MontBell UL Stretch Wind Parka review

I’ve never had much luck with wind jackets. I’ve tested several different models, each claiming to be the latest and greatest, but nothing I tried ever struck me as useful enough to own. I know a few ultralight die-hard hikers swear by their wind jacket/umbrella combination for staying dry, but all the wind jackets I’ve tried either weighed the same as a rain jacket, or were so wispy and delicate that they shed zero precipitation. Good for blocking wind, but useless in the slightest mist. I want something to bring with me on training runs in the mountains. I’ll hike all day with an umbrella, but running with one is awkward. While poking around the Boulder MontBell store last week, I spotted the new Stretch Wind Parka.  It debuted in stores recently, and lately I’ve found myself thinking about giving wind jackets another shot.

The UL Stretch Wind Parka fills a gap in the MontBell outerwear line. Straddling the line between a delicate wind jacket and full-on rain protection, my size large mens model weighs 4.29 ounces. It’s beefier and more water resistant than their popular Tachyon wind jacket (2 ounces for a mens size medium), but lighter and easier to pack than the Torrent Flyer and Versalite rain shells (8.6 & 6.7 ounces mens size medium, respectively). Right there in the middle is the Stretch Wind Parka…small enough to disappear in a running vest pocket, but without sacrificing light water-shedding capacity.  Perfect for the wind, rain, and snow that I’ve been encountering regularly lately while running Colorado mountain trail in the springtime.

So, I brought one home with me.  Stuffing it into my hydration vest, it disappeared among my snacks and maps, and I headed out for 15 mile trail run.

It wasn’t long before the warmth of the springtime sun was sapped by chilly gusts as I huffed up Bear Mountain. Breaking through the trees and zippering up my chest, I was glad to have a thin, nylon shell to thwart warmth-stealing wind. As I continued to grind upward, I started to perspire.  I barely got sweaty, as the breathable fabric did a great job of releasing water vapor. This surprised me–I’m a raging inferno of heat on climbs, and I’m not accustomed to a wind shell breathing quickly enough to keep me from getting clammy.  At the summit I put up the hood for maximum protection, and appreciated the swatch of soft brushed nylon around the neck. It’s the little things, ya know? The winds up top were really blustery, so I even got to use the hood drawcord–easy to use with cold hands. I regretted not bringing wind pants, as my tiny running shorts left my bare legs exposed. At least my upper body was warm. Zippered hand pockets allowed me to warm my chilly fingers, which is why they are one of the main features I look for in a shell. I dislike suffering through cold hands, and am happy to exchange an additional few grams for the warm, cozy nest of hand pockets.

Heading down the mountain I broke into a jog, and this was where the stretch and mobility of the construction really shone. MontBell cuts the fabric for this jacket “on a bias”, which gives the garment just a little stretch.  It flexed and moved freely as I pumped my arms. It stayed snug against my body, but stretched with me as I shifted direction, zigging and zagging along the trail. Pretty sweet!  Moving back into the trees however, the snow in the branches had begun to melt, and I was showered with water from high above. MontBell treats their shells with something called POLKATEX, which not only sounds like a New Wave accordion band, but also effectively beads up moisture to keep the jacket from “wetting out”. I’m happy to report I stayed dry.  A wind shell that actually repels water for more than 5 minutes–great!

This will definitely be a mainstay shell in my collection. A sub-5 ounce jacket on my runs is good insurance for inclement weather, but won’t weigh me down. I’d even bring this on a long distance thru hike if weather conditions weren’t expected to be exceptionally harsh. In conjunction with an umbrella, I’d choose this for a Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail thru hike during the warmer months. For spring or fall on the AT/PCT, or extended travel above tree line like one encounters on the Continental Divide Trail, I’d try a Torrent Flyer, since conditions on that trail fluctuate for the worst way too often. I’m glad I gave wind jackets another chance, because this one exceeded my expectations. If you’re in the market for one, I give this jacket a solid recommendation.

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