PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review

The ultimate down jacket for ultralight backpacking and lightweight cold weather pursuits.

Hightly Recommended

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended

If I were to list my specifications for the perfect ultralight down jacket, it would describe the PHD Ultra Down Pullover exactly – ultralight shell, high loft down, good loft and warmth, great fit, minimal features, and really light weight. The jacket’s front reach-through pocket (with a zippered security pocket within) is a bonus, which I find really handy in camp. My only reservation is the jacket’s only moderate water-resistance, which is not really a problem for me, since I usually wear a shell over my insulating layer in wet weather.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 1
PHD Ultra Down Pullover worn in camp at 12,000 feet in the southern Colorado Rockies. It’s insulated with 900 fill-power down and weighs just 8 ounces (size medium).

PHD (Peter Hutchinson Designs) Mountain Software is a small company in Stalybridge UK that manufactures sleeping bags and garments “from the lightest in the world to the ultimate in extreme expedition protection.” Their garments are offered in standard or custom sizing, plus options for added fill or features at additional cost. All products are sewn in their small factory after the order is placed. This review covers their new Ultra Down Pullover, which is designed to provide maximum warmth with minimal weight. Is this the ultimate down jacket for ultralight backpacking and lightweight cold weather pursuits?

Description

The PHD Ultra Down Pullover features 900 fill-power down, which PHD tests on-site to be sure it meets or exceeds their specifications. One ounce of down of this quality expands to 900 cubic inches, so a relatively small weight of down produces a very puffy jacket. The jacket has sewn-through construction and 3.5-inch down chambers. I measured the jacket’s double-layer loft at 2.5 inches (single-layer: 1.25 inches), which is exceptional for a jacket that weighs just 8 ounces.

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 2
Front and rear views of the PHD Ultra Down Pullover. Features include a half-length front zipper, stand up insulated collar, reach-through front pocket with zippered security pocket inside, dropped tail, and elastic hem and cuffs.

The loftiest down available is enclosed in PHD’s MX superfine nylon ripstop, which at 0.88 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) is one of the lightest shell fabrics currently available. MX is calendared on both sides (more on the inside) to increase strength, wind resistance, and downproofness. The fabric weight is equivalent to that used in the Western Mountaineering Flash and Flight Jackets and slightly heavier than MontBell’s 7 denier Ballistic Airlight fabric 0.73 oz/yd2 (25 g/m2) used in their Ex Light Down Jacket. The latter fabrics are calendared as well. Calendaring increases fabric strength, wind-resistance, and downproofness, at the expense of some breathability.

As expected, the Ultra Down Pullover has a very Spartan feature set to keep weight to a minimum. The front YKK #3 coil zipper is twelve inches long. The cuffs have a simple elastic binding, and the hem has elastic at the sides rather than all the way around. Thankfully, the jacket has one front pocket, and it’s a good one - a full-width reach-through pocket with loads of room inside to hold an assortment of items.

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 3
The front reach-through pocket (right) is full width and high volume. There is a zippered security pocket (left) inside on the right side.

Performance

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 4
Cooking breakfast on a cold November morning in the southern Rockies.

I tested the PHD Ultra Down Pullover on a number of summer and fall backpacks in the southern Colorado Rockies and southern Utah desert over a five-month period. I also used it while backcountry skiing in late November. Nighttime temperatures ranged from 25-50 F (-4 to 10 C). I typically wore the jacket in camp and in my sleeping bag on colder nights.

I normally wear a men’s size large and found the sizing of the Ultra Down Pullover to be perfect. It’s roomy enough inside to wear over a baselayer plus a microfleece top, and the sleeves are extra long. The fit at the neck, wrists, and hem are snug, but not tight. The dropped tail covers the rear somewhat (see photos above) but the jacket is not extra long in the body.

One trip with this jacket is all it took to convince me that it is the ultimate down jacket for ultralight three-season backpacking in the mountains, winter backpacking in the desert, or cold (but not frigid) weather pursuits of any kind. For just 8 ounces of weight (9.1 ounces in size large tested), the Ultra Down Pullover has loads of loft and warmth. For hikers who prefer a hooded jacket, e.g., as part of their sleeping system, a hood is available as an option.

For cold weather camping, a dynamite combination is the PHD Ultra Down Pullover paired with a lightweight down pant - like the Western Mountaineering Flash Pant (7 oz), PHD Minimus Down Trouser (8 oz), or MontBell Down Inner Pant (6.8 oz). I am testing the mentioned pants for a future article, and find that the combination - scarcely adding up to one pound - not only provides plenty of comfort in camp but also extends the warmth of an ultralight sleeping bag by ten to fifteen degrees. I have found that wearing an ultralight rain jacket and pants over my insulating layers really increases their warmth in camp, and have been known to wear my raingear inside my sleeping bag on really cold nights to stay warm.

PHD’s MX fabric is super-light and is also quite durable and downproof. Worn alone, it’s very wind resistant, owing to the fabric being calendared inside and out.

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 5
I tested the jacket’s waterproofness by placing a puddle of water on the shell for an hour (left), then checking for leakage. Water readily soaked through the seam, wetting the down, and creating a sizeable puddle on the inside of the jacket (right). The down in the area surrounding the puddle was completely wet and collapsed.

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 6
I further tested the jacket’s water resistance by wearing it while hiking in a snowstorm at 31 F (0 C) (left). Water beaded up on the fabri, and eventually wetted the surface (right), but the water did not soak through the fabric and wet the down.

From my tests, I conclude that the jacket’s seams readily transmit water, but when the jacket is worn, it sheds water fairly well. The DWR treatment on the MX fabric is sufficient to repel a brief shower, but it is nothing exceptional - good, but not excellent. Compared to other jackets I have tested, e.g., the Rab Microlight Jacket which completely sheds water, the PHD Ultra Down Pullover has only moderate water resistance.

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review - 7
The Ultra Down Pullover comes with a high quality, durable stuff sack that is properly sized for the jacket.

Comparisons

The following table compares specifications of jackets similar to the PHD Ultra Down Pullover. All jackets have ultralight shell fabric and premium down insulation. Manufacturer data for size medium are shown. All jackets have sewn-through construction except the Nunatak Skaha, which is baffled.

Jacket Shell Fabric Fill Power Measured Single Layer Loft (in) Features Weight (oz) size Medium Cost (US$)
PHD Ultra Down Pullover MX Microfiber
0.88 oz/yd2
900 1.3 Half zip, reach-through front pocket, zippered security pocket, elastic cuffs and hem 8.0 ~284
MontBell Ex Light Ballistic Airlight
0.73 oz/yd2
900 1.0 Full zip, elastic cuffs and hem 5.7 165
Nunatak Skaha Pullover Pertex Quantum
0.8 oz/yd2
850+ 2.0 Half zip, baffled construction, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs 9.0 319
Western Mountaineering Flash Dot-Ripstop Nylon
0.9 oz/yd2
850+ 0.9 Full zip, hood, two side pockets, elastic cuffs and hem 9.0 260
Western Mountaineering Flight Dot-Ripstop Nylon
0.9 oz/yd2
850+ 1.9 Full zip, two side pockets, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs 10.5 250

There are numerous high quality ultralight down jackets to choose from. The closest competitor to the PHD Ultra Down Pullover is the Nunatak Skaha Pullover, which is baffled and has more loft. Because of the low current (late 2009) valuation of the US dollar versus the British pound, the Ultra Down Pullover is a bit pricey, and the Nunatak Skaha Pullover is perhaps a better value (about 60US$ more. Also note that buyers outside the UK do not pay VAT, so 15% is deducted from the price when purchased). However, when the dollar is strong, the Ultra Down Pullover is an excellent value.

Assessment

Based on its fit and exceptional loft and warmth for its weight, the PHD Ultra Down Pullover is my new favorite jacket. This is the jacket I will pack when I’m expecting nighttime temperatures to drop down to freezing or lower. It’s rated at 23 F (-5 C), and I would say that’s a fair rating. For spring and fall backpacking in the mountains, the Ultra Down Pullover gives me the extra warmth I need. I would also use it for summertime backpacking when I expect to camp above 12,000 feet. A jacket like this will also perform well for many wintertime activities, like backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, but would be too warm for extended climbs, unless it is really cold and/or windy. Finally, I prefer to wear the Ultra Down Pullover as a midlayer with a light shell over it to keep it dry and protect it from branch stubs and other things that might puncture it.

For an ultralight jacket, the Ultra Down Pullover is at the warm end of the scale, equivalent to the warmth of many jackets that weigh 14 ounces or more, but not as warm as the Nunatak Skaha and Western Mountaineering Flight. Some hikers may want to extend this jacket’s warmth a little more by ordering it with overfill and a hood so they can use it for winter camping. And some hikers may need less warmth, so a thinner jacket like the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket or Western Mountaineering Flash may suffice. Of course, there is always the option of owning more than one jacket so you can match your insulation to the expected conditions.

Specifications and Features

  Manufacturer

PHD Mountain Software (http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/)

  Year/Model

2009 Ultra Down Pullover

  Style

Half zip pullover

  Fabrics

Outer shell and lining are 0.88 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) MX Microfiber mini-ripstop nylon, calendared both sides, DWR finish

  Insulation

900 fill-power down

  Loft

Measured two-layer loft is 2.5 in (6 cm)

  Features

Sewn through construction with 3.5-in (9-cm) horizontal quilting, down filled stand up collar, half length front #3 YKK coil zipper with one slider and storm flap under zipper, reach through front pocket with zippered security pocket inside, elastic cuffs and hem, 2-inch (5-cm) dropped tail, stuff sack included

  Weight

Measured weight, size large tested: 9.1 oz (258 g)
Manufacturer specified average weight: 8 oz (227 g)

  MSRP

£169 (approx. US$284) Price includes VAT; if the item is to be delivered outside the EU, VAT does not apply, and 15% is deducted from the price
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/phd_mountain_software_ultra_down_pullover_review.html, 2010-01-26 00:05:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/26/2010 13:10:32 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/26/2010 15:40:34 MST Print View

I also find the fit of the Minimus pullover to be very good. Less boxy than the Montbell Ex Light, and better for layering than the more athletically cut Skaha. However, for the weight I still prefer the Skaha by a large margin, and since the Skaha is basically a custom piece of gear, you can have it made wider/longer/more or less down etc...to suit layering or body size differences. However both are great bits of gear, and if I lived in the UK, I would definitely buy locally over imported.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/26/2010 18:30:50 MST Print View

Great review Will. But, I can't imagine why I would ever buy the jacket when I can get the Montbell UL Down Inner Jacket, often on sale. Montbell blows it away in value at just over $100.

Edited by jshann on 01/26/2010 18:31:31 MST.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/26/2010 18:44:20 MST Print View

"I can't imagine why I would ever buy the jacket when I can get the Montbell UL Down Inner Jacket,"

The PHD is significantly warmer than the MontBell...1.8oz of down versus ~4.5oz for the PHD in size medium.

Edited by retropump on 01/26/2010 18:46:22 MST.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/26/2010 19:39:06 MST Print View

Will
More puffy jackets..
I liked the idea of the hood in my WM Flash but now I am not so sure.
Good info, as usual.

Is that a Mirage 1p behind you ?
Franco

Julian Thomas
(jtclicker) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/27/2010 00:49:16 MST Print View

when comparing down jackets you really need to compare like for like, so the quality of down fill in this is as good as it gets - note the 900 fill is EU fill power, not the US version.
I'm also now looking at the flight or flash trousers. for those in the uk,http://www.ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk will be stocking these from March onwards

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/27/2010 01:51:13 MST Print View

> note the 900 fill is EU fill power

Are you sure? I do not now how to convert between the two, so I googled and found a Rab Womens Neutrino Endurance listed as "white goose down with fill power 750 EU 850 US."

I also found a Q&A place that said "you need to make sure you're comparing like with like as EU and US standards differ - for example 750+ EU fill power down is 850+ under the US standard."

If the EU is a smaller number than the US number, then 900 EU would be out-of-sight in US numbers (1,000 or so).

-- Bob

Edited by blean on 01/27/2010 01:52:00 MST.

Julian Thomas
(jtclicker) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 01/27/2010 02:06:04 MST Print View

well a quick google showed this..
http://www.upandunder.co.uk/eshop/catalogue/manufacturer.asp?Activity_ID=27&Description_ID=24

This is the ability of the down to loft (ie its ability to resist compression) and the higher the Fill Power value the better the quality of the down. To calculate the Fill Power a set weight of down is compressed by a specific weight and the volume it takes up under this condition measured. The actual measure is a minimum that must be attained by the down so the values have a + figure at the end. There are two measures of fill power to be aware of: European and US. We have stated European measures next to our down clothing and sleeping bags, but here are some comparisons to help you: 560+ European equates to 610+ US, 660+ European equates to 725+ US and 750+ European equates to 850+ US.

and this

http://www.crux.uk.com/en/crux_sleepingbags_polishdown.php

Although the basic method of measuring fill power is consistent, there is no actual universal standard. Most down products are currently rated according to one of two systems, one European (the Lorch Fill Power standard recommended by the Swiss-based International Down and Feather Laboratory) and one American. Both systems measure fill power in cubic inches. The higher the number (i.e. the greater the volume), the greater the ability to trap air.
500–600 EU (530–640 US) Acceptable quality for mid-market products
600–700 EU (640–745 US) Minimum quality for performance products
700–800 EU (745–850 US) Excellent quality, best performance/price ratio
800+ EU (850+ US) Outstanding quality, limited availability, high price

And finally this from PHD
http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/techdown6.php

PHD's Down

PHD have expanded the range of downs we use from two to three with the introduction of our exceptional 900 quality down. All three downs, 700, 800 & 900 are European goose downs, the best of their kind, backed by our own almost fifty years of experience in the trade as well as by our own Lorch test machine....
Remember that our figures are based on the standard Lorch test as approved by the International Down and Feather Bureau. These figures are roughly 4% more conservative than US Federal tests, as quoted by some other manufacturers.

Edited by jtclicker on 01/27/2010 02:37:59 MST.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Amount of down? on 01/27/2010 02:59:05 MST Print View

Where did you get the figure, '4.5 ounces of down' from, Lynn?

Matthew Dunn
(Boddunn) - F

Locale: Kirby Muxloe
VAT on 01/27/2010 07:42:26 MST Print View

A small point; VAT increased back up to 17.5% in January in the UK saving you a whopping 2.5%! That's a saving of £4.65!
Just waiting for my Ultra Down Vest to turn up, can't wait!

Greg Letts
(gletts) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
900 fill on 01/27/2010 07:45:26 MST Print View

looks like a great piece...my understanding is that for down over 800 the birds have undergone a "live pluck". Can't stand for that.

Julian Thomas
(jtclicker) - F
Re: 900 fill on 01/27/2010 07:54:10 MST Print View

from the phd site

In view of the recent concerns raised about the plucking of down from live birds, PHD can reassure its customers categorically that all the downs we use come from dead birds and none of it is live plucked.

Greg Letts
(gletts) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
live pluck on 01/27/2010 08:49:54 MST Print View

good to hear - like the jacket even better!

Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
down rating inflation on 01/27/2010 08:54:05 MST Print View

Of course, new geese haven't been invented. It must be that improved down quality reflects improved methods of sorting--fewer feathery bits, larger, springier clusters (possibly from older birds?--does anyone know more about this?)

Adrian B
(adrianb) - MLife

Locale: Auckland, New Zealand
Hood comments on 01/27/2010 11:47:03 MST Print View

PHD will in fact do custom work (and quite quickly): a year ago I asked them to do a pocketless Ultra Vest with the stud on hood that is normally only available for this pullover.

It's a pity this review didn't take a look at the hood, which is an optional add on. I found it a weakness compared to the rest of the vest (which was otherwise excellent, just like the jacket seems to be): it didn't close tightly enough around the face/head, and has no mechanism for being tightened. So when sleeping with the hood in a quilt/hoodless bag, it wasn't snug enough and you lost warmth. Wearing it in windy conditions would have also been problematic. I did let them know about my experience, they may have improved the design since, but as a result I sold the vest on.

Also, I did find the vest sizing quite large (mine was M) compared to similar items from Montbell, Patagonia, Nunatak. As a jacket it perhaps wouldn't have been an issue, but an overly big vest isn't good.

Re: Montbell, I think the proper jacket to have for comparison would have been the Alpine Light (parka or jacket), surely?

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Fill power on 01/27/2010 12:56:31 MST Print View

According to PHD website, "These figures are roughly 4% more conservative than US Federal tests, as quoted by some other manufacturers."

I think you'll find any difference between a US 850+ and PHDs 900 fp (which they rate at plus or minus 3%) is pretty minimal, and wouldn't be the basis of my decision making.

Mike, the 4.5oz of fill was interpolated by Richard Nisley. He calculated the amount of fabric that was needed to make the shell, plus the few other bits and bobs such as zippers and trim, and was left with 4.6oz for the down.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Fill power on 01/27/2010 13:45:40 MST Print View

Lynn,

I just relooked at my PHD file and my data shows only 3.69 oz fill for the Ultra. I think my earlier post listing 4.5 oz of fill was for the Minimus.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Fill power on 01/27/2010 13:51:27 MST Print View

Cheers Lynn.
Are those figures an educated guess Richard, or direct from PHD? Some manufacturers seem to overfill, and others underfill.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Fill power on 01/27/2010 13:59:39 MST Print View

"I think my earlier post listing 4.5 oz of fill was for the Minimus."

Hmmm, so that would mean the Ultra has ~10% higher fill power, but ~20% less total down. Depending on differences in cluster size and down:feather ratio (which we don't know), this mean the Ultra may be ~10% less warm than the Minimus?? Of course, this is all based on approximate calculations rather than any definitive numbers. It would be a lot more user-friendly if PHD would supply this information like all the other cottage manufacturers.

Adrian B
(adrianb) - MLife

Locale: Auckland, New Zealand
Re: Re: Re: Re: Fill power on 01/27/2010 15:03:29 MST Print View

In October I emailed PHD on the difference between the Minimus and Ultra, their reply:

"The main difference is that the ultra is filled with 900 down making it a
much lighter weight jacket, it has been designed with mountain marathons in
mind where weight really is an issue.
The Minimus and ultra are both the same in terms of warmth. The ultra collar
does not have the fleece inner as the idea is to keep weight to an absolute
minimum."

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
PHD Ultra fill amount on 01/27/2010 15:39:58 MST Print View

Mike,

I reverse engineered a Minimus per Lynn's explanation. I then used this information to determine the base layers clo and MET level that corresponded to the Minimus temperature rating. From the preceding I used PHD's temperature rating of the Ultra to determine its fill amount.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Fill power on 01/27/2010 15:49:36 MST Print View

Cheers Richard. I was hoping you had uncovered a PHD secret file of fill weights. :)

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Responses to PHD Ultra Pullover Comments on 01/30/2010 18:48:57 MST Print View

Hi all. My responses:

Franco: Yes, that is a BSI Mirage 1P. I will be publishing a review on it in the spring.

Mike/Lynn: PHD doesn't like to reveal the amount of down in their garments, citing the problems all manufacturers have with others copying their designs.

Best,
Will

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review on 02/02/2010 16:37:50 MST Print View

Thanks Will. Looking forward to it.
Franco

jim jessop
(LuckyJim) - F
PHD Ultra Down Pullover clo value? on 03/09/2010 13:52:16 MST Print View

Hi all and especially Richard if you pass by.

I've seen your extrapolation of estimated down weight for the PHD Ultra but I'm not able to find a clo value for it. I wondered if that is something you've measured or commented on anywhere?

Many thanks

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: PHD Ultra Down Pullover clo value? on 03/09/2010 15:10:21 MST Print View

Jim,

The Iclo value for this garment is 2.74. The closest equivalent warmth Montbell garment is the MB Light Down Parka at 2.80.

Phd rates this garment at 23F (-5C). My calculations yield 21F for the average male, 1 clo of base layers, sheltered from the wind, and a 2 MET camp chores metabolic rate (standing rather than the typical MET rating scenario based on sitting). PHD assumes either the addition of a sweater to the average winter base layer or a .25 MET higher metabolic rate than is the average for camp chores. At the more typical 1.75 MET activity rating this is a 30F garment.

Edited by richard295 on 03/09/2010 15:11:23 MST.