THE GREAT OUTDOORS — If someone told you a new product existed that eliminated the need for layering when spending time in cold weather, and that it could keep you warm even when wet, what would you say?
If you're like most outdoorsmen who enjoy all the winter activities Utah offers — duck hunting, ice fishing, skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, to name a few — you'd be understandably wary of such a claim. Anyone who spends hours or days in the unpredictable snow and frigid temperatures of a Utah winter knows layers, especially wool, are essential to staying warm.
However, a company in the sleepy town of Mt. Pleasant, aims to upend the way winter sports enthusiasts look at staying warm in the cold.
Fortress Clothing opened a Kickstarter campaign Aug. 19 to raise money for products which, "Allow you to be wet and warm, (stops) the wind, and evacuates moisture, whether it's from your own perspiration or . . . outdoor conditions," according to Fortress account manager Michael Lewis.
Those are substantial claims to make, and as someone who spends three to four days a week fly fishing during winter, I wasn't sure if I believed Lewis when first talking with him. The line of gear from Fortress includes a hybrid hoodie, pants (very similar to ski pants but much more comfortable), balaclavas and mittens.
Fortress let me use the aforementioned gear for a weekend of testing in blizzards, rainstorms and near-zero temps. Let's look at how the gear fared.
The hybrid hoodie, shown here in a camouflage color, had the task of retaining heat with only a thin polyester base layer below it. The hybrid hoodie provided extreme warmth even in below-freezing dry conditions, but more impressively it retained body heat even after becoming soaked due to rain and heavy snow.
The hoodie fits well, with elastic cuffs that cinch around your wrist. The hood is large and adjustable, allowing room for hats or balaclavas, and features two zippered pockets. More pockets would definitely be a plus, but it's not a deal breaker. The version tested for this review had a quarter-inch of the proprietary Fortress insulation material, rated to 30 below zero, and fits nicely inside a pair of waders.
It's important to stay warm, but almost equally important to be comfortable when spending prolonged periods of time outside during winter. The hybrid hoodie fit just like you'd expect from a lightweight jacket.
The pants felt a bit like ski pants; however, the pants have an articulated knee which makes them far more comfortable than most ski pants. They got wet as well, and still retained the warmth promised by Fortress. Even the balaclava, which fits comfortably as well, kept a wet head warm.
I never thought I'd see the day when a single layer of outerwear could retain warmth in any sort of Rocky Mountain winter weather. I never expected a product to do so even when wet, but that's what Fortress accomplishes.
This product testing wasn't a fluke, either. Courtney Boice, President/CEO of Blue Halo, a local Utah company that builds fiberglass fly rods, used some Fortress gear during a recent fly fishing trip to Iceland.
"I was just standing in a river . . . that had snow and ice all over," Boice said in an email. "The outside temps were 5 degrees and I wasn't cold at all. Honestly, you have to try it to believe it."
Fortress will be sending their Kickstarter backers a hybrid hoodie first (the company raised nearly $500,000 in 38 days on the crowdfunding platform) with general availability expected in January 2017. Pants, jackets, balaclavas, and mittens are all available now on the company's website.
About the Author: Spencer Durrant