Ultralight Down Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody
$420, 6.7 oz./190g (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
At under nine ounces/255 grams, Mountain Hardwear’s classic Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody has long held the distinction as one of the very lightest, most packable, and warmest-for-its-weight down jackets for backpackers, climbers, and other backcountry travelers—and arguably the best among the tiny number in its weight class. So why make one that’s even lighter? That question occupied my mind while using Hardwear’s newer Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody, which whacks about two ounces/57 grams off its older sibling’s weight while excelling for many of the same reasons—and differentiating itself.
I found it impressively warm for its shockingly low weight on evenings and mornings in camp while backpacking a section of the Arizona Trail along the Gila River in the first days of April, when the Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody was all I needed over a T-shirt and midweight long-sleeve top on calm mornings in camp with temps in the 40s Fahrenheit. I may have felt the need for another layer if the temp had fallen much lower or a significant wind kicked up. Nonetheless, this puffy is warm enough for many people in typical evening and morning temperatures in the mountains in summer or the desert Southwest in spring and fall.
At just 6.7 ounces/190g (men’s medium), the Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody just may be the lightest hooded insulated jacket out there today—and even at this low weight, it still has two zippered hand pockets with good space for small, light items like three-season gloves and a hat, and an adjustable hem. It’s also certainly one of the most packable hooded insulated jackets, stuffing down to roughly the size of a liter bottle. You might be able to pack it even smaller: Although neither of the jacket’s two hand pockets has a reversible zipper, the jacket does stuff inside either of them (see photo) and would fit into a slightly smaller stuff sack.
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This wispy hoody is stuffed with 1,000-fill down, the highest-grade feathers available, meaning that no insulated jacket packs more warmth per gram and few, if any, compare with it in that department.
The jacket’s standard fit provides space for a couple of base layers underneath. Nice detail: the first baffle at both elasticized sleeve cuffs is filled with synthetic insulation to prevent the cuffs from wetting out. The 5-denier-by-7-denier ripstop nylon shell with a DWR (durable, water-resistant treatment) is the lightest you’ll find in any outdoor garment, so avoid contact with sharp points. (Unlike the Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody, this fabric is also not 100 percent recycled.) But this shell will hold up fine in normal use.
I’ll make one caveat: People who get cold easily (I don’t) may not want an insulated jacket this light—at least not for inactivity outdoors, like sitting around camp, in temperatures that normally require you to wear a fatter puffy jacket. But for whatever your definition of “mild temps,” the Ghost Whisperer UL makes an excellent ultralight hooded jacket for backpacking, or an on-the-move outer or middle layer for done-in-a-day adventures in cool to cold temps, like rock or alpine climbing, dayhikes, and trail runs.
As with most ultralight apparel and gear, there are compromises with the Ghost Whisperer UL—and the biggest is the hood is not adjustable, just as with the Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody. And while its limited elasticity around the face helps keep it on your head, a stiff wind can blow it off and the hood does not turn fully when you turn your head side to side. Lastly, the materials, including the front zipper, are very light and less durable than heavier products, though likely to last for years of use with some care.
All in all, those are predictable, small sacrifices if extremely low weight and high packability are your objectives.
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For ultralight backpackers, climbers, mountain runners, and dayhikers—or just about every backcountry traveler focused on getting the lightest gear—no insulation layer will deliver more warmth-per-ounce at this low a weight than the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody.
You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a women’s Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer UL Hoody at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com; or other versions of the Ghost Whisperer down jackets at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
If you want a bit more warmth in a hooded down jacket that also ranks among the very lightest in this category, see my review of the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Hoody, which weighs just two ounces more.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all gear reviews and expert buying tips.