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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell Trail Action Parka > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
Product Description Back to contents
The MontBell Trail Action Parka is a hooded, full front-zip soft shell jacket. It comes in both men's and women's options. It's made of a trademarked polyester blend called ClimaPlus that is supposed to allow for breathability and stretch. The exterior of the jacket has more of a jersey feel while the interior is more traditional brushed fleece. There are two zippered side pockets, two interior pockets (pictured on the right) and one zippered Napoleon style pocket on the left breast. All zippers have pull tabs except the Napoleon. The hood is form fitting, fully covering all but my eyes and nose when the zipper is drawn up all the way. The stretchy material keeps it close to my head, no draw cord needed. All seams are flat, the bottom hem is open and the sleeves do not have thumb holes.
Arrival Condition and Informational Material Back to contents
The Trail Action Parka arrived in mid-December in perfect condition. I found no defects in the material or workmanship. Short of taking it out of the bag and snipping off the hang tags, it was totally ready to go, if you're the sort who doesn't mind wearing an unlaundered garment.
Informational material consisted of two small hang tags: the first offered details about the ClimaPlus fabric, the other gave general specs like size, color, and manufacturer contact info etc. MontBell also included their latest Fall & Winter Catalog, which gave some additional information about the Parka on page 28.
Expectations and First Impressions Back to contents
The write up in the MontBell catalog states, "The Trail Action Parka provides great breathability and exceptional freedom of movement." I would say this pretty much sums up my expectations of this hoodie. The ClimaPlus fleece looks and feels much different than other fleece I've worn and I'm looking forward to seeing how well it stacks up. Obviously I can't speak to the breathability of the fabric yet but having worn the jacket for a bit already it does certainly show promise in the areas of comfort and function.
I chose the XL, although I'm probably closer to the Large in dimensions, because I usually have a hard time finding sleeves long enough for my arms in women's clothing. The XL is a little roomy in the torso and I have a tad extra in the sleeve length but I really like the fit. I prefer a looser fit in outdoor wear because it gives me the option to layer underneath. I'm very pleased with the parka so far. The inside is super soft and the outside has a sporty modern look. The color is nice too, much more purple than what I was expecting with the color name having the word "crimson" in it.
Let me start by saying I am completely sold on the MontBell Trail Action Parka. I've practically lived in it off trail, wearing it for several hours a day every since it arrived until just last night while watching my son's baseball game. It is wonderfully comfortable. The brushed fleece lining is so snuggly and warm, the parka quickly replaced the old cotton hoodie I've worn on nippy days for years. The big bummer is that it was simply too warm to wear while exercising on most of my trips. I've started well over forty hikes with it on and within the first twenty minutes had to stuff it into my pack for the duration of my trek. The outings I've listed above are ones where I wore the parka for my entire excursion.
On trail it's just as comfortable. The more athletic cut kept it from feeling bulky under my pack. The hood wasn't in the way, the pockets were still usable with some adjustment around my hipbelt and my sleeves didn't ride up. The chest pocket was a little difficult to get to with a sternum strap in use but that's so trivial it's hardly worth mentioning. I've no complaints whatsoever about the fit when worn with a day pack.
Because I've worn the jacket so much I've had to wash it several times already. I feel like the launderings haven't affected the color or the fit. It's quite easy to care for since its machine washable. It does take a really long time (more than 5 hrs) to air dry, however, which is the preferred method per the care instructions. To be fair, all line drying took place on winter days so I would imagine warmer conditions will no doubt cut the drying time down. I'll check that out during the long-term phase of this test.
As far as functionality, the hoodie style has been a wonderful asset. I've needed to use the hood several times, especially during the windy and or wet hikes, and I was happy to have it. It's super helpful to have a head and neck covering on my person without having to carry something extra. The snug fit of the hood, while not overly flattering in my opinion, does allow for decent peripheral vision while still providing coverage from the elements. The stretchy material accommodated both a ball cap and my ponytail without changing the fit. (I'm wearing it this way in the picture below) The chin guard is made from the same brushed fleece as the rest of the interior lining and although it is soft, I'd like it to be a bit thicker. After an hour or so of wear my chin was becoming a bit sensitive to the touch of the zipper.
On one hike my family and I purposely went out into the desert during a very stormy day so I could check the performance of the ClimaPlus fabric when wet. Fleece generally has a very good track record in these conditions but I knew going in the manufacturer didn't make any water repellant claims for this particular garment. Sadly, I was underwhelmed with the MontBell Trail Action Parka's performance. We experienced a strong downpour for at least 45 minutes and another half hour of sprinkles after that. The jacket completely wet-out within that time, although the t-shirt I was wearing underneath never felt wet. As the water soaked in, the parka naturally felt much heavier and the warmth was drastically diminished. When not actively moving I would start to shiver almost right away. Given its long drying time, had I been in a situation where I was stuck in the field with only this hoodie, I've no doubt I would have been one miserably cold lady.
Conversely, the parka performed better than expected in the high winds I ran into on our fishing trip. With only a light-weight T-shirt and light-weight long-sleeve sun protection shirt on underneath, I was perfectly warm at 50 F / 10 C with strong winds, even while idle. On a later outing I discovered the jacket worked even better under a light windbreaker.
Pros and Cons Thus Far Back to contents
Aspects I'm pleased with…
Aspects I'm underwhelmed with…
Not sure how many more times I'll be able to use the Trail Action Parka but I'm really enjoying it so far.
Collective Use and Field Conditions Back to contents
Unlike the rest of the USA, the lower regions of Arizona where I live had
a very temperate winter and an even milder spring. Regrettably, this resulted
in only a few more favorably cold opportunities to wear the MontBell Trail
Action Parka, and only one of those was related to hiking. Collectively, over
the course of the entire test period, I've worn it on six day hikes, one weekend
fishing trip (both listed in my Field Report) and for at least forty-one short
segments of time while hiking, resulting in at least thirteen hours of field
use. Less spectacularly but possibly noteworthy is the many hours of around
town time I spent in the Parka over the winter months. That was nearly daily
use from end of December 2013 through March 2014. My test conditions ranged
from a low of 33F / 0.5C up to a high of 55F / 13C. The last hike where I
wore the jacket for a short time was in the McDowell Mountain Preserve in
North Scottsdale, Arizona. This is a Sonoran Desert area that sits at roughly
2,700ft / 820m.
One of MontBell's bullet points for this hoodie is, "The Trail Action Parka provides great breathability and exceptional freedom of movement". The free movement comment I wholeheartedly agree with. It's by far the most comfortable jacket I own regardless of what I've done while wearing it or whether or not I've had a few other layers on underneath. Used beneath a daypack was no different. I never felt restricted or had problems with fabric bunching or ride-up from the bottom hem or the sleeves.
Accurately accessing the breathability claim is much more difficult I'm afraid. At this point I'd have to say the MFG's claim is unconfirmed. Since the idea of breathable fabric involves wicking moisture vapor away from the user's body I would have needed to wear the Trail Action Parka in situations where my activity level caused me to sweat so that I could see how well the garment handled that. The good news is most of my hikes involved enough action to work up a fair amount of perspiration. The bad news is this is usually the point at which I took the hoodie off so I wouldn't get too hot. This, unfortunately, leaves me waffling in my opinion of whether or not the jacket's fabric could have handled sustained exposure to my sweat. Given how slowly it dries after laundering I have my misgivings but to be fair I can't really say one way or the other right now. Perhaps after further testing I can offer a more accurate conclusion in a future addendum.
My least favorite aspect of the MontBell Trail Action Parka is the, what I consider to be, crazy long drying time, especially considering the fabric's fleece composition. In my Field Report I mentioned that I would see if the drying time improved with warmer temperatures but then while I was popping the jacket into the washer to get it properly wet for the test it occurred to me that even if it does, as predicted, dry faster so what? I won't exactly be wearing this parka on a warm spring day anyway so what good is it if it dries quickly above 90F/ 32C? I think we can all agree the answer is no good at all! All that to say, no duh, my test showed it does dry a few hours faster in warmer conditions but that knowledge really isn't at all helpful if I'm wearing the jacket on a 40F / 4.5C day and I'm soaked by a freak rain storm or unexpected fall in a creek. If there are any improvements to be made and MontBell is serious about the Parka being legit competition for old school fleece and other similar fabrics, I think this issue must be resolved.
On a more positive note there was another surprising characteristic I discovered about the ClimaPlus Stretch Fleece fabric that was so glorious, so monumental, so life changing dog hikers everywhere have cause to celebrate. Cue the fireworks .dog hair does not stick to this fabric!! Mind blowing right? I know this may sound trivial to those of you who don't hike with a four-legged fur-buddy but for those of us who do, it's so refreshing to own a piece of gear that doesn't look like a Bigfoot suit after one doggie hug. I assume the reason for this clothing miracle is the low static buildup on the jersey side of the ClimaPlus. In all seriousness, this is really a bonus for anyone who finds static electricity abundantly coursing from a jacket into your hair or sleeping bag or favorite hiking partner an annoyance. I realize it's not Nobel Prize worthy but it's darn helpful in my opinion!
Final Thoughts Back to contents
I'm sold! The MontBell Trail Action Parka easily nailed the two most important qualities I'm looking for in a light jacket: warmth and comfortable function. The addition of a stretch component to the already super soft and warm fleece material is genius. I think it raises the bar for comfortable outwear and I can't even imagine going back to the pre-stretch hoodie world. As far as performance, the Parka worked well for me down to near freezing temps with only a few other light layers underneath. When wet, its performance dropped significantly, however. Prospective buyers need to be aware of that so you can plan accordingly.
Two aspects really stood out about this garment: the hood and the low static qualities of the ClimaPlus Stretch Fleece. Conversely, I was underwhelmed with the long drying time of the fabric and with the chin guard's inadequate zipper protection.
I will definitely be using this product again and again just as soon as cooler temperatures return to my neck of the desert. My thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and MontBell for giving me the opportunity to be part of this test series.
Jamie J. DeBenedetto - 2014
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