Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightweight for a hooded jacket, high quality down, roomy adjustable hood, dries fast
Cons: Arms are short
Best Uses: Alpine climbing, belaying, backpacking, around town
The MontBell Smoke Parka wins our Best Buy yet again. It is versatile, durable, warm--everything we desire in a down jacket--and the 2014-15 redesigned version is more stylish with a better fit and nicer fabrics.
The Frost Smoke is very similar to the Arc'teryx Thorium AR hoody - Women's, but significantly more affordable. There is no stand-out feature, they are both very solid performing jackets.
From top to bottom, this down jacket is a great buy. The hood is roomy and adjustable; the front zipper is a durable plastic; the bottom hem is easy to cinch tight; the square baffles increase warmth for a sewn-through design; the baffle alignment allows for ease of movement. Our only complaint is that the arms are a little short.
This jacket introduced some interesting upgrades from previous models, which we discuss below, as well as some finer design features that work well. This year, it distinguishes itself as a much better jacket than the Montbell Alpine Light Parka - Women's, which is the same price. While the Alpine Light may still very well fit your needs, the Frost Smoke is more likely to please a broader range of people.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The MontBell Frost Smoke Parka has been updated since our last review, and it still runs away with our Best Buy award. The updates have made it a little more technical, while retaining the comfort we remember. It strikes an impressive balance of all our evaluation metrics, and is a great buy at $199.
The most striking feature of the Frost Smoke Parka is its square-shaped baffles. In our tests, this type of design seemed to reduce cold spots and retain a little more warmth than thinner ring-style baffles. The baffles are still sewn-through, so this is not to be confused with a baffle box design. Upon closer inspection, you will also notice that the square baffles are not fully isolated from each other--most of the boxes actually are open to the box next door, further reducing stitching and increasing room for loft and therefore more trapped warm air.
At 11.7 ounces, this jacket is quite light for the warmth it provides, especially given its roomy and comfortable hood which easily fits over a helmet.
With 800 fill down, relatively lightweight 30 and 20 denier fabrics, and thoughtfully minimized stitching, this jacket packs down small into a separate (but included) stuff sack.
This jacket resisted water penetration fairly well compared to other jackets in our review, but where it really impressed us was in how quickly it dried out. It does not use hydrophobic down.
Style and Fit
The square shaped baffles are similar to MontBell's Alpine Light Parka, but in this jacket they are aligned horizontally and vertically rather than offset so they look like diamonds, as in the Alpine Light. The vertical/horizontal alignment is far better for the jacket's range of movement. It also reduces the awkward compression points on the elbow that we found with the Alpine Light, because in the Frost Smoke, all the seams align with joint and torso movement patterns.
The hood of the Frost Smoke is the only hood in our review that comfortably fit over a helmet. It cinches well around the face when not wearing a helmet, and could also fit underneath a helmet without feeling too awkward. This made the jacket much more versatile for our varied mountain uses. Most notably, this means we could wear lighter hooded layers (i.e. from a fleece or base layer) under the helmet, then really tag on some warmth with this jacket over the top of the helmet. This gives the Frost Smoke a greater range of conditions and temperatures in which it is useful--just layer up underneath, or use the jacket itself as a midlayer. It is highly flexible.
Our single major complaint is that the arms are a little short. But if you have shorter arms, this is your dream jacket.
MontBell has improved the boxy shape of this jacket, and it now looks much more sleek, and even extends a little in the back to cover your pants when you bend down to make a snowball. They updated the overall style, so it looks a little less techy, and is now equally at home in the mountains or around town.
We also appreciate the use of a plastic zipper, which is more durable than most metal zippers. This feature reminded us a lot of the Arc'teryx Thorium AR hoody - Women's. Overall, the Frost Smoke seems very similar to the Thorium, but with short arms and a friendlier price tag. It is also faster drying.
MontBell used a more durable 30 denier ripstop nylon for the outer, putting a little more emphasis on durability than the super light Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's, though not quite as much as the Thorium AR hoody. The lining is a softer 20 denier, nice to touch but not quite as rugged. This jacket did tend to shed down more than the other brands we tested, usually at the seams. But overall, this is a jacket that will withstand abrasion on rock pretty well.
The Frost Smoke packs into a separate (but included) stuff sack which does not have a clippable loop but does have a long and strong pull cord closure. We would prefer to have a jacket that stuffs into its own packable pocket, but it's sometimes nice to have another cool little stuff sack kicking around.
The plastic zipper on this jacket was also a big hit, much as with the Arc'teryx Thorium AR hoody. Though less classic and sleek looking, these plastic zippers just seem to keep zipping longer than metal ones that can warp and bend.
We also really appreciate MontBell's inclusion of an internal drop-in pocket to dry your gloves or keep a small water bottle warm.
This is a highly versatile and lightweight down jacket for a very reasonable price. Use it at chilly belays, take it backpacking and camping, show it off around town, and don't stress too much about adventuring in wet climates--this one dries out faster than most.
This jacket is sturdy and warm enough to be used as a stand-alone piece, or it can be layered under some beefier layers for serious weather. The large and adjustable hood makes the jacket as versatile as a transformer.
Great value! This is a solid performer for just under $200, which is why it wins our Best Buy award.
The MontBell Frost Smoke Parka is a solid and reliable lightweight down jacket and an excellent value. It is versatile, durable, and warm, with a solid set of sensible features. This is a high performing garment that is a great introductory down jacket for someone exploring the outdoors for the first time, and one that will keep a seasoned outdoor recreationalist quite pleased.
The MontBell Frost Smoke Parka - Men's is the men's version of this jacket. There is also the Frost Line Parka which is a box-baffled and warmer version of this jacket.
— Lyra Pierotti
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Most recent review: November 14, 2014
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