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, November 7, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka

By Will Rietveld

Montbell is a leader in providing down insulated garments that are cutting edge, very lightweight, and reasonable priced. The new Plasma 1000 Down Parka, introduced in fall 2016, is the latest example. The 1000 indicates 1000 fill-power down, and to my knowledge, no other manufacturer can make that claim. Combined with 7-denier shell fabric, this parka provides a lot of warmth for its weight.

At 8.4 ounces (size Medium) the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka packs a lot of features and warmth in a very lightweight garment. It features 1000 fill-power down and a 7-denier shell. (Montbell photo)

Montbell’s abundance of down jackets can be confusing, but a visit to their website (www.montbell.com) will clear it up. The Plasma 1000 Down Parka is basically a big brother to their extremely lightweight, hoodless, less insulated Plasma 1000 Down Jacket, weighing a mere 4.8 ounces. The Parka version adds more insulation, a hood, zippered hand pockets, and a hem drawcord.

Specifications and Features

Montbell (www.montbell.com)
Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka
Hooded down parka
Unisex XS to XL
3.4 oz 1000 fill-power down
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon shell with standard DWR
8.4 oz (Medium), 8.9 oz (size Large tested)
Sewn-through construction, 2 zippered hand pockets, drawcord hem with 2 adjustors in pockets, elastic cuffs, 2-way adjustable fixed hood, full-height front zipper, stuff sack included


From an ultralight backpacker’s viewpoint, I had hoped for another version of the Plasma 1000 Down Jacket with twice as much down. That would have a super high warmth to weight ratio and weigh about 6.4 ounces. Well, we did get a jacket with twice the down, but it came in the form of a featured parka weighing 8.4 ounces (size Medium). Factoring in 0.2 extra ounces of down, the Alpine Down Parka weighs only 1.8 ounces more than my wished-for jacket. Which is remarkable; Montbell managed to add a bit more insulation, an adjustable hood, zippered hand pockets, and a drawcord hem for only 2 ounces.

Front and back views. The puffy parka has sewn-through construction, using a unique sewing pattern designed to promote down loft while keeping the stitching to a minimum to keep the garment as light as possible. The center back length is 28 inches.

Front and back of hood. The front of the hood has two simple adjustors that pull the hood in around the face. The back has one adjustor that pulls the hood back, as needed, so it doesn’t cover the eyes.

Hand pockets.  The zippered hand pockets have a lot of room inside: 8 inches deep and 12 inches high.

Elastic cuffs. The cuffs are simple elastic to save weight. They fit snugly.

Field Testing

I tested the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka on three backpacking trips in the Southwestern Colorado mountains and Southern Utah canyonlands. Weather conditions ran the gambit, from mild and pleasant to windy, snowy, and cold.

For me (6 feet, 165 pounds), the parka is a perfect fit. The sleeves are plenty long; I normally require a 35 inch sleeve length, and the sleeves on this jacket are just right. The back of the parka covers my butt.

The parka is cut to provide enough room (for me) to layer over a medium weight midlayer. In the photos above, I am wearing the Parka over the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest, a 3-ounce vest that I will cover in a separate review.

While I love the featureless Plasma 1000 Down Jacket (4.8 ounces, size Medium) for its remarkable light weight, I must admit that I also love the hand pockets on the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka. In camp I stow a number of needed items in the pockets to keep them handy – gloves, matches, ear plugs, and pinch light – and leave them in the pockets throughout the trip. I close the zippers at night to keep items from falling out.

I typically wear my insulated camp clothing in my sleeping bag at night to extend the warmth of my bag. The Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka works well in that role, its not too bulky, and with the hood drawn over my camp hat, I can often sleep without using the hood on my sleeping bag. This Parka would also be an excellent match for a sleeping quilt or hoodless sleeping bag.

The warmth of a garment is a relative thing; variables include age, gender, and actual weather conditions. For me, as I get older I find that I get cold easier and require more insulation for comfort. But that’s true for most campers in general; we all want to stay warm in the backcountry, and our comfort items are usually some extra insulation and a comfortable sleeping pad. For me, the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka is just right for summer backpacking in the mountains, where I frequently camp in the alpine zone above 12,000 feet, and for the shoulder seasons in various terrains. This Parka is a bit too light for winter camping, although it would be about right for active pursuits on cold days. For lightweight winter camping, the baffled Montbell Mirage Parka would be a better choice.

The harshest conditions I encountered in my testing were an early September wind/rain/hail/snow storm while camping at 12,500 feet. Wearing the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka paired with the Montbell Superior Down Pants, I was warm, dry, and comfortable, and enjoyed the experience.


The Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka is an ideal insulated garment for the shoulder seasons, high altitude summer camping, for campers who require extra insulation to stay warm, and for sleeping in a hoodless quilt or sleeping bag.

It’s remarkable how Montbell is able to provide so many useful features in an insulated jacket for so little weight, and provide so many choices. For example, comparing the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka (8.4 ounces, size Medium) to the hooded Ex Light Down Anorak (6.2 ounces, size Medium), for an extra 2.2 extra ounces you get more down, loftier down, hood adjustment, hand pockets, a full-height zipper, and an adjustable hem drawcord.

A case in point regarding the Parka’s extra features is the adjustable hood; it adjusts in front to seal around your face, and adjusts in back to pull it away from your eyes. It doesn’t balloon or blow off in the wind. In contrast, the non-adjustable hood on the Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak fits loosely and blows off in the wind. My solution is to wear my billed cap over the hood to hold it in place. So, a good case can be made that features matter, especially on a parka, and Montbell has a knack for adding functional features with minimal extra weight.

Overall, I don’t have any issues at all with the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka; it fills its niche perfectly – an ultralight garment for cool weather and shoulder season activities.


  1. Hi Will! Thanks for the review. What's your comparison between this jacket and the PHD Ultra Down Pullover? I know you did a review on that a few years ago. Trying to decide between the two. Thanks :)

  2. Hi Will,

    Thanks for the very nice review! :)
    Could you please comment on the sizing? I am rather slim and 182cm tall (or 6 feet) and had problems with S sizing of other jackets being too small, so I am looking at size M unless you advise against that. Or maybe I should size up to L, since -if I got that correctly- you're also about that height and got the size L one?
    Second, can you please comment on the packed size? Does it come with a packbag?


    1. We're the same height. My weight is about 165, so I'm thin. The size Large fits me really well; I normally wear a Large and this jacket is true to size.

      Yes it comes with a stuff sack. The packed size is about the size of a 1 liter bottle.

    2. We're the same height. My weight is about 165, so I'm thin. The size Large fits me really well; I normally wear a Large and this jacket is true to size.

      Yes it comes with a stuff sack. The packed size is about the size of a 1 liter bottle.