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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka > Test Report by Pamela Wyant

MontBell U.L. Thermawrap Parka

Initial Report - November 13, 2008
Field Report - January 27, 2009
Long Term Report - March 30, 2009


Tester Information:
 
Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  51
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  165 lb (77 kg)

Bust: 41 in ( cm)
Waist: 36 in ( cm)
Sleeve: 32 in (81 cm)

E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background: 

Pursuing a long-time interest, I started backpacking four years ago, beginning with day-hiking and single overnights.  Currently I’m mostly a ‘weekend warrior’, hiking and backpacking mainly in the hills and valleys of West Virginia, but have started a project to section hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), accruing a little over 200 mi (300 km) in the last two years.  My usual shelter is a hammock, but occasionally I use a tent. In general my backpacking style is lightweight and minimalist and I try to cut as much pack weight as I can without sacrificing warmth, comfort, or safety.


Initial Report - November 13, 2008


Product Information:

Manufacturer:  MontBell
Year of manufacture:  2008
Model:  U.L. Thermawrap Parka

Size tested:  Women's XL
Color tested:  Honey
 
Advertised weight:  10.7 oz (303 g) - size M
Actual Weight: 12.6 oz (358 g) - size XL

Actual stuff sack weight:  0.3 oz (8 g)

Advertised stuffed size:  4.7 x 8.2 in (12 x 20.8 cm)
Actual stuffed size:  4.7 x 11 in (12 x 28 cm)
  (in manufacturer provided stuff sack)
Note:  Potentially can be stuffed smaller

Website:  www.montbell.com

MSRP:  $170 US
 
Wearing the Thermawrap Parka


Product Description:

The hem cord adjustmentsThe MontBell U.L. Thermawrap Parka is a light weight insulated jacket with an insulated hood.  Although light in weight, the parka has several technical features.  The hem has an adjustable round elastic drawcord, with a cordlock and bead attached to the inside of the hem on each side of the jacket.  The cordlock is also attached to a stationary loop made of flat cording.   This makes it easy to grab and depress the cordlock on either side, pull on the beads to tighten the drawcord to the desired adjustment, and release the cordlock to hold the adjustment in place.  This is easiest to do one side at a time, but with a little practice I was able to adjust both sides at once.  The hem is reinforced in the cordlock area with a small grey piece of fabric that appears to be heavier than the shell material.  The adjustment cord also passes through two small metal eyelets for further protection of the fabric in that area.

The Parka also features a large pocket on each side measuring approximately 6 x 12 in (15 x 30 cm).  These pockets fasten in the seam area with a 6 in (15 cm) 'invisible' zipper; that is, other than the pull, the zipper isn't visible when it is zipped shut.  The zipper teeth can barely be seen when the pockets are open.  The zipper pull consists of doubled piece of cord with a rubbery pull at the end embossed with the MontBell name.  The cord attaches via a lanyard style knot to a small metal connector that is attached to the zipper head.  The zipper works smoothly without catching in the fabric even though the zipper head is running directly adjacent to the material.

A separating zipper allows the Parka to fully open in the front.  The Parka I received is of the color 'Honey' which is a dark gold hue.  Both the front and pocket zippers match very well and blend into the fabric of the Parka.  The front zipper is simply sewn with a tucked under seam on each side and does not have any sort of storm flap on the outside, although it does have a small narrow insulated flap on the inside that backs the zipper.  A 0.5 in (1.3 cm) wide piece of grosgrain ribbon is sewn to the front of this flap, which I presume is to keep the zipper from catching in the more delicate nylon fabric. A small sewn over flap at the neck covers the zipper head when the jacket is fully zipped up, and the top of the inner flap has a soft fleecy material on the inside in the neck area, which makes for a very soft feel on the throat.  The front zipper has a pull similar to those on the pockets.

The hood has a 2 in (5 cm) long x 1 in (2.5 cm) wide tab in the back with a 1.5 in (4 cm) long piece of hook side fastener that attaches to a 4 in (10 cm) strip of loop fastener.  The hook section can be attached at any point on the loop section, allowing the hood to adjust in depth to accommodate a helmet or fasten more snuggly around the head.

The hood opening areaOne feature that I find very unique is the face opening in the hood.  The hood is articulated to fit a rounded head, with a wide section sewn into the top.  This section has a stiffened cord to support the brim.  On each side of the brim an elastic cord runs through a small channel.  Near the end of the cord is an oblong plastic tensioner which allows the cord to be tightened and retains it at the desired adjustment.  The really unique feature is that once adjusted the tensioner can be slipped into a small pocket built in the channel so that it is completely covered to eliminate rubbing against the skin or hair.  The photo to the left shows one tensioner out of the pocket and on the opposite side of the hood the other is hidden in the pocket.

When pushed back, the weight of the hood isn't noticeable on my back or neck, and it stays comfortably out of the way.

The Parka shell is 15-denier Ballistic Airlight calendared nylon with a Polkatex DWR treatment.  MontBell's website explains that the process of heating and stretching the nylon fibers that form the Ballistic Airlight fabric is supposed to increase tear strength and abrasion resistance.  In the 'calendaring' process, each fiber is 'shingled' on top of other fibers, making it more wind resistant and stronger.  As MontBell claims, the fabric does indeed feel 'silky soft', and it is not noisy.  The insulation layer is of 80g/m2 Exceloft synthetic.
The jacket is quilted in 'sewn thru' style straight across the width of the fabric, with no vertical quilting. The width of the quilted areas varies, being wider in the center sections and narrower at top, bottom, in the hood area, and in the area under the arms.  The areas under the arms are quilted on a diagonal instead of straight across.  The insulation is not very lofty, appearing to be about 3/8 in (1 cm) on average.  The insulation appears even with no thin spots. 

The Parka is lined with a slightly darker gold colored fabric.  All of the seams are bound with similar fabric and neatly finished with no raw edges.  Inside the rear neckline are two labels.  The burgundy one gives the size (USA & Europe XL; Japan XXL).  The white one states that it is "Made in China" and indicates "Care Label Inside" on the front, and "Sold by MontBell America, Inc." and gives the company's US address, an e-mail address, and toll free phone number.  In the area of the left side pocket two additional labels are attached to the lining.   The black one states in gold lettering "Since 1975", "mont-bell", and has the phrase "Function is Beauty".  The white one gives the style number, factory number, fabric content (100% nylon shell and lining and 100% polyester filling) and gives care instructions - hand wash cold, do not bleach, do not iron, do not dry clean, do not wring, line dry in shade, tumble dry normal heat - as well as showing international laundering symbols. 

Stretchy wedge at cuffThe front of the Parka measures about 23 in (58 cm) from the hem to where the hood attaches to neck.  The neck area of the hood is almost 4 in (10 cm) high.  The rear of the Parka measures 26.5 in (67 cm) from the neck seam to the hem.  The sleeves measure 23.5 in (60 cm) from the armpit seam to the cuff.  Another technical feature of the Parka is a triangular section of super stretchy material on the inside of the cuff.  This allows for a trimmer fit to the cuff to seal out cold air, while still allowing ease in pulling the sleeve over the hands, even over gloves.  The photo to the right shows the stretchy elastic panel, and to the right side of the sleeve is the 'invisible' pocket zipper, evidenced only by the zipper pull at the top.  To the left of the sleeve the unzipped front zipper is visible.

The Parka appears to be well constructed, with even stitching.  I did find a thread that pulled loose in the cuff area after wearing the jacket for the weekend, however this appears to have merely been a loose thread from the inside of the fabric that worked its way out from the sewn area and it did not create a pull or hole in the fabric.

The U.L. Thermawrap Parka does come with a cylinder-shaped stuff sack that appears to be made of the same fabric as the jacket exterior, measuring about 11.25 in (28.5 cm) tall and 4.75 in (12 cm) across the bottom.  The stuff sack appears well made, with a folded over section of fabric on the bottom providing a place to grab hold when pulling the Parka free from the other end, and a simple cord with cord lock to draw the top closed.  The Parka stuffs into the sack with a little room to spare, and could be compacted somewhat further if placed into a smaller sack or a compression sack. 

Fit and preliminary impressions:

The women's XL is a good fit for me other than being slightly snug in the stomach and hip area.  The chest, shoulders, and sleeves fit very comfortably.  Due to the snugness in the lower portion of the Parka, I probably will not be able to wear more than one medium or two thin base layer garments comfortably with the Parka, so I have a few concerns about comfort with the Parka as an outer layer in colder temperatures.  I did however find that I could wear the MontBell Men's L Down U.L. Inner Parka over the Thermawrap Parka, so this may prove a good solution for colder weather.
 
The Parka does not seem to ride up when I stretch or lift my arms, and the sleeves seem just right - long enough that I can pull my hands up inside them if I want, but not so long that they are in the way when I want to use my hands for cooking or other tasks.  The hood fits comfortably and can be snugged up for extra warmth and protection from the wind.

Other than the somewhat snug fit of the lower section the only concern I have with the Parka is that the stretchy panels in the cuff area are already beginning to pill a bit after a weekend trip and a few additional days of wear, so I am a little concerned about what they will look like after a couple of months of use.

This concludes my Initial Report.

Field Report - January 27, 2009

Field Conditions and Use:

A snowy workout for the Thermawrap ParkaShortly after the MontBell U.L. Thermawrap Parka arrived I took it on a 24 mi (39 km) 2-day hike of the North Fork Mountain Trail in eastern West Virginia.  Since the mid-point of the hike was accessible by automobile and there is no water source on this trail, this was broken up into two day hikes with a base camp in the middle.  Temperatures ranged from 30 to 50 F (-1 to 10 C), and there were intermittent breezy gusts.  The trail was fairly typical for eastern woodlands, consisting of a variety of terrain ranging from smooth dirt to a lot of rocks and roots, with several hundred feet (a few hundred meters) of elevation gain and loss.  Although the days were nippy, I tend to overheat if I wear a jacket when hiking, so I used it for breaks during the day and in camp at night.  With a light wool top, chest warmer, and arm warmers as my top layer and light wool base layer and synthetic insulated pants, I found I was a little chilly in camp, especially when the wind gusted.  I did find its warmth supplemented my 20 F sleeping bag (used quilt style) very nicely and in spite of strong breezes blowing around my hammock, I slept warm and toasty through the night in the jacket, wool base layers, and synthetic pants.

In mid-December I used the U.L. Thermawrap Parka on an overnight backpacking trip of approximately 9 mi (14 km) in the Wolf Gap/Big Schloss area along the border of Virginia and West Virginia.  It was definitely a frosty trip, with temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day and falling to around 20 F (-7 C) during the night.  There was about 1 in (2.5 cm) of snow on the ground and a lot of  ice on the tree branches.  The Parka was definitely welcome warmth during lunch break and in camp.  Due to the colder temperatures I had also brought along my MontBell U.L. Down Inner Parka which in a men's size Large fits very well over the women's size X-Large U.L. Thermawrap Parka.  I wore a mid-weight wool base layer top, a chest warmer, and arm warmers on top and a light weight wool base layer bottom and insulated pants.  After my experience of being cool on the earlier trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find I did not need to add the Down Inner Parka to keep warm and was able to relegate it to pillow use.  The thicker wool base layer (along with a fleece hat under the hood) was apparently enough to do the trick even in lower temperatures.

I have also worn the Thermawrap Parka on 8 day hikes of 3-4 mi (5-6 km) on a variety of trails or old back roads in western West Virginia, including around Charles Fork Lake and in the Kanawha State Forest.  Temperatures on these hikes have varied from 20 F (-7 C) to 50 F (10 C) and conditions have ranged from dry to light mist and light snow.  On one of the hikes I wore a full size daypack, on 2 of the hikes I wore a small fanny pack, and on the other hikes I simply stuffed an energy bar and a bottle of water in the jacket pockets.

I have also worn the Parka nearly daily for general use, which includes an hour or so spent outdoors on most days.  For general use I've experienced moderate rain, wet snow, and sleety ice balls.

Experiences and Conclusions:

The U.L. Thermawrap Parka has been a good weight jacket for general purpose use and all of the hiking and backpacking trips I've taken so far.  It requires a little layering thought for what I've found is the lower comfort range of 20 F (-7 C) and the full length zipper vents it nicely for use when it's merely cool (around 50 F/10 C) or so.  I've found with a mid-weight wool layer or a light weight wool layer and a light fleece top I'm very comfortably around camp or running errands down to 20 F (-7 C).  About the only time I haven't been able to use the Parka comfortably has been when temperatures drop below the upper teens (below -7 C) when I find the layers I would need to use it are a nuisance and I prefer just going with a heavier jacket.

The DWR finish has done a good job of shedding light rain and snow simply slides right off.  It even does well with heavier rain for a short period of time such as when dashing from the car to the house, and will quickly dry.

The hood snugs down nicely around my face and is generous enough that it is very comfortable when worn with a fleece hat underneath.  As with most other hoods, it does limit my peripheral vision and I find I have to turn my upper body rather than just twisting my neck to get a good view to the side.  Adjusting the draw cord around the face for various conditions has been a bit of a pain.  I've found it a nuisance to maneuver the tabs that hold the tension on the cord in and out of the little pockets, and nearly impossible to do with even light gloves on.  Fortunately, once adjusted the cord stays put well and I only have to mess with the tabs and cord when I want to change the snugness.  I do have to admit that it's nice to not have a toggle in the way near my face, so this feature is a mixed blessing.

I've found it easy to operate all of the zippers when wearing light gloves, including getting the two halves lined up at the bottom, and I can move the zipper up and down with heavier gloves, but as is typical with other jackets, I haven't had much luck getting the bottom lined up to start the zipper when I've had heavy gloves on.  The zippers have operated smoothly for the most part, although every now and then one of the pocket zippers sticks a bit.

The pockets are very generous, and I can carry a water bottle, pair of gloves, and a couple of energy bars easily.  They are also large enough that if I am wearing a hat and want to take it off I can stow it in one of the pockets.

The draw cords at the hem have come in handy several times during blustery weather, and are easily adjusted even with gloves on.  The shell fabric is very wind resistant, which helps keep me a lot warmer in breezy conditions.  Although naturally a cold windy day still feels colder than a calm day of the same temperature, the wind does not penetrate the jacket fabric itself so I don't get those little pockets of chill blowing through that I have often experienced with fleece jackets that are even heavier than the Thermawrap.

So far the Parka is holding up quite well although it has a few barely visible punctures where thorny briers have caught it along the trail, and a tiny hole with sealed looking edges that I assume happened from a stray camp fire spark even though I did not feel one hit me.  The elastic material at the sleeves still looks much the same as it did after my first weekend of use - a few picks, but not really any worse than before.

The warmth of the Thermawrap Parka has been about what I expected, although it does not feel quite as warm to me as MontBell's U.L. Down Inner Parka, it is very close.  I have not yet washed the Parka, but expect to do that soon.

Summary:

So far the Thermawrap Parka has been a nice balance of a warm yet light jacket with a good feature set.  At this point I find it not quite as warm or light as the MontBell U.L. Down Inner Parka, but a good compromise when I expect conditions that I might worry about getting the down piece wet.

The light fabric has sustained some minor damage from snags and campfire sparks, but is still performing well overall as far as shedding wind and light precipitation.

Long Term Report - March 30, 2009

Thermawrap Parka on a snowy hikeOver the last two months I have worn the MontBell Thermawrap Parka on ten 3-5 mi (5-8 km) hikes in a variety of conditions ranging from around 20 - 50 F (7 - 10 C), in sunshine, light rain, and light to heavy snow.  The trails have primarily been either single track rock and root strewn hardwood forest trails or semi-maintained one lane dirt county roads.

Probably my favorite hike was in the Kanawha State Forest, which was also the trip with the worst weather - lots of wind lashed snow.  The photo to the left was taken on this trip. 

I've also worn the Parka nearly every day as a casual jacket, other than a few days that the weather was just too warm.  I work in the real estate industry, so part of most of my days are spent outside.  I would estimate I've worn the jacket over 300 hours total, including time in my vehicle while driving.

Use and Conclusions:

The Thermawrap Parka has performed very well over the course of the test.  I haven't been able to escape for a backpacking trip in the last two months, but I've found it to be a great jacket for dayhiking.  For colder hikes (mostly below freezing) I find that wearing it fully zipped up keeps me amply warm with a medium weight base layer.  On the pictured hike I wore it with a mid-weight wool top and the light weight gloves that can be seen in the photo, and was amply warm even in the cold and windy conditions.

One thing that I also appreciate is how easy it is to throw the hood back and unzip the jacket to quickly ventilate.  Even on this cold and snowy trip I found myself needing to do this on some of the uphills.  On the more level or downhill areas, it was easy to zip back up and pull the hood up to add warmth.  Since the hood drawcord is elastic, I don't have to constantly fiddle with it; I've pretty much just left it at a moderately snug adjustment.  It's nice that it stretches enough so I can pull it back comfortably without having to loosen cords or unzip the neck of the jacket.  It's also nice that neither cold breezes nor stray snow can find their way down my neck when I wear the hood, and unlike a hat, it's always conveniently attached and easy to find.

The sleeves are just as nice - the elastic gusset means I don't have to loosen or tighten any sort of snaps or hook and loop closure.  They simply stretch enough to just pull the jacket on, yet are snug enough that I haven't had a problem with stray wind finding its way up my sleeves.

The pockets have been great.  They are roomy enough that I can carry a few snacks like a packet of nuts, an energy bar, and a bit of jerky, and still have room for light gloves and even a light weight hat.  The pockets are deep enough that even when I left them unzipped I never had a problem with losing anything out of them.  This held true even when I took the jacket off and tossed it in the car, in a shopping cart, or over a chair at a restaurant; nary a glove was lost, which is a record for me over the course of a winter!

On several short hikes I've just tucked a snack and a water bottle into the pockets and didn't need to carry a pack of any sort.  Other times I've used a fanny pack.  In colder weather I wore the fanny pack over the Parka for extra warmth, but in more moderate weather I would push the hem of the Parka up a bit and wear the fanny pack just below the Parka.  I also used it on two trips with a larger day pack, but on these trips I ended up growing too warm and taking the Parka off and stowing it inside the pack, hiking in arm warmers and a hat.  This is typical for me when I wear a pack that covers most of my back - I just get too warm with much exertion.

A few times in colder weather the hand pockets weren't entirely satisfactory in warmth.  Since they have only a single layer of fabric on the inner side, with no insulation or fleece lining, they didn't provide a lot of warmth to encompass my cold hands.  This isn't entirely unexpected, since the Thermawrap isn't really intended for extreme cold weather.  Given its light weight, I've really been a little surprised that I could push it down to temperature into the low 20 F (7 C) range with a couple of layers.  I did find that the sleeves felt a little restrictive when I wore it with heavy fleece, but they were fine with mid-weight wool or a light wool layer combined with a light fleece layer.

The only other problem I had with the jacket is that sometimes it 'rode' up a bit in the back if I had it fully zipped up.  This was especially problematic with pants that fit below the waistline (as many women's pants do recently), when I'd sometimes get a blast of cold air on exposed skin.  With pants that fit at or above the waistline it wasn't really a problem.

The Thermawrap Parka proved very windproof, and did a good job shedding light snow or rain, as well as drying quickly once I was out of the weather.  Most of the water would bead up and roll off, but in prolonged precipitation the outer shell would begin to wet out a little.  The only time I experienced significant wetting out of the jacket was during the snowy hike pictured above.  The snow that day was very wet, and humidity was high.  After a couple of hours of hiking in the off and on snow, I could feel moisture seeping through the jacket, but I didn't really feel cold from it.  The jacket began to dry as I drove home, and was nearly dry within 30 minutes.  When I wore the jacket for more casual use and it was exposed to light to moderate rain for a short period of time while measuring a house or walking from my car into a store, the surface moisture on the jacket always dried within a few minutes and it never felt like the moisture soaked into the insulation.

The Parka is showing some very minor signs of wear.  The pilling on the elastic gusset in the sleeve still looks about the same as it did a couple of months ago.  There are a few very slight puckered areas in the fabric here and there where the sleeves are sewn underneath and on the area of the sleeve near the back shoulder seams.  It has a few stray loose threads, which seem to be more excess thread ends that have worked their way out of the seams than stitches that have come loose since all the seams are still tight.  The small hole on the back of the jacket that I guess was caused by a flying campfire ember has not grown any larger.  There is a very small tear in the fabric on the right front of the jacket near the hem that likely was the result of an encounter with a patch of briers from my last day hike when I went bushwhacking with some friends.  All in all for the light weight of the fabric I think it has held up well considering the heavy use I've given it.

Summary:

The MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka has been a great jacket for a variety of weather conditions.  It has a good set of useful features such as the articulated and adjustable hood, zippered hand pockets, and cinchable hem, and still manages to remain light in weight.  The fabric is very windproof, and did a good job of shedding light rain and snow.  The insulation is optimal for comfort in a wide range of temperatures and with proper layering the Parka is useful in temperatures well below freezing.

I anticipate that I will mostly use it for car camping and casual use in the future.  For most backpacking trips, I will likely go back to my MontBell UL Down Inner Parka, which seems a little warmer to me and which is a bit lighter in weight and packs smaller.  I won't rule out using the Thermawrap Parka for backpacking though, especially for trips where I anticipate a lot of precipitation, in which case the properties of synthetic insulation might prove advantageous over down.

This concludes the test series.

Thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the U.L. Thermawrap Parka.

Read more reviews of MontBell gear
Read more gear reviews by Pamela Wyant

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > MontBell UL Thermawrap Parka > Test Report by Pamela Wyant



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