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Reviews > Clothing > Pants and Shorts > MontBell Light Down Insulated Pants > Test Report by Richard Lyon

MONTBELL LIGHT DOWN PANTS MEN'S
Test Report by Richard Lyon

Initial Report October 17, 2019
Field Report expected January 5, 2020
Long Term Report expected March 2020


MB#1 PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

Male, 73 years old  
Height: 6' 3" [1.91 m]
Weight: 210 lb [(93 kg])
Waist: 38 in [97 cm]
Inseam: 34 in [87 cm]
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Outside Bozeman, Montana USA, in the Bridger Mountains

I've been backpacking for half a century, most often in the Rockies. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp.  Though always looking for ways to reduce my pack weight, I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences. I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Winter backcountry trips are often planned around skiing opportunities.

INITIAL REPORT - October 17, 2019

My best description of these pants is a down-insulated pair of sweatpants. They may be cinched with a drawstring at the waist and have elastic bands at the cuffs. The waistband is a one inch [2.5 cm] wide elastic band with the drawstring, considerably narrower, inside. This is a minimalist garment - no pockets and no fly; the only other amenity is a stuff sack. At this writing sold only on the Men's page of MontBell's website. MontBell describes them as an updated version of a 2004 product intended to bring it to a status of  "beyond extra light."

Product Details

Manufacturer: mont-bell Co., Ltd., montbell.us
Size: XL. Also available in S, M, L, XXL.
Weight, listed [no size specified]: 7.1 oz [201 g]
Weight, measured, size XL: 8.1 oz [230 g]. Stuff sack is one-eighth ounce [4 g] of that.
Waist, measured for size XL: 39 in [99 cm]
Inseam length, listed for size M: 31 in / 79 cm; measured for size XL, 33 in [84 cm]
Compressed size, listed: 4.5 x 7.6 in [12 x 19 cm], measured: 4.0 x 8.0 in [10.2 x 20.3 cm]
Fill, listed: 3 oz [85 g] 800 fill power down
Material: 10-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon with "standard DWR treatment"
Color: Black, the only available color
MSRP: $209 US

First Impressions

This Test will be a first for me.  I have never worn down pants before. While generally cold-prone - I pack a sleeping bag rated 10-15 F degrees [5-8 C degrees] colder than the anticipated low temperature - the problem has always come from my upper body, and the solution has been to add upper body layers. On extremely cold days I've resorted to ski pants lined with a thin synthetic but it's usually just long johns and a DWR shell from waist to socks. That's a warning that you'll be getting rookie impressions, uninfluenced by past failures or successes.

The Pants' down is chambered with sewn-through construction. I consider this appropriate for trousers, even if it means slight insulation weakness at the seams. I don't want down shifting, particularly after a ride on a ski lift or other sit-down situation. For those who care about such things, MontBell's down is responsibly sourced, taking account of, among other things, humane harvesting practices. The company isn't above a joke about this, describing its goals for down sourcing as "lofty" [their word, their pun]. On a more serious subject, all stitching is impeccable. I have owned many garments and other products from this fine company, and the Pants embody its attention to quality and care in design and manufacture.

The Pants are definitely light, about eight ounces [225 g] for size XL. I attribute the difference between listed and measuredMB#2 stuffed size to shape; there's no question that the pants compress nicely and fit into their stuff sack.

Fit. I tried the Pants on over underwear only, then over underwear and a pair of thin hiking pants. The former - which is the mode I'm more likely to employ - gives me almost a perfect fit. There's a bit of give in the waist, easily corrected by cinching up, and it's just right in the rise and close to just right in length. This fit is athletic but not constricting. With another inch [2.5 cm] added to the inseam they might have been custom-tailored for me. I chose the proper size!

As might be expected the fit is a bit tight when I wore the Pants over hiking trousers. I wouldn't want to hike in this rig, but it would work as an emergency or comfort layer if needed at a rest stop or around a winter camp. There's enough flexibility in the elastic waistband to expand over a belted pair of trousers.

To me this confirms that the Pants are intended as either a midlayer under a windproof shell or an outer layer when not hiking. In MontBell's words, "Perfect for lounging around camp or when worn at night to boost the warmth of your sleep system."

Features. The drawstring, on the inside of the waistband, does its job, and the elastic at the cuffs is adequate, particularly as in colder weather the pants will be worn with heavier footgear. I can live without the small extra length to match my legs. I'd prefer that the drawstring be on the outside, but that's a minor matter. I attribute the difference in stuffed size to shape; there's no question that the pants compress nicely and fit into their stuff sack.

If the Pants had arrived a week earlier I'd have had the chance to evaluate insulating ability at 5 F [-15 C], the morning temperature a couple of days last week. More normal autumn temperatures have returned so I've had to postpone this to the Field Testing period.

My concerns have to do with what MontBell has omitted. I like pockets, and these pants have none. However it may be that most of the time the pants will be in active service in the backcountry they will be under a shell or in my sleeping bag, making pockets superfluous. The other omission is more serious. No fly presents an obvious problem day and night, a problem only exacerbated if I'm wearing these Pants under an outer layer. We'll see if this old man can handle it.

FIELD REPORT - January 5, 2020

 

Field Conditions

 

All use of the pants occurred in the Bridger and Gallatin Mountains near my Montana home. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where I live, has had a strange fall and winter, with a first blizzard in September, -19 F [-28 C] in October, plenty of snow in November, and consistently above-average temperatures in a dry December. This gamut has furnished a broad range of conditions to evaluate the Down Pants but little opportunity to predict what to expect.

 

I've worn the Pants on two overnight trips to backcountry cabins, perhaps a dozen day hikes, one day resort skiing, and many days on early morning dog walks and outdoor chores around the house. Both overnights were in December, in fair weather at temperatures from 10 to 30 F [-12 to -1 C]. Each included a short hike to the cabin with a 30-pound [14 kg] pack, once on skis and once on snowshoes, with afternoon forays into the surrounding forest and meadows. As described more fully in the following section, the Pants stayed in my pack until late afternoon and were donned when the exploration was finished. In and around the cabin, for wood- and water-gathering and as part of my indoor evening and morning wardrobe, I wore the pants as an outer layer over lightweight merino long johns.

 

Several day hikes focused on animal tracking, done immediately after fresh snow.  I often do this as part of a team organized by a local conservation organization, but this fall it was also prompted a more personal interest. A neighbor returning to my subdivision late one night spotted a mountain lion along the road, and a couple of days later I noticed lion tracks near my dog run. We've had these feline visitors before, and their presence generates some precautions like carrying bear spray when hiking and not letting the dog out after dark. I have been trekking through the woods behind my house, mostly on snowshoes, looking for scat, tracks, and other signs to keep informed. Weather conditions were similar to those encountered on the cabin trips, except that all scouting was done during daylight. I wore a pair of shell pants over the Down Pants. On other day hikes on groomed or hardpacked trails the Pants were my outer layer; if bushwhacking was expected on went the shell pants.

 

I wore the Pants on two ski days at the local ski hill, one before it opened in early December and thus requiring a couple of uphill hikes and the other using the lifts in mid-December. On the latter I wore the Pants under a lightweight waterproof-breathable pair of ski pants, on a sunny day at about 25 F [-4 C].

 

Around-the-house use has been in the early morning on dog walks and mid-morning [after the sun rises, now about 8 am] for outdoor chores such as splitting wood or shoveling snow. The dog walks, usually between 5 and 6 am, are usually at the coldest time of the day, and several have taken place at below -10 F [- 23 C]. A few times there's been blowing snow or gusty winds adding to the misery index. After the sun rises it's more temperate and as noted lately it's been considerably milder, in the range of 15-25 F [-10 to -4 C]. In this service the Pants have been my outer layer over boxer shorts.

 

OBSERVATIONS

 

Fit is good, even during activity. The elastic bands at the cuffs are somewhat loose, but tight enough to keep powder snow and other detritus out. The elastic at the waist is not stout enough to hold the Pants in place by itself, so I must re-knot the band every time I put them on. The Pants are cut to give a slim fit, slim enough to make it easy to add an outer shell or ski pants. Given the gossamer fabric of which the Pants are made, I will add an outer layer if exposure to brush or briars is anticipated.

 

My only issue with fit is that if I am wearing heavy boots, as I do when skiing and often when snowshoeing or hiking, I must remove the boots to take the Pants on or off. I consider this more a reinforcement of the Pants' niche rather than a design shortcoming. It does mean that the Pants cannot efficiently be donned or doffed as needed, for example at a rest break when hiking. Once they're on, they're on; if they're off, it's an operation to put them on.

 

Insulating ability is outstanding. These are warm trousers for sure. Even though their sewn-through construction makes them somewhat vulnerable to chilly spots at the seams in windy conditions, as an outer layer they have kept my lower body warm at the coldest temperatures I've encountered. Perhaps perversely, this has limited their utility for athletic endeavors such as skinning up on skis, climbing when hiking, and downhill skiing. My breakpoint temperature for such use is about 10 F [-14 C]; any warmer and I overheat. Overpants may contribute to this but not too much, as those I have used are lightweight and made of proven WPB fabrics.

 

For activities requiring frequent stopping and starting the Pants are great. Animal tracking, dog walking, and outdoor chores fit this description, and for these I love the Pants. It's worth the occasional uncomfortable warmth to be cozy when not active.

 

For the two uses cited by MontBell [see my Initial Report] these Pants are ideal. In camp [or as in my case in and around a cabin] when the day's activities are done the Pants are warm, cozy, and comfortable over either long johns or wool boxers. The same goes as part of my sleep system. I'm a quilt user unless it's really cold, and if I wear the Pants I can add a good 10-15 F degrees [5-8 C degrees] to the rating of my quilt. On my two December overnights that has allowed me to pack a quilt instead of a winter bag, saving much more weight than that of the Pants.

 

The Pants look like new. I haven't had to wash them and the fabric has withstood occasional brushes with indoor and outdoor hazards. I store the Pants on a hook near the door.

 

I'm now willing to forgive MontBell's no-fly design. A fly would detract from, maybe even destroy, the athletic silhouette and drawstring functionality. It has not been difficult to lower the waist a bit to answer nature's call, though often I need to retie the drawstring afterwards.

 

Less willing am I to excuse a lack of pockets. I'm not sure how much weight a pair of side pockets would add, but it can't be much, and handwarmer pockets would add to one of the product's stated purposes, camp lounging. Not to mention my dog walks.

 

Overall however I rate the Pants highly, a quality product that fits several niches that I regularly occupy.

 

Acknowledgment

My Field Report ends here, with thanks to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org. Check back in a couple of months for my Long Term Report.



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Read more gear reviews by Richard Lyon

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