Soft-shell clothing has become popular over the years because of its adaptability, allowing athletes to bring fewer clothes and be more comfortable in changing conditions without having to change their layers.
The Outdoor Research Ferrosi jacket is a sensible, bare-bones soft-shell that accomplishes exactly what it’s designed to do with elegant simplicity. It is very breathable, wind proof, water-resistant, and durable enough for the abuses of scrappy rock climbing.
Review by Drew Thayer, Senior Correspondent
Climbing-optimal fit: A slim, long cut stays tucked in and keeps fabric clear of your gear loops, stretch fabric accommodates uninhibited motion and allows gymnastic moves. Also, the hood fits snugly over a helmet and doesn’t restrict motion (a problem I’ve had with other soft-shells).
Wind proof and water resistant: The tight weave blocks wind completely, and the DWR is enough to repel a light drizzle or resist seepage when you push your shoulder into a seeping corner. It is not waterproof—I got caught in a cloudburst in the Flatirons last week and was thoroughly soaked—but no soft-shell really is. For winter use, I think the Ferrosi will work great in dry snow or dry ice, but the same rules apply to wet snow as rain.
Medium-weight: At 13.6 oz (for men’s L), the Ferrosi is about the lightest jacket you could call an honest soft-shell, comparable to the Mountain Hardwear Chockstone (13.1 oz). Winter-sport oriented soft-shells can go up to 24 oz; anything lighter is really a windbreaker.
Breathability: The Ferrosi breathes really well, better than any soft-shell of comparable weight, an excellent feature for hiking and climbing. At chilly belays, I usually have to strip my wind-breaking jacket off at the start of a lead, despite the shivers, to avoid soaking in sweat by the end of the pitch. I was able to wear the Ferrosi on physical pitches without heating up uncomfortably.
Durability: This is where the Ferrosi really shines; it is very durable for its weight. I thrutched my limbs in offwidths and chimneys on High Sierra granite and the fabric didn’t show a bit of wear.
Bottom Line: Soft-shell jackets eliminate wardrobe decisions for mountain athletes by keeping us comfortable in an amazingly broad range of conditions. Of course, a soft-shell is not always the right choice; for a climb on the Longs Peak Diamond in June with a 40% chance of thunderstorms, I’m going to take something waterproof. And for a scramble up a ridge on a breezy day, I’d probably just take a windbreaker. True windbreakers like the Marmot Driclime (8.8 oz) or ultra-minimalist Patagonia Houdini (4.5 oz) will cram into your pocket like a Cliff bar and block wind great, but will they hold up to a pitch of hard chimneying? Hardly.
Light-weight soft-shell jackets fit that niche of aerobic activity, rough abuse, and minimal moisture, which is what climbers consider “perfect conditions”. The Ferrosi soft-shell was the perfect durable, highly breathable, wind-breaking layer for alpine rock climbs on Mt Dana and the Incredible Hulk this July, and it’s the first thing I throw into my climbing pack for any scrappy excursion where rain isn’t a major concern.
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