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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest

By Will Rietveld

A down vest that weighs only 3 ounces? Yes! The Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest is basically their uberlight 4.8 ounce Plasma 1000 Down Jacket minus the sleeves.

New for fall 2016, the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest is insulated with 1000 fill-power down and weighs just 3.1 ounces in size Medium

A down vest is an orphan in a way; it doesn’t have a conventional home, and its an acquired affinity. It’s basically a midlayer, but the choice to buy and use a vest depends a lot on user preference. Some people simply like vests because they provide both warmth and freedom of movement. Or they simply like the athletic/outdoorsy appearance. Others (like me) look at it from a functionality viewpoint.

I see it mainly as a midlayer, and in the case of the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest, an ultralight midlayer that will enable me to cut some weight from my gear kit.

A midlayer or insulation layer is an essential part of a layering system to maintain comfort while hiking and camping. There are times (cool, overcast, windy) when hiking in only a baselayer is too chilly, and wearing a jacket is too hot. The options are donning a lightweight midlayer or wearing a windshirt over a baselayer. I have always preferred the latter; that combination is remarkably warm and versatile, and there are many windshirts that are extremely lightweight like Montbell’s Tachyon Jacket at 1.6 ounces.

Further, the amount of insulation needed depends on a lot of things – age, gender, activity level, weather, and elevation. And the amount and type of insulation needed for hiking can differ from that needed for camping, so versatility is needed.

So how functional and versatile is the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest in meeting these situations and needs?

Specifications and Features

Montbell (www.montbell.com)
Plasma 1000 Down Vest
Insulated Vest
Men’s S to XXL, women’s S to XL
1.1 oz 1000 fill-power down
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon shell with standard DWR
3.1 oz (men’s Medium), 2.8 oz (women’s Medium), measured weight 3.05 oz (men’s Medium tested)
Sewn-through construction, full-height front zipper, stand-up collar


As you can see in the first photo and the table above, the Plasma Vest is Spartan. Its only features are a full-height front zipper and stand-up collar. No pockets. That’s the point: it’s designed to be as lightweight as possible.

While I normally wear a size Large in a jacket, I found that a size Medium vest is a good choice. Since its main function is to insulate the torso, a trim fit works well to reduce drafts.


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

I wore the vest over a baselayer in wind, while carrying a backpack, with a windshirt over it, in camp, under an insulated jacket, and I wore it in my sleeping bag.

For warmth, the Plasma Vest works best on the trail in cool, cloudy, and windy conditions. As I mentioned, a thin windshirt over a baselayer works great when I am actively hiking, but when its one notch colder adding the vest as a midlayer is the way to go. I personally prefer to wear a windshirt over the Plasma Vest when I use it, for three reasons: 1) the windshirt protects the vest so it doesn’t get damaged, 2) it keeps my arms from getting chilly when it’s cool and windy, and 3) the windshirt holds in the heat, so the combination is much warmer in camp when I am less active. On the trail I can regulate the temperature by opening the zippers.

The same is true in camp. A windshirt over the vest is remarkably warmer, and the combination suffices for insulation for mountain hiking and camping in midsummer. For cooler months, I would also take along an ultralight down jacket, like the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket, and the combination provides loads of warmth for the weight.

The weight savings from using the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest as a midlayer is significant by ultralight standards. The alternative midlayer for a lot of hikers is a fleece pullover, which can weigh at least 8 ounces. So the weight savings is 5 ounces, or more. I personally like a microfleece pullover because it’s durable and versatile, but its warmth to weight ratio is not nearly as good as a down vest.


I found the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest to be very functional while cutting some significant weight from my gear kit. For me, it works best in combination with a thin windshirt.

I find that it’s hard to get by without a midlayer while mountain backpacking. There are many times when a baselayer only is too chilly, and donning an insulated jacket over the baselayer is too hot. A midlayer or windshirt over the baselayer is just right for hiking when it’s some combination of overcast, cool, and windy.

While the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest can replace a heavier midlayer in an ultralight gear kit, it doesn’t come cheap; $199 is a lot of money for a 3.1 ounce garment.

However, when you add in the everyday uses for the vest, like social events, and wearing it under a jacket, it becomes a well used piece of gear. In many ways, it’s an acquired use; once you get the vest, you become aware of its many uses, and you get quite attached to it. The Plasma 1000 Down Vest not bulky like many down vests, so it feels uninhibiting, and it can be worn under your normal sized jacket.

This discussion begs a question for readers: do you commonly take a midlayer on backpacking trips, and what do you prefer to take. What is the lightest and most functional midlayer you have found? Post your response in the comments section below.


  1. Will, My typical midlayer is a Patagonia Cap 4(expedition weight) hoody. If I need another layer, I have an older Montbell Thermawrap vest that provides the warmth of a true insulation layer. And always I have a windjacket to wear over either/both. My current favorite is a Luke's Ultralight Argon windjacket.
    One question I have about the Montbell Plasma 1000 vest...how small does it pack? It sounds like it could be the size of a baseball or maybe even a golfball????

    1. Good decision, the Plasma 1000 Vest weighs just 3 ounces and will pack down to about the size of baseball, the hard type.

  2. For a thru of the AT this summer, and a few shorter trips after, I have used the Berghaus VapourLight Hydroloft Reversible Race Smock. 5.4 oz in size M. Your review on BPL of a previous full-zip version helped me pick that one. For daytime temps above 40, and nights above 20-25, the smock is eniough for me, but I do run a little warm. I do not carry a wind shirt to pair with the smock, just a rain shell (Alpine Houdini, rather than lighter options, because of the hood; on hikes longer than a few days, I don't like carrying a brimmed hat because I never wear it after my eyes get used to the light.)

    I'm anxious to try this vest though, and potentially replace the smock for my next 3-season trip(s). But then, while the smock is good in wind on its own, it sounds like I would need to add a wind shell. So, the weight saved would be less than an ounce... That might make sense if I switched to poncho for rain gear, and saved an ounce or two there. I think I might like a poncho more than the Alpine Houdini, if I could find a light one with a good brim on the hood. (Any ideas?)

    Or, another strategy, I might carry the vest in cool and wet conditions where I have a fleece. The MB vest might be a good choice for supplemental camp insulation? (Or, I guess, any circumstance where I want supplemental insulation, duh.)

    1. The Berghaus garment I reviewed on BPL was the Vapourlight Hypertherm FZ Jacket, which is a reversible insulated jacket. To save weight, it also will double as a windshirt, but only for fairly cool and windy conditions. I carry the Vapourtherm or the Montbell Plasma 1000 Jacket plus the Montbell Vest for my insulation for summertime mountain backpacking. The Montbell vest is great for supplemental insulation, but not enough as your only insulation. Adding a Montbell Tachyon Jacket (1.6 oz) provides a better windshirt. Alternatively take the Berghaus Vapourlight Hyper Smock 2 for a rain jacket and use it also as a windshirt. A combination I use a lot in cool weather is a thin winshirt over a baselayer.

      For an UL poncho, I suggest you look at the Zpacks Groundsheet-Poncho at 5.4 ounces.

  3. Oh, having a down vest is definitely a smart choice for hikers. I always take mine with me on every hike. But, there are more things that are essential for every hiking adventure. You can find out more in this great article I found on the internet, and it talks about the best hiking essentials: http://hikingmastery.com/top-pick/hiking-essentials.html

    1. I see a lot of heavy gear in that article.

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