Warmth, comfort, weight, durability: likely the four most important characteristics of a layer you’re toting up a climb, be it rock or ice. The Merino Fleece Light Grid, a mid-layer pullover from Ortovox, gets high marks for each of these—no easy task.
The Merino Fleece Light Grid is similar to Patagonia’s R1, with the main difference being the materials. The outside of the pullover is polyester, but the lining is oh-so-soft-and-warm merino wool. The merino lining feels fantastic against the skin, and insulates as good or better than any synthetic top you’ve been using as a mid-layer. I was skeptical how warm it would actually keep me—it’s just 256 grams, and feels paper thin when you handle it—but it was the only layer I needed on windy, 50-degree days. Ortovox sources their merino wool from Tasmania, and value transparency in their production process (to learn more, check out the “Ortovox Wool Promise”).
Balancing warmth, weight and comfort is reasonably doable— there are a good amount of options out there that tick these boxes—but durability is often the tricker one. Other similar offerings seem great upon first inspection, only to look like swiss cheese after you’ve shoulder-scummed up a dihedral in the desert. I found durability to be one of the Merino Fleece Light Grid’s greatest strengths. No rips, tears, holes, or fuzzy spots even after many weeks worth or use. The piece also has reinforced shoulders and elbow patches, so the spots more prone to abrasion have a bit of extra sturdiness.
The other design features are also well thought out. The low-profile hood fits under a helmet, and its stretchiness means it fits over a helmet, too, if you want just a little more warmth without any unbuckling hassle while you’re at the belay. The Light Grid’s zipper comes down a bit lower than the bottom of the sternum, so it’s plenty easy to fit it over your head even if you’ve got your helmet on already. This also means you can cool off considerably without taking it off completely.
The main thing I’d hope for in the next iteration is some sort of stow system— perhaps one small pocket that the piece could stuff into. (Speaking of which, a pocket would be nice, too, increasing the piece’s versatility.)
Ortovox says their “Total Easy Care” finishing on their wool means that you can throw it in the washing machine in a warm or hot cycle. That being said, I found the piece got a bit snugger after a couple warm washes, so if the sizing is spot-on with no wiggle room, maybe keep it on the cold cycle for a while, and maybe line dry.
All in all, the Ortovox Merino Fleece Light Grid has become my go-to layer for long days on the wall when I don’t need a full blown puffy, but know I’ll get chilly without anything. When it comes to merino, it costs ya—this Merino Fleece Light Grid costs $180—but it’s well worth it and will last you.
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