Montbell’s Frost Line parka is a light duty winter parka, well suited to use in milder climates like coastal areas during the winter months, or for extending the hiking season into late fall and early spring in colder regions. With 6.7oz of 800 FP down and a box baffled construction, it’s about twice as warm as most down sweaters out there but still not a jacket for Minnesota or the Rockies in January.
Montbell introduced the Frost Line parka several years ago, but the original 24oz jacket was too feature bloated to be a serious backcountry tool. For 2014/2015, Montbell took a critical scalpal to the Frost Line and shaved 5oz of features off without sacrificing core functionality. Most significantly, Montbell switched to a lighter 20D fabric for the internal layer (from 30D) and reduced the fleece lining which used to cover large tracts of the internal hood. Fleece lining remains around the color and hand pockets, but it’s much reduced. Both the original and revised Frost Line contain 6.7oz of 800FP down, but with the weight shavings for 2014/15 the down now constitutes 35% of the garments weight instead of 27%.
The revised 19oz Frost Line now compares well with similar jackets from other manufacturers, but stands out by offering a much lower price. The key specs (total weight, fill weight, fill quality) are very similar to jackets like Patagonia’s Fitz Roy Parka, but at half the MSRP ($219 vs $449). For 2015/2016 the jacket will go up in price $20, but remains a great bargain.
Montbell typically makes jackets that are cut short in the torso and sleeves, yet boxy in the torso. This works well for people with high girth:height ratios. Thankfully Montbell has taken a different approach with the Frost Line. It’s described as “oversized with a longer torso” and “cut for layering”, both of which are true. The result is that the Frost Line fits slimmer “athletic builds” much better than most Montbell produces. The torso is 30″ in the back, compared to 26.4″ for Montbell’s otherwise similar Alpine Light Parka. The sleeves of my size medium Frost Line sleeves are easily longer than my size large Montbell Alpine Light Parka. At 5’11” and 170 lbs, the Frost Line sleeves naturally lay half way down my fingers and I can easily pull my hands inside. For a winter parka, the 30″ torso isn’t abnormally long, but merely average. It’s a huge improvement for Montbell however and an entirely workable length for all but the lankiest of users. Most people should to order their normal size which will enable light-modest layering, such as a 100wt fleece. If you want to layer heavily or want a baggy fit then size up one. Two sizes up would be nuts.
The Frost Line has a pretty standard feature set. There’s velcro adjustable cuffs, shockcord adjustable hem and hood, two external hand pockets and two internal stash pockets, one of which contains a small zippered pocket. The external hand pockets likely contribute substantially to the total jacket weight due the fleece lining, and because the zipper leads to a pocket sandwiched front and back by box baffled jacket, rather than leading to a fabric bag inside the jacket like most hand pockets. Having your hands within the down instead of inside the down is nice but perhaps not worth the 4 layers of fabric required.
The internal pockets can be valuable to some, as they are good place to toss items like mitts or climbing skins. However, I rarely use the pockets so I cut them out. The right stash pocket weighs almost nothing (0.1oz) so don’t bother, but the left pocket is much heavier due to the additional zippered small pocket sewn onto it. Removing this drops 0.6oz. The shockcord adjustable waist hem works well, although the lighter 1/16″ shockcord I swapped in also works just as well. The hood helmet compatible but cinches up quite nicely for non-helmet use. It still looks huge because there’s a lot of down in there, but with cinching it grips the head well enough to function well.
One minor complaint is that a two way main zipper is not needed for a down jacket. Because both ends can slide, the zipper is slightly harder to start for no real advantage. Montbell should ditch the two-way functionality but keep the beefy #5 tooth zipper which is weight well spent. Overall, the Frost Line has a good feature set. It could be a bit lighter but everything works well enough.
My size medium arrived at 20.2oz / 575g. With the internal pockets removed and lighter waist hem shockcord that dropped to 19.2oz, before rising to 19.6oz when I added a zipper stiffener.
Problems and Suggestions
A significant issue with the Frost Line is the lack of a stiffener on the main zipper draft flap. As a result, the main zipper snags constantly on the thin 20D fabric. It’s a shame because otherwise the large #5 toothed zipper would be a delight to use. This can be remedied by snipping the draft flap off entirely, or by adding a stiffening material to the flap. I sewed on a strip of 3/4″ grosgrain, which eliminated the problem entirely. Hopefully Montbell does something similar for next year.
In terms of suggestions, the Frost Line is clearly built to a price point so I won’t suggest more expensive 900FP down or exotic fabrics. What I’d like to see Montbell do is add a stiffener to the main zip and nix the two-way functionality. They should also shave 1-2oz off by simplifying the hand pockets, reducing the fleece lining further and by using an even lighter 10-15D fabric inside the jacket (keep the 30D outer shell). The 14/15 Frost Line has already been hugely popular and is seemingly sold out everywhere. If Montbell can make these changes while keeping the price point, they’ll have another great seller next year.