Our Man Makes Fire Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket review is straightforward: The Ghost Whisperer is still one of the best ultralight down jackets on the market in 2016, especially when you use it as a layer for backpacking, hiking, or alpine climbing.
Why still? The Ghost Whisperer reinvigorated the ultralight down jacket world several years ago — and it’s still going strong. It’s been a winner for Mountain Hardwear, so much so that the company produces it in a bunch of different colors, usually with a new color or two every season. The Ghost Whisperer down jacket isn’t perfect, though. Its supreme lightness comes with a few tradeoffs.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Review
First, the pros. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket is very light — less than 8 ounces. Of course, my XL size is a bit heavier — it comes in at 8.75 ounces. When you ball up the Ghost Whisperer and stuff it into its own pocket, it feels light. Toss it in a backpack, and you barely know it’s there . . . until the sun drops below the mountains and you suddenly want its warmth.
Is it warm?
Crazy warm. Mind-boggling warm. Why? When you first try it on indoors, it feels like you’re barely wearing anything at all. Like it’s hardly there. And then you overheat.
It’s made to be worn outside, in cool weather. How cold can it go? I can wear it outside around freezing with just a light shirt on underneath and feel pretty good. But this is relative. If there is a cold wind and I’m just wearing a pair of jeans, would I be comfortable? Probably not. If I wear a good merino wool baselayer on underneath it, then layer over it with a rain jacket or softshell jacket, suddenly it becomes part of a great cold-weather layering system.
If I got caught in a quick mountain storm, snow or rain, I would want it — as long as I had a rain jacket or emergency poncho to go over it. Why? Down is a great insulator when dry . . . but it’s terrible if it gets wet.
So keep all your down jackets dry — even those treated with DWR finishes.
800-Fill Q.Shield Down Insulation
The Ghost Whisperer uses hydrophobic treated down feathers, which is down that has been chemically treated to resist water and water moisture. It works pretty well, but if you get caught in the rain without a shell, your down is going to eventually get wet and fail as an insulating layer. Still, having a hydrophobic treated down insulation is preferable when you’re looking at a high-performance lightweight down jacket.
As for the 800-fill, the 800-fill rating is an excellent fill quality. Cheaper down jackets have less lofty 650-fill down, which has a lesser ability to insulate. (However, if given a choice, we’d take a low-quality 650-fill down jacket over most synthetic jackets. Just saying. That’s how great down is.)
How It Wears
The Ghost Whisperer fits true-to-size and a bit loose in the torso — despite Mountain Hardwear marketing it as an “active fit.” For outdoor use, my XL gave me both freedom of motion with enough room underneath for two layers or so (I’m about 6’3″, 220 lbs). If I wanted to wear it around town more often than not, I would size down to a Large for a trimmer fit. This makes it less versatile as a layer, but makes it a bit snazzier to wear around town.
Because this down jacket is ultralight, the zippers are ultralight, too. At first, I found this annoying because I usually associate small and tight zippers with lesser quality. I like the dumb, thoughtless robustness of big zippers that you can zip while stumbling around in the dark. While others have knocked the small zippers on the Ghost Whisperer, they do what they’re supposed to do — you just have to pay a bit more attention when you first connect the zippers.
Then there is the “Ghost Whisperer” fabric. Mountain Hardwear says it is so unique that there is only one mill in the world that can weave it. Mountain Hardwear created the fabric to be ultralight with a tight, down-proof weave so the down feathers can’t poke through it and leak (but pretty much every ultralight fabric will eventually leak a few feathers). The fabric is light, crazy light, and in the lighter colors, it’s so thin that the down itself sometimes shows through (which some outdoorsy people like and call a feature).
As for looks, the Ghost Whisperer fabric tends to be shiny, which is cool unless you don’t like the sheen. The baffles are relatively small tubes, and they look good, too. The only downside is that when you first put on a brand-new Ghost Whisperer, the sleeves tend to have fold lines, and the back has rear seams on the sides, all of which tend to look “folded” or boxy when you first put it on. Basically, you’ve got to wear the Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket for a while to sort of break it in to get past this I just pulled it off the rack look. To be fair, most other down jackets have similar issues — they tend to look better after they’ve been worn.
To cut down on drafts through the torso, there is a thin adjustment cord — which in my mind is a necessary feature.
Is the ‘Ghost Whisperer’ Fabric Strong?
The wild card question for you — if you want any down jacket that weighs less than 9 ounces or so — is if you think the fabric will be tough enough for you? Basically, you don’t want to be wearing a down jacket if you need to walk through brush or trees with poky branches. You’re not going to want to scramble around thorns or sharp rocks, either. If you do, you should wear a shell over the top or be careful. Once you tear a hole in the fabric of a down jacket, you’re not going to be able to afford repairing it. You could sew it with a fine needle and thread, of course, but then you’re going to leak down.
What can be done? Gear Aid makes a specialized tape for just this sort of repair. If you tear your down jacket, don’t cry — consider it a badge of honor and simply do what the outdoor lovers do — tape it with Gear Aid Tenacious Tape for Fabric Repair.
All-in-all, you can’t really go wrong with the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer . . . unless you’re just not quite sure you want or need a down jacket. If you fall into this category, and are on a tight budget, look for a previous season version on sale at Sierra Trading Post . . . or consider trying an entry-level down jacket like the Cabela’s Northport Down Jacket. It’s heavier, has 650-fill down, doesn’t have a hydrophobic treatment, comes in fewer colors, doesn’t have the same level of fit and finish . . . but you can get it for about one-third the cost of the Ghost Whisperer. Let your outdoor gear budget guide you toward the right answer.
Either way, years after it was first introduced, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket remains one of the best ultralight down jackets readily available in 2016.