Montbell Extremely Light Down Jacket – Gear Review

A jacket so light, even a NAME would weigh too much. The Montbell ExLight is one of the lightest down jackets available, and after three solid years of 3-season backpacking and frequent city use, mine has repeatedly proven to be comfortable, compressible, warm and light..

The ExLight is not a winter coat. At 5.4 ounces (size medium) and only ~2 ounces of 900fp down, it is more of a replacement for a bulky fleece mid-layer than a belay jacket or mountaineering parka. For me, this jacket works well down to around 30°, if I’m wearing appropriate baselayers. Below 30°, I would add my shell and probably a hat.

ExLight and Playing Fetch with Lobo - Larch Mountain, OR

ExLight and Playing Fetch with Lobo – Larch Mountain, OR

The jacket doesn’t have a hood, but I’ve never missed it. Even my heavy winter parka is hoodless. I typically wear a Buff to keep my neck warm and sunburn-free, and the combination of Buff and my Black Rock down hat replace a hood quite nicely.

As an external piece, the ExLight appears pretty fragile and wouldn’t likely stand up to a lot of abuse. The 7-denier, DWR treated shell is practically translucent. I don’t typically wear the jacket without a shell in the backcountry, and have managed to avoid snagging, tearing, burning, or otherwise ruining the jacket even after more than three years of nearly year-round use.

The jacket is featureless, which is a feature in itself. As a company motto, MontBell states that “Function is Beauty” and that is reflected in the workmanship and construction of this jacket. There are no pockets, buckles, buttons, snaps, straps, or drawcords. An elastic cuff on each wrist, a 3-inch collar, and a zipper with a pull are all this jacket needs to keep you warm, and that’s all you get.

If I were to redesign this jacket on my own, there are two elements I would add. First, I would add a fabric pocket inside the jacket for storing a small item or two. A small square of material wouldn’t add much weight, but it would be nice to have a pocket for my phone/GPS. More importantly, I’d like to have the pocket for warming my denatured alcohol. Usually, I’ll put my alcohol fuel in the pocket of my shorts an hour or so before I plan to need it. The second design choice I question is the cuffs of the jacket. They are too big for my skinny-guy wrists, and I feel like a drawcord would add some adjustability without adding much weight.

Because it weighs so little, I have no qualms with carrying it on every above-freezing trip I take, but it certainly isn’t cut out for deep winter backpacking. Likewise, it isn’t for folks who are typically hard on their gear – but, really, what ultralight backpacking equipment IS designed for those users?

I typically use the ExLight (or whatever down jacket I’m carrying) around my hammock to augment my 2/3rds length underquilt. The jacket zips around the foot-end of the hammock and I slip my feet inside the warm space it creates. In the summer months, when this would be too warm, I wrap the jacket around my makeshift pillow to add some downy softness.

Soup in the Hammock, ExLight as foot insulation - Columbia Gorge, OR

Soup in the Hammock, ExLight as foot insulation – Columbia Gorge, OR

A word about fit: Size up! I am typically a size Small to Extra Small, but a Small in this jacket would barely zip and the sleeves didn’t even make it to my watch. For reference, I am 5’11” and 145 pounds.

If a lightweight jacket to replace a 3-season fleece is what you’re after, the MontBell ExLight will fit the bill quite nicely. If you need something with a bit more warmth, check out the Alpine Light down parka or the Frost Line parka (both from Montbell). Look to the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer hooded down jacket, if you want something with a hood and pockets but still very light.

In Sum:
I’m very happy with the ExLight as a three-season midlayer. In my opinion, the lack of features is a wise choice on the part of Montbell. The few things that I would add to it are not enough to dissuade me from recommending this jacket to anyone who needs a three-season puffy to replace a fleece or synthetic jacket. After three years of use, several washings and one DWR reapplication, I’m still stoked on the ExLight and would replace it with the current iteration in a heartbeat, should I lose or damage it.

jesse bloughJesse Blough – Senior ODTG Writer/Gear Geek ( Jesse is an avid ultralight backpacker and hammock enthusiast who hails from the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Jesse hikes roughly 30 miles per week, and goes backpacking (2-3 days at a time) twice a month. Major multi-day trips 5-10 times per year. Jesse has hiked most of the long trails in Pennsylvania (all of the NCT in PA, the Loyalsock trail, the Quehanna trail, etc.) He’s summited most of the lesser peaks in the PNW.

His obsession with the lightest gear on the market has become increasingly expensive – so he found a business partner and began OneLife Wilderness Products as a means to feed the addiction. OneLife products is available in the ODTG store, along with other items that Jesse uses and swears by.

Jesse is working with Outdoor Trail Gear as lead gear tester, reviewer & blogger. Most of his gear reviews will be long-term and in-depth – written to help other hikers make informed decisions about what items might work for them in the long run.

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