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Mountain Hardwear Phantom Vest

rated 5 of 5 stars

The Phantom Vest has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best down insulated vests for 2023.

photo: Mountain Hardwear Phantom Vest down insulated vest

I love my Mountain Hardwear Phantom Vest! It’s lightweight, making it a good choice for outings when I want to bring along some core insulation, but don’t need a fully insulated jacket. I tend to have a cold thermostat when resting or sleeping, but heat up quickly as long as I’m moving. The Phantom Vest finds the perfect balance.


  • Lightweight
  • 800 fill-down packs small
  • Puffy
  • Good warmth-to-weight ratio


  • It's a vest for your core, not full insulation
  • Puffy, not for a svelte look

While it’s lightweight and not too bulky, the 800-fill down keeps me plenty warm while riding cold, windy chairlifts in places like New England and Colorado, without overheating me on the runs down. And due to its weight and small compressed size it also makes a good just-in-case layer for backpacking or hiking in cold weather or for wearing around camp on cold evenings.

I have my vest in shark (a very dark grey-black color) and while the vest is obviously a technical outdoors piece, I don’t feel conspicuous wearing it around town during Maine winters, though it is a bit puffy.

My Phantom Vest is a women’s model in size 8, which I bought in January of 2005, and it fits me perfectly. Its fit is designed for a woman’s torso and works well with a baselayer or two (like a long underwear top and a fleece pullover shirt) underneath. It could handle another layer if necessary, although nothing very bulky. The vest’s trim fit keeps it streamlined and it doesn’t restrict movement when under my L.L. Bean hard shell. That said, though the cut is streamlined, the vest itself is not (like some) and you will be adding some bulk.

The two outside zippered pockets are fleece-lined (as is the collar), a nice, comfy touch, and are big enough to warm your hands inside or to store gloves or small items like lip balm, sunscreen, or sunglasses (although not everything all at once). There are also two interior pockets, which I use to securely stow things like my ID or keys. There are also two elastic drawcords—one on the bottom hem and one about four and a half inches above—that allow you to tighten the vest around your hips and waist to keep out the cold and snow.

I primarily use my Phantom Vest under a shell when downhill skiing on cold days. I also bring it along on very cool or cold weather hiking or backpacking trips in the mountains, when temperatures could drop considerably above treeline or if I was expecting cold overnights while camping (I tend to be a cold sleeper). Due to its light weight and warmth in a vest model I find it quite versatile.

I wouldn’t bring it for winter camping, mountaineering, or ice climbing though. It’s just not designed for that level of warmth. I’d choose an insulated jacket instead, maybe another piece from Mountain Hardwear. And since the Phantom Vest is down, which gives it its great compressibility and warmth-to-weight ratio, I wouldn’t bring it on a trip where it might get wet.

The vest stuffs into its own little compression sack for ease of packing, making it a convenient and lightweight extra layer to include in your pack whenever necessary. (One small suggestion, Mountain Hardwear might consider making the stuff sack itself part of the vest or have it attached to the vest’s inside pocket, so it doesn’t risk getting lost. I have an L.L. Bean Primaloft jacket which simply flips an inside pocket inside out to become its own stuff sack. In that instance it can be a tight fit getting it all into the pouch, but in the case of a smaller vest this shouldn’t be a problem.

For the Mountain Hardwear Phantom Vest I simply keep the compression sack in one of the vest’s inside zippered pockets and forget about it. It’s really a non-issue though and there may be design reasons that Mountain Hardwear made it the way they did, like allowing ultralighters to ditch the compression sack if they wanted.)

The Phantom Vest was my first Mountain Hardwear purchase and I would definitely consider them first when looking for other outdoor apparel, especially insulation. All in all, the Phantom Vest is a high quality, warm but lightweight, down piece, which has never disappointed me and which I highly recommend to others, especially other women looking for well-fitting and good-looking outdoor apparel.

Fabric: 100% nylon shell, trim, and lining
Fill: 800-fill goose down
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $140

Just got it on sale (30% off) in Bend, Oregon, at a really awesome independent mountaineering/backpacking store there. I used it that afternoon on the summit of Tumalo Mtn. in some breezy, chilly conditions followng a fast dash on snowshoes getting there.

My intention was acquiring something for immediate warmth following an intense aerobic hike to a hilltop, summit, or maybe a rest stop enroute. It exceeded my overall expectations!

In addition to instant warmth, it packs into a really tiny stuff sack that's smaller and lighter than almost any other single piece of gear or clothing. If it's like my other Mtn. Hardwear garments, I'll still be raving over it for some time.

Price Paid: $100

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