Category Archives: Travel

Montbell Permafrost: Best Jacket Ever?

Well, I can’t really say yet because, to date, I have only used it while lounging on my bed.  But, I have my suspicions, and I believe it just may be a quite-excellent jacket.

It’s a compressible down jacket.  These are great for travel because they are really, really light and do not take up much space.  They are easy to bring along for trips where some cold weather is possible, but not enough to justify the hassle of lugging a big, heavy coat around for the entire trip.  (This would have been great in India when camping out with the camels in the cold cold desert or in Machu Picchu when it got so cold at night at the higher altitudes).

I have wanted one of these for three years.  In fact, this is the third fall season in a row that I have purchased one.  But I’ve never been happy with the selections before.  The first jacket I tried was the Montbell UltraLight.  I like the Montbell brand.  Their products are well-constructed and the jackets are super light and warm.  Badger has the Montbell Alpine Light and has loved it forever.   But I didn’t like the UltraLight’s women’s fit (skimpy) and the men’s was awkward and schlumpy on me.  The next year, I tried the Outdoor Research Ergo Down Sweater, which I expected to love and almost did.  But it wasn’t exactly the thing. It was also a bit skimpy and wasn’t quite long enough.   I wanted something (1) lightweight and compressible but also (2) roomy and long.  I can’t emphasize how important the “long”  was to me.   A jacket that ends at the waist or mid hip is just too short for me.

This year, I tried: Marmot Venus, Isis Lucky Stripe Down Sweater (almost loved it), and Patagonia Down Sweater. But none of them were really what I was looking for.  In desperation, I decided to give Montbell another shot.   I figured if I was going to buy a jacket I didn’t love, I might as well get a high-performing one.  And then, I saw it:

Montbell Permafrost Light Women's Down Jacket in Gun Metal.

Love at First Sight: the Montbell Women's Permafrost Light Down

I don’t know why, but I immediately thought it was The One.  I loved the idea of the wind-proofing.  The “generous cut” for layering.  And it seemed long.  And it is!  It covers my ass easily (insert blush).  For a jacket that weighs less than 12oz and compresses to 5″X7″, it’s bulky and substantial. The only thing I would change is that the fabric is a bit crinkly–sort of like a crisp garbage bag–and it rustles a bit when I move, i.e. shift positions in my bed.  (It’s too bad: the tiger will hear my approach from a mile away.)

The cost of the jacket bothered me a lot.  When I began my compressible down quest three years ago, I would NEVER have even considered spending $250 on this jacket.  NEVER.  In fact, the first jacket I got was a last-ditch clearance item, and it cost $107 or less.  But, in the last three years I have experienced a horrifying price-creep tolerance.  I am willing to pay SO MUCH MORE for EVERYTHING.  Because, I think, I am so LAZY.  When I saw how hardy the jacket was, though, I realized that it solved a couple of other jacket-related problems, which probably justifies its price.  First, the zipper on my real (long-to-the-knees and impenetrable) down jacket broke at the end of the season last year.  I’m not sure this jacket can replace that one for the worst of the winter weather, but I’m willing to try.  Second, and more importantly, the  weight of this jacket means that I can wear it for the commute in the morning, but stow it for the walk home in the evenings.  Last March, I started walking from the job to Penn Station in the evenings. It’s a nice 40-minute walk, and I really enjoy it.  But I didn’t know how the walking was going to work out during the winter months.  During the cold-but-not-freezing March weather last year, I was having trouble because the big down coat was too warm after walking a few minutes, but was too heavy and awkward to carry.  This jacket, I think, perfectly solves that problem. Guilt alleviated.  (Or am I making excuses?  I think only Caroline can help me answer that one.  She is a smart, frugal shopper.)

The only thing I might have done differently with this purchase is to have gathered up the courage to go for silver:

On the screen, I love this color.

On the screen, I love this color. Next to my face, not so much.

I love the way this looks.  And I have so many black winter clothes, a lighter color might have been really nice.  But, I can’t really wear gray near my face. The color makes me look ghastly/sickly.   I worried that in person the silver would be more gray rather than the lovely silvery blue color it appears to be on the internet.  Sigh.

I am looking forward to trying this jacket out in harsher conditions than my bedroom (but consider: the windows were open, and it’s nippy these days!).

And don’t fret, I have more terribly expensive gear reviews to come.



Filed under Gear Review, Hiking, Travel

ABC Trek!

I have posts to write, and they are not about food!  I can hardly believe it.  (I do have a few recipes to talk about but I haven’t really felt like it so I’ll keep them to myself for now.)

The news:  I am going to Nepal.  With Badger.  We are going to do the Annapurna Sanctuary (or Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)) Trek.

A view of the Annapurna Ranges from Pohkara.  It's a much better picture that any I'll be taking

A view of the Annapurna Ranges from Pokhara (and a much better shot than any I'll be taking.)

The planning of (and for) these kinds of active trips is very intense and exciting, but it also makes me sick with nerves and anxiety.  There is a tremendous amount of research and agony involved.  Every. Single. Time.  I just can’t seem to do it in the easy-breezy fashion of the just-pick-up-and-go crowd.

The first thing was to pick the trip I wanted to take.  I have a ton of leave to use by the end of the year, and I’m burnt out and tired of the job so I wanted to go away for a while.  I knew I wanted to do a trek of some distance.  I’ve been interested in Nepal for a while, and the weather is decent in December.  And it is, comparatively speaking, pretty cheap.   So the decision to go to the Nepali-region wasn’t that hard to make.  I picked the Annapurna Sanctuary trek because the dates and length of the trip worked out with my leave. Also, the trek doesn’t involve some of the extremes of altitude of other treks in the region.  It’s higher than I’ve ever been though.  Annapurna Base Camp is 4130m (13,550 ft).  AMS, here I come!

At some point in the planning process, Badger figured out that she might also be able to take some leave and do the trip with me.  Then, for a while it looked like she was going on a different Annapurna trek and that we were going to be in Nepal trekking at about the same time but never see each other.  But happily, things worked out, and we booked our trip with Intrepid.  It’s going to be a medium group– 15 people it seems.  Though there is 1 spot left if anyone wants to join us!  We’ve traveled with Intrepid before, and they usually do pretty good trips.  We considered trying other operations–like World Expeditions (they do a wonderful-seeming Annapurna camping trip), but they are pretty pricey and the dates didn’t work out.

Because of the way our respective leave works out, I will be leaving  a few days before Badger, and she will be staying a few days after me.  I’ve pretty much decided to add a short (pre?) extension onto my trip and go to the Royal Chitwan National Park and maybe try to stalk a Bengal tiger:



So the trip is picked out, but I’ve still got to get there.  This usually involves grueling research and making a ton of difficult cost/benefit decisions.  How much is a short (as opposed to long) stop-over worth to me?  A nice, safe airline?  How many stops am I willing to make?  This time, though, I got lucky. There weren’t many options, and the fastest and most direct flight is the cheapest (though not cheap by any means–AMEX membership rewards points to the rescue).

Once the logistics are set, the mind inevitably turns to the gear required.  And the purchasing begins.  Every time I do an active trip, it is astonishing the amount (and cost!) of gear I need to buy.  And after each trip, you say to yourself, well, I spent a ton on gear but it’s ok because next time I won’t need to buy anything.  HA!  It’s all a lie you tell yourself.  Don’t believe it.

Between my last two (only) active trips in Machu Picchu and on the Camino, I bought new hiking pants, tech t-shirts, a wind jacket, a backpack, a sun hat, boots, trekking poles, a lightweight sleeping bag (which was in addition to my regular weight sleeping bag), sandals, wool hiking socks, and a rain jacket.  All this is in addition to camping gear I purchased around the same time and that is useful for traveling:  sleeping pad, head lamp (possibly second-best purchase ever), lightweight towel (maybe the third-best), and I know I am forgetting a bunch of stuff.

For this trip, things are even more consumer-y. The conditions on the hike will vary.  It is winter in Nepal in December but the temperature spans a pretty big range.  Daily temps are expected to be from just below freezing to mid-60s (F).  And we will be hiking at altitude so wind and sun/glare are also concerns.  The new gear list looks like this:  fleece pants, compressible down jacket (possibly the first-best purchase ever), fleece jacket (at least 1), thermals, rain pants, hiking pants (my only long pair have been ruined), wool socks (more), sleeping bag liner, and sunglasses.  At buying all this stuff, I feel guilt because it’s so excessive, but also an inexplicable thrill: I need the ultra-light weight compressible down jacket or I might die! On a mountain!

Plus, my crappy Canon Powershot SD 450 is no longer focusing and, anyway, its range was disappointing for travel photos. (Family:  did I mention how this is your Christmas present to me?  Don’t worry, I’ve already ordered it.)

That is a LOT of stuff to buy.  The Columbus Day sales were my friend.  But, I need there to be big Halloween sales also or perhaps a Veteran’s Day blowout or two.  It may also be that the tanking economy will also induce some random sales (Though I will feel a twinge of something like regret if I end up profiting from the complete and utter destruction of our financial markets.  I have to boo de-regulation even if it results in a 20% off discount on my favorite fleece pants.).

So, if you care nothing about reading about random active gear, I’m sorry.  You will be bored because that is all I have to talk about for a while.

But then!  I will be posting about our travels.  With photos!  And commentary!  There will be elephants and mountains.  Just wait for it.


Filed under Hiking, Travel