My field report text is below, and here is the link to the html version:
Montbell Extremely Light Down Vest - Men's
Test Series by Shawn Wakefield
Initial Report: November 27, 2009
Field Report: February 2, 2010
Name: Shawn Wakefield
Height: 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
Weight: 165 lb (75 kg)
City, State, Country: Tishomingo, Oklahoma, United States
Backpacking Background: I started camping and backpacking about 25 years ago as a teenager in the Boy Scouts. I am enjoying backpacking again, and I really like going lightweight now and covering a lot of miles. My wife and I take frequent backpacking trips together, and our kids (all under 13) go occasionally. We like to hike in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas for short trips, but enjoy Wyoming and Colorado for longer trips. My current pack averages 16 lb (7.3 kg) including water and three days' food.
INITIAL REPORT: November 27, 2009
Manufacturer: Montbell Co. Ltd.
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Listed weight: 4.30 oz (122 g) for Men's Medium
Weight as delivered: 3.60 oz (102 g) for Men's Medium (vest only)
3.77 oz (107 g) for vest and stuff sack
MSRP: US $130.00
Shell Material: 7-denier Ballistic Airlight calendered nylon
Fill Material: 900 Fill power goose down
Color: Available in Dark Navy, Gunmetal
Color as delivered: Dark Navy
Other Details from Manufacturer Website
Single quilt construction for weight reduction
Lightweight 3C YKK zipper
Stuff sack included
Standard 25-wash rated DWR treatment
The Montbell Men's US EX Light Down Vest is described as the "ultimate in minimalist design" on their website, and once I saw the vest and held it in my hands, I can certainly agree. The 900 fill power goose down should provide warmth with little weight, and the super light shell fabric is just that. The vest does not even include pockets in an effort to reduce the product's weight. In addition, the lightweight 3C YKK zipper is much smaller than that I have seen on other jackets and vests. The product does include a tiny stuff sack for storing and protecting the vest when not in use, made of the same material as the jacket shell.
The vest is amazingly light. It is hard to imagine much insulating power in a garment that weighs so little, but having worn another lightweight down jacket before; I know that it is possible for a garment to be light and warm. The dark navy color is an accurate description, as it is somewhere between navy and black in color. The arm openings have elastic around them that allows some stretching. There is a short collar on the vest to give some coverage around the base of the neck. The shell material is very light and thin, and the inside of the vest appears to be of the same material as the exterior. Upon very close inspection, it does look like it is reinforced or ripstop type nylon. The down is held in place between the two layers of nylon by sewn through stitching (single quilting) which creates individual pockets of down in rectangular sections all over the vest. The photos show this more clearly. The zipper pull includes an attached cord and plastic tab which should make it easier to grab with gloves on. There is a small flap of material behind the zipper that may prevent wind or moisture penetration. On the front left side of the vest, "mont-bell" is embroidered onto the outside shell fabric.
The inside of the jacket looks almost identical to the outside, with the exception of several tags. On the back collar, the tags indicate the size is a USA medium, European medium, and Japanese large. Another black tag lists "FUNCTION IS BEAUTY, mont-bell, SINCE 1975". A third tag indicates the garment was made in China and gives the USA address, email, and phone number. The care instructions tag is on a left side seam. It gives a style and factory number, lists the shell and liner as 100% nylon, and that the filling is 90% goose down and 10% goose feather. The care instructions state: "Do Not Wash, Do Not Bleach, Do Not Iron, Dry Clean, Petroleum Solvent Only, Commercial Dry Clean Only." Care icons indicate the vest should not be washed, should not be bleached, should not be ironed, and should be dry cleaned with petroleum solvent only.
Having read other down care instructions that washing may be possible, I went to the Montbell website to see if any additional information was available. The website talks about down garment care and states that it can be washed in a front loading machine, on cold, gentle cycle, with a down specific soap (ReVivex recommended). It recommends tumble drying on the lowest heat setting while checking it often. The website also says to see the DWR care instructions. The most interesting statement is this: "If your care label indicates Dry Clean Only it may be incorrect. Please follow the online care instructions or contact customer service for more information." If find it odd that the vest instructions and the website are almost opposite in their recommendations. I plan to contact customer service to check their response time and to get further clarification. Further down the care page, the DWR instructions recommend washing and rinsing in warm water, not all hot or all cold. It also gives information about replenishing the treatment, again recommending ReVivex products. This is a bit confusing, since the down instructions say to wash in cold, but the DWR instructions say to NOT wash in cold.
The compressibility of the vest is remarkable. It easily stuffs into the included stuff sack and reduces the size to a cylinder approximately 3.5 in (8.9 cm) diameter by 6.5 in (16.5 cm) tall. The stuff sack is made of the same material as the shell, and has an exterior black tag with "mont-bell" on it. The sack cinches closed with a cord lock. I wondered about the water repellency of the material, so I filled the stuff sack with water. Other than a slow drip at one or two places on the seams, the material itself seemed completely waterproof. I know that down loses its insulating value when wet, so a water repellent shell is very important in a vest like this.
The website states that all Montbell products in a limited lifetime warranty, with the usual exclusions for wear and tear, etc. The website does state the extra care is needed for products with a shell material this light and thin, so I don't plan to bushwhack through the briar patch while wearing the vest. I am familiar with using ultra-light products that are not as durable as heavier alternatives.
I think the sizing of Montbell products is accurate. I have a Montbell jacket in a size large that fits well in the arms, but is a bit roomy around my torso. My arms are long, so I usually need a size large jacket or long sleeve shirt. Since this was a vest, and my waist and chest fit within the Montbell size chart for medium, I ordered the medium and it fits just right. I can wear a shirt under the vest and not be too constricted. The advantage of the more fitted vest is that I can wear a rain jacket or wind shell over my shirt and vest and still not be too tight to move. It looks like this vest will fit my layered approach very well.
1. Very lightweight
1. Contradictory care instructions
2. Can something this light still be warm?
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.
FIELD REPORT: February 2, 2010
3 Day Backpacking Trip: My wife and I did a 37 mile (60 km) backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail in northern Arkansas in late November. Temperatures were about 39 F (4 C) at night and up to about 52 F (11 C) during the days. I wore the vest in the evenings once we reached camp, during the nights under the down quilt, and in the mornings before it started warming up.
Day Hike in OK: I wore the vest on a blustery day hike in the McGee Creek NSRA in southern Oklahoma in December. We hiked the rocky point trail on a cold and windy morning - 36 F (2 C) and a 15 mph (24 kph) wind. I wore the vest as part of my layering system.
5 Day Camping Trip: I was a scoutmaster with our Boy Scout troop at a week of winter camp in late December in southern Oklahoma. Temperatures ranged from 22 F (-6 C) to 45 F (7 C). I wore the vest many times during the trip, including cold mornings and evenings and at night in my sleeping bag.
3 Day Hikes in AZ: I did three different day hikes near Phoenix, Arizona in early January. I carried the vest, but it was never cold enough to need to wear it.
Day Hike in OK: I wore the vest on a 2 mile (3 km) day hike near my home in January. The temperature was 49 F (9 C) and it was cloudy. I wore only a thin long sleeve base layer under the vest. It kept my torso warm, did not start sweating.
Day Hike in OK: I wore the vest on a 12 mile (19 km) day hike in the McGee Creek NSRA in southern Oklahoma in January. The temperature was 45 F (7 C) to 60 F (16 C), and it was partly cloudy. I carried the vest, but it was not cold enough to need to wear it.
Day Hike in OK: I wore the vest on a 2 mile (3 km) day hike near my home in late January. The temperature was 32 F (0 C) and it was cloudy and breezy. I wore the vest over two base layers and under a wind jacket. With those layers, I was comfortable except for my hands getting cold.
The vest has performed extremely well for me. I really like the lightweight aspect of the vest, and it compacts extremely small in the stuff sack. Since it is so light, and very small, I am able to carry it with me anytime there is the chance of cold temperatures. It is not quite as warm as a down coat with sleeves, but it weighs less than half of what my Montbell down coat weighs. When hiking, I am able to stay warm down below 32 F (0 C) with the vest as part of my layering system. When I am in camp at night or in the morning, I can wear the vest to keep the chill off. I also like being able to wear it when sleeping, which allows my down quilt, which is usually good down to 32 F (0 C) to be used in even colder temperatures.
I was concerned that the zipper may snag or not work well, but it has performed flawlessly. I have not noticed any down escaping from the jacket, even though the shell material is very light and thin. When zipped completely up, the collar comes around and covers the front of my neck as well, which helps to keep in my body heat. My only complaint would be that the elastic for the arms makes it a little snug when wearing 2 base layers under it. This would not be a problem if I had ordered a large, but the rest of the fit for the medium is just right. I may very carefully (after the test period is over) cut the elastic on the arms to make it less constrictive. This is really not a design issue, as I may be right between a medium and large as far as the sizing is concerned.
The vest has not gotten dirty or needing washing, but I intend to do that as part of the long term report. I planned to email Montbell to ask them to confirm the care instructions, but it appears that their website has been down for maintenance the last couple of days when I tried to access it.
My field report seems a bit short to me, but I really can't find any problems or issues with the vest. So far, it has performed just as I had hoped.
1. Very lightweight
3. Warmth to weight ratio
1. Contradictory care instructions
This concludes my Field Report. The Long Term Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.
Thanks to Montbell Co. Ltd. and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in this test.
- Shawn Wakefield