For years, synthetic fleece has been a standard material in almost every backcountry enthusiast’s gear repertoire. Jackets, sweatshirts, hats, gloves, socks, pants, there is almost no piece of clothing safe from the material, except for perhaps underwear briefs.
The popularity of the material is reflected in the multitude of different types of fleece invented, ranging from Polar to Windstopper. That the material is made of polyethylene terephthalate, the same plastic used to make soda bottles, often appears to be lost on almost everyone.
Despite the versatility and popularity of fleece, I have all but abandoned the material in my own backpacking during the warmer months, with the exception of the extremities, like gloves, hat and socks. Instead, my fleece sweatshirt endures the loneliness of my dresser drawer now, replaced by a jacket that is just as warm, but with a fraction of the weight and eminently more packable.
This product is the model of functionality, with a judicious use of lightweight materials. It goes by the name of Montbell U.L. Down Jacket.
According to Montbell, this jacket was purposely designed to replace the bulky and heavy fleece used by the average backpacker. The jacket is super lightweight, weighing in at only 7.6 ounces (in the medium size), which the manufacturer says is less than a cotton t-shirt. This comparison with a cotton t-shirt appears odd, as no respectable backpacker would carry such a dangerous piece of clothing these days, especially given the expression about cotton’s murderous ways.
The jacket is well constructed with some of the finest materials. According to Montbell, the insulation is 800 fill powder goose down, providing optimal warmth during those cold Adirondack mornings that sometimes appear even during the height of summer. The outer material is a 15-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon shell. Despite sounding like a high-tech material covering the Stealth Bomber, this nylon is super light and thin, yet both abrasive and tear resistant. Hopefully, it is up to the challenge of keeping the precious down inside the jacket where it can do some good.
In addition, the outer shell is coated with Polkatex® DWR treatment. Polkatex is not some futuristic version of central European dance music, but a Montbell water-repellency innovation. The company claims this treatment provides permanent water-repellency, thus protecting the down from becoming wet and losing its insulating ability.
The down insulation combined with the lightweight fabric create a highly compressible jacket, leaving ample room in one’s backpack for other necessities, like nutritious foods, a digital camera and dehydrated beer. When fully compressed into the included stuff sack, the U.L. jacket is only about 4.3” by 7.3”, which is smaller than a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle!
This down jacket can make just about anyone look stylish. It comes in five different sizes: small, medium, large, extra-large and XX-large. Unfortunately, anyone larger than XX-large is out of luck, but their massive bodies should make the need for an extra insulating layer superfluous.
The jacket is available in a rainbow of five different colors, including Sunset Orange, Gunmetal, Khaki Green, Paprika, and Pure Indigo. For those of us lacking a marketing panache, that translates to orange, gray, green, red and blue. The larger folk are once again out of luck in the color department, as the XX-large size is only available in Gunmetal.
This jacket never fails to accompany me on my warm-weather backpacking adventures, including bushwhacking throughout both the Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wildernesses. Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for this wise purchase though, as a friend offered it to me at a slightly reduced price when he found the medium size too small. My jacket, being an older model, has some slight differences from the newest style, for example, mine does NOT have zippers on its pockets.
A warning to those finding special care instructions abhorrent, the tag on my jacket indicates commercial dry cleaning with petroleum solvent only. Whether this is true for the newest style of the jacket is unclear, but assuming so would be a prudent assumption.
The Montbell U.L. Down Jacket is made in China, and retails for about $155 dollars.
If in the market for a new insulting layer, or looking to replace the bulky and heavy fleece currently hogging space within your backpack, the Montbell U.L. Down Jacket just might be what the doctor ordered. It is lightweight, eminently packable and provides just enough insulation to get one through those cold early morning hours.
Photo: Montbell U.L. Down Jacket courtesy of mont-bell Co., Ltd.