Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Fantastic warmth-to-weight ratio, box baffles for added warmth, very cozy.
Cons: Not as durable as similarly warm jackets.
Best Uses: all around, backpacking, alpine climbing, belay jacket, winter camping
The MontBell Mirage performs incredibly well in terms of keeping you as warm as possible in a down jacket weighing only 13oz. Put simply – the warmth-to-weight ratio here is almost as good as it gets. MontBell is quick to point out – and they should be – that close to half of this jackets total weight is its down. Let's put the warmth of the MontBell Mirage in perspective – it is less warm than a true parka, which are reviewed separately on this site, but much warmer than all the other down jackets tested here under a pound.
The Mirage also features box baffle construction to maximize the loft and warmth of its 900 fill down. Box baffles are more commonly seen on parkas and the Mirage is the only down jacket reviewed here that features this method of construction The Mirage will keep you very warm but is much lighter and more packable than a parka. It is a perfect down jacket to take backpacking, climbing, or just about any other backcountry activity if you want the most warmth for your weight. The features you find on the Mirage, like a small brim to the hood and interior drop-in pockets, are well designed and add to the overall quality.
We recommend the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer (7.5oz), which is not as warm and more trim fitting if you want the lightest featured down layer for backcountry pursuits. When durability and price are a concern we suggest the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka (12.6oz). Check out our Down Jacket Review to see how all the jackets compare and detailed review of each award winner.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This is MontBell's attempt at maximizing warmth within the constraints of a lighter weight down jacket. MontBell has used box baffle construction in this jacket to maximize the high loft of the down used. None of the other down jackets reviewed under a pound have box baffles (see our Down Jacket Buying advice article for an explanation of down jacket construction types). This, and the fact that the Mirage has a fill weight of 5.3oz of down combine to make this the warmest down jacket we tested in the review. Box baffles create more warmth by creating a more uniform loft to the jacket. In the more common sewn-through construction the down is pinched at each baffle seam preventing the insulation from fully lofting at the edges. Overall we believe the warmth of the jacket makes it a great choice for most people since staying warm is the ultimate goal of an insulating jacket.
This isn't an apples to apples comparison, but if you're familiar with lighter synthetic jackets consider this: The Mirage is only 13oz, which is the same weight as a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket, and only a couple ounces heavier than another of our favorite synthetics – the Rab Xenon (10.6oz). The Mirage is much warmer than both. The lightest featured jacket we tested was the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer, which at 7.5oz is about 5.5oz lighter than the Mirage, a weight difference equivalent to less than two energy bars.
Weight and Compressibility
The Mirage's total weight of 13oz places it squarely among most of the other jackets reviewed; yet it is warmer. Those weight achievements are the result of using a very light shell material and high fill power down, both of which allow the jacket to compress exceedingly well for how warm it is. This is certainly not the lightest jacket we tested, nor is it designed to be. Considering that it is substantially warmer than the other jackets and weighs in at a very completive 13oz overall, it offers a warmth-to-weight ratio that is hard to beat.
Similar to other jackets with super-light shell materials the dislikes in terms of durability are simply commentary on the design of the jacket in relation to potential use. This jacket is light, largely because of its super light 7 denier Ballistic Airlight nylon shell, and as a result it is significantly less durable than the down jackets tested here with heavier shell material like the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka. That being said, while super-light fabrics are indeed relatively fragile, they are remarkably durable, and have been getting better and better. Overall, we find that jackets with super-light shell materials - which sacrifice durability for large advantages in factors like weight savings and packability - are best (and perhaps only) suited to people intending to partake in activities where traveling very light in the backcountry is necessary.
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer, the Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody, and the MontBell Ex Light. MontBell notes in their own literature that the 7 denier Ballistic Airlight nylon used on their super-light jackets is indeed relatively fragile and that durability is obviously not its primary purpose. We've heavily tested many garments with lightweight materials and most often are very impressed how they hold up. Holes can be repaired pretty easily if need be. If however you plan to use your down jacket primarily for walking around town, car camping, or for keeping warm while out bouldering, we suggest choosing something that can handle that type of on again off again tossed-around abuse, such as a heavier parka. For a similar jacket with much more durability, check out the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka which has a heavier shell material overall, and even tougher material reinforcements on the elbows and shoulders. The Frost Smoke however, is not as warm overall.
The primary feature here is the box baffle construction. This design, which is more often seen in heavier parkas and sleeping bags, creates a warmer jacket than the simpler sewn-through method.
The Mirage has two hand pockets, two interior drop-in pockets, a hood, and a waist cinch. Like the Frost Smoke (also MontBell) the hood has well designed front cinch cords and a short stiffened brim. Overall we find that the features are well thought out and designed. The stiffened brim of the hood, for example, mean that's even when cinched tight, snow is kept off your face and your vision unobstructed as the brim lifts the top edge of the hood slightly off your forehead. Additionally the cinch cords for the hood are accessed on the outer sides of the hood, but then routed through the top of the collar so the loose ends of the elastic are contained inside the jacket and not flapping against your face in the wind. The excess elastic cord created when the waist is cinched tight is similarly routed into the handwarming pockets, keeping loops of elastic from catching on items around your waist such as a climbing harness or a backpack hip-belt.
Like the Frost Smoke there are Velcro adjustable cuffs (a unique feature among light down jackets tested here). The fit adjustments that Velcro wrist cuffs provide are great, but their drawback is that they cease to work well when caked with snow. Since a warm down jacket is most often worn while at rest, Velcro cuffs aren't as big as an issue here are they can be with a hardshell of a softshell.
The down coverage around the neck is great when the hood is off and the fit over the face is perfect when the hood is up and tightened. One flaw is that there is not a patch of fleece behind the top of the zipper. There is however the standard triangular flap of padded shell material that contains the zipper at the top and although we experienced no rubbing here, it's not as soft on your chin as jackets featuring a patch of fleece.
The large interior drop in pockets are a great feature if you're using the Mirage as a ski or alpine climbing jacket, or as an ice climbing belay jacket because they allow you to easily stash and re-warm a pair of gloves. A small weight saving drawback is the absence of a chest pocket to store your smaller items.
The Mirage only comes in three colors, all of which are a bit muted compared to some of the bright colors other manufactures are offering recently. We do like the subtle two-tone style however.
The Mirage feels magical. It conveys the cozy feeling of a parka yet weighs so relatively little for its warmth that you don't feel encumbered. The wrist cuffs have Velcro adjustment so when it gets really cold you can cinch them down. Unlike the other MontBell jackets reviewed the Mirage doesn't have fleece-lined pockets. This is a minor issue, and is the result of saving weight.
The MontBell Mirage is not a trim fitting super light chest-pocket-packing down layer and thus may not be your choice for multi-pitch climbing or light hiking insulation. However if you are looking for the most warmth you can get for significantly under a pound and a jacket that has that puffy/cozy feel then the Mirage is perfect. With a superb warmth-to-weight ratio the Mirage should be the jacket of choice for people looking to save as much weigh as possible, yet retain much of the warmth of a larger parka. The Mirage, like a few other somewhat heavier jackets, such as the Rab Infinity and the Brooks Range Mohave (both of which we have classified as parkas due to weight), pushes the envelope of what is possible warmth-wise in lighter jacket and thus toes the blurry line between light and parka style down jackets. Because of its fantastic warmth for its weight the Mirage is quite versatile. It will keep you warmer than the lighter jackets in this review and yet it is so relatively light that you won't feel like its too heavy to take backpacking or as a belay jacket on a climb. The weight difference between the Mirage and the ultralight jackets in this review will be negligible to most people when you factor in the significant increase in warmth.
At $350 this jacket is not cheap. For that price you can buy some truly bombproof parkas if ultimate warmth and durability are your goals. As mentioned above, what you're paying for here is super high quality down, warm box baffle construction, and the "concept" – maximizing warmth while remaining light at 12.8oz.
MontBell Alpine Light Down Parka - Men's and MontBell Alpine Light Down Parka - Women's, $200.
— Chris Simrell
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Most recent review: December 5, 2012
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