FR - MontBell Plasma - Coy Boy
- Hi Gail, here is my FR ready for edit. A test copy can be found here and I'll send the text via email.
Field Report: February 4, 2014
Testing Locations and Conditions
All testing took place near my home in North East Alabama. This has been one of the coldest winters on record in our area. However, being this far south has meant a good mixture of cold and not so cold weather. The coldest testing of the MontBell Plasma was on a cold morning when the low was 2 F (-17 C) but I waited until it warmed up to 5 F (-15 C) before heading outside for a short one hour day hike on a local trail. I'm not sure what the warmest temperature I encountered was, but, I wore the Plasma on several day hikes when temperatures were below freezing as well as other times when it was near 60 F (16 C). On the warmer hikes I often took the jacket off before long. I used the jacket on one overnight hike when the low temperature was 41 F (5 C).
Field Test Results
I have worn the jacket mostly just out and about getting some exercise or walking to a neighbors etc. Most of the time I was not wearing a day pack but did wear it with my Mountsmith Day (a fanny pack) several times when taking longer walks and wanting to carry some water and perhaps a camera. I also wore it under my Gregory Keeler backpack but it was not fully loaded. However, I do use a shoulder strap with my Mountainsmith Day (see photo above). I mention this because even though the Plasma is intended as a mid layer, I wore it as an outer layer several times and it really was the most logical choice of what to wear when I wore it that way. I did wear it as a mid layer several times, especially during some of the bitter cold we experienced. On one morning I went for 2 mile (3.2 km) walk and had on 4 layers total which consisted of a medium weight thermal, a light wool sweater, the Plasma, topped off with a light rain jacket. The temperature at the start of this hike was 5 F (-15 C) but it did warm up to a balmy 8 F (-13 C) by the time I got back home about an hour later. This was the only hike on which I did not need to remove any of my layers.
On one of the days when the high was in the upper teens and I wore the Plasma while riding my 4 wheeler (side by side) checking on some of my elderly neighbors. It does have a windshield and top but the cab is still very open. It was around 15 F (-9 C) and I actually had on several top and bottom layers, thick gloves and my best winter boots. For my head I wore my ColdAvenger face mask, a watch cap and the hood of my outer jacket. I stayed warm but I'm sure this was mostly because I had so much on, so much so that I was unrecognizable. I stood inside one neighbors house several minutes talking to them before they realized who I was. I then joked that I could have been a crazy ax murderer on the loose but they said no ax murderer would be crazy enough to get out in weather like this.
On the overnight hike I did not wear the Plasma at first because it was 55 F (13 C) when hiking to my campsite and only dropped to 50 F (10 C) by the time I turned in around 9 PM. I did use it as a pillow during the night and it worked OK for that, however, I suppose a thicker jacket might have worked better. It was 41 F (5 C) when I got up the next morning but since my hammock was a little damp I decide to leave it up for a few hours. I hiked home wearing the jacket under my Gregory pack which was pretty light since it just held my sleeping bag, a little left over water and a few other odds and ends. I returned a couple of hours later when the temperature had actually dropped several more degrees to pack up my hammock. This was the only time I wore the Plasma under a backpack. However, as noted earlier, I did wear it under a day pack that has shoulder straps on several occasions. This has not seemed to bother the Plasma at all but I honestly think it would be better to use it as a mid layer if I planed to put a lot of miles on it while wearing anything with shoulder straps. In fact, I would probably look for another alternative if I was planning a long hike with a heavy pack. Of course the beauty of the Plasma is that I could still carry it with very little weigh or space penalty.
I really have not had any major issues with the Plasma. I was a little concerned about possibly damaging the jacket by wearing it in the woods as my outer layer but so far this has proven to be a non-issue. I would invariably brush against something even when being careful. The only slight hiccup was on one hike when I needed to remove the jacket and got the zipper hung on the draft seal. I was fortunate that I had already gotten it nearly half way un-zipped before the hangup occurred and I just pulled it off like I would a pull-over. I put it in my day pack and waited until I got home to wrestle with the zipper because I wanted to be very careful and not tear the draft seal. It took several minutes of carefully tugging to get it unstuck but I have not had this problem since.
Thoughts so far
The MontBell Plasma has proven to be a very efficient insulation layer. It is hard for me to imagine any other item of clothing that ounce for ounce could provide this much warmth. I do wish it had hand warmer pockets because I needed to wear gloves several times and would have to take them off to grab my phone or camera. Insulated hand pockets could be added for very little weight penalty, and certainly for less than what my gloves added. Fortunately, on the colder days I often had on a light rain jacket and could use the pockets on it. However, they were not all that warm and I ended up needing my gloves on most of the time. One other possibility would be just adding two zippers where the hand pocket openings would normally be located and thus allowing me to slide my hands inside the jacket when needed. They could also be opened when a little venting is in order. Of course adding real pockets would be better in my opinion as one pocket could then double as a stuff sack for the Plasma.
I have not had the opportunity to use the Plasma in the way I really see it shining. That would be in conjunction with my down half bag (a sleeping bag that only comes up to just above my waist) for an ultra-light sleeping system in my hammock. I am testing a much heavier sleeping bag at the moment but I do plan to try this arrangement out at least one night and report on my finding.
This concludes my Field Report for the MontBell Plasma. I would like to thank MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity. Stay tuned for my Long Term Report which should follow about 2 months from now.