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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka > Test Report by Andrew Buskov
MontBell's New Ultra Light Synthetic Jacket (Parka).
Field Report: January 23, 2009
Long Term Report: March 30, 2009
I've been hiking since I was around 10 and have hiked in all kinds of environment and terrain: snow, rain, and steamy heat; desert, mountains, as well as grasslands. I prefer hiking in the colder weather and snow, but will get out any time of the year. My typical pack weight is roughly 25-30 lbs (11-14 kg) and usually includes a tent or hammock. I prefer comfort over going ultra light, though having lightweight items in my pack sure makes the hike more enjoyable. Additional information about the author can be found at http://www.corridor9.net.
Product Overview:The UL (Ultralight) Thermawrap Parka is MontBell's new cold weather, lightweight, windproof, synthetic parka. It's composed of a new 15-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon which is softer, shinier, and makes less noise when walking than other nylon fabrics. It also has a closer weave than other nylons, allowing a for excellent abrasion resistance while being notably lighter than other materials. With a fleece lined collar, dual hem adjusters, and semi-elastic cuffs this parka was built with the wearer in mind and incorporates suggestions gathered by users who have worn other products from the UL line. Having an integrated hood, also with dual adjustable tensioners, separates this parka from the jacket that also carries the UL Thermawrap name. Hand warmer pockets, dual hem adjustments, and the traditional MontBell logo over the left chest finish out what appears to be a well designed, well built parka, but it's the little things like drawstring clips that tuck under fabric around the head to prevent chafing of the face and fleece around the collar that make this a MontBell though. Quality in motion.
Initial Impression:The MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka (herein referred to as either a parka or jacket) arrived to my door in complete condition with attached hang tags and included stuffsack. Upon arrival, I couldn't help but try it on prior to the obligatory weighing of the gear. It wasn't overly thick or bulky and almost appeared to be designed to fit close to the body. I find the fit a bit tight, but still comfortable and not constricting. This was surprising though as my chest measurement is on the low end of the XL measurements on MontBell's sizing chart. However, I think this is going to end up being a positive aspect for me.
Being as how this piece of gear was considered ultralight as well as synthetic, I am hoping that it may be better for me to use during hiking than my previous jackets. Being synthetic, I won't need to worry too much about sweating while wearing this as I do when wearing a down jacket. As the parka is wind resistant, I also won't need to worry about being cold as the wind blows through the material, as I am with my fleece jacket. Being lightweight and form fitting, I may find it more comfortable to wear with my pack than my other jackets. Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who could sweat in a blizzard, so having a parka with synthetic insulation while walking can only make the experience safer and more enjoyable. This is definitely something I'll keep in mind to report on during the Field Report phase of the testing period.
When I first tried this on, I noticed how warm the UL Thermawrap Parka was right off the bat. Wearing just a t-shirt, I immediately felt the warmth of my body radiating back from the parka. Quite surprising when you think that this jacket weighs less than a pound (.45 kg), and is designed with a thin profile. Even when I was examining the jacket and it was sitting on my lap I could feel my legs getting rather warm. I can only imagine how warm this parka is going to be when it's really cold and windy out. The heat is held in through various ways, including the fleece lined backing of the zipper area, as seen in the picture to the above right. Unlike other jackets I've worn, I am able to fully zip the parka up because there are no scratchy threads or zipper top rubbing against my neck. This is a definite plus for me as comfort comes a close second after warmth.
The zipper is designed in such a way as to limit the thin Ballistic Airlight material from snagging. There is a long thin ribbon of fabric running the entire length of the zipper to prevent such snagging. Other gear that I own have this ribbon of material running along the zipper, and not once using those jackets have I snagged the draft collar in the zipper during operation. I am hoping this will be the case with this UL Thermawrap Parka. This also seems to help the zipper slide more easily throughout its entire range of motion, an aspect I've also noted on other pieces of gear I have. At the top of the zipper's range, there is another hood that the zipper tucks into. Made from the top of the draft collar, and sewn back down into the zipper stitching, this hood just barely sticks out away from the main draft collar body. In the picture to the left, you can clearly see the ribbon and the hood that, while small, holds most of the zipper when the parka is zipped fully. This keeps any portion of the zipper from rubbing on the neck or chin, even when looking down or touching my chin to my chest. What a wonderful addition, with very little weight gain.
The drawcord on the UL Thermawrap Parka in the hood is a bit different from hood drawcords on other gear that I currently own. Instead of there being a single drawcord that runs through the entire hood section, there are two individual drawcords, one on each side of the hood. These cords run through a channel, but strangely don't originate on the top of the hood. Rather than the cords being sewn in such a way that they cinch in a circle from the top of the hood, there is a section of about 5 in (13 cm) at the top of the hood without cords or elastic. On either side of this section is where the drawcords start, ending at the end of the hood close to the neck. Since the drawcord doesn't go throughout the entire hood, when cinching the cords it creates more of an oval shape than a circular shape. This makes it much easier to cinch the hood around the eyes without having to shift my head, or use one eye to see, when the drawcords are tight. Above you can see a picture of the drawcord hoods and how the cord lock tucks up into the hood when not in use.
While the chest is a bit tight, the arm length is wonderful. I prefer a bit of extra length in my sleeves rather than having a sleeve length that is too short. This is especially true for a jacket or overcoat as I often wear gloves with these items and don't like having snow, rain, or wind hitting my bare wrists due to the sleeves being too short. The sleeves come down to roughly mid palm, thus providing that right amount of extra length while not being overly long or cumbersome. The cuffs are designed in such a way as to not put excess pressure on the wrists with lots of elastic. They are comfortable, but not tight. In addition, the end of each sleeve has a stretch panel sewn in that makes slipping my wrist through easier. You can see in the picture above that there is a gray triangle patch. In my opinion, this makes the jacket cuff all that much more comfortable, and keeps the wind from blowing up the sleeves without feeling like I'm wearing a rubber band around my wrist. At the bottom of the jacket there is also a set of drawcords, one on either side of the waist. The cordlock itself is attached to the jacket by piece of non stretch cord. This keeps it in the same place all the time and helps it from dangling down all the time.
So far, I'm quite pleased with the MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka. It packs down nice and tight, is highly compressible even for a synthetic parka, and feels nice and warm. I'll be using this exclusively over the life of the test.
Field Report: January 26, 2009
Field Conditions:Throughout this phase of testing, I was able to wear the MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka on a number of occasions. My primary backpacking trip occurred in mid November when I took a 2 day jaunt to the Red River Gorge area of Kentucky. As part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, this area has roughly 36 mi (58 km) with an elevation ranging from 700 to 1300 ft (200 to 400 m). Temperatures for this trip ranged from 40 F to 20 F (4 C to -6 C) with precipitation in the form of freezing rain and snow. Additional testing occurred on various day trips to my local park for exercise as well as wearing this parka around town in rain, snow, and sleet. Temperatures for day hikes and additional outings ranged from 50 F (10 C) down to 5 F (-5 C).
Performance:The MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka is proving to be just right for me during all types of winter weather. While wearing this parka I've been able to experience a multitude of weather ranging from cold dry days to stormy evenings with freezing rain; this parka has seen its fair share of winter weather. Through it all, it has proved to be a vital piece of equipment for my winter journeys.
The fit of the jacket is still a bit tight, but as mentioned before I'd prefer it a bit tight as opposed to hanging off my body. I've found that I'm still able to move my arms around easily, even while wearing various packs and additional base layers under this parka. I have found that the hem isn't as short as I thought it might be. While it does ride up a bit while wearing a pack, it isn't too much that I have to worry about a draft hitting my back or snow entering my pants while walking.
This parka provides warmth in all the right places. At no time did I feel that my trunk was significantly warmer than my arms or vice versa. In addition, the parka retained my body heat very well, even during standing periods when the temps were in the 20's F (-4 C). There were no cool spots, and I was easily able to regulate body temperature with just the front zipper. Having the large pockets was wonderful for stuffing my cold hands during various times throughout the day, as well as holding items close at hand during the night when vision was hampered by darkness.
The parka was easily able to stand up to all weather that I threw at it. As mentioned earlier, I walked one evening in freezing rain. I was sure that the insulation would wet out at some point, or that I would see moisture coming through the seams, but at no time did I see this throughout the life of the test. Quite the opposite was the case. I saw beads of water dripping off the jacket almost constantly during the rainy weather. Even the freezing rain and snow melt turned to beads of water that simply fell of the parka. Not once did I feel moisture beneath my pack straps, inside the cuff area. While I did get a bit of snow down my neck while hiking under trees, the jacket didn't feel wet or uncomfortable at any point.
I have not seen any wear on this parka yet. Even when brushing up against trees, bushes, and rocks; I have yet to snag the parka material or seam threads. Even when rubbed against the zipper in my pack repeatedly, I still can't find a spot where the material is thin or damaged. Seams are still tight, even around the duffs which seem to get a bit more stretching due to the tight fit around my wrists.
This parka has also served double duty on many occasions. While my legs generally don't get cold while sleeping, I can't say the same for my feet. Unfortunately, no matter how many pairs of clean dry socks I wear, my feet still tend to get cold. As I had already used my down jacket for a bit of additional warmth inside my sleeping bag, I threw the parka down over my feet just for kicks. This was one of the few times during the winter that my feet haven't been cold when sleeping. They were toasty warm and it proved to be quite enjoyable. I was also surprised at how well the parka did at not retaining my foot odor the next day.
I've been very pleased with the performance of the MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka and enjoy wearing it on trips as well as around town.
Long Term Report: March 30, 2009
Field Conditions:In total, over the previous four and a half months, I've been able to wear this jacket for approximately 15 days of day hiking, backpacking, wear around town, and various other trips. This jacket has seen me through wintry snow and rain as well as downright cold days with temperatures well below freezing. I also took 2 day hikes at the local park wearing this jacket. Temperatures fluctuated between 40 and 50 F (4 - 10 C) both days due to varying sunlight and wind. There was no rain either day, but there was quite a bit of wind at times.
Performance:I've continued to be quite pleased with this jacket over the past few months of testing. In that past few months, I've been wearing this jacket a lot due to the myriad of weather that we have experienced here. In the past few months, we have had weather ranging from wet & soupy snow to cold dry days. I've also experienced days with Fahrenheit temperatures in the single digits and wind that was so hard I had trouble walking from point a to point b.
I've lost about 5 lbs ( 2.3 kg) over the life of the test and actually feel more comfortable in the jacket around town. It doesn't seem to hug so tightly to my torso as it did when I first received it. This hasn't been a problem for me at all during my hikes and even though I enjoy my clothing a bit tight, I found that having that little extra bit of room has been more comfortable than I would have initially thought.
The jacket itself has held up real well. Even though it is light weight, has thin fabric, and is not thick by any means, the jacket doesn't have any scratches, rips or tears. None of the threads are loose, the zipper still functions as the day it arrived, and the fabric is still clean and comfortable. All elastic is still stretchy, and the synthetic insulation is still evenly distributed and warm despite being compressed multiple times for packing.
I thought that a light weight jacket would be more of a luxury than a necessity during my hiking experiences. Over the past months though I found myself wearing this jacket more than I ever thought. This parka provided the exact amount of warmth that I wanted during hiking. Before, I was either sweating of freezing. Comfort, while something of a luxury in the woods, is definitely something I'm going to look forward to for years to come with this parka.
I'd like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and MontBell for allowing me the opportunity to test the UL Thermawrap Parka during the past few months.
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