Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Incredibly light, compact, warm for its size and weight, packs into its own pocket.
Cons: No way to cinch the hood, some slightly heavier jackets are much warmer.
Best Uses: Backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, and around town.
Manufacturer: Mountain Hardwear
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer was the down jacket of choice for many of our testers. It is impressively light, only 7.5oz, very warm for it's weight, and has all the features we like in a light insulating layer. It comes in a hooded and non-hooded option, but we recommend the hooded version for its added warmth. It packs into its own pocket, which makes it a great choice for climbing. If you like bright colors, there are some unique color options to choose from.
Related: Non-hoodie version Ghost Whisperer
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This is the second lightest down jacket we have tested. The medium weighs 7.5 ounces on our scale and has 2.78oz of 850 fill down. While the MontBell EX Light Down Jacket is lighter (5.6oz total and 1.8oz of 900 fill down), it has no features at all. With a hood, two hand pockets, a waist cinch, and the ability to pack it into its own pocket and clip it to your harness, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is a far more versatile, and warmer jacket than the MontBell EX Light, and only 2oz heavier. The next lightest jackets we tested are the Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody where the Medium weighed in at 9.6 ounces, and the Western Mountaineering Flash XR (11oz). It should be noted that the Ghost Whisperer Medium is a fair bit bigger than the Ultralight Down Hoody.
We have been wearing the Ghost Whisperer with our favorite lightweight rain jacket, the Outdoor Research Helium 2. Their combined weight is 13.9 ounces! We believe this combo is about as warm as you can be with the most wind and rain protection for under a pound.
Note: The Ghost Whisperer reviewed here features standard 850 fill down. For the Spring '13 updates Mountain Hardwear is releasing their Q.Shield Down which is their version of the treated hydrophobic downs that are appearing on the market now. The updated Ghost Whisperer will feature this treated down and if you're looking for a light down layer with hydrophobic down it might be worth the wait for the updated Ghost Whisperer. Take a look at our How To Choose The Best Down Jacket buying advice article for information on treated down.
This jacket is incredibly warm for its weight. It is probably one of the warmest sub-half-pound layers currently made. It feels like you are just wearing warm air. Wearing this over a t-shirt on 40-degree mornings is plenty warm as long as there is no wind. One tester slept in the Ghost Whisperer at fifteen degrees while wearing only a lightweight baselayer and inside the Katabatic Gear Palisade down sleeping bag (30 degree rating). Overall, this jacket, like other super-light insulating layers is best paired with a really light shell and gloves if you are in any type of cold wind.
The jacket uses 850 fill down, which is about as good as it gets. The down quality, along with the super light shell material, is what makes this jacket so warm despite its incredibly light weight. There is waist adjustability allowing you to cinch down around the hips and keep warm air in, and the hood fits snug around the face. There is an extra big baffle on the back just below the neck in the shape of the Mountain Hardwear logo (a nut). Not really important for performance, but a cool little touch.
Weight and Compressibility
Even before we put it on a scale, we could tell this was one of the lightest layers out there. We have had over a dozen people wear this and they all have the same reaction when they put it on, "Wow, it doesn't weigh anything!" We thought we had tried a lot of light jackets, but this one really takes it to the next level. Many of our testers take the Ghost Whisperer as their only insulating layer for fast and light summer trips.
The jacket packs into its own pocket. Thank you! We always find it annoying when companies require you to keep track of a separate stuff sack (which invariable gets lost after a few months). Additionally, jackets like this that pack into a pocket are an excellent choice for multi-pitch climbing since you can clip them to your harness and whip them out fast and easy when you get to the belay. The First Ascent MicroTherm Hooded also has this feature, but weighs several more ounces overall.
There is no cinch on the hood. We understand this is probably to save weight and the jacket's light weight is one of the main reasons we love it. And even without hood adjustment, the hood is designed in a way that mainly keeps light winds at bay. The hood fits best under a helmet and while performs well in terms of keeping you warm and keeping your peripheral vision clear, it has a slightly goofy look for around town. There is also no way to cinch the cuffs, but they are elasticized. This is standard on jackets like this. The jacket does have an adjustable waist with a single cinch on the right side. There are two handwarmer pockets, which in the spirit of cutting weight are not fleece lined. There is no chest pocket either inside or outside which is a minor inconvenience that saves weight and gives the jacket a clean look.
Colors and Style
So far all the colors we have seen, except for black, are very bold: neon orange and blue, or silver with equally bright zippers of different colors. Some people will love these bold colors. Others will want something subtler. One tester loves the super bright orange (and feels very visible and safe when crossing the street or riding a bike). But his wife won't let him wear the jacket around her in public.
This jacket got a lot of use since we liked it so much. It even got a ride on the Evolution Traverse in the Sierras. However, after four months of extensive testing and the jacket seems to be holding up well. The logo, which was laminated to the chest, came off in the wash. This could be a good thing if you don't like logos.
The Ghost Whisperer has a very light shell material and that gives it a relative fragility in comparison to burlier jackets like the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka, or the OR Transcendent. As with the Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody and the MontBell Mirage Parka the incredible lightness of the Ghost Whisperer forces a slight drawback in overall durability. Overall however, we feel like the benefits of extreme lightness and packability usually outweigh the sacrifice in durability. If you need one light jacket to wear everyday for everything from walking around town to excursions in the backcountry you might be more satisfied with a more inherently durable jacket that weighs five or six more ounces.
Like all the down jackets we tested there is a DWR coating that repels water in a very light drizzle.
At an incredible 7.5oz with 2 hand pockets, a hood, and packable into its own pocket the Ghost Whisperer is our go-to piece for staying light when a light insulation piece is needed. Excellent for climbing and backpacking.
This is certainly not the cheapest down jacket available. That being said, you are getting an impeccable jacket. So far we are impressed with the durability, but as with any super-light jacket it is not designed to be bombproof. The First Ascent MicroTherm Hooded is a similar jacket in terms of style and features and although we feel it performs less well then the Ghost Whisperer, it also costs $100 less.
The Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's is the women's version of this jacket and won the Top Pick award in the Women's Down Jacket Review.
Want the Ghost Whisperer without the hood? Check out the men's Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, $319, or the women's version, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer - Women's, $299.
Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List
The Ghost Whisperer is one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out to see other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.
— Chris McNamara and Chris Simrell
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: August 5, 2014
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