Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka

MontBell Alpine Light Down Parka
MontBell Alpine Light Down Parka

Just before the 2012/2013 winter season I placed an order for the Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka, one of the best ranked parka’s from gear reviewers that I have encountered in a very long time. It has been rated the #1 or #2 parka for a few years by just about everybody. For the last few years I have been using the Montbell U.L. Down Parka, and it is a great inner parka, but it started loosing its loft and I was looking for something a bit warmer, and the Alpine Light Down Parka really seemed to be the next best option out there.

A fellow hiker, gear reviewer, and friend, Stick, had one that he sent out to me with some other gear that I was wanting to trying (and at the same time, I had sent him a whole bunch of gear he wanted to test that I had) so I had a chance to put it on, give it a try, determine size and fit, and so forth. Here in the Redwoods of Northern California we only have one decent outdoor store and they are not able to do specialty gear such as what Montbell offers, so any chance I can get to try Montbell gear I take, and huge thanks to Stick for letting me try this/his jacket.

Specs:

I ordered my Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka from Moontrail.Com in size Large.

It is 470 grams (16.57 ounces / 1.036 pounds) total.

The parka itself is 453 grams (15.97 ounces / 0.998 pounds), and the stuff sack is 17 grams.

It uses 30-denier Ballistic nylon material on both the inside and the outside.

It has a wonderful micro-fleece lined collar – a feature I have read other hikers did not like, but I really found this to be nice.

It has the standard hem draw cords for adjustment, which are hidden in the pockets. You can really tighten up this jacket to keep 99.9% of the wind from getting in.

The medium size has 4.3 oz (121 g) of down fill, so I am going to guess that the large that I bought has around 4.5 ounces of down – I just do not know, as Monbell does not seem to include this information anywhere I have looked.

Continue reading “Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka”

Long Term Review: MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Hugger

Greetings hikers,

I have been waiting a while to write up this review, and over this past weekend I passed the 250-nights of use with a MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger sleeping bag, and I told myself I would write up a review of this bag when I hit the 250-night mark.

The MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger (herein I will simply annotate it as the ‘MBULSS’) is not exactly a sleeping bag that falls into the model of a SUL or XUL hiking setup. It is very much possible to carry this sleeping bag as a SUL hiker and it could be possible to do a XUL hike with the MBULSS #5 and maybe the #3 (but that would be really hard). So I realize that this sleeping bag might seem to be one of those sleeping bags that does not typically get reviewed by a SUL/XUL hiker, but if you are a SUL/XUL hiker you have probably come to learn the very valuable lesson that sleep comfort is almost as important as knowing your route and knowing how to maintain your core body temperature. So for me, having a sleeping setup that is above-par is a near-must. A little over 1000 grams of my 1800 gram BPW setup is devoted to my sleeping system (shelter & bag). Yes I could save 115 grams or so of weight (around 4 ounces) if I switched over to a ZPacks sleeping bag or an Enlightened Equipment Epiphany, but the simple fact is (for me) the comfort of the MBULSS is worth those three or four ounces. Hiking Lighter does not always mean hiking with the lightest possible gear in the world.

I have owned both the MBULSS #3 and a MBULSS #1 and have loved them both.

The #3 has an EN Rating of “40 comfort” and a “30(f) Lower Limit” and a “3(f) Extreme” rating. My thoughts on these ratings, as a cold sleeping, is that they are way off. I own the previous version when they were rated at 30(f) rather than 40(f) and I often found myself rather cold at anything under around 46. I made the mistake once of taking it out when it was going to be 30 and I pretty much froze all night, even with all of my clothing on. Whoever these “extreme” hikers are that can take this bag down to 3(f)… well, huge props to you guys!!

The #1 has an EN Rating of “26(f) comfort” and a “15(f) Lower Limit” and a “-19(f) Extreme” rating. I would say that these are a bit more accurate – again, I am a cold sleeper. The problem with the #1 is the bulk size of this bag. If you really stuff it, it can get down to around 7″ by 14″. As I almost never compress my sleeping bag, it can take up a rather large percentage of my ~1000 cubic inch backpack. The #1 also breaks the 2-pound limit, at 2.5 pounds, of which 1.5 pounds is 800 down fill and the other 1 pound is material. Compare this to the 17 ounces (482 grams) for the ZPacks 30(f) bag (remembering it is hoodless bag.)

I typically consider the 30(f) range the sweet spot in which sleeping bag to choose. Realistically anything under around 42(f) and I am cold. So a bag that can get me down to the 30(f) mark is a sleeping bag that I am going to shoot for, knowing that it should get me down to the freezing range, which is not all that common here in the Redwood Forest of Northern California, but it is very much possible to reach sub-freezing only an hour away from the Redwoods.

Perhaps the three biggest competitors to the MBULSS #1 is the Western Mountaineering AlpinLite, which is a 15(f) bag and is 31 ounces (1 lb 15 oz) (of which 19 ounces is down fill) and the Marmot Helium which is a 15(f) bag and is 38 ounces (2 lbs 6 oz) (of which 21.5 ounces is down fill) and the Nunatak Alpinist which is a 20(f) bag and is 22 ounces (1 lbs 3 oz) (of which 12 ounces is down fill).  [all bags based on 6′ length sizes]

The Nunatak is the only one of those three that I have not had the chance to try. Based on its specs I am not sure I would like using one – for the same reason that I do not like using the other two: they are not wide enough. I, like the vast majority of the people in the world, am a side sleeper. I am not only a side sleeper but when I get cold I very quickly go from being a side sleeper to being a fetal sleeper, and that requires a sleeping bug with a lot of width to accommodate the bent knees. And that is where the MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger shines at.

It is no secrete that the problem with wide bags is that you end up sleeping colder, because of the larger amount of mass air inside the sleeping bag. The MBULSS solves this by being, well, a super spiral bag. When I am in a fetal position, it hugs my knees and bag. When I am in a standard side sleeping position, the bag hugs my knees and bag. If I happen to be sleeping on my back, the sleeping bag still hugs my sides. That is the awesomeness of the super spiral technology. There is very little dead-air space inside one of them. Perhaps the largest pocket of dead-air space of the entire sleeping bag is in the foot area, as it is not aggressively narrow in the foot region, which can be both good and bad. It is great when you want a bit of foot room, but I have also had my feet freezing a bit when I was pushing the limitations of the bag.

With over 250 nights of use on my #3 (and around 45 nights of use with the #1) I can definitively say that the sleeping bag has lost a fair amount of loft and thus warmth. I have washed it, treated it, and everything else I know of to try to bring back some warmth to the bag. If it falls below 50(f) I have found that the #3 is just not warm enough unless I put on a base layer of clothing or use a silk insert. It is rated at 40(f) so I would guess that it has lost around 8-10 degrees of warmth over the last 250 nights. I have never owned any other sleeping bag with this many nights of use so I am unaware of whether this is on-par with other bags or if this is rather poor performance. At this point the #3 is very little more than a summer time sleeping bag, or if I feel like carrying an additional 20-odd ounces of clothing to compensate for it. However as I previously mentioned the bulk of the #1 is significantly more than the #3 and in my backpack I have a hard time getting everything stuffed into it when I have to use the MBULSS#1. So I am more and more finding myself looking at one of the ZPacks sleeping bag and than a Nunatak Balaclava to compensate for the bag being hoodless. But, each time I do the numbers on the weight and the price, I just continue to think to myself that the pleasure of the pure comfort of the MBULSS sleeping bags are worth the bulk and the few extra ounces.

-Abela

In accordance of Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that the disseminated content within the review of this product(s) is free of endorsement(s) between myself and the manufacturer(s) of any product(s) disclosed herein and meets all FTC 16 CFR.255 compliance requirements.

Preparing For Shoulder/Winter Season, Clothing

Hello Hikers,

I figured with it being mid-June that I should probably start putting some thoughts into the 2012 shoulder and winter hiking season. If you have been following my articles for very long you know I am not a big fan of that white stuff that so many others seem to enjoy so much, and thankfully here in the Redwoods of Northern California we do not get a lot of it.

Earlier today I was catching up on some fellow hiker articles and one of my favorite hikers from New Zealand posted a article about his planned base-layer for the rest of the year, and that is what got me thinking that it is getting close to that time of the year where I need to start planning my own setup.

So below I will outline what I am planning at this point in time for my 2012 shoulder and winter hiking season clothing setup. I would love to have other hikers out there who are planning and writing up their own shoulder/winter gear lists drop me a comment with your own setup! Each year the hiking industry is getting larger and larger and I am sure there is gear out there that some of you are using that I have no idea even exists and could be better than what I am planning to use!! Continue reading “Preparing For Shoulder/Winter Season, Clothing”

June 2012 Hike. 5 Days, 115 Miles

Hello Hikers,

Well I just got back from a 5 day (115 mile) hike and figured I would share a few thoughts and photos and a rather short and low quality video, as so many of you who follow me keep ragging on me for not taking pictures and videos of my hikes in the beautiful Redwood forest. So, this time I carried the additional 137 grams (4.8 oz) and carried along my iPhone. Sadly for reasons I do not yet understand no videos from day 4 or 5 got saved to the device, even though I know the record button was pressed. Sigh/Oh’well.

Gear Thoughts:

You can view my gear list for this hike if you are interested in such things.

My base pack weight was 3.22 pounds, which included the weight of the iPhone which I begrungingly took, otherwise I would have been at 2.91 pounds.

My consumables were 3866 grams (136.3 ounces / 8.52 pounds) of which 7.6 pounds where food, following my standard 1.5 pounds per day rule.

Food for this trip was primarily OvaEasy Powdered Whole Egg and Nido mixed together for breakfast, along with one packet of Nestle Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials. Lunch and dinner was Santa Fe Bean Co, Instant Southwestern Style Refried Beans (cold lunch, hot for dinner) mixed with Roadkill Summer Sausage and dried cheese. Snacks was fresh fruit (first 2 days) and a combination of more summer sausage and a mixture of Macadamia and Cashew nuts.

Daily mileage was 27, 22, 25, 16, 24, for a total of 114 miles, plus probably another mile for side trips. Total elevation change was around 4200 feet, with one day a bit over 3,000 in elevation change. Decent mileage days consider it is the first 5 day hike for me for the 2012 season. I have done a few two and three day trips so far, but to go out and do a 5 day trip with a three pound setup is always a trial and a fun time to push yourself. With the exception of not having a wind jacket I think that the gear that I took with me was perfect for the trip. Average day time temps were 56-58 (f) and night time temps were 45-48(f) so I was able to get away with not taking a lot of heavy cold weather gear. Continue reading “June 2012 Hike. 5 Days, 115 Miles”

Yes-Gear For 2012!

I have to be honest to my readers… this whole “No Gear For 2012” is just soooo not going to happen for me! I do not want to get into whether it is a good thing or a bad thing – that is something only each of us as hikers can answer. I sort of think it is great that hikers are out there trying to commit themselves to it, but for me, it is just never going to happen.

With the exception of a few pieces of cold weather gear I could take my existing hiking gear setups and do almost any hike anywhere in the world. But the thing is, I just love checking out new gear and I so love supporting the outdoor cottage gear companies it would be hard for me. Even though I already have all the gear I could possible need, there are a few items out there that I still really want to buy. Some of them to make my hiking life better, some of them to simply try them and see if I like them enough to use, some of them to see how they perform against existing gear that I already have, and some of them because they are just down-right awesome looking. Continue reading “Yes-Gear For 2012!”

ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket – Update #1

Greetings Hikers!

This is an update to my previous article about the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket, which I really recommend you read if you are at all interested in what is possibly the lightest cuben fiber rain jacket on the market.

As I promised within that article I would provide updates on this jacket as I get some usage of the jacket. I have now reached the 25 hour mark of wearing the jacket in the rain, and have nearly 40 hours of total wear time with this jacket. I believe it is safe to say that this is more than enough time spent wearing this jacket to provide a solid initial update article on this jacket.

I have been able to use the jacket on the trail, around my house, and while out doing business around town. It may not be the biggest fashion statement around town, but what SUL/XUL hiker cares about fashion – none that I know. It has performed flawlessly.

Keeping Things In Perspective:

In a comment I made in the original article I made this statement:

Over 90% of hikers do not hike a 500 miles a year. Of the remaining 10% less than half of them do over 2000 miles a year. Those rare few in the 1-5% of hikers that do more the vast majority of them that I have talked to have had very very few items that gotten used for 2000+ miles have durability issues, and typically it is socks and shoes, nothing more, and they are the two things we expect to not last that far. As most tripple crowner can testify too, the use of rain gear on the big-three trails is typically less than 2% of the 8000+ miles. You really going to be wearing your *rain jacket* for 2600 miles? Stop and think about that.

So with this in mind we need to ask ourselves, is the weight of a 10+ ounces rain jacket really worth carrying? I say no. If I can hike any of the long distance trails in the USA and typically encounter less than 20 days of rain, why would I carry twice the amount of dead weight when I need too. For me, being able to save 5 ounces off a largely dead-weight item such as a rain jacket is an amazingly exciting aspect.

It is no secrete that this latest edition of the waterproof breathable cuben fiber is not the most breathable material out there. I will be first in line to say such (though I know a lot of other folks that would like to get in line ahead of me, because they just enjoy trash talking cuben fiber) and have never made the statement that this new WPBCF is the end-all of breathable material, it is not.

However I can say for a fact that this WPBCF is pretty amazing. I have used it in hail, in snow, in the rain, in my sleeping bag, as a thermal barrier, and sometimes just as a jacket to slip on when I am going out the door. I have used it while hiking with a backpack on as well, obviously. I have tried to use it in every aspect of my life as I can since I purchased it.

Not a single time have I thought to myself “man, this jacket sucks!”. Not a single time.

As a SUL/XUL hiker I carry very little gear, so the gear that I do carry has to be amazingly reliable. The ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket has now officially made it into my backpack as an “always in my backpack item”. Yes, it is even in my sub-2-pounds summer gear setup!

How Does It Perform As A Wind Jacket?

This is the most popular question I have received about this jacket. While I did mention in my previous article that “I will no longer be taking” my wind jacket, I did not expect to get the kind of feedback about how this jacket performs as a wind jacket as what I have gotten.

Let us just look at this from a pure number perspective. The wind jacket I have been using the last few seasons is the MontBell Tachyon Anorak wind jacket which I really do love, though it is almost impossible to find for sale anymore. This wind jacket is made of 7-denier nylon. The ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket is made of 1.42 oz/sqyd cuben fiber. No matter what way you look at it, the 1.42 oz/sqyd cuben fiber is thicker than the 7-denier nylon material of the MontBell wind jacket. So from a material thickness perspective, the ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket is a better wind jacket. Breathablity does not equate to the ability for wind to blow through it.

The ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket is also much less nosy than any other wind jacket I have owned and/or used. A couple years ago I had a wind jacket that was so loud I just could not stand using it. The WPBCF makes pretty much no flapping noise in even the strongest of wind that I have encountered.

So as I move into the 2012 hiking season the most awesome MontBell Tachyon Anorak wind jacket is going to be staying at home and the ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket will for-sure be making it into the very top of my backpack for those times when I just want to put on a clothing item to help with some cold wind.

Discolouration:

discolouration – the act of changing the natural color of something by making it duller or dingier or unnatural or faded

Within this photograph (click it to view a much larger image) you can see some discolouration that has occurred to the jacket. The white is slowing fading off in those places where it receives the most rubbing against my backpack, sleeping bag, and chair when I am wearing it around the house.

When I first noticed it I was a bit perplexed. I have read accounts of non white and non black cuben fiber rubbing off some of its colors, but I had never read any account of white cuben fiber having discolouration issues.

So I put out an email to a half-dozen guys I know that are developing products using this WPBCF material to see if any of them had encountered this issue. A few of them were able to confirm that this WPBCF does tend to have some discolouration issues. I keep meaning to ask two of the guys I know with a Water Penetration Tester (Hydrostatic Pressure Tester) to see if they would be willing to do tests on the jacket to see if the jacket is loosing any ability to repeal water, but it has been winter season and I have needed my jacket, so maybe come June or July I will see if they would be willing to test it. If they are willing and if I do have them test it I will be sure to provide any results that I get back from them.

I performed a standard water puddle test and the jacket did not have any seepage anywhere – be in in the middle of the hood where it is bright white, or the middle of the back where all the white has fadded off. I allowed the water to sit in a puddle for over 10 hours. That is more than good enough for me.

So I mention all of this just so other hikers who might have already bought this jacket, or those looking to buy it, are aware of this discolouration. In no way does it appear to be effecting the performance of the jacket.

Product Updates:

A few days ago I emailed ZPacks and let them know that I was going to be writing a follow-up review of the jacket and asked if they had made any changes or updates to the jacket. (this is something I feel every reputable outdoor gear reviewer should do).

The next day the owner of ZPacks emailed me back and indicated the following:

I made one little update- I saw in your video it was a little tricky for you to cinch the wrist elastic. I added a second non-stretchy cord through the wrist that holds the cord lock in place. That way you can pull the elastic with just one hand. The same way as on my mitts.

Putting aside the fact that it is unbelievably awesome that a company is willing to update their product based on a video review of one of their products, I can say that this is really the only thing that was bothering me with the jacket. Not so much that I will be sending mine back – it really is not an issue at all – but just stop and think about that folks, a minor issue such as this and the company updated their product based on seeing the problem from a youtube video. Huge props to ZPacks for being so on-top of trying to make the best gear available. I never once mentioned to ZPacks or anybody else this minor annoyance.

Other Uses:

Being somebody who does not like to carry single-use-items in my backpack (though I regrettably have a few), I have made it a goal of mine to try to find as many different uses for this jacket as I can.

Here is a list of other uses that I have used the jacket for – just let me be clear here though: I am not somebody who abuses their gear. I have only had a single piece of gear fail on me in the last three seasons of hiking. I treat my gear with the utmost care – you just have to when you are a SUL/XUL hiker.

Quasi-blanket. Over this winter season I have been trying out different winter season gear setups. One of the setups I have been trying is going without a sleeping bag. I purchased a pair of crazy warm down pants from GooseFeet and than using my MontBell down jacket, my ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava, Black Rock Gear Gloves and Hadron Hat, and Feathered Friends Down Booties. At one point the wind started blowing some really cold wind so I grabbed my ZPacks WPBCF Rain Jacket and put it over my shoulders to help control my core-temperature. It worked very well at blocking the wind and helping to reduce the shiver I felt coming on because my down jacket was not lofty enough for the temperatures – the cold wind caused a 16-degree temperature dip in the span of 20 minutes.

Food Prep. Sometimes when it comes time to prep your food it is nice to be able to put down something on the ground. I use to use my wind jacket, but this jacket works a lot better as it has a zipper and thus is larger, plus the white color makes finding those random mouse-size pieces of food I dropped – hey, calories count, grin.

Wind Jacket. I already address this issue above, but felt I should mention it here again. The jacket has thus-far proven to be very good at being a wind jacket.

A-Frame shelter door. When the weather has been nice I have gone out with my 0.34 cuben fiber tarp to continue long-term durability testing with it. Once a bit of light rain and horizontal wind came up so I threw my jacket up as a door/beak to help block the rain from coming into the shelter. It was not big enough to cover the entire entrance, but big enough to block enough rain that it was worth putting up. I might attach a small tie-out loop on the bottom of the jacket to help with staking it out better as a beak.

Future Article Updates:

As I mentioned above, I now have 25 hours of using the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket in the rain and nearly 40 hours of wearing the jacket when it has not been raining. It has performed without a single failure.

I will probably not be writing up another update for the rest of the 2012 hiking season, as once the main hiking season comes around I am on the trail to much to invest the two or three hours it takes to write these updates.

Should the jacket fail in some way, I will first notify ZPacks and from there decide what and how to share any details of the failure.

I just do not see how the jacket could have any failure if it is not directly related to user-abuse of some type. If after 25 hours of rain the jacket has not leaked, it seems safe to say that the material has proven itself.

I highly recommend the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket if you are looking to have the lightest breathable rain jacket that is presently on the market (at least that I know of). Only you can decide if it is worth the money, but given the fact that my last rain jacket was 10.2 ounces and this jacket from ZPacks is 4.6 ounces, as a SUL/XUL hiker, the extra money spent on this jacket was well worth it – I have spent far more money trying to save 5.6 ounces from my overall base pack weight.

Thank you,
-Abela

(disclaimer: I purchased this product with my own money. It was not provided to me for review, t&e or any other reason, I actually did buy it. ZPacks is not one of my hiking sponsors.)

Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants – Long Term Usage Review

Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants:

I have been looking forward to writing a review about the Mont-Bell Dynamo Wind Pants for a rather long time. This month I passed the 365-day mark for wearing a single pair of the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants through snow, rain, hail, fog, beautify sunny days, more fog, and more snow and hail. They have been used as my primary pants on every hiking trip I have been on since 2010, have wore them for well over 1200 miles, and encountered every conceivable type of abuse I could think of to try to destroy these pants.

After 1,200 miles of use, an entire year of wearing them (I am at around 375 days as of today’s hike) they have suffered the following damage:

  • The little metal rings for the draw cords on the waist ripped out of the fabric. The first one happened while I was hiking at Gold Bluff Beach in Northern California (see my video) and the second came off when I was on a trip up into the Trinity Alps (see that video). Nether of there were a rush of the draw cords getting caught on a branch or bush or such, they just ripped off on their own. Thankfully it did not result in any additional rippage of the material and all I did was tie a knot in the draw cord to keep the cord from pulling through the slightly larger holes. This is the only ‘defect’ they have suffered, the below two issues were/are my own fault!
  • A small section of threads came loose in the crotch region at around the 200 day mark. It was my own fault. I had them pulled down right against my shoe (thanks to the elasticize drawstring in the ankles that allow you to pull the ankles tight and than put the elastic down around your foot inside of your shoe – love this feature!) and than I proceeded to sit down indian style and caused the slight thread pulling to happen. Thankfully was not big enough to reveal anything ;)
  • Lastly, one small fire hole happened about four inches from the bottom where an ember from a fire ember somehow got lucky. Now I do not think it is wise to stand in front of a fire in a pair of 12-denier rip-stop Ballistic Airlight nylon, but lets just say that on multiple occasions it has been documented that I have stood right next to a fire with these pants just getting nailed my sparks and such and they took it all in style. Again, I do not advise that, just felt like I should explain why the pants might have happened to suffer a hole from a spark from a fire ;)

I think it is beyond fair to say that I have put these pants through much broader conditions than they were ever designed to be.

They may not be as light as the Mont-Bell U.L. Wind Pants (which are 0.4 ounces lighter) and they are made with slightly less abusive resistant material, but these Mont-Bell Dynamo Wind Pants have more than proven themselves to me. They received my #2 award for my “10 Favorite Pieces of Hiking Gear for 2011” and to be honest, they could have just as easily be listed at #1 and maybe should have been.

I have had them on in 102 degree weather and they did not get clammy on me or start sticking to my legs, which I expected them to do at that temperature. I have also had them on down to 18f with a base and mid layer on and was able to move freely without any problems at all.

I have slide down snow fields, walked through blackberry bushes (probably the worst thing ever for ul/sul/xul hiking cloths), walked through fields of 6-8 foot tall ferns (if you did not know, ferns when they get that big, are about as nasty has blackberry bushes), I have posthold with them, I have crossed raging rivers with them, I have strolled along the beach and even done some bushwhacking with them. I have had to crawl up than down Redwood Trees that had fallen across trail, scrambled up and down bolder granite faces, slept in them, washed them in rivers, and waded through mud and muck that I wish I could forget I had waded through. No matter what I have done these pants have been spectacular. They have totally and completely gone beyond my expectations.

Whether you are a heavy hauler, a weekender, a devoted ultra lighter hiker, or somebody that has moved into the super ultra light and extreme ultra light world of hiking, the Mont-Bell Dynamo Wind Pants receive the highest level of praise I can given any piece of gear I have ever bought.

John B. Abela
HikeLighter.Com
Continue reading “Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants – Long Term Usage Review”