Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Montbell Thermawrap Parka

Everyone seem to be writing about their favourite gear of 2010, so I thought I should do a review of the Montbell Thermawrap Parka, an light insulated jacket that is definitely a fave of mine. It's got lots of great features, but it is still not without its flaws. Nothing is perfect right?

The Thermawrap Parka is basically a light, windproof and water resistant hooded jacket with a layer of synthetic insulation. Montbell describes it as:

"simple, light weight, synthetic insulation that remains thermally efficient when wet. Whether it be a frigid mid-winter bike commute into the office or a harrowing belay high on the Compressor Route".

That the jacket still insulates when wet is of course a big plus compared to a down equivalent, like the Patagonia Down Sweater, which would collapse when water soaked through its shell. Still, wet insulation is something you want to avoid in any case, so I would recommend carrying a rain shell too if there is a chance of rainfall. Mine is a size large and weighs in at 13.4 oz (380 grams) on my scale. It's worth noting that these run small due to it being a japanese jacket. I normally wear a medium, so order a size larger than you normally wear.

The fabric used in the outer shell and lining is 15 denier Ballistic Airlight nylon with a DWR (Polkatex). Its very soft to the touch and does an outstanding job in blocking the wind - so much that I will be taking a long hard look at their windshirts when I wear out my Montane Litespeed. Montbell brags about the DWR treatment, claiming it can resist 100 wash cycles. This has not been my experience. I don't think its either more durable nor more effective than that on other garments I've tried

The insulation is 80gr/m2 Exceloft which I've found is very effective even though the layer is pretty thin. I think the jacket feels so warm because of a combination of the insulation, the ability to block wind and the very nice hood. Talking about the hood, lets move on to features.

The cuffs have what Montbell describes as "wedge shaped stretch panels". I like these for two reasons: comfortable fit + sealing to avoid drafts and snow.

The hood is adjustable and has a nice, snug fit. My only gripe with it is the adjusters that are close to the face and can be irritating at times when they stick out.

You also get two zippered pockets, dual hem adjusters and a micro fleece beard guard. Montbell also includes a stuff sack.

Long term use
I've been using the jacket a lot since I bought it, both when out hiking and in daily life. When hiking I've mostly used it in camp and at rest stops as insulation and it's done a great job. In daily life it is my goto jacket for most of the year and it's always kept me warm with a base layer beneath it. We've been having some really cold weather here lately with temperatures plummeting to -15C and that's more than it can handle, so I'm using a MH Monkey Man fleece as midlayer to boost warmth. This is a very warm combo though so its not something to use while on the move.

The DWR wore away like all of them do eventually, so I had to use some Nikwax spray to reapply it. Tiny holes have appeared on the back due to abrasion, leading to small dots of insulation leaking out. Nothing to bad, but I would've expected it to take more abuse. I've also been having problems with the zipper splitting - I guess this is normal zipper wear, but I have seldom encountered it in other jackets. In my opinion they should've used a stronger and more durable zipper.

Sizing and availability
Montbell products are not available in Norway so I had to get the Parka from the states. They offer a wide range of sizes and both a mens and womens version. Note that the parka is part of a series of synthetic insulation products - they also have a jacket, pant and vest.

So, is this something I would recommend getting? Yes, I think so, but maybe not for longer trips like thru-hikes because of the relatively weak zipper. Overall I think it is a great insulation piece which is really versatile, and quite affordable too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Raffle: solo tarp

I have a very nice solo tarp from lying around not getting the attention and adventures it deserves, so I'm giving it to one of you readers.

The tarp isn't brand new, but it's not far from it having only been pitched in fair weather a couple of times to practice, never in anger. It's a high quality silnylon tarp with several pitch options. More information can be found on the product page at

To participate you only have to give a short presentation of yourself - I'm curious about who my readers are. Please leave a link to your blog or your twitter feed if you have one.

I will use on the 1st of january 2011 to find out who gets the item.

Thank you for following my blog - I really appreciate it. Have a great weekend and take care.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to stay warm in -40 C

Earlier this week I found an interesting infographic showing what clothing Lars Monsen and Hardald Tunheim recommends to stay warm and without frostbite at -40 celsius (-40 F). I don't know anything about Harald Tunheim, but Lars Monsen is probably the most well known outdoors person in Norway. If I bring my stove on a trip people will often comment "that is so Lars Monsen". He's super experienced after being an outdoors person all his life, and after completing several challenging expeditions, like crossing Canada with dogsled. He's made several TV shows and written books about his expeditons and about gear and techniques.

Here's the infographic with a translation to english below:

How to dress for extreme cold
These are some clothing tips from harald Thunheim and Lars Monsen, both dog sled drivers. They have both experienced extreme cold and know how to dress to avoid frostbite.

Wool beanie with opening for face (my comment: balaclava?).
(Harald Thunheim prefers a fur cap with sides that can be connected below the chin with velcro. He also uses goggles and a face mask if there is a lot wind).


The neck is covered with wool.

Upper body
Wool sweater with neck, vest or down jacket.
Two wool shirts, short and long sleeve.

Outer layer

Windproof jacket made out of a strong fabric, and with a solid hood. Should be long so that it covers the buttocks.

Outer layer: Sealskin mitts that covers much of the lower arm (windproof).
Inner layer: Wool mitts.


Two wool long underwear bottoms.
Outdoor pant or fleece pant, preferably with reinforced knees.
Thick, insulated field trousers.

Thick wool socks, two pairs.
Shoes made from pure wool.
Use shoes that are a couple of sizes too large. Insert thicker and better isolated insoles as the cold comes from below.

Don't shower every day
Lars Monsen thinks that a layer of dirt protects against the cold, so don't shower as often.

This clothing setup is of course mostly geared towards dog sled drivers and people staying mostly stationary in camp, as well as people who don't like deodorant. Any heavy physical activity would probably make a person hot and sweaty, needing to shed some layers, but then again : -40 C is pretty cold.

Staying comfortable and dry when moving in -7 C
I went for a walk today in the forest close to where I live and I learned something, I always do when I am out.  The temperature was -7 celsius (20F) with some light snow falling and no wind.

When I left I was wearing synthetic socks with wool socks on the outside, hikings boots, high gaiters, Woolpower long underwear bottoms, Lundhags pants (cotton/poly blend), synthetic baselayer from Stormberg, Patagonia R1 hoody, Polar Buff, beanie, Marmot Driclime windshirt, fleece gloves and MLD rain mitts. I started out a little chilly and then I felt my back getting warm, so I removed the windshirt. After a while my ears got chilled so I put on the hood/balaclava of my R1. This shedding of layers and putting them on again continued the whole trip, with the goal being to not get sweaty.

Now you might say that getting sweaty isn't a big deal, and in summer it isn't, well except for potentially scaring friends and wildlife with your body odor, but it is in winter. Imagine you're working hard, walking on snow with your snowshoes on. You've felt your baselayer getting wet from perspiration, but you've not stopped to take care of it because you're a lazy or you don't want to make your friends wait. After a while you decide to stop to eat something and snap some photos, but you're stilling wearing what you wore while moving, not adding any insulation. Now you're not moving anymore so your body isn't producing warmth like before. Since you're still somewhat warm you're still sweating some and the sweat is evaporating from your skin, taking warmth with it. After a while it stops evaporating, but your baselayer is still wet and water transports heat 25 times more efficiently than air, hard facts that you definitely don't like in that situation. So, you really want to be observant and shed layers when needed to reduce sweating, and you want to put on some insulation as soon as you stop. I knew all of this beforehand of course, but I haven't been this focused on it before, mostly hiking in warmer conditions. In winter it is essential to be mindful of this.