It's been a while since we were told to 'Hug a hoodie' but as we gallop headlong into the guns of winter it is time for me to urge you all to embrace the hood once more.
Hooded base-layers have a couple of neat tricks that deserve some attention as we start to think about keeping warm in the mountains. The main advantage of a hooded base-layer over a separate base-layer and hat is that you will never lose or forget your hood! Obviously in deep winter you may need to carry other hats as conditions dictate but having that first layer, always at the ready, in just the right place is a god-send and saves faffing around in pockets or your pack. If thermo-regulation is less of a chore then you are more likely to do it, keeping your body at just the right temperature to fend off sweat and heat loss. If your knitted hat is sewn into your base-layer then it's also one less thing to carry in your winter pack which, despite your best efforts, is bigger and heavier than your tiny summer UL satchel.
Hooded base-layers aren't always the easiest thing find though. For some reason the outdoor clothing industry doesn't see the need for them. While there are a few options if you search hard enough it was BPL that had the market almost exclusively 'sewn up' at one point with their legendary merino wool Beartooth Hoody. Seemingly always 'out of stock' some people resorted to stitching a balaclava to their base-layers while the rest of us signed up for e-mail stock alerts and waited and waited and waited...
Then I read that Andy Skurka was wearing an Ibex merino wool hooded base-layer, called the Indie, on his crazy Alaska-Yukon expedition. I hopped on over to Ibex's web site and liked what I saw. With a weight of 195g/sqm the Indie's 100% 18.5 micron New Zealand wool is a slightly heavier than the Beartooth's 150g/sqm but I don't usually wear merino until well into autumn and winter so the extra warmth and durability would be welcome. I pulled the trigger and ordered one.
The Indie has all the features I was looking for. Having a decent length in the body helps keep the top tucked-in in winter. The arms were also nice and long. This keeps your wrists covered when using ski or hiking poles or reaching up when scrambling. The 'thumb loops' I can live without. If the arm length is long enough then I've never quite seen the point of thumb loops. My size Medium tips the scales at 285g.
The hood is nice and snug. I didn't want anything too 'casual' that would blow down in a wind and pulling the zip up to the top cinches the hood nicely around your face. Add a Buff or face mask in deep winter for even more protection. Another benefit of a hood is the seal around the neck, especially useful for those pushing quilts into the colder months.
Above 10C (50F) I have found the Indie to be a bit warm, despite the venting offered by the 9in chest zip. It's in cooler temperatures that the Indie really shines. Changeable autumn days is the perfect environment for merino base-layers and the Indie's flexibility is welcome. On the way up the sunny side of the mountain you can push the sleeves up and pull the zip down for maximum cooling effect. Walking in and out of the weak autumn sun-light you can easily flip the hood up and down as required. On the wind swept summit ridge you can pull the sleeves down, put the hood up and pull on a wind-shirt for a really breathable but warm combination.
I've not had a chance to wear the Indie on ski tours in deep winter yet and it will be interesting to wear it alongside my Patagonia R1 Hoody, a slightly heavier, synthetic hoody that has achieved Holy Grail status in alpine climbing circles. The R1 should theoretically dry quicker but the Indie will stay warm when damp so it will be interesting to see which one wins although I have a sneaky suspicion that they might work best together as part of a system...
So I'm really pleased with my Ibex Indie so far. While not the one-base-layer-to-rule-them-all that I had initially hoped for it is still a very adaptable hooded base-layer that will stay part of my Autumn/Winter wardrobe for the foreseeable future.