Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $200
Pros: Lightweight, durable, adjustable cuffs, good features, great overall value.
Cons: Doesn't stuff into own pocket.
Best Uses: alpine climbing, skiing, backpacking, around town
Light, inexpensive, and warm, the Mont Bell Frost Smoke is an eminently wearable, mountain ready jacket. Simple design features and construction help keep the cost low on the Frost Smoke. Don't be dissuaded by its lack of flash though, this jacket is a solid performer that will keep you warm when you need it too. With two hand warmer pockets and a velcro cinch at the back of the hood, the Frost Smoke is full of simple features that make it user friendly and adjustable.
Though slightly lower quality in terms of craftsmanship, the materials used in its construction are high quality and you won't notice any significant difference between it and better crafted jackets. In spite of losing a little down, and the occasional errant stitch, the the Mont Bell Frost Smoke is durable enough to last you more than a few seasons in the mountains. It earns our Best Buy award for a quality jacket available at a wallet-friendly price.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Frost Smoke is nearly a perfect compromise between weight and warmth. At 13.4 ounces, it weighs substantially less than the Arc'teryx Thorium SV, but is similarly warm. The outer fabric is a rugged 30 denier ripstop nylon that resists abrasions and keeps tears from propagating. The 800 fill down will rebound from being stashed in your pack for the duration of a trip, but it does leak through the fabric on occasion. The leaking stopped fairly shortly after the jacket started being routinely worn, and didn't noticeable impact the warmth of the jacket. The Frost Smoke once again wins our award of being a Best Buy. It's an overall great jacket at an excellent price.
The Frost Smoke punches out of its weight class in terms of warmth. The 800 fill down combined with a heavier denier fabric makes for a surprisingly light jacket with great protection from the elements. It definitely keeps the wind out, in spite of a sewn through construction.The only limiting factor to its warmth is the large hood. Designed to go over a helmet, the hood has some extra space that requires extra body heat to warm up.
Though certainly not the lightest jacket we tested, it still adds less weight to your pack than a half-full Nalgene. An ultra light, highly durable plastic zipper, elasticated cuffs, and efficient draw cord designs in the hood and jacket hem help the Frost Smoke shave ounces and preserve the necessities. What's really amazing is how light the this jacket is when you factor in the durability of its outer shell and how highly featured the design is.
Down is never a good thing on a wet day, and the Frost Smoke is no exception. Though the outer fabric is tightly woven and treated with a DWR finish, the jacket still wetted out in a rain shower. Overall it performed about as well as most of the jackets we tested with DWR treated fabric and untreated down.
Filled with very high quality down, the Frost Smoke is light and easily compressed down to the size of a Nalgene using the includes stuff sack. Though stuffing is never the best way to carry or store down, it won't impact the warmth of the jacket. Simply shaking out the jacket after it has been stuffed for any duration is usually enough to restore its loft. After repeated compression, the jacket show no significant diminishment of warmth.
Though not flashy in any of its three color options, the Frost Smoke will more than pass in a crowd. Of all the jackets we tested, the Frost Smoke was the heaviest we'd consider wearing on night out in town. The square baffles manage to not make the wearer look unduly puffy and the sleeves and body are a trimmer than usual fit. The color options are all fairly sedate, which is almost pleasant after the recent deluge of skittles inspired color options the outdoor clothing industry has put out. The only feature that isn't tremendously flattering is the hood, which is designed to go over a helmet and therefore has a lot of extra space to occupy if you're not wearing one.
The Frost Smoke held up well to some heavy use during testing. Big days with a pack, being pelted getting in and out of helicopters, and general wear and tear resulted in very little damage. When we first received the jacket, we observed loose threads and down leaking through the fabric. These are usually signs of poor workmanship, and though the jacket appeared to be built a little sloppily, it is none the worse off for the oversights. The down fill has held up well thus far and hasn't lost any warmth with the few feathers it lost. The heavier 30 denier fabric of the exterior is stronger than the fabric on the inside, and consequently most of the feathers leaked through the thinner fabric lining on the inside of the jacket.
The Frost Smoke weighs only 13.4 ounces but is one of the more featured jackets we reviewed. While many brands cut away features in pursuit of a lower overall weight, MontBell has found ways to retain the features and still come in lighter than the competition in many cases.
The Frost Smoke has all the basics that are essential to have in the mountains. A solid helmet compatible hood, handwarmer pockets that zip closed, a drawcord at the waist, and elasticated cuffs that hold snugly over your gloves. Everything after that is merely bonus points. The bonus features are: two open drop-in pockets on the interior of the jacket that are big enough to hold a thermos and snacks, a drawcord on the hood, and a velcro cinch on the back of the hood designed to keep it out of your face when you're not wearing a helmet. This jacket also comes with a stuff sack.
While some of these features are standard and perform as well as can be expected, there are a few flaws in the design of the jacket that you'll eventually forgive it for. The drawcord at the waist cinch is in the pocket, and creates a loop at the bottom of the jacket that will hook onto objects and either propel them violently into the air or hold the wearer down until he extricates himself. When really cinched down, the drawcord on the hood forms a loop that can reach your face in a good wind, it is not painful but rather annoying. Finally, the velcro cinch on the back of the hood requires Buddha like patience until you have sufficient muscle memory to get it into place the first time around.
We wore the Frost Smoke skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, and climbing. It performed well everywhere we took it. It is solidly in the middle ground between really warm and not very warm. You won't wear it as an expedition weight parka, but it would make a great layering piece for the big mountains. This jacket would be a great 3 season over-the-top layer for most mid-altitude adventures. Though definitely a mountain jacket, it is fashionable enough for your commute or a night on the town, and would make an excellent travel piece.
For the weight, durability, and warmth, you'd be hard price to do better at the price. As warm as jackets nearly twice the price, the Frost Smoke was an easy choice for our Best Buy award. Though not perfect, the minor quality control issues present with the jacket shouldn't deter you from checking it out. For 200 dollars you will get a jacket that will easily out-last and out-warm the investment.
An expensive yet high performance mountian-ready jacket, the Frost Smoke earns our Best Buy award.
The MontBell Frost Smoke Down Parka - Women's, $200, is the women's version of this jacket, and it also wins a Best Buy award.
— Thomas Greene
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Most recent review: November 25, 2014
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