Mountain Hardwear’s Phantom Down Parka is an ideal choice for expedition mountaineering, ice climbing, die-hard winter rock cragging, cold days at the ski resort, backcountry skiing, and any extreme conditions requiring lightweight and packable warmth.
True story: my girlfriend and I were climbing at the Chuckawalla Wall in St. George, Utah, over Christmas, and it was chilly–the kind of day when hand heaters in the chalk bag barely keep your fingers warm enough to feel the chalked-up jugs on beautiful overhanging red sandstone. Everyone had a thick, warm puffy jacket to wear while belaying and resting between burns. Except my girlfriend Catherine, that is. She was specifically in the market for a new parka and hadn’t yet found what she was looking for. Of the 25 people at the cliff that day, a woman wearing a bright yellow-ish puffy stuck out–she had the warmest, fluffiest and lightest looking jacket of all of us. When I asked what jacket she was wearing, I learned that she was donning the Phantom Down Parka, that she was a Mountain Hardwear ambassador, and that her partner was on the marketing team. Score! What a perfect opportunity for an Alpinist Mountain Standards review item.
Within a month, my bright blue Phantom had arrived, and I immediately put it to the test in the Colorado front- and backcountry. For the most part, I really dig this parka. Its 800 fill down is really warm, making it a good choice for the 6000-meter objectives such as Denali, Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Cotopaxi, Elbrus–basically, anything that is not an 8000-meter monster (i.e. Everest, K2, etc.). It will also be a perfect choice for early season ascents of Mt. Rainier, for Patagonian glacier traverses, and of course, for those cold days of standing at the base of the ice and rock cliffs in winter.
Catherine and I searched around, and it appears that few products compare to the Mountain Hardwear Phantom Down Parka in terms of its warmth-to-weight ratio at 619 grams (20 oz.). The Black Diamond Belay Parka ($250) comes in at 845 grams (30 oz.), heavier and less expensive because its insulation is synthetic instead of down, and The North Face’s L6 Down Belay Parka ($550, 800 fill down) is advertised at 780 grams (28 oz.).
The Pertex ripstop shell with DWR finish is water-resistant and can keep a heavy, dry snowfall (think Rocky Mountains) or a light, wet snow (think Cascades) from soaking the feathers inside. Two large internal glove pockets, an internal chest pocket, a helmet-compatible hood, a cinchable waist, and two deep harness-conscious hand pockets keep this parka functional and simple. The Phantom has a unique Y-shaped slider on the front zipper that makes it easier to connect the chain while wearing gloves, which is normally a difficult task with most expedition parkas. Small packability is important for an expedition puffy as well so that it can compress into a small backcountry ski pack–the Phantom Down Parka abides.
Apparently, the industry trend in this type of parka is to oversize. I wear a medium in just about everything, but I swim in the Phantom’s medium. The same is true with the Black Diamond Belay Parka, which I purchased a small size, and it is still a bit too large for me. On the Mountain Hardwear website, the Phantom received similar reviews and suggestions–to size down. Equally, it appears that manufacturers like the wrist cuffs to remain open and puffed rather than cinchable and streamlined–this design makes the wrist cuffs on gloves easily slide into the parka sleeve, yet unfortunately allows snow and cold air to drift right in. The Phantom wrist cuff lacks a more durable tear-resistant material and could eventually become a mess of cuts and glued or taped repairs. Were this not the trend in the manufacturing field, and if the Phantom were an outlier, I would definitely subtract a star from my five-star rating. Finally, I found the Phantom’s shell was easily stained. Mountain Hardwear changed the color selection since I received my coat, however, so this may only be a problem with the men’s Fresh Bud (bright yellow-green) and the women’s Bio Green (looks like aqua to me). The other colors are Black and Slate Blue (pretty dark blue). It’s not like I’m wearing this thing out to dinner and a show, so I’m not too worried about it, but that first stain happens quickly and hurts almost as bad as a that first scratch on a new car.
The RDS (Responsible Down Standard) sets my conscience at ease, and the bright blue satisfies my internal fashion queen. I personally prefer external pockets to internal ones, but it’s cool, I can surrender to the rest of you who like it the other way. With few downsides and many excellent qualities, I am psyched to have Mountain Hardwear’s Phantom Down Parka in my arsenal of clothing options. I wish I had had this parka on past expeditions where such lightweight, yet relatively durable options were not available.
Mike Lewis is an IFMGA/AMGA guide living in Berthoud, Colorado. He’s been guiding and instructing rock, ice, alpine and skiing since 1993 throughout the US and internationally.
Lightweight (619 g / 20 oz.)
Y-Zipper makes it easier to use with gloves