With fewer frills than a fancy pair of ski socks, my favorite jacket, a bare-bones softshell from Outdoor Research, could hardly be considered a shell when placed next to some fully-featured jackets that ring in at five times its price. But OR’s ultra stretchy Ferrosi Hoody has been a constant skintrack companion of mine for several winters now from morning skins up the resort to trips abroad.
I wear the Ferrosi like a bc-oriented midlayer, keeping it on from the trailhead to the summit and back. The super-thin, stretch- woven proprietary fabric is plenty breathable and ergonomic when I’m skinning, but windproof and water resistant enough to keep a chilling breeze or soggy flakes at bay. The DWR-treated shoulders and forearms are particularly water resistant, in spite of the lightweight, softshell feel.
Because of its athletic cut, the Ferrosi slides nicely under a shell for the descent, or a puffy on cold days. And while the hood lacks helmet compatibility, its close fit doesn’t obstruct my view if I’m wearing it while skinning. Besides, if it’s really hood-up weather, I’ll have my hardshell on. In the spring, the Ferrosi is the only layer I need, and two outer hand-warmer pockets are stitched to provide pouches inside the jacket that perfectly hold skins.
After three seasons of use, the hem and cuffs have begun to pill just a little, and the jacket smells like a Febreezed ski boot liner. Fortunately, machine-washing
it every few months keeps the stink from becoming too overpowering. Plus, it re-invigorates the jacket’s light moisture repellency. And because of that, I’ll keep the Ferrosi until it falls apart.
+ Packs to the size of a grapefruit thanks to thin, lightweight fabric.
– Breathability is good, though not as spectacular as some softer, less water- repellant layers. Not a wet-weather layer.
= Light on the features, but an ideal skinning-weight jacket that pairs well under a hardshell or for full-time spring use.
$450 | strafeouterwear.com
Strafe, a relative newcomer to the outwear world, knows their audience. And with their baggy-cut and stylish Nomad softshell, they’re targeting the freerider looking for a little steeze to go with their function. Proprietary four-way stretch and three-layer Gelanots fabric sheds water like a hardshell, but flexes and feels like a soft one. Plus, two pockets near the hem of this long-fitting jacket sit nicely below a pack waist belt, while a removable powder skirt and stretchy wrist gaiters keep you sealed against snow.
Outdoor Research Valhalla Jacket
$350 | outdoorresearch.com
If the Outdoor Research Ferrosi is a Prius, the Valhalla is a Tacoma: durable, rugged and utilitarian. The Valhalla’s pit zips extend to the hem, and can open up like the traditional front zipper on a jacket, allowing for max ventilation. Plus, Gore Windstopper, which blocks—you guessed it—wind, is a step up in durability over the Ferrosi’s proprietary softshell material. The only downside? The under-helmet hood is only cool if you’re a climber.
RAB Exodus Jacket
$200 | us.rab.uk.com
is designed to keep you relatively dry and warm. Articulated sleeves lend mobility, big pit zips dump heat, and a storm flap inside of the front zip means you can keep this jacket on from sunup to sundown.
Columbia Triple Trail 3
$350 | columbia.com
Pit zips, integrated pow skirt, over-the-helmet hood—the bases are covered. But what sets the Triple Trail 3 apart from its competitors? It looks and feels like a softshell, but acts like a hardshell thanks to waterproof, yet soft Omni-Tech. Plus, Columbia’s patent-pending Omni-Wick fabric under the arms is advertised to expel heat and moisture quickly. Team that with Columbia’s other, more well-known proprietary fabric, Omni-Heat—a shiny internal insulation that acts like a heat reflector—for warmth, breathability and weight savings.
This story first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine.