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Reviews > Clothing > Pants and Shorts > MontBell U.L. TEC Down Pants > Test Report by Ray Estrella
I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. 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 ultralight, I try to be as light 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 evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.
Manufacturer: MontBell Co
The TEC has a 1.2 in (3 cm) elastic waist band and also sports a drawstring in the waist for more secure holdin' up. (Want more? Get suspenders.) So as to not risk too much exposure they have great, um, frontal access by way of a center snap and zipper under a protected fly.
Talk about big zippers. It takes a real big zipper to get to my big leg. Well, legs, plural. And the TEC has a full-length DWR flat coil separating zipper running along the side of each leg. (A flat coil zipper is not to be confused with a waterproof flat sealed zipper. These are just water resistant.) Each leg zipper has a snap closure at the bottom to keep it from being opened while walking or post-holing through snow. The zippers will actually come apart splitting the pants completely. This is to allow them to be put on when the user is in a situation that lifting a foot to get through the legs is not desired or is flat impossible or dangerous; like while wearing skis, crampons or snowshoes.
A couple more 7 in (18 cm) zippers are found closing the two front pockets. The pockets are quite roomy and have warm micro-fleece on the side away from my legs. These zippers have excellent pulls that are easy to use with gloves on. The included stuff sack weighs 0.28 oz (8 g). The pants fit into the sack quite easily and could be compressed much more than the sack shows in the picture above.
There are a bunch of tags inside the TEC pants listing origin, materials, etc. The most important is the washing instructions. Mainly it is, Wash Cold, Air or Gentle Dry. The most telling part of the list is, "Washing only at the end of the season should be enough. Do not wash frequently, it may cause fabric damage". Hmm, that must be the "light" in Ballistic Airlight…
Well I hope not to need to wash them more than once this season. But I will certainly be getting them some action shortly. As this is the end of my Initial Report you will need to come back in two months to see how dirty they got.
Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty
The MontBell TEC pants make the best lounge-around camp wear I have ever used at cold-weather campsites. They are very comfortable and pretty warm. They even work as a sleeping bag replacement in a limited way. Please read on for the details.
I have used the TEC pants on seven backpacking and camping trips over the past three months in Minnesota. All backpacking has taken place on or around the North Country Trail (NCT) in Chippewa National Forest and Paul Bunyan State Forest. Camping trips have been in those forests too plus trips to Buffalo River State Park and primitive canoe sites on the Red River. The low temperatures have ranged from 45 to -1 F (7 to -18 C). Many of the trips have seen rain, one trip had a night of sleet and one had a little bit of snow. This picture was taken at Moccasin Lake before the sleet hit.
My first trip with the TEC pants (and matching jacket) was a driving and day hiking pre-scouting trip verifying that canoeist's primitive river camp sites would work for sled-packing trips later this winter. I camped at Buffalo River State Park. Temps got down to only 45 F (7 C), much higher than normal this time of year. It was not really cold enough to wear them in camp but I decided to take the opportunity to try sleeping in them. I brought a pair of down slippers to use with the pants and my TEC jacket. I was on a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pad.
Another trip that I slept with them was the first night of a 3-day backpacking loop on the NCT and Woodtick trail. It was not my plan to use them for sleeping as it was pretty cold (down to 19 F/-7 C that night). However as my campsite was at a lake access I ended up having some hunters decide to mess with the solo hiker. The TECs allowed me to stay ready to get up fast if I needed to. Around 10:00 PM I decided to get into my sleeping bag as it was getting too cold for the down clothes.
The use that has been more common has been wearing them once I set-up my camp, collect water and get to the point I can take it easy. While hiking I am a blast furnace but once I stop I tend to get cold. I always say that I am a hot hiker and a cold sleeper. To be able to put the TEC pants on at the end of the day is an absolute treat. They are loose enough to be very comfortable, with no binding or bunching. They are much warmer than my fleece pants (what I used to bring for lower body warmth) while weighing less and taking less space in my pack.
Speaking of my pack, I have not used the stuff sack for the TEC pants. Instead I just place them in the bottom of my pack (with my other down items like the jacket, quilt or sleeping bag) and pack everything else on top of it letting the weight of my gear compress it as needed. They seem to be holding up quite well. I see no signs of wear as of yet.
We just got our first measurable snow last night so maybe winter is finally here. My trips should be colder from here on out and will be a better test of the TEC's capabilities. So please come back in a couple of months to see how they worked out. I'll leave with a shot at dinner time, just south of Itasca State park.
During this phase of testing I was only able to get out a few times. The first was an overnighter at a primitive canoeist's campsite on the Red River of the North near Hendrum, Minnesota. It was cold and very windy with a storm on its way. Temps ranged from 15 down to -5 F (-9 to -21 C) with winds at 20 mph (32 km/h) and gusts to 30 mph (48 km/h).
The winter has continued to be a very strange one. We have still received only a fraction of our normal snowfall, and the temperatures have been all over the place, many times swinging above freezing for days at a time, but much higher than the norm even during the "cold" times. In truth this probably made the TEC pants more useful.
While that trip saw me wearing the TEC pants over my hiking pants just to get warm quickly the next trip saw another benefit of the practice.
The first day hiking in Lake Bronson State Park saw flurries all day long. While it did not amount to much it was enough to make me keep a shell on so as not to end up with wet fleece. As I am a furnace while hiking I soon was burning up. I took off my top layer but was forced to keep my fleece pants on under my shell. Once I made camp and set up my tent I went inside to change into my lounge wear, I mean the TEC's, but found that my fleece pants were wet from sweat. With it windy and blowing snow outside there was no way to dry them, so I left them on under the TEC pants and let my body heat push the moisture from the fleece and through the down. It worked great!
They have been quite durable. I have sat on a lot of old picnic benches and a couple of tree stumps and the butt looks fine. (At least that is what the hiker girls say, oh wait, I don't see any hikers in winter here, girls or otherwise.) I have to say that the down loss has been minimal too. After my last big outing I planned to take the TEC pants (and a couple other down pieces) to the laundromat and wash them in a front-loader with Nikwax Down Wash. Unfortunately as I write this I am sitting with a badly fractured ankle and can't get to any extra trips outside for a while now. I shall amend this report to share how the washing process works out later.
One thing that I really like about having the TEC pants along is how much of a cushion it adds to my sleeping system. I normally plan to bring a bag one step warmer than what the forecast calls for. So if I see they are calling for -20 F (-29 C) I will bring a -40 bag. I always have a down coat of some sort on each trip and now knowing that I have down pants too to wear inside my bag I feel that they make enough of a safety margin to go with the rated bag at the forecast temps. Case in point was my last trip. Forecast lows for the 9 days (7 of hiking) were from -1 F to 15 F (-18 to -9 C) and normally I would have brought both a 0 F and -20 F (-18 & -29 C) bag, leaving one in the car. Instead I just took my warmest quilt and figured that if I needed it I could wear my TEC's to bolster the rating.
They have even helped me cut down my weight. Normally in the deepest part of winter I bring heavy fleece pants or waterproof insulated pants to keep me warm in camp. This forces me to hike in the heavy fleece most the time which I find uncomfortable. Knowing I have the warm TEC's along I have used only mid-weight and even light weight fleece pants for my actual hiking. I know that should the need arise I can even hike in the TEC pants which I had to do on my hike out on Rainy Lake as the wind was fierce and I had forgot to put my shell pants back in my sled from the previous trip. They probably saved me from hypothermia as I had a long way to walk head-on into 20-mph (32 km/h) wind. Here is a shot wearing the TEC's as I melt snow at my camp site on Cranberry Bay.
I am very happy to have tested the TEC pants and want to thank MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to do so. This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
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