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 hood cinch, some slightly heavier jackets are much warmer.
Best Uses: Backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, travel and around town.
Manufacturer: Mountain Hardwear
Paper thin and feather light, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is a minimalist approach to a fully mountain ready jacket. Whether on a multi-pitch climb or a multi-day expedition, the Ghost Whisperer has precisely what you need - and nothing more - to get you through in comfort and safety. Lightweight but heavy on tech, this jacket incorporates Q Shield DWR infused hydrophobic down and Whisperer 7D X 10D ripstop fabric, both Mountain Hardwear proprietary materials. Though deserving of the many awards it has won, the Ghost Whisperer does have a few limitations that might make another jacket more appropriate for you. For a jacket that will take more of a beating and be a little warmer, check out our Top Pick winner, the Arc'teryx Thorium SV.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Weighing in at a meager 1.1 oz.more than the Arc'teryx Cerium SL,which is the lightest jacket we tested, the Ghost Whisperer retains all the necessary features to be a fully functional, stand alone piece. This jacket was designed with climbers in mind, but became a go-to for our testers while traveling because of its packability, warmth, and style. Though pared down, you won't miss any of the superfluous features. The Single drawcord at the waist keeps the warmth in and the wind out, and the elasticated cuffs and hood rim more than make up for any lack of adjustability. We tested this jacket in both very wet and very dry environments. Though it would certainly be more at home in the high desert or high mountains away from the rain, it fared better when wet than any down jacket we tested.
Though the Ghost Whisperer will never replace your heavy belay jacket, it is the perfect mid-altitude shoulder season/summer climbing jacket. Our testers found this to be a favorite and consequently it got a lot of use in some very cold places. It was tested very high up in the mountains of New Zealand, where it easily held up up to the blustery damp of the Southern Alps. The Ghost Whisperer also performed well in Antarctica where it was perfectly suited to the dry, cold, and windy terrain. It performs equally well as part of a layering system or as a super light single insulation piece. How warm it keeps you is all relative. You're not going to climb Denali with this as your only warm layer, but it will do for more than a few pitches in the shade when Rocktober comes along. In terms of its warmth-to-weight ratio, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better.
With no drawcord in the hood, no velcro on the wrists, only 2 handwarmer pockets, ultra-light zippers, and no reinforced areas, the spartan design of the Ghost Whisperer couldn't get much more pared down. Consequently, Mountain Hardwear had to rely on some extremely light materials to further reduce the weight of the Ghost Whisperer. The 7 D X 10 D Ripstop Ghost Whisperer fabric is so specialized that only one mill in the world makes it. The Whisperer 7D X 10D is incredibly strong for an ultra-light fabric, but is more susceptible to tearing the more robust materials. Down is the most efficient insulator per gram available, so naturally is it the material of choice when attempting to make the lightest jacket possible. However, the combination of an ultra-light exterior and down insulation can result in some hasty and necessary field repairs if you get a bad enough tears. The Ghost Whisperer is amazingly warm and supremely light, but you'll have to baby it a bit more than heavier jackets.
While getting wet in the mountains is almost never fun, getting wet while wearing or sleeping in down is proportionally less fun than normal, at least historically speaking. Though still the best insulator on the planet in terms of weight and warmth, down does have its Kryptonite. When wet, down loses virtually all it's insulating properties. Hence the proliferation of synthetically insulated jackets which continue to insulate even when wet. With the recent development of hydrophobic down technology, the playing field may again be tipping in down's favor. The concept is fairly simple: coat individual plumes of down in a Durable Water Resistant polymer using magic, or nano technology, or something. Either way, the results have been impressive. Hydrophobic down retains loft and stays drier substantially longer than untreated down, and dries much faster. While definitely not waterproof, Q Shield down is a significant step in the right direction. Though its performance metrics don't quite compare to the water tolerance capacity of synthetic materials, they are edging closer.
By necessity, the Whisperer fabric is very finely woven to hold in the down insulation. This makes the fabric fairly resistant to water. In a light rain shower the water may never even reach the down.
This jacket belongs on your ultra light climbing gear wish list. The Ghost Whisperer virtually disappears into its own pocket, forming a package about twice the size of a 7 millimeter 15 foot cordelette (meaning super small), and clips handily onto a harness. The down regains its loft quickly after being compressed and is immensely durable. Throw it in your pack and forget about it until the cold reminds you it's there. It takes up less space than any insulated full featured jacket we've tested. Pro Tip: store this jacket in the closet and not in the bottom of your pack if you want to extend its life span and don't be afraid to wash your down!
The Ghost Whisperer is defined more by what it doesn't have than what it has. The elasticated hood rim and cuffs lack adjustability but suction cup themselves over helmets and gloves. This provides more than adequate protection and performance, and keeps the grams down. The two handwarmer pockets are placed high enough on the body of the jacket to not get buried under a harness. The hem sits low enough to stay under your harness when you're moving and the sleeves accommodate a positive ape index when reaching.
As previously stated, this jacket has some minor issues with fabric durability. Not a game ender, but something to take into consideration when making a purchase. After significant use, our testers reported no damage to any of the zippers, drawcords, drawcord cinches, or elastic in the hood or cuffs. There really isn't that much that can break on this jacket, and what's there is very well made. The outer material showed no signs of sun damage and leaked no feathers.The only mark against the Ghost Whisperer is the relative fragility of its ultra light fabric. After several months of testing, the jacket had two tears, one in the hem and another in the sleeve. Both occurred while climbing on sharp rock where a more rugged material may have fared better.
This jacket is definitely cool looking and comes in some flashy colors. Yet it has a higher volume than appears necessary, especially for folks with a thinner-athletic build. Though the extra space might make layering under this jacket easier, when worn over thin layers, the jacket seems bigger than it ought to be, even when compared to other Mountain Hardwear jackets. If you can get away with sizing this jacket down and still have adequate arm and torso length, it might be worth checking out. Not just for for style points either: less internal space means less space to warm up with body heat, helping to conserve and use your energy more efficiently.
Take the Ghost Whisperer just about anywhere and you'll be happy with it. Made for the mountains but not too much for a blustery day at the beach, the Ghost Whisperer is extremely warm for the weight and packs in enough style for those concerned with fashion.
Though not inexpensive, this jacket might actually save you some cash by filling a few gaps in your wardrobe. It's a one jacket wonder that will keep you warm on tiny belay stances in the shade and isn't overkill for a train trip across Europe. Highly durable and ultra light, it became the go to jacket for our testers and will be for the foreseeable future.
There is a hoodless version, the Ghost Whisperer Jacket which is only 7.2 oz, and we can't forget about the Ghost Whisperer Down Vest.
For the ladies out there, check out the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's.
— Thomas Greene
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Most recent review: January 4, 2015
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