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Mont-Bell Versalite Jacket REVIEW

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by the Product Review Staff | 2004-04-04 03:00:00-06

Mont-Bell Versalite Jacket REVIEW

Introduction

At 11.4 oz (320 g), the Mont-bell Versalite Jacket is lightweight and full-featured waterproof/breathable rainwear. The jacket includes some very long (18 in, 45 cm) pit zips, two pack friendly chest pockets, and a great fit. Mont-bell’s Dry Light Tec fabric proved breathable, waterproof, durable, and highly packable. The garment design allowed little moisture to penetrate during very heavy rain.

Specifications

  • Garment Style – hooded jacket and pants
  • Fabric Class – Waterproof-breathable.
  • Fabric Description – Mont-bell’s proprietary 30-denier Dry Light Tec fabric. This fabric weighs 2.4 oz/yd2 (81 g/m2). The inner surface of the 30-denier shell is coated with a very thin (40 to 50 micron) layer of polyurethane. In addition, a textured pattern of microscopic dots is added to the surface of the polyurethane, which gives the coating a dryer feel. The fabric also contains Mont-bell’s Polkatex DWR treatment. Polkatex is a durable DWR treatment (according to Mont-bell), able to retain 90% of its water repellency after 100 washings or after abrasion. Polkatex consists of a water-based fluorine finish that better adheres to the fabric fibers and a cushioning agent that provides some elasticity to the molecular bonds of the Polkatex, allowing it to resist degradation from oils and detergents.
  • Waterproofness Specification – 28 PSI (14 PSI guaranteed after 20 washings), using the JIS L-1099 B-1 test method.
  • Breathability Specification – 12,000 g/m2/24h using the JIS L-1099 test method.
  • Weight – Versalite jacket = 11.4 oz (320 g). (12.0 oz. with included stuff sack). The Mont-bell catalog and web page both contain a weight error for this jacket of 9.2 oz. According to Mont-bell, this mistype has perpetuated through recurrent editions of the catalog. They concur that the jacket weight should be about 12 oz. – Versalite pants = 7.0 oz (200 g). (7.6 oz. with included stuff sack).
  • MSRP - $149 for the Versalite jacket. $89 for the pants.

Features

Ventilation (4.0)

The Mont-bell Versalite Jacket has two enormous pit zips, each measuring 18 inches (45 cm) long. The pit zips are the primary mechanism of ventilation. Additional ventilation can be achieved by loosening the hem and cuffs. The elastic shock cord hem is adjustable via two one-handed cordlocks whose adjustment is accessed through the two chest pockets. The cuffs are elastic and adjusted with Velcro closures. Torso vents are not present on this jacket.

Usability (4.5)

The Mont-bell Versalite Jacket has two large torso pockets. The pockets are positioned to retain full functionality while wearing a pack and are protected with #5 YKK Aquatect zippers.

The Mont-bell Versalite has a hood offering plenty of adjustability. It offers separate adjustments for opening size, height, and peripheral width. The opening or perimeter is adjusted via two elastic shock cords and two cordlocks. The small cordlocks are located (oddly enough) inside the front of the jacket hood and covered with fabric flaps to prevent direct contact with the user's chin. The hood height is adjusted using a Velcro tab at the back of the hood. Likewise, the peripheral width is adjusted at the back, via an adjustable elastic shock cord. The hood is completed with a stiffened brim.

There are a total of five weatherproof #5 YKK Aquatect zippers on the jacket - a full front zipper, two pit zips, and two pocket zippers. The #5 size is slightly larger than many ultralight jackets, which are using #3 zippers. The zippers work relatively smoothly despite the polyurethane weatherproof coating. Only the main front zipper is protected by a storm flap on the inside of the jacket.

The jacket features adjustable cuffs (Velcro tabs) and hem (elastic shock cord and two one hand adjustable cordlocks that can be tightened by pulling the shock cord from inside the pockets). To loosen the hem, the cordlocks must be released from their location along the hem on the inside front.

Sizing (5.0)

The "average" size of the Mont-bell Versalite jacket is suitable for layering over medium to heavy weight fleece. Although a high loft insulation layer can be worn, significant loft compression results (especially in the sleeves) if the insulating layer has a loft exceeding one inch. The jacket’s hem will range 7 to 9 inches longer than the beltline for most useres. When bending or raising arms, the hem does not rise enough to expose the waistline of the pants. The overlap while bending forward was about 4 in (10 cm).

Fit (5.0)

With the hood up and wearing a pack with all of the jacket’s zippers closed, the user retains good head turning mobility. The hood did not shift or cover our face. The sleeves are long enough to allow the hands to be withdrawn into them. The cut of the jacket allows free movement of the arms. The arms can be lifted and crossed without exposing the wrists or binding in the shoulders. When raising the arms, the hem rises approximately 1 in (2.5 cm).

Field Performance

Storm Resistance (4.0)

The Mont-bell Versalite jacket has fully taped seams. All of the zippers (main front zipper, two pit zips, and two pocket zippers) are #5 YKK Aquatect weatherproof zippers. Only the main front zipper has a storm flap, on the inside, which lacks a gutter. Storm resistance was tested in both steady rain and heavy (thunderstorm-class) downpour conditions.

In a downpour, we found the jacket’s pit zips too long to want to open them fully - when fully open, the openings leak near the bottom and soak the lower torso. This is easily fixed by closing the pit zips slightly (pit zips close from the bottom of the torso up to the arms and are not 2-way zippers). We observed no leakage at the elbows, despite the length of the zippers. Downpour conditions also caused very slight leakage along the front zipper. This could not be corrected and is likely the result of the jacket lacking a gutter on the storm flap.

Breathability (4.0)

Breathability was tested at temperatures varying from 32 deg F (0 deg C) to 52 deg F (11 deg C) in wind conditions ranging from 0 to 10 mph (0 to 16 kph). Breathability was tested while wearing a light backpack (weighing approximately 20 lbs. (9 kg)) and hiking on level terrain at 2-3 mph (3.2 to 4.8 kph) and on steep terrain at 1-2 mph (1.6 to 3.2 kph). The humidity was between 40% and 50%. During this test, all zippers were closed, hem and cuffs were tightened, and the hood adjusted to a snug fit.

On level terrain, the jacket was highly breathable at lower temperatures (32 deg F to 40 deg F). As temperatures rose (approaching 50 deg F), internal thermal discomfort and moisture was noticeable but not intolerable. Excessive thermal discomfort did occur at the higher temperatures while hiking up steep terrain. Excluding the portion of jacket beneath the pack (an area that could not breathe due to the pack) the jacket interior in the vicinity of our tester’s armpits had the greatest amount of thermal and moisture buildup. Although there was noticeable humidity and the interior fabric felt moist to the touch, no visible moisture was observed. The area behind the head and the area in front of the chest also had thermal and moisture buildup, though to a lesser extent.

Ventilation (4.0)

Jacket ventilation was tested at temperatures varying from 32 deg F (0 deg C) to 52 deg F (11 deg C) in wind conditions ranging from 0 to 10 mph (0 to 16 kph). Ventilation was tested while wearing a light backpack (weighing approximately 20 lbs. (9 kg)) and hiking on level terrain at 2-3 mph (3.2 to 4.8 kph) and on steep terrain at 1-2 mph (1.6 to 3.2 kph). The humidity was between 40% and 50%. During this test, the pit zips were opened and hem and cuffs were loosened on the jacket. The hood was left snug and the main front zipper was left up in order to study the jackets ventilation without compromising weatherproofness.

Since breathability problems mainly occurred while hiking steep terrain at temperatures approaching 52 deg F (11 deg C), we only note the ventilation results observed during those conditions. Not surprisingly, the jacket’s long pit zips alleviated the moisture buildup under our arms. The other areas where thermal and moisture buildup occurred (behind head and front of chest) were less relieved by opening the pit zips. We believe this is due to the backpack’s straps insolating these areas from the pit zips ventilation, and is not necessarily an observation unique to the Mont-bell Versalite Jacket.

Ventilation would have been approved with mesh-backed torso pockets.

Durability (4.5)

The Dry Light Tec fabric used in the Mont-bell Versalite Jacket has a durable feel. Mont-bell’s stitching, and overall manufacturing quality, is excellent. Used during a 4-day backpacking trip through a heavily vegetated stream corridor, the Mont-bell Versalite Jacket proved durable against frequent encounters with tree branches and rock outcrops. The zippers ran smooth throughout the entire trip, and were more resistant to sand and grit than other zippers we've tried. We did notice degradation of the DWR finish following use and washing.

Value (3.5)

The manufacturing quality, good fit, and functional design earn high performance marks for the Versalite Jacket. However, relative to other non-PTFE rainwear from other manufacturers, the Mont-bell Versalite is priced on the high end.

Recommendations for Improvement

Our main concern for the Mont-bell Versalite jacket is the minor leaking along the main front zipper (during downpour conditions). In addition, Mont-bell could save weight by replacing the #5 YKK Aquatect zippers with #3 zippers of the same type where applicable. Note: Since YKK is not currently making a separating #3 Aquatect, a #5 would be necessary for the main front zipper. The others (pit zip and pocket zippers) could be handled with #3 zippers.


Citation

"Mont-Bell Versalite Jacket REVIEW," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00389.html, 2004-04-04 03:00:00-06.

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