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 Montbell Frost Smoke keeping the wearer warm while active on a day in Antarctica.
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.
The Frost Smoke hood fit comfortably over a helmet, a rare feature in our lineup of down jackets.
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 redesigned Frost Smoke Parka is sleeker, has uniquely shaped baffles, and performs very well for the price.
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.
A shorter arm lenght is annoying to some, 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 Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded - 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 did lose down relatively often.
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.
The Montbell Frost Smoke Parka. Outer zippered hand pockets and internal drop-in pockets for drying gloves or warming small water bottles.
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.