Ortovox are a brand I've always admired from afar, but never actually owned or tested any of their kit before. It's high-end and plenty cheaper options are available, so is it really worth the extra buck?
I bit the bullet and purchased the Ortovox Swisswool Piz Boval Jacket M, so to find out if your money gets you more than just a fancy jacket name here's my review of the Boval after a day's winter climbing on Creag Meagaidh, one of Scotlands finest crags, in March 2018.
First the plan. It's a 3 hour drive from Aberdeen, west over the A9 and down Laggen side to the Creag Meagaidh carpark without stops, so a night in Aviemore seemed sensible, despite the temptations of the Skiing doo Bar and Old Bridge Inn. This would allow for an early morning rendezvous with 2 Heroes of Gear Pest, Stuart Kennedy and Tristram Fox, making their way north from their respective abodes. A straightforward 60-90 minute approach west from the cars to the foot of the crags. Select a route that looks in condition, climb said route and bag the 3 munros, Creag Meagaidh itself followed by Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath, in a clockwise direction back to the cars.
In keeping with much of the winter 2017/18 the weather was stunning. Cold and clear with blue skies all day, air sweeping down from the arctic, lit by a low winter sun painting a scene straight from a picture book about the central highlands on cold clear snowy days.
Although the Ortovox Boval is an insulated piece it's designed to move in rather than act as a belay jacket. I wore a light synthetic base layer with the Boval on top for the walk in and to move on the crag, with a bigger goose down jacket on top for the belays', a trusty hard shell covered all other eventualities.
The Boval is not merely reversible for style purposes, but has 2 hand warmer pockets on the outside in 1 configuration and 2 napolean style (chest) pockets when you wear it in reverse. When wearing a backpack, the chest pockets are both low enough to clear a chest strap and are a good size. Likewise when wearing a harness this configuration is a winner. It was easy to access these pockets and pack them with slings and other climbing parafanalia that doesn't make it onto my harness.
I was certainly warm for the approach, but the Swisswool fill and Pertex Microlight outer material is highly breathable, preventing me from turning into a sweaty mess. The padding has an insulation weight of 90 g/ m².
After reaching Lochan a Choire below the cliffs, we tooled up with crampons, harnesses and axes for the crux of the day. The size of these cliffs mean the bottom is at a lower altitude than many other scottish crags, so you can never be sure the start of your intended route will be in condition. Our initial target was was covered in brittle ice known as dinner plate, so we continued up the steep Raeburn gully, gaining height till the ice was sound. Ritchies Gully was to be the dish of the day.
On the climb itself, the Boval allowed great freedom of movement for my arms and I was glad of the Swisswool, despite my effort, as this part of Creag Meagaidh is in eternal shade at this time of year. I was glad of my more substantial down jacket for the belay's though. Especially as with a threesome there's usually a bit more standing around.
I've always been a fan of a hoodless jacket. Again for the walk in and the climb itself not having a hood to catch on backpack or helmet is a plus for me. Hats and lids are for keeping your head warm after all.
After topping out, it is but a stroll to the summit peak, which sits on a plateau stretching east. With the breeze on the tops I kept my down jacket on over the top of the Boval and was glad of it until we had descended back towards the level of the road. I confess, I skipped the final Munro, leaving Trist and Stuart in the gloom of early evening and headed directly for the car. A top day out.
All in all I'm a huge fan of the Ortovox Piz Boval and I'm glad I forked out a bit of extra cash for it. It's comfortable across a range of temperatures, though if you are looking for something to stand around in the cold with, then look for something warmer.
I feel this would be a perfect ski touring jacket, it's lightweight and breathable with great pockets. A big plus, although I didn't get to test this is how it copes in wet conditions, the Swisswool fill should cope much better in the wet than goose down. This all combines with a Pertex shell that's water, wind and scuff resistant.
At the end of the day, you can simply reverse it and have 2 hand warmer pockets to stroll around Aviemore, or somewhere else in. A first class mid/outer layer, I can't wait to get out in the hills with again.
So yes, you really do get what you pay for with Ortovox.
Cheers for now :)