A Hard Shell for the Hard Charger

Tested: Westcomb Focus Hoody

Sports and Outdoors By Photo by Westcomb

Traveling fast and light on a backpacking or climbing trip is a worthy goal. But while less junk stuffed in your pack means easier miles of trail, sometimes what’s left behind would otherwise keep you warm, dry and comfortable. It’s hard to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Continental Divide or Pacific Crest trails when you’ve been wearing the same soaked baselayer and stinky socks for 5 straight days.

Lucky for you, the designers at Westcomb have put together an innovative line of shells and mid layers that keep you warm and dry (and more importantly, happy) when you’re logging some serious backcountry travel. Westcomb has a reputation for making bomber apparel that can take years of punishment, so when they gave us the opportunity to preview some of their new spring lineup, our reviewers put together some grueling tests; in short, we took their Focus Hoody ($280) out for some spring ski touring and rock climbing for evaluation.

With all of the shell’s technical features — eVent membrane, taped seams, a helmet compatible hood — it may seem funny that the first thing we noticed were the zipper pulls. However, the oversized rubber toggles were a perfect, subtle addition. Easy to grip with ski-glove-covered hands on a long uphill hike or numb fingers after a bitingly cold belay, they made it a simple process to dump excess heat or hunker down when snow and sleet started falling. The Velcro wrist cuffs were equally user friendly, smoothly slipping under gauntlet style mittens, and they weren’t overly constrictive, either.

METHODOLOGY: We (1) headed into the Wasatch Range with some buddies and (2) wore the Westcomb Focus Hoody nearly the whole time — specifically during (3) bouts of spring skiing and rock climbing.

Every detail, from the cut of the hood — ski- and mountaineering-helmet friendly — to the silicone lined waistband, was designed for quick mountain travel. Another juicy bonus? eVent construction, which is more breathable than Gore-Tex. We never got that clammy, overheated feeling that often comes from wearing a hardshell, even while humping heavy loads of climbing gear to the local crag. As an outer shell, it excelled at beating back the elements, whether we were moving fast uphill or just hanging around basecamp.

Of course, there’s never a perfect product. Because of its minimal construction, the Focus is lacking on some of the details we’ve become accustomed to. Pockets? Just one Napoleon. Adjustable waist? Non-existent. However, after a few days of schlepping through the Wasatch Range, we found out that we weren’t just getting by without those features — we were entirely happy to trade them for minimalism. The Focus fits well under a heavy pack loaded with gear, and comfortably over a climbing harness. Its ultra-light build (8.9 ounces in Medium) allowed us to pack it everywhere we went. Our conclusion? For a long, lightweight expedition, Westcomb’s Hoody will keep you warm, dry and smiling long after the weather tries to boot you off the mountain.