Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Monday, February 1, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak

By Will Rietveld

Montbell is the master of ultralight down insulated garments, and a leader in that category. One of their latest is the Ex Light Down Anorak, available now, which is a pullover version of the familiar Ex Light Down Jacket. But it is more than the addition of a hood...

Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak

Specifications and Features

Montbell (www.montbell.us)
Ex Light Down Anorak
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon
2.3 oz 900 fill-power goose down
Manufacturer 6.2 oz, measured 6.1 oz size men’s Large
Attached hood, 13.5” front zipper, reach-through front pocket, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs, stuff sack included


The Ex Light Down Anorak is more than a hooded version of the Ex Light Down Jacket. While the original Ex Light Down Jacket (fill weight 1.8 oz, total weight 5.6 oz, $199) is Spartan except for a full-height front zipper, the Ex Light Down Anorak adds a few features, listed above, bumping the weight up to 6.2 ounces.

The attached insulated hood is basic, with no adjustments.

Besides the hood, a really nice feature of the Anorak is a reach-through front pocket, which is great for stowing things like gloves or warming hands. The cord ends for adjusting the hem are inside the pocket. The Ex Light Jacket does not have any pockets at all.

Field Testing

I tested the Ex Light Down Anorak on eight backpacking trips in the southern Colorado Mountains and Utah Canyonlands. My camp clothing system includes wearing my daytime hiking shorts over my rain pants and silk long johns (and my rain jacket over my insulated jacket, not shown) to utilize all the clothing I carry for warmth in camp.

Many hikers still carry a fleece jacket or pullover on backpacking trips. Although fleece is versatile, it’s not very weight efficient. A 100 weight fleece top can weigh 8 ounces or more. Compare that with the Ex Light Down Anorak at 6.2 ounces, which provides a whole lot more warmth for less weight. And you can get the same warmth with the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket at 5.6 ounces (which will be discontinued in 2016), and the Montbell Plasma 1000 at 4.8 ounces. These jackets make fleece obsolete for backpacking as far as their comparative warmth to weight ratio, but fleece jackets, including the new hybrid styles, are great for day trips.

I really loved the Anorak’s reach-through front pocket. In camp it’s really handy to have that pocket to stuff things into so they’re handy – gloves, camera, matches, whatever. It was especially handy when I went on an exploratory hike from camp because I could take a few items with me without carrying a pack.

I personally don’t have much use for the hem drawcord, I suppose that is a feature that normally comes with a hooded anorak. It can be removed to save a little weight.

I was testing a quilt at the same time as I tested the Ex Light Anorak and realized that a hooded jacket is a perfect match when you use a hoodless sleeping bag or quilt.

However, my testing included some nights in the low 20s F, which also made me aware that the Ex Light Anorak is a garment meant for moderate and cool conditions, down into the high 20s F (for me), but chilly at temps below that.

One thing I noted while testing is the zipper does not quite come up to my chin, so there is a gap at the top, and the hood fits loosely and can block my view. My solution is to wear my hiking cap over the hood to hold it in place, and add a bit of warmth. The extra room in the hood would allow it to be worn over a climbing or ski helmet.

How does the warmth of the Ex Light Anorak compare to the Plasma 1000 Jacket? When I hold each up in front of a window the fill and loft looks very similar, and that agrees with my field experience for warmth. In my opinion, the warmth is about equal, but the Plasma 1000 achieves the same warmth with less weight.


It gets down to whether you are a hoody person or not, or if you prefer a hood for certain seasons, or if your camping/sleeping system requires a jacket hood for warmth. If you prefer a hood, then the Ex Light Anorak is only weight efficient if you actually use the hood, frequently. I must admit that the front reach-through pocket is very addictive. It gets down to the fact that some hikers have a preference and specific need for a hood, and the Ex Light Hoody gives them exactly what they want, at a very light weight.

Note that the Plasma 1000 Down Anorak will be arriving in mid-August 2016; features include a full-height front zipper, attached 2-way adjustable hood, hem drawcord, two zippered hand pockets, and elastic cuffs. Fill weight is 3.4 ounces, jacket weight is 8.4 ounces, and MSRP is $379. This is much more than a hooded version of the Plasma 1000 Jacket because it has a lot more insulation and features.

Also note that Montbell will be discontinuing the Ex Light Down Jacket this year (2016), and currently has them on sale in the outlet section of their website. Montbell feels that the Plasma 1000 Jacket, a newer product, covers that niche.

Finally, note that jackets insulated with premium down are pricey, due to the limited supply and high cost of premium down. Montbell uses a lot of it, has locked in their supply, and (believe it or not) their MSRPs are a good value compared with many other brands.

1 comment:

  1. Montbell did not discontinue the Ex Light Anorak and it's still available, full price on their site :) Thanks for the insightful review.