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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Mont Bell Permafrost down jacket?

I had seen Mont Bell garments around for a few years.  I  liked many of the designs but until recently the sizing was off for me.   I dropped weight and Mont Bell made an effort to re size.  Now Mont Bell fits true to size for the North American market.

My first real exposure was actually "forced" upon me.  I had agreed to do a synthetic jacket review for  They had wanted me to include two Mont Bell jackets.  Fair enough and glad we did include them.  I learned something from it.

The Mont Bell synthetic versions really impressed me.  I see a lot of gear, as in, a LOT of gear.  And I used the Mont Bell Synthetics last spring and through the summer.  I kept one (Thermawrap Pro)  and continue to use it now in winter.  It is a great mid weight by any comparison.  And like all the Mont Bell garments I have seen recently an exceptional pattern and fit for me personally.

More on the original synthetic review here:

It was well over 3 years ago now that the idea of a "gear test" and the resulting, Cold Thistle blog, came from my search for a very warm, down "climbing" jacket. 

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it[Emphasis added.]
—Justice Potter Stewart,
I've been around long enough to "know it when I see it" when it comes to a down jacket appropriate for climbing.

I've since looked at a lot of jackets.  Some I tossed aside unworthy, early on and didn't add to this list.  Many (5 and counting)  of these jackets have been changed a lot since I did my first reviews.  So make sure you know what you are looking at.  The most recent update (data is from the earlier reviews though)  below of the jackets I have thought met that criteria of  "climbing jacket":

L or XL                             weight         insulation @ the shoulder              box wall or sewn through

xEddie Bauer Peak XV         1091g/ 38.5                             5"                      box
xNarrona Trollveggan           1063g/ 37.5                             3"                      box
xRab Neutrino Plus                794g/ 28                                 5"                      box
xArcteryx Duelly                    794g/28                                 2.5"                   non laminated syn
xNarrona Lyngen                    737g/ 26                                3"                      sewn + layer
Mont Bell Permafrost             694g/24.5                             4.5"                   box
xRab Neutrino Endurance       650g/22.9                              3"                     sewn
xMtn H Nilas                           652g/ 23                               3.5"                   box/sewn thru arms
xEB BC Micro Therm             590g/ 21                               2.5"                   sewn + layer
Mont Bell Mirage                    420g/ 14.7                            3.5"                   box
xRab Infinity                            402g/ 14                               3"                      sewn

There is a sweet spot between design, use and weight. Hard to define what will work best for you. But for my own use generally the warmth to weight ration will cut through all the fog. What works best for me has little to do with the quality of these jackets. All are high quality, state of the art, down jackets. Any one of them will keep you warm on most occasions. Each has a forte' and specific use worth searching for if you want to spend your money wisely. Without having all these jackets at hand in front of me there is no way I could have made a educated decision on what was best for my own use. And I continue to be surprised almost every time I start making these kinds of comparisons.

Between the fully baffled Eddie Bauer Peak XV and the light weight, sew through Rab Infinity there is a lot of leeway, weight and warmth.

If you are looking the ultimate example of  warmth and light weight construction in a down jacket is boxed wall construction.  There has never been any doubt about that.  The best down jackets made 40 years ago were box baffled construction and the best now are as well.  It isn't a cheap way to make a jacket.  It is however the best way to use down as insulation.

On the list above only  these are full box baffled construction.

Eddie Bauer Peak XV* #                                                        
Narrona Trollveggan (the new one might make 4+")      
Rab Neutrino Plus * #                             
Mont Bell Permafrost* #          
Mont Bell Mirage (just under 4", more details in another review)   

And of those only three jackets* break the legitimate 4" of loft at the shoulder #.  These are all really warm jackets but going past 4" of loft is the exception here not the rule.     Of those three the Permafrost is the lightest and the least amount of loft..@ 4.5" of 800 fill down.  There is 9oz of the 800 down in a medium. 

The Mont Bell's are the only large size jackets in these comparisons.  The weights aren't going to be far off for comparisons if you wondered.  But a large Mont Bell now fits me like a XL RAB (MB lg is a bit bigger)  or XL Mountain Hardware Nilas (MB Lg is a bit smaller).  "Like" but the Mount Bell jackets actually fit better with my intended layering system than either RAB or Mtn H.

Unzip the hood from the  Permafrost and you drop 100g or 3.5oz.

4.5" of loft and now  the Permafrost is 594g, or 21oz.   Your decision on what is required of an insulated hood.  But the huge stand up collar and detachable hood gives you some options that don't often see in these jackets.   And something I don't generally like in my own jackets.  This one may be a rare exception.  I still have to wonder though what the weight would have been if they had ditched the stand up collar for a attached hood.  The detachable hood will easily take a climbing helmet with room to spare inside.  The zipper, baffle and detailing on the hood attachment is exceptionable.

The more I play with this jacket the more the Permafrost impresses me for warmth, detailing and value.  It fills a niche market no one else even playing in yet.   Something I am just beginning to realise Mont Bell does a lot.

More comparisons here:

The Permafrost's excellent stand up collar and detachable hood

The RAB Neutrino Plus also has a stand up collar that includes the hood with a Velcro "latch". The "latch" allows one to climb in the jacket with the hood buried and free of snow when it is not up.

The Neutrino Plus also has a 30" back measurement in a XL.   The Permafrost is 29".  A little weight savings there.

The best pocket combo I have seen in a jacket of this style.  Big gloves or 2 liters per side, easy, plus a sun glass pocket.   Hand warmer pockets with a micro fleece as well on the outside. 

Fair size sun glass pocket and the detailing of a Velcro closure on the big pockets.

The Permafrost has Velcro and elastic wrist closures which work extremely well. 

The neck and collar are both lined with a super fast drying, soft  micro fleece material. 

The entire shell has a DWR coating and is made of  Gore's Windstopper fabric.    Winstopper laminated fabrics have proven to  "offer total wind proofness and maximum breathability".

All in all you have a very sophisticated jacket from Mont   Retail is $369.

I think it is well worth searching out the brand in your area and checking them out. carries them for mail order and  Pro Mountain Sports in Seattle does locally as well.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dane,
I didn't see the Maestro from Outdoor Research on your list. Seems like the perfect cold weather down jacket to me from the specs. Obviously you can't review every jacket made but was curious what you thought.

Dane said...

OR is just down the road from me. They state the Maesto is 23.2oz / 656g for a large. Close enough to the mtn H Nilas to be a competitor if it actually is that weight. No note on the amount of fill or loft. One review mentioned pockets with no zippers.

I haven't seen it but simple elastic at the cuff? Have to wonder about the pockets. "I also like the non-zippered hand warmer pockets". If that is actually true it would be a deal killer for me. 800 fill down which is good.

What works for the Sunday paper may not work as an actual climbing jacket. I don't know of a 100g synthetic climbing jacket that goes over 21oz....most are well under. So it is hard to make a real comparison by the reviews there.

$375, starts to be serious money in my book for a jacket. I'd be sure to look around.

Dane said...

The Mont Bell Mirage, which I will eventually review here, simply blows everything on that list away when comparing warmth and weight.....EVERYTHING.

The Neutrino Plus, the Nilas and the XV are incredible is the Premafrost. But nothing in the same league (in any number of ways) as the Mirage that I have seen to date. It really is "ultra light weight and ultra packable."

Anonymous said...

Hi Dane,

Can you please explain 'insulation at shoulder?' Is that total distance front-to-back of jacket? Amount of loft sticking up above shoulder? Tried looking around for an explanation but Prof. Google isn't telling me much and I'm having a hard time visualizing what it is or why it's important.


Dane said...

"Insulation at the shoulder"? Is just a simple meaurement of actual loft at the top of the shoulder with the jacket laid flat on my cutting table. It allows me to be consistant measuring with a wooden yard stick between different jackets. It only means something by comparing other jackets in a similar manner and no cheating on the measuremnt +/-.

More here on how I do the measuring:

Dersu said...

What about the durability of the Mirage? I can imagine (given the weight and all) that the thing is as durable as toilet paper :D.

Dane said...

Mont Bell actually recommends the Mirage as a mid layer to protect the 7-denier Ballastic fabric. I am currently using a Mirage as a belay jacket and anything else you might require of a jacket. But never as a mid layer, always as an outer garment. So far my complaints are no small chest pocket for glasses and lip balm and the thing is way, way too warm. I have yet to notice that it might be fragile. I have noticed how light it is by comparison to anything other down jacket I own.

I use a Eddie Bauer hooded down jacket/sweater as an every day jacket. The RAB Micro Light or Infinity in a similar manner on occasion but both are much warmer than the Eddie Bauer Hoody. And generally too much about town. The Mirage by comparison is a full blown jacket..and too warm to use unless it is well below 0C. It certainly seems durable enough for my own use.

I have repair tape on almost every insulated climbing jacket I actually use. We'll see how long the Mirage escapes that humilation.

So is doing fine.

Dane said...

New post on measuring down jackets..

Jacky said...

Dane, thank you for your review of the Permafrost. I have been waiting for someone to review the new version of this jacket for a while.

I have the rab neutrino plus and am thinking seriously about the permafrost as I find that the fit of the neutrino doesn't feel quite right. How would you compare the salient differences if one were to consider them as alternatives? Any chance of a frontal photo with you and the jacket?


Dane said...

Jacky, Nuetrino Plus is an incredible jacket. Hard to better it imo. Depends on what you really need. I went from a N. Plus to a Nilas to a Mirage. All three are exceptional jackets, just depends on the fit as you rightfully suggest and your own needs. That is a really really tough choice....between those two. I'd likely shop price and color :) How pathetic is that!?

Tim said...

Interesting to hear what you have to say comparing Mirage to Infinity.

Is Mirage much warmer? I figured they were pretty comparable.

Dane said...

"Is Mirage much warmer? I figured they were pretty comparable"

Mirage is much, much warmer. Not the same ball game. Fully baffled makes a huge difference. The worse the conditions the bigger the difference in the amount of warmth.

Dane said...

"I use a Eddie Bauer hooded down jacket/sweater as an every day jacket. The RAB Micro Light or Infinity in a similar manner on occasion but both are much warmer than the Eddie Bauer Hoody. And generally too much about town. The Mirage by comparison is a full blown jacket..and way too warm to use unless it is well below 0C. It certainly seems durable enough for my own use."

Unknown said...

Great, thanks Dane. I need a super puff for overnight ski touring(with a tent or bivy) and light winter mountaineering.
I'll have to try on the Mirage and scrap my plans for the Rab gear.

Jeremy said...

Seems a little odd that the Permafrost and Neutrino are noticeable different, given that in the same size they should both have basically the same amount of down. (The Montbell has 250g in size M, the Rab 275 for L.)

Jesse said...

Have you seen the new Montbell Frost Line parka?
Claimed 20oz with 7oz of 800fill and box construction. Helmet sized hood, adj cuffs, a bit tougher than the Mirage and just over $200....

Dane said...

Haven't seen it. I still use my Mirage.

Jesus_Castro said...

Hi Dane,
Thinking about the Mirage, and the Permafrost. I have always stayed warm, but recently(post oxaliplatin) I'm a bit colder. Target use is back-up warmth for ski touring/mountaineering. Temp range -10F to 10F over the day. This is not for overnight use, and mornings are usually aerobic enough that an Atom lt and Rab Xenon are fine/too much. Looking mostly to wear on tops, belays, downhills, and later in the day as chill and dehydration build a bit.
I hope you are doing well,

Dane said...

Hi Rusty. Chemo, ya not helpful on keeping warm. Hope you are doing well! I use the Mirage for what you are thinking of. It is so light that it is worth sticking in your pack on almost any tour I think. Good thing is you may never need it. I am always cold now and my feet suffer even at my desk but once out I do OK. But I do worry. I hauled my Mirage on the HR trip last spring and never used it. But also never once minded carrying it across France and Switzerland. Can't think of a better jacket for climbing and belays that will do most everything short of early Spring in Alaska or multiple days out in the alps in winter.

Jesus_Castro said...

Thanks Dane,
I'm in much warmer boots than I'd like to keep my feet warm, but getting out is always better than the alternative.