Small batch. Until now it’s an epithet I’ve mostly associated with high-end consumables: whiskeys, cigars, a few beatifically rank cheeses. Whatever the product, when it comes to making the best of the best of something, the process is the same: take superior natural ingredients, process them with the most advanced technology, embrace the finitude of your supply. But what on earth is small-batch wool? And what happens when it’s used to make a hoodie? Enter one of the more impressively engineered garments I’ve come across in a long time, the High-E Hoodie from the Colorado collaboration that is the Fishpond VOORMI Co-Lab, aimed at bringing the best of climbing and skiing technology to the fly fishing world.
To appreciate what makes the High-E Hoodie so special, you’ve got to know a little something about wool, particularly ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH COUNTRY MERINO (TM), which comes from Colorado sheep bred for generations to produce fibers with a preternaturally high degree of crimp. For those unfamiliar with the physics of “crimp,” it refers to the spring-like texture of individual wool fibers. When the degree of crimp is low, you’ve got fibers that pack tightly one on top of the other—this is not good for warmth and breathability. What you want is a high degree of crimp, which results in fibers that don’t pack as tightly together in the final weave, thus creating tiny pockets of air that both trap heat and permit the movement of air through the fibers—what the user experiences as thermal regulation. Beneath a wind-proof shell, the High-E adds a warm layer of insulation. Used as a stand-alone layer, the High-E permits airflow and wicking during periods of intense activity and warmth for periods of low activity. A win-win.
In addition to superior crimp, the wool fibers in the High-E are culled for both fineness of diameter and length of fiber. This results in a wool that is softer to the touch (you can wear the High-E with a t-shirt and not feel scratchy in the arms) and more durable (it can be machine-washed without fear of compromising its textural integrity).
Wool isn’t the only material present. A smart blend of synthetics adds extra wicking ability at strategic internal locations, moisture repellence on the outer layer, and just the right amount of stretch everywhere.
Fly anglers will find a bunch of things to like about the High-E’s design. Let’s start with the sleeves. They’re cut a bit on the long side and have thumb pockets of the type found on high-end jogging tops. For the fly angler, this means you can keep more of your hands warm in cool situations without having to resort to gloves. In colder situations that do require gloves, this extra length means you can really jam your sleeves deep into your palms, finally solving the problem of exposed skin at the wrist. That said, if you’re doing something in warmer climes and want to get that excess material out of the way, simply roll the sleeves up an inch or two—the cuffs will stay put.
The High-E is also cut long at the bottom, which means that no matter what you do—say, jump up at a branch in which you’ve just lodged your fly—you’ll be exposing no belly. This extra length comes in particularly handy when wearing waders. Tuck this hoodie deep into your baselayer pants and they will not come untucked.
Then there’s the pockets. The fact that the pocket is cut in one longer kangaroo pouch instead of two small hand pockets means that you can both put cold hands into the pockets AND rub them together. Perhaps more importantly, it means you’ve got room to store just about anything that needs storing: fly box, gloves, tippet, sunglasses, or snack.
Lastly, the configuration of the zipper and hood means that you can really hunker down in the wind and cold. Zipped up all the way to just below your nose, you’ll enjoy a built-in level of neck protection that you’d usually have to look for in an accessory.
What Doesn't Work
The High-E has an “athletic fit,” which means that it’s going to best suit folks who might also be best described as athletic and fit. At 6’ 195 lbs, I found the High-E Size Large a tad snug in the chest and torso straight out of the box. It did loosen up to “fit just right” after a few days of wear, but it’s worth noting that the High-E might not comfortably fit all body types. (Note: The VOORMI website proper has a comprehensive sizing chart that will help you make informed sizing decisions.)
Along those same lines: the ergonomic cut of the zipper means that individuals with thicker necks might find the fully-zipped configuration a little tight on the tight side.
For the hard-fishing angler looking for an equally hard-working, second-skin type layer, it’s hard to think of a more durable and better engineered garment on the market today. The High-E is going to last a long time, require minimal washing, and work alongside you in a variety of different temperature environments. At $229 dollars, it’s also not inexpensive. Then again, that’s still considerably cheaper than a premium wader or rain jacket, and you’ll likely wear this much more often. All in all? Highly recommended.