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Montbell Down Balaclava Review

Montbell Down Balaclava Review

The Montbell Down Balaclava is insulated with 800 fill power down and can be used to augment an insulated jacket or as a part of a backpacking quilt sleep system. Weighing 3.1 oz (87 grams) it is a highly adjustable piece of headgear with two rear volume adjusters, two elastic cords to control the size of the face opening, and three snaps that close over the face and neck. Unlike a fleece balaclava, it extends well below the neck to cover your upper chest and neck, providing seamless integration with hoodless jackets and quilt draft collars.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight 3.1 oz (87 g)
  • Fill weight: 1.1 oz (30 g)
  • Insulation: 800 fill power down
  • Construction: Sewn-through
  • Fabric: 10-denier rip-stop nylon

There are two basic ways to use the Montbell Down Balaclava. The first is to augment a hoodless jacket and the second is to augment your sleep insulation system, such as a sleeping bag or backpacking quilt. Both of those scenarios are facilitated by the balaclava’s neck which covers the entire neck as well as the top of your shoulders and chest. This ensures a tight seal between the neck of a jacket or the draft collar of an ultralight backpacking quilt. It can also act like a draft collar if you have a quilt that doesn’t have one to prevent heat loss around your neck.

The extended neck prevents any leaks when used with a hoodless jacket.
The extended neck prevents any leaks when used with a hoodless jacket.

I prefer wearing a hoodless insulated jacket in three season weather because it layers better with a lightweight rain jacket than a hooded insulated jacket. There are times though when I do wish I had more head warmth and a garment like the Montbell Down Balaclava could serve that function. I also like the extra down in the neck area and upper shoulder areas because it’s even better insulated than some of the hooded down jackets I use. There’s a lot of blood flowing near the skin of your neck and keeping it well insulated is one of the keys of staying warm. I often carry an insulated Polar Buff for just this purpose.

The Montbell Down Balaclava makes great hood for a backpacking quilt sleep system
The Montbell Down Balaclava makes a great hood for a backpacking quilt sleep system

The Montbell Down Balaclava is also well suited for use as sleeping insulation with a down quilt because it is so adjustable, with several ways to adjust the interior volume and coverage it provide. I have a small head, so this is an issue that I’m acutely aware of. But do you really need a down hood when sleeping with a quilt? Companies like Enlightened Equipment and Therm-a-Rest base the temperature ratings they assign their quilts on that assumption (see Backpacking Quilt Temperature Ratings). They also assume that you’ll be wearing long underwear and sleeping on a pad that has an R-value of at least 4. So if you’ve been cold in a quilt, that may explain why.

There are two volume adjusters on the back of the balaclava
There are two volume adjusters on the back of the balaclava.

There are two ways to adjust the interior volume of the balaclava, both on its rear. The first is a velcro tab that controls the position of the panel over your forehead with the Montbell logo stenciled on it. You can raise or lower it depending on how much visibility or forehead insulation you want. There’s also an elastic cord that you can lock in place with a cord lock. It controls the size of the hood’s crown, just above the ears, so you can prevent drafts from blowing into the hood’s sides. There are also two elastic cords on either side of the face opening. These let you control the size of the opening and how much cheek coverage you want.

Comparable Down Hoods

Make / ModelWeightDown Fill PowerPrice
Montbell Down Balaclava3.1 oz800$59
Goose Feet Gear1.3 oz850$65
Jacks R Better Down Hood2.0 oz800$60
Katabatic Gear Windom Hood1.5 oz850$65
Katabatic Gear Crestone Hood2.2 oz850$85
Nunatak Down Balaclava3.5 oz900$109

Recommendation

The Montbell Down Balaclava is a highly adjustable down hood that can be used with a hoodless jacket or a backpacking quilt. It’s amazingly warm and compatible with all head sizes and hairdos. While it can be used to augment a hoodless jacket, it does feel a little awkward to wear if you’re active and hiking hard. I prefer wearing a down hat or fleece balaclava in those circumstance. But my favorite way to use the Montbell Down Balaclava is with a backpacking quilt because it boosts my warmth and won’t come off at night if I trash around. I especially like the way that the long, wraparound neck and upper chest insulation complement the quilts and hoodless sleeping bags I own. If you’re pulling together an ultralight, quilt-based sleep system, I can strongly recommend using the Montbell Down Balaclava for that purpose. It’s also reasonably priced, well constructed, and readily available.

Disclosure: Montbell provided the author with a sample garment for this review

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10 comments

  1. I love insulated hoods. Both to supplement quilts and jackets. Like you said, too hot on the move, although fine for camp chores and hanging out. I like the versatility of it being separated from the quilt and jacket. Financially, manufacturers seem to charge significantly more for a hooded jacket than one without it. So it makes it easier to find replacement jackets. In fact now I prefer them without hood for easier layering.

    As far as hoods, I think the Crestone price is $85. I believe it’s baffled construction, which is a nice plus over the $60 models

  2. Mountain Laurel Designs and Enlightened Equipment both have Climashield Apex balaclavas, and I have used the MLD one for years, primarily with quilts at night but also in the morning until I get moving. As you noted, detachable hoods turn nicely with sleepers at night. The Montbell one seems to go down further and provide more of a draft seal than the MLD one I won.

    As Iago noted, the premium for hooded jackets is usually significant.

    Philip, any thoughts about down vs. synthetic?

  3. Any reason why GooseFeet’s down balaclava is not on the list?

    • It was listed under Zpacks. For some reason, I thought it was only available from Goosefeet as a custom product. Must have browsed their site wrong. Changed the link to point to them instead of the reseller.

  4. Thanks, Phil. I’m just starting down the road of using additional garments to increase the functionality of a quilt. I saw this and thought, gee, I’ll just get a hooded jacket and use that. I never thought about the times when it’s cool enough to want a hood, but not cold enough to need the whole jacket. Thanks for pointing out how this fills that gap – I may have to get one. (It may even eliminate the need for a cloth balaclava – the only time I wear those is hanging out in camp or sleeping – but that remains to be seen.)

    • Had a chance to try this down balaclava out last weekend with my Thermarest Vesper 32. It worked great! The Vesper has a comfort rating of 42, and lower limit of 32. With this balaclava, in midweight longjohns, I was cozy and comfortable at 32. (It actually bottomed out at 25; I added the Montbell Superior down pants and jacket to extend the quilt’s range to cover it quite comfortably.)

      Definitely a keeper!

  5. Have you ever used the North x North merino hooded neck gater? The bottom is super long and can be pulled up and doubled over to make a true balaclava and theres still enough material left to cover my neck! I like to pair this with capeline lightweight top and bottoms in cool weather when I use my quilt. I got mine from mass drop buy NxN does sell it through their website.

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