[Photo] Andrew Kuklinski
Cragging at the Sleeping Beauty cliff in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, in the early season was a poor choice. The approach, normally steep, loose and covered with thorns, met us with snow drifts and ice that weren’t visible from the road. We kicked steps through the worst of it, and then sat at the base of a group of wet climbs, deciding on which route would be our warm-up. After a few minutes, both of my partners threw on puffy jackets. A few minutes later, their hard shells were on. My friend Kevin mentioned how cold it was. As I ate a bar and leaned against a rock, comfortable in just my Voormi High-E Hoodie and a light baselayer, all I could think was, “Really?” Well, that’s a good sign.
The High-E hoodie is a merino wool/synthetic midlayer available in four earth tones for men, and a slightly different color palate for women [Cinder, Twilight, Chestnut, and Deep Sage for men, and Cinder, Merlot, Orchid, and Sky for women–all colors are tastefully subdued]. It’s in that versatile class that functions as both a mid- and an outer layer depending on the circumstance. The interior is a grid of merino fleece that serves to insulate and move sweat from the body, and it’s paired with synthetic outer fibers that allow for a great deal of stretch and add durability to the wool. It comes from Voormi, a company based out of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, that develops its own textiles from merino sheep high in the Rocky Mountains. According to Voormi, the cold weather lends extra crimp to the sheep’s wool, which makes for greater insulation than comparable wool fibers. The company uses a rapid prototyping design process that allows them to test product features and adjust their fabrics as needed to perfect designs based on feedback from their various iterations. The High-E hoodie is a product of this process.
The High-E hoodie excels at aerobic activities in cold weather. There’s something spectacular about running a few miles hard uphill toward Boulder’s Flatirons in freezing temperatures and stopping to see steam rising from your forearms. No down hoodie of equal warmth will breathe like that. Nor will a light down hoodie insulate like the High-E’s merino wool does after sweat and falling wet snow have soaked through every layer after hours of Nordic skiing. After a day of cruising through the rolling hills and trees surrounding Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, under constant wet snow, the High-E Hoodie was damp around the sleeves and shoulders–a fact I didn’t notice until I’d been in the car for fifteen minutes.
There are tradeoffs, however. The High-E hoodie does not pack well compared to down of comparable warmth. In a tiny climbing pack, like the Black Diamond Bullet, you may not have room for food, water, shoes, and the hoodie. It’s not heavy at 1lb, 6oz in the size medium I tested, but an equivalent lighter down or synthetic layer will weigh a bit less. However, the hoodie is comfortable across a range of conditions, so climbing in the sun and belaying in the shade didn’t prompt me to change (or have to bring extra) layers. When temps are in the fifties or sixties while climbing, or in the low twenties to thirties while Nordic or cross country skiing, the High-E hoodie stays on, and I don’t give temperature regulation a moment of thought. The layer repels water very well, but is permeable to air. Paired with a lightweight windproof layer, I can comfortably take the hoodie into colder temperatures or breezier conditions.
[Photo] Tyler Scheer
The hoodie utilizes what Voormi calls Surface Hardened thermal wool, with synthetic fibers on the outer layer to add durability. I took the hoodie climbing for the first time in Upper Dream Canyon, a gorgeous sweep of rough granite above Boulder Canyon. The climbing there demands friction and surface contact with large, crystalline features. I’ve quickly put holes in the forearms of a fleece layer there before, so I was curious to see how the High-E hoodie would hold up. A few pitches in, I found the Merino wool woven through the outer layers began fuzzing up a bit on the forearms. Many pitches later, however, and there has been no change in the fuzzing, and there has been no effect on the durable water repellent or performance. I’ve chimneyed with the hoodie, and the shoulders and back remain unscathed.
The hood is form-fitted to the face and neck, zipping under then over the chin to just below the nose, and leaving a ski-goggle-sized opening around the eyes. It has a liner that does a great job of dissipating moisture from breath, even when running and cross country skiing with the hood fully zipped. When I first tried the hoodie on, the close-fitting neck felt constrictive, but softened within a few outings. I don’t notice it anymore when climbing, nor when I’m out running or skiing. I will, however, say that sunglasses tend to fog up when the hood is fully zipped, and the zipper pulls are far too small to use when wearing gloves. The first time I wore the piece skiing, I had to stop, plant a pole, and remove a glove each time I wanted to adjust the hood. On-the-fly adjustments were impossible until I got home and extended the pulls with some string.
With the exception of the zipper pulls, the detail found throughout the High-E Hoodie is fantastic. The stitching is perfect. The kangaroo pouch is generous, and the pockets sit high enough to access when wearing a climbing harness. The hoodie is long enough that it won’t pull out from the harness when climbing. There is a thoughtfully designed media pocket so unobtrusive that I didn’t even notice it until the third time I wore the hoodie. The thumb loops aren’t holes in the wrist, but formed by overlapping flaps that prevent snow from intruding when gloves are on, a feature I have aggressively tested by accidentally falling gracefully into snow drifts while skiing.
Wool is famous for its lack of stink, and the High-E hoodie upholds tradition. The presence of synthetic fibers made me wonder if frequent washings would be necessary. After one month of almost daily wear and zero washings, I asked my girlfriend to smell the hoodie. No stink was reported. I’d like to thank Kristen for exposing herself to such danger for the good of Alpinist‘s readership.
Wool is also famous for its (steep) price, and the High-E hoodie is expensive in comparison to synthetic midlayers of equivalent warmth, with an MSRP of $229.00. The High-E hoodie will last for years–every other layer in my closet, save a belay parka for cold-weather cragging and a windproof shell for windy, cold days, has sat dormant since I got the hoodie.
Pros: Breathable, durable, stink-free, good-looking, comfortable mid- to outer layer that performs well across a wide range of temperatures.
Cons: Expensive, does not pack well.