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Reviews > Clothing > Shirts > Backpacking Light Beartooth Merino Hoody > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

BACKPACKING LIGHT BEARTOOTH MERINO WOOL HOODY
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
August 26, 2010

PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 64 years old
6' 4" (1.93 m), 205 lb (91 kg), torso 22.5 in (57 cm), chest 46 in (117 cm), waist 37 in (95 cm), sleeve length: 36.5 in (93 cm)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for 45 years and regularly in the Northern Rockies since 1986.  I do at least one week-long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500-3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do forced marches too.  Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still often include my favorite camp conveniences and I still always sleep in a floored tent.  I spend much winter backcountry time on telemark or touring skis.

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION and DETAILS

Merino Hoody (from manufacturer's website)The Backpacking Light Beartooth Merino Wool Hoody is just that: a hooded base layer pullover made of lightweight merino wool.  ("Beartooth" is the name of a mountain range near the manufacturer's home base in Montana.) The photo at left, from the manufacturer’s website, illustrates two features that distinguish the Hoody from many similar shirts: thumb holes, to keep the sleeves from being pulled up by arm movement, and a very close-fitting hood, more like a balaclava without the mask than the roomier hood on a traditional sweatshirt.  The Hoody has "Backpacking Light" embossed on the lower left front (barely visible in the photo) in letters so small I didn't notice them for several weeks.

Backpacking Light, better known to its friends and customers as BPL, operates a web-based business offering gear and clothing (its own and from other manufacturers), feature articles, forums, and field courses, all devoted to its namesake style of backpacking.  BPL markets the Hoody as providing "maximum performance for multiple purposes while minimizing the volume of gear carried."  My multiple purposes have been use as a base layer in colder climes, as a standalone shirt when temperatures permit, and as part of my sleep system. 

Manufacturer: Backpacking Light
Web Address: www.backpackinglight.com  BPL has no distributors and this website is the only place to purchase the Hoody.
Year purchased: 2008
Weight, listed: 8.2 oz / 232 g, size medium
Weight, measured: 8.75 oz / 248 g, size XL
Listed sizes: Unisex XS-XL when I bought it.  But see note on availability below.
Sleeve length, measured mid-collar to cuff: 35.5 in/ 90 cm
Body length, measured collar to hem in the middle of the back: 30.5 in/ 77 cm
Material: 18.5 micron superfine merino wool
Construction: "Serged seams, mechanical stretch, and a finished edge around the cuffs"
Color: Viridian green with slate grey trim
MSRP: $109.99 US.  As with most BPL products there is a discounted list price for subscribers.
Listed features:  "Flexible weave, Excellent breathability, Durable stitching, Superb adaptability, A trim-but-not-tight active fit, Long sleeves that don't ride up while reaching overhead, and extra-long hem (for tucking)."
Warranty: Thirty days from date of purchase against defects in materials or workmanship.
Availability note: The Beartooth Hoody has been extremely popular, with its first production run selling out in short order.  There wasn't a second run for more than six months, and at this writing it’s once again listed as “coming soon.”

FIELD CONDITIONS

Backpacking venues have included Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas) in November 2008, Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) over New Year's week 2009, several overnight trips in north Texas and the Texas Hill Country in late winter and early spring 2009, a three-day, two-night trip in the Absaroka Mountains, Montana, in July 2009, a four-day, three-night trip in the Slough Creek Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming in early August 2009, a seven-day service trip in the Swan Range, Montana in late August 2009, a three-day packrafting course on the Yellowstone River, Montana, in September 2009, and service trips this summer along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, Montana, in July and in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, in August.

Temperatures in the Guadalupes ranged from just below freezing at night to about 60 F (16 C) in late afternoon.  We got a taste of the strong winds for which west Texas is famous, with gusts approaching 50 mph (76 km/hr) on a day hike to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, at 8749 feet (2667 m) the highest point in the Lone Star State.  I wore the Hoody as a base layer under a wind shirt when hiking and under a wind shirt and down sweater at rest breaks.  I also wore the Hoody to bed, using its hood and a wool cap to keep my head warm in my quilt-style sleeping bag.  
The backpacking portion of my winter Yellowstone trip was in unseasonably warm temperatures, about 20 F (-7 C) when hiking and dropping to 7 F (-14 C) overnight, amid snow flurries and blustery winter winds.  Again I wore the Hoody as a base layer, under a down sweater when ski touring, and adding a lined parka at rest stops or a heavier down jacket in camp.  I changed into a heavier-weight base layer and a heavy hooded down sweater just before snuggling into my sleeping bag.

In February and March in Texas temperatures were 50-60 F (10-16 C) during the day and about 45 F (7 C) at night.  I wore the Hoody only as part of my sleep system, preferring a long-sleeve merino shirt with a crew neck for daytime wear.  At the warmer temperatures inside my tent I found that I didn't need a cap for more head warmth, though I'd add one when in camp.

Temperatures in the Rockies when I was there last summer and this were glorious – highs about 75 F (24 C) and nighttime lows about freezing.  September was even warmer until the last morning – not much below 50 F (10 C) at night and daytime highs in the 80s F (~27 C).  I wore the Hoody as part of my sleep system on all nights, under an extra-light down sweater in the Absarokas and the Swans or a wool sweater in Yellowstone, always with a wool cap.  I also wore the Hoody as my only upper body layer on two hikes out, with the hood hanging down rather than over my head. 

The Hoody has also served as a base layer when skiing and ski touring, inbounds and out of bounds at Bridger Bowl (Montana) just after New Year's 2009 and Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee (Wyoming) in February and March 2009, and on a day tour in Yellowstone a few days after my overnight.  At the ski areas temperatures varied from 15 to 35 F (-9 to 2 C), with mostly clear, calm weather, though we had a few snow flurries.  On the four-hour day ski in Yellowstone the temperatures had returned to normal, rising from -22 to -5 F (- 30 to -21 C), on a calm, sunny day.  Over the Hoody I wore a wool or down sweater, adding a waterproof-breathable parka when skiing downhill.

All use has occurred at relatively low humidity.

OBSERVATIONS

Fit.  BPL's "trim-but-not tight" is spot-on.  The Hoody definitely has a more athletic cut than all other base layers in my closet.  I never thought my body size to be typical, but the XL size fits me exceptionally well.  Despite the close fit I didn't notice any pinching across the chest or at the shoulders, even when downhill skiing or boot packing.  I much appreciate the longer length, as with my long torso I constantly battle a shirttail riding up in back – most unpleasant at -22 F (-30 C) or after a tumble in the snow.  Though the Hoody’s sleeves are a trifle short on me I can't call that a fault, as I've rarely found a size XL shirt, let alone an undershirt, that matched my long arms.  Using the thumb holes requires a slight stretch of the material for my arms, but so far I've managed without a rip or other mishap. 

Features.  The close-fitting hood has made the Hoody my favorite base layer.  Its fit is not confining yet snug enough that I can wear it in winter under my ski helmet, often allowing me to dispense with a separate neck gaiter.  Around camp on a cold morning when backpacking or when fishing on a windy stream, the fit means no open apertures for the wind to blow into.  In my sleeping bag the hood stays on, over my ears and neck, while standard sweater- or sweatshirt-style hoods often slip off the back when I toss or turn.  Here again BPL's words are apt: "balaclava Chilly morninghood."  It's like wearing a balaclava that's attached to my shirt, as shown in the photograph at right, taken last month on a chilly morning in Yellowstone.  The fabric is so light that I don't notice the hood when I'm not wearing it and it's lying against the back of my neck.  In warmer weather I can open the zipper to increase ventilation when the hiking gets rigorous.

I've generally considered thumb holes an unnecessary bother whose principal purpose was to soak my wrists and hands with snow or rain.  I tend to wear gauntlet-style gloves in winter, which reduces the need for extra length of any upper body layer.  The Hoody's thumb holes do have their uses.  They really help keep my wrists warm in my sleeping bag.  I'm a restless side sleeper who often wakes up to find one arm at least outside his bag.  They also help prevent sleeve ends from disappearing into my parka amid the constant arm motion of downhill skiing.  And it's easy enough not to wear them if I'm so inclined.  Their being there provides some extra length, always appreciated by this long-armed hiker. 

The stretchy fabric complements the athletic cut of the Hoody, permitting free movement without bunching.  The New Zealand merino is soft and silky next to my skin, and it hasn't gotten smelly even after several consecutive days' use for skiing and hiking.  In the Guadalupes I even broke from my usual custom of donning clean underwear for my sleeping bag so that I could take advantage of the hood.

The merino fabric feels almost paper-thin, but the Hoody insulates quite well.  No doubt its body-hugging cut and lack of openings when zipped up have much to do with that.  I was especially impressed with its performance in the Guadalupes.  Most of the hike to Guadalupe Peak had us exposed to constant wind at low 40s F (4-5 C).  I'm normally cold prone yet I could handle all but rest stops with only the Hoody and an unlined EPIC wind shirt. 

I have never had the zipper stick, even in the cold when opening or closing it while wearing mittens.

Weight and Durability.  As for weight, consider the source.  Backpacking Light is the very font of lightweight, ultra light, and super-ultra light philosophy.  The Hoody weighs in well under all but one base layer I own.  BPL doesn't publish a fabric weight, so I have no way to compare with other garments, and my one seemingly lighter base layer doesn't have a hood that would allow a straight-up comparison on the scale.  The Hoody has a much tighter weave than the one that feels lighter, a particularly good thing for braving the stretches and strains of skiing use.  
The really pleasant surprise has been the material's strength and durability.  BPL has made its Beartooth line slightly heavier than its other merino garments, adding a gram here and there with extra sewing and finished edges.  That's all to the good, as this shirt has weathered the rigors of skiing and hiking, the abrasion of pack straps and avalanche beacon holster, several washings, and close proximity to a sweaty big man without losing its shape or integrity, and has done its job throughout.  (Don't despair, ounce-counters; BPL has recently offered for sale "a minimal hoody made from our UL merino fabric" in addition to the Beartooth.  It has no zipper and is listed at a featherweight 5.5 oz/156 g for size Large.)  
Care.  After several days' use the Hoody is tossed with other dark-colored wool garments into my front-loading washer and cleaned with cold water, delicate cycle, non-detergent soap, and an extra rinse.  As with other merino items I air-dry the Hoody flat.  The thin fabric dries very quickly, boding well for field washing should that become necessary.

Summary.  The BPL Beartooth Hoody is versatile, comfortable, and always functional. I expect to wear it year-round until it wears out.  I liked it enough that when BPL finally did its second production run I bought another in case they are not available when that sad day arrives.  Good thing I did – a post at BPL indicated that the next run will be in sizes Medium and Large only.

WHAT I LIKE

No frills. One last quote from BPL: the Hoody "provides warmth, comfort, and functionality. Period."

Balaclava-style hood.  Great for skiing and in a sleep system.  I like this feature so much I've designed a custom down sweater with a similar fabric hood. (I reviewed that sweater separately on this site.)

Long torso and sleeve length

Athletic fit

Durability

WHAT I DON'T

The zipper.  I'd prefer buttons. 

Price.  A C-note for a base layer! Steep even for top-quality merino.



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Reviews > Clothing > Shirts > Backpacking Light Beartooth Merino Hoody > Owner Review by Richard Lyon



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