Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $199
Pros: Adjustable cuffs, lightweight for a hooded jacket, high quality down, two materials contribute to durability, hood has slight rim
Cons: Chin-guard is small, some testers don't like the techy look
Best Uses: Alpine climbing, belaying, backpacking, around town.
The competition was stiff for the Editors' Choice Award in this category. It was difficult to make big distinctions between some of the top competitors in the lightweight technical down jacket category and the final choice came down to small details. Half of the jackets we evaluated are very similar in features and quality, those being: the Patagonia Down Sweater- Women's, the Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Jacket, the North Face Catalyst Jacket, the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka, and the MontBell Alpine Light Down Parka. If you are looking for a lightweight down layer to bring with you into the mountains, one of these jackets will do the job. All are of similar warmth and have high quality 800 fill goose down, most come with a hooded or non-hooded option, and all are compressible. Each of these jackets weighs between 10 and 13 ounces, the Frost Smoke being the lightest and the Catalyst being the heaviest. Prices range from $199 for the Frost Smoke to $250 for the hooded Down Sweater and Catalyst jackets. If you want an ultralight down jacket for the best warmth-to-weight ratio possible, try the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's.
Ultimately we felt that the Frost Smoke edged ahead of the others. As the lightest of the lightweight jackets, even including the hood, and the least expensive, it is the best deal while at the same time being the highest performer. We feel that the reinforced patches add durability, we love the cozy fleece-lined hand pockets, and we even like the look of this jacket. It even has adjustable velcro cuffs, making it easier to secure the sleeves around gloves. It does not come in a non-hooded option, but we prefer a hood on our technical insulation layers since it prevents warmth from escaping from your head.
Ultimately we felt that the Frost Smoke edged ahead of the others. As the lightest of the lightweight jackets, even including the hood, and the least expensive, this is an attractive option. We feel that the reinforced patches add durability, we love the adjustable cuffs, and we even like the look of this jacket. It does not come with a non-hooded option, but we prefer a hood on our technical insulation layers.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
A simple, lightweight technical jacket, the Frost Smoke presents great function for a great price.
Comfort & Coziness
Since this is one of the lightweight options, it does not have the cushy lofty feel of some of the thicker jackets like the Brooks Range Mohave Down Jacket, but it does have comfort-adding details. The hand pockets are lined with a very soft fleece, there is a soft mesh chin-guard (albeit relatively small) and the smooth nylon taffeta reinforcement patches have a soft, tactile feel.
Compactness & Weight
Using an even finer ballistic nylon as the main fabric than the Alpine Light, this jacket skimps on the weight while the tight weave remains durable. At 9.95 ounces, this is one of the lightest jackets we evaluated, and it has an included hood. It is lighter than the MontBell Alpine Light Down Jacket which does not even have a hood. It comes with an included stuff sack for easy packing.
For a lightweight and packable jacket, the 800 fill down provides significant warmth. It can be worn as and outer layer or a mid-layer when you need additional warmth.
This jacket is reinforced in key areas to add extra durability to the lightweight material. It does not seem as fragile as the material that composed the Mountain Hardwear Nitrous jacket, and it does not suffer from some of the construction downfalls of the Hi-Tec Timaru.
Style & Construction
The sewn-through construction keeps this jacket light and small. The hood and elbows are reinforced with nylon taffeta to add extra durability, which we think also enhances the style of the jacket, though one of our testers feels that it looks too techy. Overall we like the fit and color selection available for this jacket.
Since the outer material is nylon, which is low absorbency, and it is coated with a DWR, the Frost Smoke does a decent job repelling water at the outset. DWR coatings wear off fairly quickly, so the repellency will not last forever. It is made of normal, non-treated down.
Due to this jacket's exceptional lightweight, reinforced areas for durability, and adjustable cuffs, this jacket is most ideal for alpine climbing where you need a light but functional insulating layer. However the lightness is also conducive to hiking and backpacking in cold conditions. Like the rest of the down jackets in this review, it works well as an all purpose light insulation layer. It is perfect to throw on top of your other layers on an alpine excursion, wear underneath a waterproof shell in damp conditions, or to wear during evenings on long backpacking trips.
For $199, this jacket is a great deal for a high performance jacket. It is on the low end of the price range and comes nowhere near costing as much as our most expensive jacket at nearly $500. Most of the other jackets that are about $200 do not come with hoods, making this one an exceptional deal.
Frost Smoke Parka – Men's
— McKenzie Long
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Most recent review: November 24, 2012
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