Softshell jackets slammed into the market over two decades ago, quickly becoming more popular than fleece and Windstopper-fleece. Softshell jackets provide water- and wind-resistance, breathability, warmth, durability and versatility, and they often have a bright, snazzy appearance–you can take any Joe or Jane off the street, slap a sexy softshell jacket on them, and instantly, they look as if they just completed a serious Peruvian expedition with Jimmy Chin. In line with the growth of the outdoor industry, softshell jackets started out fairly simple and have evolved into a vast product line of highly specialized garments designed to support athletes in the most particular of situations.
The Ortovox Col Becchei Jacket is a very high-quality, well-made softshell jacket that can be used in any activity from climbing to skiing, but has certain features that make it especially functional for ski-touring, rock climbing, and alpine climbing.
It’s also expensive. The Col Becchei is completely lined with the ever-so warm and fuzzy Tasmanian and Swiss merino wools. There’s one price jump right there. Merino wool is warm, breathable, comfortable, and it tends to keep the underarm stench at bay longer than synthetics. This jacket is completed with well-known pricey materials that have proven their efficacy over the years, such as Schoeller and Pertex Quantum. A final price jump most likely comes from its production in Europe.
Beyond its inner lining of merino wool and high-end outer materials, the Col Becchei Jacket has one additional standout feature–the two massive pockets on the chest of the jacket. For the backcountry skier, these deep pockets make a great stash for backcountry ski skins (though you might not get your 120mm underfoot powder skins in there), as well as a sauna-effect to warm the skins when frozen. Heads up–the only thing keeping a snowy, cold skin inside one of these pockets from touching the clothing underneath is a very thin layer of highly permeable mesh.
On long alpine or rock climbs, these pockets can store gloves, snacks, maps and route descriptions, smartphones, and even a hot water bottle. There’s one issue I had with the design of these pockets–I did not penalize any stars because this is a personal thing, and it could really go either way. I am a huge fan of a little chest pocket that keeps my phone easily accessible. I use my phone throughout the day for photos and navigation. With the pockets as they are, the phone sinks down into the large pocket and falls between the harness or backpack hip belt and the body, making the process of retrieving the phone for a quick photo or a check of the map app a little more difficult. On the flip side, with the pockets as designed, they can multi-purpose as hand pockets and give the user somewhere to store the hands on a long uphill hike.
One last point to make about these pockets is that the outer layer of softshell material has small holes in it that allow the moisture from the sweating chest and drying backcountry ski skins to escape. The moisture transfers through the permeable merino wool and continues through the outer layer of softshell material while the material equally maintains wind- and rain-resistance.
Other features that are not necessarily unique in the market, but that make this garment specific to certain activities are: 1) a stretchy hood that fits over any size of helmet; 2) an athletic fit with non-baggy sleeves, chest, waist, and sides; 3) elastic cuffs, snug around the wrist to keep snow and wind out; 4) underarm zip vents to allow even more moisture to escape; 5) a ski-pass pocket on the upper left arm, and; 6) an elastic waist to keep cold air and drifting snow out.
Comparable to the Col Becchei (490g) are the Arc’teryx Gamma LT Hoody (545 grams, $249, no merino wool), the Rab Alpha Direct Jacket (480g, $275, no merino wool), the Dynafit Mercury Softshell (529g, $260, no merino wool), and the Marmot Moblis Jacket (723g, $185, no merino wool). In comparison, Ortovox has created a unique softshell jacket with its inner layer of merino wool. Dynafit’s Mercury Jacket has the additional chest pocket that I like in addition to the side-zipped pockets, but it has Velcro wrist cuffs instead of elastic ones, which can get in the way when rock climbing. Of all the options, the Becchei was the most colorful, coming in orange/black, blue/black, all black with white zippers, or blue/green/black.
There is no ideal jacket for everything, and each one has its pros and cons for a given activity. The Ortovox Col Becchei Jacket would be ideal for many pursuits, and its merino wool is particularly comfortable and breathable. And yet one point must be addressed–the high price tag. $320. The modern climbing community is populated by far more than some 1970s group of dirtbag social misfits living in vans down by the river. Corporate Ivy Leaguers from Boston to Boulder to Bellingham have added peaks such as Mt. Rainer to their tick lists, and the market for ski-mountaineering and alpine climbing has adapted to meet the demand of this outdoor cohort. There are also many people getting into outdoor sports who can’t afford this kind of gear, however, and it’s important for more accessible clothing to be made for this demographic as well.
Mike Lewis, MA, is an IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide living in Estes Park, Colorado. Mike has been guiding and instructing since 1993 throughout the US and internationally. Learn more about Mike at www.LunchboxJackson.com.
High quality merino wool lining
No small chest pocket