MONTBELL VERSALITE JACKET
TEST SERIES BY STEVEN M. KIDD
May 12, 2014
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Steven M. Kidd
5' 9" (1.75 m)
179 lb (81.20 kg)
Backpacking Background: I've been a backpacker on and off for over 30 years. I backpacked as a Boy Scout, and then again almost every month in my twenties, while packing an average weight of 50+ lbs (23+ kg). In the last several years I have become a hammock camping enthusiast. I generally go on one or two night outings that cover between 5 to 20 mi (8 - 32 km) distances. I try to keep the all-inclusive weight of my pack under 20 lb (9 kg) even in the winter.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
|Image Courtesy MontBell
Manufacturer: MontBell Co.
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.montbell.com
MSRP: US $149.00
Listed Weight: 6.7 oz (190 g)* Size Medium
Measured Weight: 6.9 oz (196 g)* Testing Size Large
Accompanying Stuff Sack: 0.3 oz (8.50 g)
Sizes Available: S/M/L/XL
Colors: Red Brick, Orient Blue, Shadow, White
The MontBell Versalite Jacket is a rain shell marketed as a "truly Ultra Light waterproof/breathable garment that doesn't skimp on the features". In fact the Versalite Jacket and Versalite Pants which are sold separately boast a sub-11 oz (312 g) combined weight. I am also testing the pants and reporting on them in a separate series, so please feel free to review these as well.
The material is 15-denier Ballistic Airtight rip-stop nylon. The seams are fully taped with two 8 in (20.3 cm) zippered hand pockets as well as 12 in (30.5 cm) pit zips. The material is a 2.5 layer Super Hydro Breeze® technology. The alpine cuffs are adjustable with hook and loop, and it also boasts a 2-way adjustable hood.
To save grams Montbell states the jacket used Smart Sewing Technology, but still allows for a 2 in (5 cm) drop tail on the back and the arms are slightly articulated for comfort. The hem draw cords are found in the jacket pockets and finally the shell is closed with a Weather resistant Aqua-Tect ™ "European style" left hand zipper.
The aforementioned fabric, 2.5-layer Super Hydro Breeze® technology is rated as follows: (Water resistance: 20,000 mm Breathability: 20,000 g/m˛/ 24 hrs).
The Versalite jacket and pants arrived on my doorstep on a cool rainy afternoon just as I was about to head to downtown Nashville for a concert. I was excited to see them arrive in a package that was around the same size as a ream of paper, yet it weighed much less. In fact I could barely feel anything within the contents of the corrugated box as I knelt down to pick it up.
Eager to wear the shell, I removed it from the box snapped a few images and took my initial weight measurements. I was impressed at how paper thin and smooth, yet not slippery the jacket felt. I was also glad to see a rip-stop material. At the time I hadn't done much research on the jacket material, but I soon found out it used a 15-denier fabric. I own a few down sleeping bags and quilts that utilize 15, 10 or 7-denier fabrics, but I never expected a rain shell to be this thin.
The jacket also has several features that a similarly weighted rain shell I own lacks. In fact this other shell weighs nearly 0.5 oz (14 g) more than the Versalite, yet it has no pit zips. This feature alone impresses me with this jacket. On damp and humid days if I can't vent myself I can easily create my own weather system within a rain shell.
|7.2 oz (204 g) in the Stuff Sack
I'm also impressed with how easy the pocket cinch cords work to draw the waist hem snug for windy or cool conditions. I adjusted the hood to a comfortable setting and hope I won't have to fiddle with it again unless I find myself in a monsoon and need to cinch it extremely tight.
I've owned nearly a dozen MontBell items over the years and I'm constantly amazed how they continue to trim the weight, yet still keep the desirable features in their products. Just as most every item from MontBell, the item comes with an accompanying stuff sack. This one harkens to their sleeping back stuffs with a double cinch. The stuff sack itself weighed 0.3 oz (8.50 g) when I placed it on the scales. I then put the jacket in it and it came in at 7.2 oz (204 g), and a final check of the jacket alone confirmed a weight of 6.9 oz (190 g). This is for size Large Shadow shell. I typically wear a medium in most MontBell items, but I went up a size as I typically always do for rain gear.
|Compared to a 12 oz (355 ml) can
The comical thing about these stuff sacks; is that I rarely use them with a MontBell products. For instance I will most certainly stuff the jacket into itself within a pocket. I do, however, often find another use for these little lightweight bags. This appears to be made of the same waterproof material, so I could easily see me stuffing my hammock into the sack for some protection. I do wish they would put a double-sided zipper on one pocket so I could properly close it into itself.
The jacket doesn't get as compact for storage in its own pocket as it does in the stuff sack, but this won't hinder my use. On the trail I generally keep my rain gear in an external pocket on my pack for quick access should the weather turn inclement.
One of the other features I noticed on the Versalite wasn't mentioned in the website description. In fact I only first noticed it after I snapped a photograph of the jacket. This is the reflective striping down sides of the jackets front zipper. Notice the image, not perfect, but it certainly demonstrates the powerful reflection in the light. I really like this safety aspect of the shell.
There is really only one thing I'm going to have to become accustomed to with the Versalite and this is the main zipper. As previously mentioned it is "European style" or a left handed zip and this will certainly take some adapting. Given the choice, I'd prefer a traditional zipper on the right side.
I'm thoroughly excited to begin testing the MontBell Versalite Jacket over the next several months. In fact, I was so eager to do so I wore it on a rainy night to town the very night it arrived. I look forward to a vigorous test, seeing how it holds up to heavy rains and how breathable the shell is. I'm also interested in the durability of the very thin material.
This shell is loaded with features, but the two key areas for which I see an immediate benefit are the minimal weight accompanied by a shell that still has zippered pit vents.
The two things I'd suggest changing on the jacket would be adding a double-sided zipper to on pocket in order to allow me to stuff the shell into itself and I'd truly prefer the main zipper to be a right handed zip.
These are both luxuries I'm sure I'll be able to overlook in the coming months.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
|A Little Cold Weather Fun
21 - 22 December, 2013: Virgin Falls Trail, near Sparta, Tennessee. The trailhead is at approximately 1780 ft (543 m) with a gradual decline on the entire where we camped at Big Laurel Falls roughly 2.2 mi (3.5 km) in at an elevation decline to around 1040 ft (317 m). I was traveling with two hammock camping buddies and my 5 year old. The next half of the trip would have been a gradual climb for another two miles, and since this was my son's first real test carrying the better part of his gear and we knew we'd be encountering a 600ft (183 m) climb the next day we decided to stay at this site. These falls were also in a valley protected by three sides of terrain and as the temperatures were over 65 F (18 C) with plenty of rain in store and the potential for severe even tornadic weather overnight we decided to stay here. Rain, it did...and a lot! By the morning of the 22nd after the front moved through, temperatures had dropped to around 38 F (3 C).
|Montbell Versalite Jacket & Pants
7 - 8 February, 2014: Roan High Knob, Pisgah - Cherokee National Forest, North Carolina - Tennessee Border. We started at Carver's Gap at an elevation of 5512 ft (1680 m) and hiked up to the Knob and hammock camped near the AT shelter. There were 17 folks that attended this 4th annual 'Colder - Higher Hang' at the Knob. The distance for the hike is just a little over a mile (1.6 km) up to an elevation of 6286 ft (1916 m), the trek was slow going with icy trails nearly the entire way up. The temperature was around 27 F (-3 C) as we ascended and never dropped below 17 F (-8 C) at night. There was minimal precipitation that fell as snow. We'd really hoped for snowier and colder conditions this year, but were happy to gather as a friendly group.
28 February - 2 March, 2014: Fiery Gizzard Trail, South Cumberland State Park, near Tracy City, Tennessee. A buddy and I from the 'Colder - Higher Hang' and other hammock group gatherings decided to get some hiking and relaxation time halfway between our two homes. I had both my 5 year old son and my 6 1/2 year old daughter out for this trip and they were both carrying the bulk of their own gear. That stated, we hiked 2.5 mi (4 km) on the first evening to the Small Wilds Camping area off the trail and set up camp. We had to be out early on Sunday morning, so we hiked back another 2 mi (3.2 km) on the second day with our gear and set up camp again. We also did several miles of day hiking. I was proud of them! Temperatures the first night dropped to around 37 F (2.8 C) and there was a light rain shower that lasted long enough that I needed to don my rain gear. The second day was dry with temperatures rising to nearly 60 F (15.5 C) and never dropping below 50 F (10 C) that evening. Elevations along the trail were a fairly consistent 1700 ft (518 m).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I've been very impressed with the MontBell Versalite Jacket to date. The material is so thin that it is quite breathable, which allows me to wear it on the trail without fear of perspiration. I've worn it on three individual backpacking outings to date, but I've also used it on several occasions as a rain shell around town.
During the Virgin Falls trip we encountered several inches of rain throughout the evening and the gear never faltered. There was a major front coming through middle Tennessee that weekend and there were repeated alerts for Tornado Watches and Warnings. I'm not certain of the actual rainfall through the evening, but I'd estimate a minimum of two to three inches (5-8 cm). In the accompanying images, notice the difference in the amount of water flowing over the falls in comparison to before and after the rain. It was warm out before the front came through, but I was comfortable sitting around in the jacket with the pit vents open after the rain started.
|Big Laurel Falls - 21 Dec 2013
|Big Laurel Falls - 22 Dec 2013
|Post Storm Climb
On the winter outing to Roan High Knob I primarily used the jacket as a wind shell and to block the moisture in the air from dampening my down mid-layer. I was able to hike several miles in the jacket without regard to perspiration. That was nice, as was the added protection it gave me from the wind gusts that passed on top of the mountain.
Finally on the most recent outing I encountered a rain shower that popped up but wasn't wet enough to drive me to bed. Wearing the Versalite around a fire gave me plenty of protection and the hood shed water comfortably without being to annoying to keep up a conversation.
I've become very fond of the jacket. When stowed it stuffs away so small that I barely notice it. In fact, I'd normally stuff a jacket like this into its own pocket to save a few grams, but I have continued to store it in the provided stuff sack. It's not much larger than a soda can and compresses even smaller than that, so I generally store it in an outer mesh or kangaroo pouch based on the pack choice I'm using in the woods.
A few of the features I really enjoy are the hook and loop closure tabs on the wrists, the draw hem on the waist that may be tightened via the hand pockets, and the aforementioned pit vents are ideal in my opinion. I'm still not partial to the left hand 'European Style' zipper, and that is simply something I suppose I'll never truly become accustomed to using. It certainly wouldn't cause me to leave the jacket at home, but given the choice I've prefer a reverse style.
|Roan High Knob
The jacket works very well as a wind barrier once I've set camp and begin static activity and begin to cool down. It blocks wind and does a great job of keeping my down layer dry. Even as thin as the Versalite material is, it gives me a sense of protection over my down as well. Any snag to a down layer can create a cascade of goose feathers and this makes me ever cautious around fires, briars and the like. The thin material has certainly held up to wear and tear so far.
|Nice View of the Drop Tail on the Versalite
To date the Versalite has been a pleasure to wear. I enjoy the lightweight nature of the jacket and the breathability when I'm wearing it either on the trail or in camp. When I'm not actually wearing the jacket, it stows away as if I weren't even carrying it!
I enjoy the dark charcoal color, but also like the reflective striping that accent the zippers. I adjusted the hood to a comfortable setting when the shell first arrived and I haven't had to fiddle with it since. I can wear the hood only minimally noticing that I'm wearing it. Often a rain shell hood is floppy and bothersome to actually have on my head, but this is not the case with the Versalite.
I absolutely love the pit vents. I have a similarly weighted rain shell that lacks many of the features of the Versalite, but most notably are those vents. They make all the difference in the world for me on the trail in order to allow heat to escape.
The minor things I'd suggest changing are the same as they were in the outset of this report a few months ago. I'd suggest a two-way zipper on one pocket to self stow the jacket, versus using the included sack and I truly prefer a right handed zipper. Again, both these are nitpicking a fine product that I enjoy wearing and testing the elements with.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
10 - 13 April, 2014: Fiery Gizzard Trail, South Cumberland State Park, near Tracy City, Tennessee. I made this the last trip as a 'local' to my old quick weekend stomping grounds, as I'm currently transitioning in my career from middle Tennessee to the Indianapolis, Indiana area. The weather and temperatures were ideal for a spring outing with highs around 70 F (21 C) and lows around 58 F (14.5 C), sunny and no precipitation, but it was the height of the blooming season and my allergies were in full swing making it a less than desirable trip! Although there was no rain on the trip, I made good use of the gear in a squirrely fun adventure. Elevations for the trip averaged around 1700 ft (518 m) +/- 400 ft (122 m) going in and out of the Gulf.
30 April, 2014: Nevis, West Indies. I also wore the product for a short while on a rain forest hike climbing Mt. Nevis, in the West Indies. This trip took me from sea level to around 2000 ft (610 m). I would have loved to summit the peak as it literally sits in the clouds, but my hiking party simply didn't have it in them.
I keep it stored with me in my vehicle as foul weather gear for pop up storms in the spring as well and have found several occasions to don the Versalite.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The jacket has continued to amaze me. I hate that I didn't make it to the backcountry as often as I normally do in the spring, but this career transition has limited my pleasure trips to the backcountry. Even with only the one backcountry outing during the final test phase I'm completely satisfied with MontBell's superior quality. I've never found a product they've made that I can't rave about.
The Versalite series is so lightweight, yet durable and holds out the moisture surprisingly well without making me a sweatbox. I haven't worn it in driving rains for a full day of hiking, but I've used it in a tumultuous downpour with tornado warning and stayed completely dry.
On the spring outing I did not encounter rain, but decided to work my way around to the waterfall at Foster Falls. The air temperatures were warm as I previously mentioned, but I'm sure the water was around 55 F (13 C). I rock hopped the perimeter of a fall pool at the base to get near the water fall. I couldn't make it to the main falls as there was no possible way to do so without a full out swim in, but I did get to a side fall that is often dry in the summer. Wearing the gear I stayed dry and I didn't break a sweat inside the jacket as I stood under that falling water! It was a fun experiment.
The day our group did the rain forest hike in Nevis was warm and not in the rainy season, but showers often pop up in the jungle. I carried a day pack with a handful of items and hydration that came in fairly handy for my non-backcountry pals that were with me! A shower broke out midway through the hike and I quickly found my rain jacket. I was the only member of the group that didn't become soaked for the remainder of the trip. Temperatures were near 80 F (27 C) and I can't say I broke too much of a sweat. I was already perspiring some from the climbing activities, but I can assure the reader that after the 10 minute shower I was the only member of the crew that wasn't fairly drenched.
The weight to performance ratio has me completely sold on the Versalite jacket. I can say for sure it will remain a mainstay in my gear stash!
I've come to love the Versalite jacket. I've kept it in the trunk of my car throughout the test series and worn it on many a rainy occasion as I have worked in outside office-to-office setting.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
I find it durable, yet extremely lightweight. I love the pit vents! For the breathability the jacket allows, I'm so happy MontBell added the few grams of weight. The Versalite will continue to be a mainstay in my gear stash. I likely won't continue to keep it in my car for pop up storms, but this isn't because I don't love it. It's because I want to save the DWR finish and durability for the field, and relegate an older less loved rain shell to my vehicle!
The only thing that would make the jacket better in my opinion would be a right-hand zipper.
I will certainly continue to carry it on backcountry outings and due to the minimal weight. I'm even tossing it into the luggage for a trip to Puerto Vallarta this weekend. Who knows if the weather will go south?
I'd like to thank BackpackGearTest and MontBell Co. for allowing me to test the amazing Versalite Jacket.
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