MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review

Although certainly a very dependable jacket, the Plasma seems to be more of a technology statement rather than a high-value jacket.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The Plasma attains benchmarks: 1000 fill-power down, stitching that maximizes loft while keeping the down in place, and the lightest down jacket currently available – for which we give it our Recommended rating. However, in spite of all this, when you do the research, there are comparable jackets available at lower cost, including Montbell’s own Ex Light Jacket. Is the Plasma 1000 mostly a technology statement?

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by Will Rietveld |

Overview

As the name suggests, the Plasma Jacket features 1000 fill-power down, which raises the bar for a premium down insulated jacket. But that’s not all; this Spartan jacket also features MontBell’s 7 denier (25 g/m2) shell fabric, for a garment weight of 4.8 oz (136 g). For comparison, a midweight wool baselayer weighs about 8 oz (227 g).

 - 1
Fill-power is the volume in cubic inches that one ounce of down will expand to fill (left image). Just a few years ago, 800 fill-power down was considered top shelf, now we are seeing more garments and sleeping bags insulated with 900 fill-power down, and the Plasma 1000 Jacket (right image) is the first garment to utilize 1000 fill-power down.

Furthermore, the Plasma 1000 a good value at US $269 compared to other ultralight high-end down sweaters. So, what’s not to like? It seems to tower above everything else. Well, it’s a bit of a conundrum, as explained below.

Description

 - 2
The MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket, introduced in fall 2013, is insulated with 1000 fill-power down quilted in a 7-denier (25 g/m2) ripstop nylon shell. The only notable features are a full-height #3 zipper, standup collar, and simple elastic cuffs. It does not have any pockets or hem drawcord. MSRP is US $269.

 - 3
The Plasma 1000 has a unique sewn-through quilting pattern (left image) designed to promote down loft while keeping stitching to a minimum. Held up to a strong light (right image), the jacket’s uniform down distribution is apparent.

So far, MontBell has not adopted water-resistant down for their down garments and sleeping bags. Since they use premium down in most of their insulated products, they want to make sure the treatment does not impair down lofting or longevity. Also note that the Plasma is currently only available in unisex sizes, whereas the Ex Light is available in both men’s and women’s versions.

So, What’s the Conundrum?

The main competition to the Plasma 1000 is MontBell’s own Ex Light Down Jacket, and when you analyze the numbers, the Ex Light is actually a better value and arguably a warmer jacket.

 - 4
Montbell Plasma 100 Down Jacket (left image) and Ex Light Down Jacket (right image).

The following table compares the two jackets; data are from the MontBell website and my own measurements.

Montbell Plasma 1000Montbell Ex Light
Shell7-denier7 denier
Down Fill-Power1000900
Fill Weight1.6 oz (45 g)1.8 oz(51 g)
Fill Weight x Fill-Power1600 in2 (26.2 L)1620 in2 (26.6 L)
Garment Weight (Mens M)4.8 oz (136 g)5.6 oz (159 g)
Measured Loft (double layer)1.25 in (3.2 cm)1.75 in (4.5 cm)
Center Back Length28.4 in (72 cm)26.6 in (68 cm)
MSRP US $269US $199
  • A key comparison is Fill Weight x Fill-Power, which is the Total InsulationVolume (TIV) in the jacket. The Ex Light has a bit more.
  • Loft was measured in the chest area just below the arm pits. (The loft of the Montbell Ex Light Jacket is based on a 2008 model I own.)
  • The difference in TIV shows up in the loft measurements; the Ex Light has 28% more loft.
  • The difference in garment weight is only 0.8 oz (23 g).
  • Although MontBell specifies a shorter back length for the Ex Light, I found it to be identical to the Plasma 1000 (based on my 2008 jacket).
  • Note that these inferences are from a comparison of one jacket of each model.

In summary, the Ex Light weighs only 0.8 oz (23 g) more than the Plasma 1000, but it has significantly more loft and costs US $70 less. The Plasma 1000 is an excellent cutting edge jacket, but it appears to make more of a technology statement rather than a functional difference. Bottom line, it’s very similar to the Ex Light Jacket.

Another consideration is the amount of down in the jackets expressed as a percent of garment weight. Down in both jackets accounts for only 32% and 33% of jacket weight; the rest is fabrics and a zipper. Adding a bit more down to either jacket would substantially increase performance with minimal weight increase.

Performance

 - 5
I tested the Plasma 1000 Jacket on 8 multi-day trips totaling 26 days, plus numerous cool weather day hikes. Testing included an early spring Alaska trip and numerous summer backpacking trips with camps above 12,000 ft (3658 m).

Sizing is listed as “trim”. I’m 6 ft tall and 170 lbs (1.83 m and 77 kg) and normally wear a size Large; I found the Plasma to be true to size. It has enough girth to wear over a fleece midlayer.

For me, the Plasma 1000 provided sufficient warmth for summertime mountain backpacking trips, and is a great piece to provide warmth with minimal weight for any active pursuit. It’s my insulation layer of choice for my Mountain SuperUltraLight 6 lb (2.72 kg) base weight gear kit. It’s also the right amount of insulation to extend the warmth of a 30 F (-1 C) sleeping bag, which I usually recommend for mountain backpacking, or more accurately to attain the bag’s claimed temperature rating. In Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula I managed to stay warm (barely) on a 22 F (-5.6 C) night wearing the Plasma and a shell jacket inside a 30 F sleeping bag.

The Plasma 1000 is a bit of a “lightweight” for camp temperatures below freezing. A shell layer over it traps more heat and substantially extends its warmth. For active pursuits the Plasma is very comfortable in temperatures well below freezing.

 - 6
The Plasma 1000’s shell has a good DWR treatment that makes water droplets bead up (left image). However, in my puddle test (right image), where I place 1 fl oz (29.6 ml) of water on the jacket for 1 hour, most of the water soaked through the stitching and collected on a tray underneath. The Ex Light Jacket had similar results when I tested it several years ago.

Comparisons

Data in the following table are manufacturer specifications for men’s size Medium. There are many ultralight down jackets on the market, but these are the closest comparisons.

JacketFill-PowerGarment Weight (oz)Cost (US$)
Montbell Plasma 100010004.8 (136 g)269
Montbell Ex Light9005.6 (159 g)199
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket8507.0 (198 g)300
Patagonia Down Shirt8005.9 (167 g)249
Crux Pico Top9706.0 (170 g)299
GoLite Selkirk Ultralite Jacket8006.0 (170 g)140
  • The MontBell Plasma 1000 and Ex Light are the standouts for light weight.
  • The Mountain Hardwear Jacket and Patagonia Down shirt are overpriced.
  • The Crux Pico Top is seriously lightweight, but expensive.
  • The GoLite Selkirk has zippered hand pockets and a hem drawcord, so it’s hard to believe it weighs just 6 oz (170 g). If the weight is accurate, this one is a steal at $140. The Total Insulation Volume is 2000, which is higher than the Montbell jackets.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A truly ultralight down jacket is a very versatile piece year-around, for summer backpacking and cold weather active wear. Bottom line, the Montbell Plasma 1000 and Ex Light are the lightweight standouts in this seriously ultralight jacket category; both are exceptionally lightweight. However, the GoLite Selkirk is the wild card in the table above; if the weight is accurate, this jacket weighs only 1.2 oz (34 g) more than the Plasma and costs half as much. That’s hard to overlook.

My recommendation would be to double the amount of down in the Plasma Jacket, which would differentiate it from the Ex Light (and others) and substantially raise the warmth to weight ratio in a sub-7 oz (198 g) jacket.


Citation

"MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/montbell-plasma-jacket-rietveld.html, 2013-11-05 00:00:00-07.

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MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review
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Maia
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/05/2013 19:48:35 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review

DARCY OLSEN
(odarcy) - F - M

Locale: SW
Selkirk on 11/06/2013 05:37:07 MST Print View

I have the Selkirk UL jacket in a large , 6.8 oz. on my scale .

John Hillyer
(TrNameLucky) - MLife
No testing on the down on 11/06/2013 05:59:05 MST Print View

Too bad the issue of 1000FP down having less fill power when damp was not addressed. Also no word on how 1000FP was achieved. I am still wondering how this jacket performs in the field over multiple days in colder temps. :-(

Edited for spelling

Edited by TrNameLucky on 11/06/2013 06:00:20 MST.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/07/2013 09:11:45 MST Print View

Will,

It was a pleasure to read your review. I have missed your excellent contributions to BPL.

Confused Newbie
(confused) - M

Locale: Northern CO
down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 13:12:16 MST Print View

I'm still learning about UL backpacking, and am curious about how down jackets (and bags) perform if you are out for several days in cold rainy weather. When I read gear lists, it seems like down is the key to significant lightening of weight, but I'm a bit scared of going to a solely down+shell system.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 13:25:10 MST Print View

Bobb, with a little experience, I think you can keep your down dry. You do need to make sure you are doing what you need to to keep it dry, but it is a very good option. I backpack mostly in the wet southern Appalachians with down. I have never had a problem.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 13:29:54 MST Print View

If you don't ever expose your bag or jacket to rain, then it won't get wet with rain.

It's mostly an issue with cold and humid weather. When it's cold and humid(or very misty/foggy), everything takes forever to dry out.
For sleeping bags - normally when the air is dry and it's above freezing, your body heat evaporates the moisture from your perspiration and you stay dry. When it's humid, your perspiration accumulates faster than it can evaporate. Also, the colder it is the slower it evaporates and more lofty down bags can have moisture accumulate in the outermost layers because the outermost layers are far enough from that body that they still at freezing temperatures. Over several days it will build up.

People usually don't wear their down jackets while hiking unless it's an emergency. Down jackets are for when you get into camp and set up a shelter.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 13:34:35 MST Print View

If you are inexperienced and not paying attention to your down insulation, it can be the source of problems. However, when you first acquire a down sleeping bag, get a bit of paranoia about keeping it totally dry. Then very soon, that will become your natural instinct to keep it dry. It is one thing with a sleeping bag since you are asleep for most of the time that it is used. A down parka is easier, because during the middle of a day, you are fully awake and you ought to be conscious of what is happening to it. If you are sweating it too seriously from the inside, then why not remove a layer? Let ventilation be your friend.

I don't see anything at all wrong with a down+shell arrangement.

--B.G.--

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 13:46:42 MST Print View

I will say I think its easier to keep down dry in the western US(most of it anyway) than in the east. I don't know where you live. But if you live in the relatively dry west, the wet weather tends to come and go much more quickly, giving you a better opportunity to dry out. Of course I speak in generalities only.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 13:57:14 MST Print View

"I will say I think its easier to keep down dry in the western US(most of it anyway) than in the east."

By reputation, the weather in the Pacific Northwest tends to be wetter and cooler, and it stays that way for longer periods of time.

In the summer along California's John Muir Trail (somewhat high elevation), it can still get wet, but it tends to be much more sporadic, as Ben suggested. It can be cool, as well, but that varies tremendously with elevation. When a down sleeping bag or down jacket is used for some time, it can be dried on a sunny rock, and then packed for reuse later. At high elevation, there are few trees, so there is less shade to allow cold/wet spots to last.

--B.G.--

Bily Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 14:01:32 MST Print View

Bobb Bobb,
If you are going to do a trip where it might cold and rain every day, all day and you don't have experience with down in that kind of weather, I suggest you take at lest some fleece and/or synthetic stuff as safety items. Personally, I would go with synthetic bag, fleece camp pants, and fleece jacket in that kind of weather. Even with the most experienced and competent backpackers shit can happen.

Bill D.

Ian B.
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 15:10:37 MST Print View

Great review. I was really on the fence as to whether or not I was going to buy the EX light or Plasma this winter. After reading this review, I think the EX light is a better purchase for my money.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/07/2013 22:40:00 MST Print View

Good review, and Thanks, Will!

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: down and wet weather on 11/07/2013 23:59:54 MST Print View

I'm still learning about UL backpacking, and am curious about how down jackets (and bags) perform if you are out for several days in cold rainy weather. When I read gear lists, it seems like down is the key to significant lightening of weight, but I'm a bit scared of going to a solely down+shell system.

i own and use a MB EXL

and i will say that when its raining hard at ~40F temps the entire day ... the EXL does not feel any warmer than a good fleece

never mind getting down wet ... just the 100% humidity degrades the loft

now if its cool and dry out, thats a different story

;)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/08/2013 01:24:11 MST Print View

Why bother with a down jacket that won't keep you warm in sub-freezing weather? That is where down is at its best, when the precip is in the form of snow and humidity drops.

As with the light synthetic jackets, you basically have two very light windshirts with a wisp of insulation. If you re going to use it in cold conditions, why not throw a few more ounces of down in those light shells and get something that provides some real warmth?

There is a similar trend in synthetic fill jackets coming out with 40g fill. I thought 60g was weak! I think it is marketing oneupmanship to say "we have the lightest jacket" and sidestep the utility and practicality of the garment.

I also think that informal fashion trends spawn such things. They are great for running errands or a walk across campus, but they have limited use for hiking. They are indeed light weight, but so what!

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife
Re: Re: MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/08/2013 05:35:26 MST Print View

Great article Will.

My recommendation would be to double the amount of down in the Plasma Jacket, which would differentiate it from the Ex Light (and others) and substantially raise the warmth to weight ratio in a sub-7 oz (198 g) jacket.


I came to the same conclusion with this jacket.

I think it could be hard for them to stuff another 45 grams of down into the jacket, but they could easily, one would tend to think in looking and wearing this jacket, have gotten another 25-30 grams of down shoved into it.

I would have liked it to be longer.

It really is easy to understand why so many are choosing the Ex Light over this Plasma 1000.

Steve Genest
(srfish59) - M

Locale: SoCal
MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/08/2013 17:29:55 MST Print View

Thank you for the review. I've been mulling over the many choices for down jackets and I like Montbell products in general. I'm returning to backpacking after many years and it's been expensive gearing up. In fact, I picked up a down sweater at Costco recently...packable down for $44. My trips will be at lower elevations here in SoCal so I'm hoping I can get by with this for awhile as part of a layering system. For the money, it won't be a big waste if it doesn't work, but one chilly outing could easily change that!

Jeffrey Wong
(kayak4water) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
Thanks on 11/08/2013 20:28:11 MST Print View

...for this informative review. I've had my finger on the trigger on the MB ExLight forever. Seeing how puffy it is and reading the squiggly black lines and dots gave me license to click buy/checkout.

Anthony Huhn
(anthonyjhuhn) - F - MLife

Locale: Mid West
Patagonia Encapsil Parka on 11/09/2013 11:57:12 MST Print View

Didn't the patagonia 1000 fill parka come out first?

http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/special-edition-encapsil-down-belay-parka?p=84645-0

Adam Klagsbrun
(klags) - MLife

Locale: Northeast US
Re: Patagonia Encapsil Parka on 11/09/2013 13:16:17 MST Print View

yeah Patagonia brought that out first, but its a COMPLETELY different jacket. I own one. And I have worn the montbell before, the ex lite. They are for entirely different purposes. I have no doubt that my Patagonia encapsil belay parka would keep me warm to about 0 degrees with a layer of long underwear under it. It is too hot for anything but the coldest of weather. It makes most sense to use as a parka for when you're hiking or climbing in winter and you stop to rest or for a break, or while in camp. You would not wear that jacket while hiking or mountaineering unless you were climbing a world-class mountain like Raineer or Everest. You would sweat yourself into dehydration in no time. The montbell in this review is a "down sweater" style meaning that while it is warm, it is a thinner garment not designed to stand alone in the deep cold that the patagonia encapsil does. This is patagonia's competitor to the montbell, and it isn't 1000 fill:

http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/mens-special-edition-down-sweater?p=11891-0&pcc=1128

these are the kinds of jackets you CAN wear while hiking, but I highly suggest a synthetic layer instead of a down layer for this purpose. I own one of these for that and recommend it VERY HIGHLY. Probably has become my favorite piece of clothing I own for hiking, seriously. It is heavier than the down by at least 5 oz but as something worn during the cool weather months, that extra weight means nothing if it is on your back instead of in your pack:

http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/mens-special-edition-down-sweater?p=11891-0&pcc=1128

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: 1000 fill on 11/09/2013 13:50:53 MST Print View

I think the 1000 fill thing is more oneupmanship and on the edge of practicality. It has been noted that less lofty fills that have some feathers in the mix may hold their loft better than the uber puffy stuff. Some mentioned wearing a shell over the jacket reviewed and my first thought was how the loft would hold up. The insulation layer is already so thin that any compression is significant. I think you need some "reserve" loft to get any real efficiency if used with a rain shell. IMHO, you need 2" or so loft to get a garment with enough warmth to be practical.

At 2+" loft the weight difference between an 800 fill jacket and a 1000 fill version are really quite small. I assume an 800 fill jacket would cost less and would have a longer service life and work better in a layered system. Even a 700 fill jacket wouldn't be that much heavier: the fabric used in the shells as well as the cut and feature set have as much influence in weight and loft.

The other thing to consider with thin "belay" insulation is that is is only good for a narrow band of temperatures. Will noted that the jacket is weak for belay use below freezing. A fleece with base layers and wind shell would be effective above freezing. I reach for puffy layers when it is colder ( and drier) and then I want something with some real loft.

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Re: Re: MontBell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Review on 11/10/2013 17:51:37 MST Print View

At the risk of starting a flame war, I very much agree with Dale on this.

Especially if you are anything above average in metabolism when awake, there's not much point in having a double windshirt with a smidge of fragile down in between. In fact, its more like two windshirts perforated with a lot of stitching, leaking heat.

I guess it really depends on what conditions you are in, but unless its a really dry trip, I'd struggle to choose this myself. Certainly, the Plasma with extra stitching and arguably more fragile down is less of a good choice. Spring/Autumn in arid conditions would be great, if your camp behavior means you are up and out of your sleeping bag still after dark (more likely if you aren't solo). Otherwise you'd be much better off just carrying a single windshirt, and putting the weight saved into extra down in your quilt or sleeping bag.

Also, the Ex Light might also be slightly warmer as it might have less stitching overall. At the temperature ranges these jackets are useful, the two layers of 7 denier might provide just about as much warmth as the 40g of down if they weren't perforated.

Anthony Huhn
(anthonyjhuhn) - F - MLife

Locale: Mid West
Patagonia Love on 11/10/2013 20:45:40 MST Print View

I was just nitpicking the statement that the montbell is the first jacket to use 1000 fill power, I know, I'm a jerk for even mentioning it. But I think the whole pataguchi secret process that turns 800 fill into 1000 fill water-resistant down is cool. Any one want to let me cut open their $700 jacket to see if I can figure out how they do it?

Anthony

Confused Newbie
(confused) - M

Locale: Northern CO
Re: down and wet weather on 11/12/2013 11:50:36 MST Print View

Thanks all for the advice on the down. If I am not digressing too much from the topic of the discussion...what do you all prefer to store your down in for sleeping? For cold wet weather, say 35F and rainy, do you bring a fleece with for hiking? I can't help but recall the "cotton kills" statements I heard about insulating properties of wet cotton while younger; seems like down is similar, but the advantages of dry down are too good to pass up.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lakes Bay Region
Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/12/2013 12:07:14 MST Print View

Any clothing items I am not using while sleeping go in to a dry bag (the same one they are stored in during the day).

Ian B.
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/12/2013 12:25:23 MST Print View

Due to the PNW often living up to its wet reputation, I was slow to convert to down. Seeing that my bargain 550 fill down sweater is 14oz, Costco down vest is in neighborhood of 6-8oz, and my fleece vest is >14oz (sorry for vague numbers/going from memory), I found down to be worth the risk.

My down sweater or vest and sleeping bag stay in a dry bag when I'm hiking. I only bust out the sweater or vest to stay warm during breaks as I rarely need more than a shell and base layer for anything above 20* as long as I'm moving. I wouldn't hike while wearing down due to perspiration issues as you mentioned. If I'm looking at sub-20* temperatures where it's likely that I'll hike with extra insulation on, I'd bring synthetic insulation in lieu of down. I'm a fan of the military style polypro for this purpose but I have a fleece vest too.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/12/2013 12:27:04 MST Print View

"cold wet weather, say 35F and rainy, do you bring a fleece with for hiking?"
I definitely bring a fleece in that weather or even a wool sweater. After stopping in the evening and setting up camp I take it off and put on a dry down jacket.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/12/2013 13:14:24 MST Print View

Down to even 20 F, I just wear nylon base layer and eVent jacket (and fleece hat, fingerless fleece mittens,...). Definitely have to walk briskly. Carrying a pack uphill I'll stay warm no problem.

When I stop I'll put on synthetic or down vest depending on the temperature.

Confused Newbie
(confused) - M

Locale: Northern CO
Re: Re: Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/13/2013 17:41:48 MST Print View

Thanks. Sounds like down vests, etc. are primarily in-camp gear, and I am reasonable to bring a fleece as a hiking layer.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: down and wet weather on 11/14/2013 20:19:58 MST Print View

If for anything, a fleece makes a good layer for stops and breaks in wet weather. When you are wet you cool off much quicker at rest and a fleece won't be affected much at all from putting over damp clothes. Down would get quite damp. Personally I like a fleece vest, very easy to slide on and off.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: fleece and wet weather on 11/15/2013 02:05:24 MST Print View

"If for anything, a fleece makes a good layer for stops and breaks in wet weather. When you are wet you cool off much quicker at rest and a fleece won't be affected much at all from putting over damp clothes"

Good fleece will actually move your perspiration right on out away from your skin and base layer. Fleece also allows the option of wearing it without a shell for those times when it isn't windy but you want just a bit more warmth. It's really hard to wear down without a shell unless you are a goose :)

Vests deserve more attention. It would make a good article, comparing weight/volume/warmth of a vest vs a jacket and there are many product lines that offer both, so it could be a real apples and apples comparison. I often carry a light fleece vest for summer day hike backup insulation where the nighttime temps don't get so terribly low.