The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Montbell Permafrost Down Parka: Little Red Jacket That Could
Posted on: May 13, 2008
Weight: 25 ounces
I confess to owning a large number of jackets—in fact, Gore-Tex and down might just be to me what Prada shoes are to Carrie Bradshaw. When it comes to down jackets, I have three basic requirements: warmth, packability/loft retention, and a high degree of weatherproofing. Secondary attributes are weight, appearance and comfort/fit.
This little red jacket became my official multipitch parka of the season. Despite the harsh clashing with my pink Gore-Tex shell, it always found a way to come along. I was able to fit my first aid kit, radio, extra belay mitts, thermos and the MontBell jacket all in my Black Diamond Bbee. This says a lot for the Bbee—but says more for the packability of the Permafrost Parka. Despite numerous stuffings into the tight Bbee, the Montbell kept bouncing back and retained its loft better than most down jackets I have put through this test. Not only did it stuff small enough to fit, but it was truly warm enough to do the job—a tough combination to pull off. I looked forward to the next belay station, knowing I had the comfort of the MontBell keeping me warm no matter how long the belay session. There was never any reason or excuse to leave it behind—even into March when a day on the Scorcerer found the Permafrost repelling wet spindrift all day without compensating warmth or dryness.
In terms of its appearance and fit, I found the Permafrost to meet the needs of my positive ape index without leaving me with a boxy fit around the chest and waist. Thanks to the articulated elbows and well-proportioned waist length, there was perfect room for movement, for either simple belay duties or actual ice climbing. The other factor I really enjoyed about the jacket was its simplicity. It has a unique welded construction that eliminates a ton of baffling and maximizes the warmth of the down. It is one color, has reinforcement on the high use areas of the shoulders and arms and a nice, simple soft fleece lining around the neck and in the pockets. The zippers have also been kept simple with a streamlined aquatect design that repels water and snow and saves weight by eliminating a storm flap.
If every top layer could come with a hood, I would be a happy climber. A zip-off hood makes this parka more versatile, although I would never take the warmth-saver hood off myself. Thankfully, it's not skimpy. It isn't a last minute add on, but is made with the same great welded box construction and 800 Fill power goose down as the rest of the jacket. It fits great over a helmet—or just a hat—and has easy to pull draw-cords without the excess Velcro flap enclosure prone to catching hair and getting in the way. MontBell obviously understands what is required to keep the human body warm in serious winter conditions.
If there were any changes I would make to this jacket it would be to increase the pocket volume. It is always nice to be able to stuff one's climbing or belay gloves into a big inner mesh pocket while doing switches.
All in all, after trying several models of down parkas, I was truly impressed with the Montbell Permafrost. It has innovative construction that stands strong to the wind and water penetration while maximizing the warmth of the down and still enabling it to be superior in compactability. Everything a Canadian ice/alpine climber could ask for!
Pros: Overall simplicity combined with function. Warm, compact, great loft retention, and suitable for extreme conditions while still looking and feeling great.
Cons: Small pockets.