Ortovox SwissWool Light Tec Vest
Stated Weight: 263 grams
Reviewer: 5’10”, 135 lbs
- Elastic Hood
- Stretch inserts made of Merino Naturtec Light on back
- 2 front pockets
- 1 chest pockets
- Ergonomic cut
- 60 g/m2 Swiss virgin wool insulation
Price: $190 USD
Days Tested: 6
Test Locations: Berner Oberland, Rothwald, & Weirihorn Switzerland
In the world of high-tech natural insulation, goose down practically has a monopoly on the market, and the days of the wool ski sweater are becoming a distant memory.
So you can imagine my eagerness to check out Ortovox’s new lightweight wool insulation.
Rather than go the bulky-sweater construction route, the Ortovox SwissWool Light Tec Vest looks just like a monofilament synthetic insulated piece. It is made with a high density nylon outer, just like most down and synthetic insulated pieces, but with Swiss wool insulation instead.
Wool is a great insulator that has been keeping us warm for thousands of years. It has excellent moisture regulation properties (Ortovox claims wool can absorb 35% its weight in water without feeling wet or de-lofting) and it is quite ecological considering that it’s renewable and has a relatively low impact on nature (not to mention that it’s much more animal friendly than down). Wool is also naturally odor resistant.
With all these awesome-sounding properties, I found it to be a serious bummer that the wool is sandwiched between two dense nylon layers in the SwissWool Light Tec vest. It makes it very hard to distinguish this vest from a similar vest made with synthetic insulation.
However, there are some distinct advantages over synthetic insulation. The two big ones for me are eco-friendliness and the lack of heavy quilting needed in the construction.
A comparable vest, like the Patagonia Nano Puff vest (240g, 60g/m² Primaloft Gold insulation), needs to be heavily quilted to prevent insulation from shifting within the garment. This results in a quilted aesthetic and thousands of little threads and holes all over the garment that can let water in and act as weak points.
The SwissWool Light Tec vest, on the other hand, requires relatively little quilting to prevent the insulation from moving, which minimizes the issues I just discussed. This also creates a great aesthetic departure from the very-similar-looking world of light weight insulation. The SwissWool garments definitely have a unique look.
As far as fabric performance is concerned, I have been quite pleased. At 60g, the SwissWool Light Tec doesn’t have quite as much loft as the Nano Puff (also 60g), but it has great hand feel and similar warmth. I would say the Nano Puff is a touch warmer, but the SwissWool Light Tec feels a bit more breathable (the Nano Puff lacks breathable underarm panels which may play a role, however).
There really isn’t much that feels different between the wool and synthetic insulation performance-wise. I have gotten the SwissWool Light Tec wet—primarily from snow soaking through between my pack and back on deep days—and it performs decently. It does lose some loft when wet, but not nearly as much as down would. I still would give synthetic insulation the nod when it comes to retaining loft when wet.
The SwissWool Light Tec vest has a slim fit that is surprisingly long. I am a slim guy, and the Medium is quite form fitting, certainly tighter than other size Medium vests that I have worn (though not quite as tight as the Marmot Alpha Pro, my standard for super slim-fitting jackets).
The arm holes are well sized, and don’t bunch up in my armpits. My range of motion is also not hindered due to the underarm stretch panels.
The hood is very small and does not fit over a helmet. This is a bit of a bummer because on the way up, when I often don’t wear a helmet, I don’t need the hood because I’m plenty warm and working hard. On the way down, I wear my helmet and often get colder, but I can’t wear the hood when I need it. I suppose on very cold tours the hood would be helpful, but mostly it just gets in the way.
The most irregular thing about the fit of the SwissWool Light Tec vest is the length. The vest is about 1-2” longer than similar garments. It does not have a two way zipper or an adjustable cinch cord on the waist. This combination leads to the vest often bunching up, and I find myself constantly pulling it down. While this isn’t a deal breaker at all, it is annoying sometimes.
I suspect the reason the vest has such a long cut is so that it can be worn over your shell and other layers when it gets really cold. The added length may help cover bulkier layers, but for me, the vest is a bit too slim to comfortably wear over a shell and baselayer(s).
The SwissWool Light Tec vest is rather feature-free. There are three zip pockets on the front—one chest and two hand. The chest pocket is quite small, but I can fit my iPhone 5 in it. The hand pockets are placed high for hip belt compatibility and can double as ventilation if necessary.
The hood and hem are not adjustable, but there are stretch panels sewn into the underarm and hood for added comfort. I’ve especially appreciated the underarm panels. Additionally, the hood and hem are trimmed with elastic to help keep everything in place.
The biggest feature on the vest, though, is the insulation and use of wool throughout. Ortovox lets the material speak for itself.
SwissWool won’t revolutionize the insulation world—it lands somewhere between down and synthetic insulation on the performance scale. But it is certainly higher than both down and synthetic in the eco-friendly category.
Ortovox combines this insulation in a simple, no frills vest that gets the job done. Consider this vest as a great alternative to more conventional insulation types.