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Reviews > Rain Gear > Jackets and Pants > MontBell Versalite Jacket > Test Report by Brett Haydin
MontBell Versalite Jacket
Test Series by Brett Haydin
Initial Report - December 12, 2013
Field Report - March 12, 2014
Long Term Report - June 16, 2014
I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips in a variety of terrain each year - from mountains to grasslands. I take one or two longer trips each year, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.
Product Information & SpecificationsManufacturer: MontBell Co, Ltd.
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website: www.montbell.com
MSRP: $149.00 US
Listed Weight: 6.7 oz (190 g)
Measured Weight: 7.1 oz (201 g)
Color Tested: Red Brick (also available in Orient Blue, Shadow and White)
Size Tested: Large (available in S, M, L, XL)
Fabric: 15-denier "Ballistic Airtight" rip-stop nylon
Waterproof: 2.5-layer Super Hydro Breeze proprietary technology
Warranty: Covers all defects in materials and workmanship for the lifetime of the product.
Product DescriptionThe MontBell Versalite jacket, which I will refer to as just the Jacket or Versalite, is intended (ideally) as rain gear for multi-day backpacking in the summertime, according to the manufacturer. The simple design contributes to a light weight and makes it compact for stowing it away when for when I need it.
The Versalite has a full-length zipper on the front so it should be easy to get on and off, even with a few layers on underneath. The zipper has an attractive plastic pull tab with the manufacturer's name on it. The zippers are also framed by a reflective material that could help if I use them around town. One interesting note is that the zipper is left-handed, which I am not quite used to. There also a MontBell logo imprinted on the front, the left side of my chest. The bottom hem of the jacket has an elastic draw cord with a cord lock sewn into it. This may be helpful to keep out rain and drafts.
There are 12 in (30.5 cm) pit zips for additional ventilation. These do not have the plastic pull tab, but a simple, knotted cord. Still, I should be able to grasp it well enough. The sleeves are trimmed at the end with an elastic cuff that has a hook and loop tab to make it tighter or looser, depending on my preference. The sleeves are also slightly articulated.
The hood is a good size for my head, with room for a cap or hat underneath and then some. There are a few adjustable points on the hood. The first is an elastic draw cord that frames the front of the hood; essentially wrapping my face. The second is another elastic draw cord in the rear that adjusts the depth of the hood. Finally, there is a hook and loop tab that can adjust the height of the hood. There is a small bill in the front as well that should help water drain off in front of my face, and not onto it!
The pockets have 8 in (20 cm) zippers with the same plastic pull tab as the front. They are not lined with any special fabric, but it does not feel unpleasant. The draw cord for the bottom hem can also be adjusted with one hand by pulling the draw cord from within either of the pockets. On the inside of the jacket body, there is a fabric tag sewn into the bottom hem. There is also a sizing label welded into the back along with a nylon cord suitable for hanging the jacket up.
The stuff sack is the same color and fabric as the jacket. It is simple and effective. It has two draw cords, one with a cord lock and one without. On the bottom is a black nylon handle with the MontBell logo imprinted on it.
Initial ImpressionsI am impressed with the quality of workmanship. For the most part, the product is impeccable. I found one small loose thread along a zipper that does not appear to impact the product. I have noted the area in case I see any fraying later on in the test.
The sheer simplicity of the design is great. I am curious to see how the jacket holds up in the weather I am likely to encounter. I hope to find some rainy days to splash and play in soon! I noticed that the measured weight and the listed weight varied rather significantly. A little closer look at the website showed that the listed weight is for a medium size. With the additional fabric, it looks like the weight is spot on!
I happened to try the jacket out on a short stroll with the dogs during a rainy afternoon. The initial "test" was quite promising. I hope that the results at the end of the series will be just as positive!
Reading the InstructionsThe jacket came with a pair of hang tags attached to it. One is simply a retail label with the color, size and product name. The other is a cautionary statement that while the jacket is advertised as durable, contact with rocks and trees could result in abrasions or tears. Sounds like I may need to take care if I am stomping through the forest.
The website was easy to navigate. I used the sizing chart found on the website to select my size and the fit is perfect.
Field ConditionsSince receiving the Versalite Jacket, I have been on three backpacking trips. My first trip was to Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin. I hiked with snowshoes a total of 12 mi (19 km) through a mix of open fields and deciduous forests and stayed at the established campground. The weather was sunny, windy and rather cold. The high temperature was only 35 F (2 C) with an overnight low of about 20 F (-7 C).
My next trip was an overnight trip in the Torreya State Park near Tallahassee, Florida. This 6.3 mi (10.1 km) loop took me through a mix of forest, bluffs and some swampy terrain. Along the way I saw several deer and many different birds. It rained for parts of the trip with a mix of overcast skies and sunshine. Temperatures were between 65 and 80 F (18 and 27 C).
My final trip was to the Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin. I hiked, sometimes with snowshoes, a total of 8 mi (13 km) along bluffs, through deciduous forests and up and down some nice steep hills. The weather was cooperative, with clear skies and high temperature of 40 F (4 C). Overnight lows dropped to about 20 F (-7 C). There was no precipitation.
Additionally, I have used the jacket on at least a dozen runs of 3 to 7 mi (5 to 11 km) as an outer shell for winter weather. As springtime has started to settle in, two of these runs have been in the rain. I wore the jacket on a bike ride as well as a wind-breaker.
ObservationsWhile I haven't experienced a lot of rain over this phase of the test series, I feel like I am getting a good feel for the jacket. First, the jacket is nice and lightweight and takes up almost no space in my pack. I generally keep my rain gear in the top pouch of my pack. My other jackets and accompanying pants take up most, if not all, of the space. However this jacket and matching pants leave room for more gear I which I could have within easy grasp, such as snacks <grin>.
The most rain I experienced was in Florida. During this trip, the jacket did an excellent job of shedding the rain, but even in the high humidity and heat I felt comfortable. When the rain stopped I could definitely tell I was getting warmer, so I took the jacket off. In the afternoon sun, it dried rather quickly clipped to the outside of my pack. Even on my runs, when I was in the rain the jacket did a great job of keeping me dry. On the coldest runs, the jacket would have a layer of ice crystals inside; the lowest temperature I ran in was 5 F (-15 C).
The breathability of the jacket is very good. As I mentioned above, my trip to Florida was the best chance for me to get a feel for this jacket as a spring/summer backpacking jacket. It performed very well. My only gripe has been that the armpit zippers are a bit stiff, so unzipping them while wearing the jacket is tough. When I had my pack on, this was easier because the waist band could help hold down the bottom of the jacket. The only other trouble I had was user error. The elastic cord in the hem can get in the way if I am not paying attention. I have inadvertently zipped up the jacket with the cord in the way. Definitely just carelessness, which you can see in the image to the right.
Field ConditionsOver the past two months I have been on four additional trips for an additional six nights in the field. This included four more nights backpacking and two car-camping. My first trip was an overnight to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I hiked the Hazel Mountain Trail, an 8.7 mi (14.0 km) loop meandering through a deciduous forest. Elevation ranged from 1200 to 2840 ft (366 to 866 m). I experienced a mix of rain with temperatures from 40 to 55 F (4 to 13 C).
My next trip was to Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. I camped a total of three nights, with one night backpacking into the backcountry with my family. This backcountry trip was a short 1.5 mi (2.4 km) hike in to the campsite. The terrain was fairly easy with some rolling hills along a well-maintained path through a deciduous forest. We experienced rain, sunshine and mild winds at time but overall the weather was pleasant. Temperatures ranged from 32 to 70 F (0 to 21 C). The other nights we camped at the established campground at the national park where we had clear skies and warmer temperatures, 50 to 75 F (10 to 24 C).
I also took an overnight along the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin from the Brooklyn Wildlife trailhead to the end of the Montrose segment, a total of 11.2 mi (18.03 km). The terrain was a mix of meadows and deciduous forests with some marshes thrown in for good measure! Temperatures were great; 45 to 70 F (7 to 21 C). Weather was mild with sun and some clouds.
My final trip was an overnight to Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin. I hiked a total of 15.5 mi (24 km) along the Military Ridge State Trail into the park and around a couple of loops in the state park (Lost Canyon and Meadow Valley). I experienced some heavy rains - 2 in (5 cm) over 90 minutes at one point according to local weather reports. The temperatures were moderate - 50 to 70 F (10 to 21 C).
Additionally, I hiked eight additional days which includes three days of turkey hunting in Central Wisconsin. While much of my time was sitting in a blind, I did break it up with some hikes from one location to the next. My longest day was 8.4 mi (13.5 km) and the shortest was 3.8 mi (6.12 km). While hunting on one day, rain came and I used the jackets underneath my camouflage suit.
The Versalite did an incredible job of keeping me dry. The heaviest rains that I experienced were at Governor Dodge State Park. 2 in (5 cm) fell in just 90 minutes and I was hiking right in the middle of it. The image to the left shows me staying comfortable with an "almost" smile on my face.
The climate in the Midwest is humid. One of the things I look for in a jacket is breathability. This jacket did a fine job of shedding moisture. The pit zips work well, although they are a bit more difficult to use than others I have used. I think this may be because the jacket is so light I need to anchor the jacket down while I pull the zipper.
The light weight of the jacket is one of the biggest selling points. It packs down to an incredibly small size and is so light that I take it along on nearly all of my commutes around town. Despite the light weight, the fabric remains durable. I have hiked through some thorny brush and I have found no holes or leaks. I won't make that a regular practice, but it is great to know that I can count on this jacket through the thick and thin!
Continued UseThe MontBell Versalite Jacket has earned its place in my gear closet and will definitely be my go to rain jacket from here on out. I imagine I may continue to use it sporadically in the winter while running, but it will work best for me in spring, summer and fall.
SummaryThe Versalite has outperformed my expectations. I was skeptical that I could use it much in the winter, but it worked great for my needs.
Pros: Waterproof, lightweight and packs small. The jacket is quite durable for the weight.
Cons: Armpit zippers are difficult to operate.
This concludes the test series. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to MontBell for their generosity as well as the folks at BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series.
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