Soft shell jackets are odd creatures, says Tom Hutton. Unlike fleeces, which are almost generic – let's face it a fleece is a fleece (almost) – soft shell jackets come in so many different shapes and sizes, it's difficult to know exactly what you want from one, let alone which model would actually deliver if you did know. So when I first set eyes on the Ultimate Hoody (UH from here on), the first question that went through my mind was 'what could I use it for?'
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Some four months later, after a month of trekking and climbing in Nepal, a shed load of hill walking to research a book, and plenty of rock climbing on the coast and in the mountains, the question has become 'what can't I use it for?'
Gasping for breath at 5,000m - Kyajo Ri in the background
Tom Hutton, Jul 2010
So what is the Ultimate Hoody? In short it's a reasonably lightweight soft shell jacket with a large hood, cut from an excellent full-stretch, windproof, very breathable Gore Windstopper fabric and bristling with some great features that make it super-versatile.
First let's put the weight in perspective, its closer to a warm wind shirt than a real insulating layer – at 480g (medium) it's similar to a 200g fleece or typical un-hooded soft shell – so doesn't provide stacks of warmth. But this only adds to the versatility on warmer days. To stretch this temperature tolerance further, it has pit zips that run from the elbow to the hem.
Thumb loops help to keep warm air in, and the hood provides enough of a boost to stop me reaching for another layer when I cool down. Like all soft shell, the UH will resist some rain too but will eventually soak out and when it does it's not the warmest.
Attention to detail is excellent – the zip pull tags are long enough to pull in gloves, and the hood drawcords adjust with just one hand. The outer pockets are huge and there's a useful inner pocket too.
The jacket was first used in anger in Nepal, where I was faced with a 10-day trek into a climb. It was the usual thing: take the kit you need during the day in your pack and the rest gets hauled by the porters. I started in a base layer with the UH on top, but carried a lightweight fleece and a waterproof just in case.
At lower levels it was warm but too drizzly to walk in just a base layer. With the zips undone, I stayed in the UH the whole time. As we got higher, I tested the UH more, relying on it all day long above the 5000m mark. As I got to know it more, so I carried less in my pack – eventually dropping the fleece and waterproof most days.
Snow flakes fell off the fabric without making an impression, and the stretch ensured that movement wasn't hindered at all, when climbing.
Back home, the UH has seen plenty of hill walking, coping well with warm but windy weather as well as the more usual cool, wet mountain days we're used to in Wales. I've also climbed in it regularly; both on the sea cliffs of the Gower and Pembrokeshire, where it seems to be permanently windy at the moment; and in the mountains of Snowdonia.
Again I've found it invaluable, especially when setting off up a multi-pitch route and wondering whether to wear a jacket or not. With all the zips open, it's seldom too warm; yet on belays and walking off, it can be done up and the hood pulled up to keep the warmth in.
Mammut Ultimate Hoody
Cosmetically, it's black, but before anyone says 'isn't all soft shell?' please note that there are other colours. And I am also pleased to report that it still looks like new after an incredible amount of wear. It's a lot of money for a soft shell jacket but it's an incredibly versatile bit of kit that will last a long time. I'm off to Skye next week and the Alps next month and the UH is sure to be with me – then there's ski touring next spring to think about.
A few words on the Ultimate Hoody for Women from Steph Duits
Like Tom, my women's UH has fast become my favourite soft shell jacket. I love it because it's lightweight, looks great, and stuffs away easily in my pack. The attention to detail is obvious – body and arm length are spot on, ventilation and breathability are top notch, and the hood fits over my climbing helmet perfectly. I love the thumb loops – they keep my hands warm on windy belay ledges! My only gripes are that the cuffs aren't elastic enough to pull up easily, and the hem on the right hand sleeve started to unravel after only a couple of outings.
MORE INFO: on the Mammut Website.
UKC Gear, Jul 2010
© Tom Hutton Collection
About Tom Hutton
Tom Hutton is an award-winning writer and photographer who lives in Mid Wales with his partner, Steph. He enjoys pretty much all styles of climbing, with a preference for long trad routes or mountaineering; and he also spends a fair bit of time walking, running and mountain biking. He's contributed to most of the UK's outdoor titles over the years and has also written a number of guidebooks.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Tom Hutton: