MontBell Superior Down Review
Cons: Medium quality stitching, narrow cuff elastic
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The MontBell Superior Down is one of the best bang-for-your-buck jackets available, and certainly in our test. We put this thing up against high-end jackets, and while there were a few areas where this jacket couldn't compete, in general, this jacket has all the same features and outperformed even some of the higher-priced offerings.
The Superior falls into the lightweight down hoody category. While warmer than other ultralight jackets, the MontBell is not quite as thick and warm as some of the others in our test. We think it makes the perfect all-around cold weather jacket in all but the lowest of temperatures.
The hood, while not the most high-tech, does an excellent job of keeping the head warm and drafts out. It has two separate adjustments to get a dialed fit. One adjustment surrounds the perimeter of the brim and is tensioned by pulling elastic tails that live inside the collar around the chin. We love that these are single hand pulls, but the tensioner, instead of a cord-lock, is a simple friction tensioner that requires two hands to release. The other adjustment is a velcro tab on the back of the hood to reduce the hood volume, so the visor doesn't cover your eyes. The velcro design is basic and low-tech, but we were again pleased by the function of this feature… it did work just fine.
The waist hem also has an elastic cinch cord to help lock in warmth. These pulls are found in the handwarmer pockets where the tails are kept out of the way. They can be pulled with one hand to tension, and the cord-locks at the hem, right at the base of the main zipper, can be released with one hand when its time. We did find the plastic cord locks can cause pressure points under a pack waistbelt.
Most lower-priced down jackets cut corners one way or another. Many leave off hood adjustments or waist hems, and almost all of them also use a 600 or lower fill-power. The Superior bucks the trends by being a fully-featured jacket, while still offering 800-fill down insulation.
At 9.3 ounces for a men's size large, we were blown away by the minuscule weight of this jacket. As stated above, this jacket falls into the "lightweight" jacket category, rather than "ultralight" when it comes to warmth and loft. Still, with such a low weight, it compares very well with the lightest UL jackets in this metric, thanks to the super-light fabric, basic sewn-through construction, and by utilizing quality, high fill-power down.
The fill-power of a down garment refers to how many ounces of down will be required to fill a specific volume of space, or how fluffy the down is for its weight. The higher (800) fill-power found in this jacket means less down is required to fill the same amount of volume than if they were to have used 600 fill, for instance.
The 10 denier ballistic nylon ripstop used on the shell has an effective DWR (durable-water-resistance) treatment that repels a light precip, but the vulnerable sewn-thru baffles and standard, non-hydrophobic down keeps us keenly aware that we should always have a rain shell on hand if wet weather may be in the cards. While it's true, this jacket is left somewhat vulnerable to moisture penetrating, it's also important to note that a light precip won't hurt it, and even standard down is naturally hydrophobic to a degree.
The Superior had the perfect cut. We appreciate that it has long enough sleeves for our long-armed testers. We had no trouble layering under this with a lightweight fleece, or over it with a hardshell, so regardless of the weather, we were able to comfortably layer with this jacket.
Even the hood fits perfectly. When compared with some other budget models, the Superiors hood is, well… Superior. This is because other jackets in this price range will often cut corners and leave off hood adjustments altogether.
With its thin 10 denier nylon ripstop, basic sewn-through baffle construction, and 800 fill-power down, the Superior compresses quite small and does so easily. It's a great size for stuffing small and stashing out of the way until the sun sets and the wind picks up. While many options in our roundup stuff into one of their zippered pocket, the Superior, unfortunately, does not, but instead, MontBell includes a separate stuff sack.
This jacket has one of the best feature sets in our entire review, which is surprising for a Best Buy award winner. You name it; this jacket has it.
Starting at the top, as mentioned earlier under "Warmth", we love the dual adjustments on the hood, which allow for a perfect fit. The Velcro tabs on the back of the head are intended to pull volume out of the hood, so the visor doesn't cover your eyes. While we didn't love the use of Velcro for this application, it does perform its job effectively. The elastic pulls for the perimeter cinch are found on the inside near the chin and stay inside the jacket tucked away.
Inside the jacket, there are two substantial drop-in stash pockets, great for keeping your fleece gloves when not in use, or warming up your climbing shoes while your friend takes a burn on her project.
This isn't the least expensive down jacket in our review, but it may hold the highest value of them all. It has features galore, a super low weight, and excellent compressibility; this toasty jacket hits the mark, which is why we decided to award it Best Buy. When compared to the other higher-end jackets, we were left wondering, why spend the extra money when we can have similar performance and features for such a great price.
If you need something that combines maximum warmth, a slew of features, and excellent compressibility, you are going to spend a pretty penny. This jacket may just be the compromise you are looking for.
The Superior has shown itself to be a serious contender in the down jacket market. Our testers had a hard time seeing the justification for the price gap between this jacket and some of the other higher-end options. It has great features and is seemingly missing nothing. If you want a fully-featured jacket but don't have $350+ to spend, the Superior is a no-brainer.
— Adam Paashaus