In 2006, I made a route that took me over the Continental Divide and to an eastern trailhead near Boulder, CO.
An unorthodox choice for a CDT thru-hike, but as I lived in Boulder, CO at the time, and for about twenty years total, this town stop made a logical choice for me.
I saw my friends in town, got out of the early cold snap that came in that year, and bought a needed insulation layer for the frigid snap.
I went to Pearl St. and checked out this new-to-me company called Montbell that opened a US location in Boulder.
I picked up a Thermawrap that worked well for the colder weather that came early that year.
Over the next couple of years, I wore it constantly for all kinds of backpacking and even day ski tours. As with all insulation, it eventually packed out, and I replaced it.
The current iteration is sub-10oz for the hooded parka, with a light DWR treatment to help repel light mist and feels airy. I don’t know if I’d wear this, or any puffy layer, as active insulation. But I think it breathes better than the Superior Down (if feeling somewhat less warm.)
I’ve been wearing this layer more and more as Joan and I get more into packrafting, and a layer that can dry quicker and be tolerant of getting damp vs. my down jacket seemed an excellent tool to take.
I did not realize how much I’d enjoy wearing it all the time during the spring with its warm days but cool nights. I noticed how plain comfortable it is and feels more like a comfy fleece jacket than typical nylon puffy. The house-brand STRETCH EXCELOFT insulation of the garment no doubt adds to this effect. Hard to tell after 1.5 years of use, but this same insulation claims that the active use life for this insulation makes for more durability vs. other synthetic insulation.
As an aside, the matte finish vs. the glossy shine of typical puffies also makes an aesthetically pleasing look for my tastes. The shell also feels soft to the touch in contrast to traditional puffies too.
What I like about synthetics for all-around use vs. dedicated backcountry use is the ease of cleaning. And how tolerant it is of spills. No clumped-up feathers!
Montbell manufactured the Thermawrap with slightly more durable material than the body. But overall, the jacket is something you’ll want to treat somewhat gently and not going bashing in the trees. However, the material does feel a bit more durable than my down jackets from Montbell, as it befits more of an all-around layering piece.
I’ll reiterate I don’t typically wear any puffy insulation for active use for various reasons. Potential damage to clothing being a major one.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about the jacket is the chest pocket. That’s a personal preference, but I feel it doesn’t give me any value add for how I use the parka and just one more thing that adds weight and can go wrong mechanically.
Besides being extremely comfortable, I found the fit relaxed enough to fit a 100wt fleece underneath but not so baggy that the cut’s inefficient for warmth. In other words, I can use this piece to push into cooler weather as an essential layering piece. If I didn’t layer, I’d size down for a more athletic fit at the expense of versatility.
As usual, the Montbell jacket hits what I think is the hallmarks of their design philosophy – Simple gear, designed well, much attention to detail, and aesthetically pleasing.
I don’t think I found any obvious failure points in the parka, and I appreciate small touches such as reinforced material for the wrist area.
This clothing is not just for fashion, and it works for practical outdoor use. Though not inexpensive at $209, it compares more than favorably (and, I think, superior) to other synthetic mainstays such as the Patagonia Nano Puff hoodie for less money, less weight, and more suited for active outdoors use. The Patagonia Micropuff Hoodie ends up as more expensive if comparable in specs but perhaps less versatile/breathable with its shell material. And aesthetically not as pleasing to me.
How will I use the Montbell UL Thermawrap Parka going forward?
I originally intended this garment for a 500+ mile hike through New England from the Canadian border to the Atlantic Ocean in Rhode Island during the fall. The synthetic and quick-drying insulation would work well for that environment or similar. And I hope to use it for such a case in the future, be it a longer hike or even shorter hikes anywhere more humid than the High Desert where I live or even my old stomping ground of Colorado.
For packrafting, this type of insulation will continue to be in my kit as it is more susceptible to getting wet than my safely stashed quilt just by the nature of pulling things in and out of my pack where this garment “lives.”
What I did not expect and was pleasantly surprised by is how comfortable I find the current model of Thermawrap. Be it hanging out in dispersed car campsites when it is cooler or everyday wear in town for a similar reason; it quickly became a “go-to” piece of clothing. I compared it to a favorite fuzzy fleece, more so than my sleek and shiny other puffies. The stretch, the breathability, and even the feel of the shell make it one comfortable garment.
Down jackets and coats will continue to be my mainstay for most backcountry and overnight use. But for cool and wet environments and just plain comfort, I suspect I’ll continue to reach for my Thermawrap. It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything piece of clothing that found a valued place in my outdoor tool kit.
Disclosure – Montbell provided this garment to me in the late fall of 2019.