold, very wet. 37 F (3 C) the first night, 39 F (4 C) the next.

Last was a mountaineering trip to climb Mt San Gorgonio. The temps only got down to 23 F (-5 C) but the wind chills on the ridges and the summit was about 10 F (-21 C) the morning we summited. Here is a shot on the windy 11,500 ft (3505 m) peak.

On top of Old San G

Observations

The MontBell TEC jacket is a keeper! I have really come to like this light, warm jacket. I chose to take the TEC on all my winter trips instead of the bigger jackets or parkas that the conditions would seem to have called for and it has done well. If I feel it getting cold I put a shell over the TEC and this helps keep the warm air in. I did bring a down filled balaclava to wear in the place of a parka hood with the TEC and this works very well.

Normally I do not wear anything but some light base layers when I sleep. I wear them more to keep my bags clean than for warmth. But I know that many people use their clothing and insulation layers a part of a total sleep "system" with a quilt, or very light bag being the main component. As an experiment I purposely took the MontBell TEK jacket on a cold winter trip where I paired it with some medium weight fleece pants, an Icebreaker 200 wool top and a Nunatak Arc Alpinist quilt. (See review.) For my head I wore the down filled balaclava mentioned above. This combo kept me quite warm even though the night saw the temperature plummet to 13 F (-11 C) once the storm broke and the skies cleared.

While I do not plan to always use the TEC to sleep in the experiment did make me comfortable with the knowledge that I can use it to bolster the rating of my lightest quilt this summer in the Sierra, where temps can drop suddenly.

Except for the trip that I used the TEC to sleep in, I have still been using it as pillow wrap for my MontBell pillow. It makes the pillow more comfortable and much warmer. Here is a shot of the TEC being used in this manner at Lake Morena.

Leave me alone, I'm sleeping


The jacket is holding up quite nice. I rarely use the stuff sack that came with it, choosing just to stuff it directly into my pack into whatever nooks and crannies are available for it. Add to that the use it sees as I fly back and forth to Minnesota and the in and out stuffing in my commuter pack. Yet it is still perfectly sound.

I try not to wear my down under my backpacks to keep them from tearing baffles or stitching, or putting undue wear on the light material. But I did need to wear the TEC while hiking one frigid morning near Mt Laguna. I wore it for about an hour until the sun came up. Upon inspection I found no damage from the pack straps. Here is a picture hiking in the TEC early that winter morning.

early morning hiking


The MontBell TEC jacket is going to stay a part of my go-to gear. I plan to put many more days of hiking with this sweet little jacket in my pack. And I would like to sincerely thank MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me put it to the test.

Ray Estrella
I measure happiness with an altimeter

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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