Ortovox Swisswool Piz Bial - Women's Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Swisswool Piz Bial Jacket stands out for its reversible wool construction. For a high initial price, you get two jackets in one package as it's reversible. Built with virgin wool, its warm for a midweight jacket, but can't be worn on its own in the depths of winter. The pockets are shallow, and unfortunately, it's not very packable, losing out to a top competitor in this competition.
On cold days, the Piz Bial offers average warmth with better-wet warmth than any competitor. While most synthetic jackets are loaded with some kind of manufactured material, this uses 88% virgin wool and 12% polylactide. We like to use it as our final layer in cold weather or as an insulative jacket underneath a shell — when the temperatures plummet into the double negatives. It's not the warmest insulated jacket on the market, but with proper layering, it can be worn all year round.
We tested in cold temperatures that dipped right below freezing. With a solid base layer, it insulates perfectly on its own — in a dry climate. In colder weather or where the climate might be wet, you might benefit from an additional fleece layer. While the piece we tested doesn't have a hood, we appreciate that layering is easy, both under and over the top, which adds to the overall warmth you'll receive while adventuring.
We're most impressed by the relative amount of warmth when wet. Insulated jackets keep you warm, even if you accidentally get soaked. We got caught in a rainstorm on a cold-weather hike, and the integrated wool did a great job of keeping us warm, even when wet - more so than other synthetic contenders. As a result of this experience, it's one we'd easily recommend for pretty much any activity, either on its own or under a shell. Just let it be known that it's far from waterproof.
Weight & Compression
When stored in a separate stuff sack, this jacket is lightweight and compressive. Unfortunately, the wool insulation isn't as compressive as other hi-loft competitors, but it can still easily be stuffed into a backpack. When put into a stuff sack, it can compress to the size of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and it wasn't uncommon for us to stuff this jacket into a pack when it got too hot.
While it's not as compressive as other super lightweight contenders, its lightweight design (12 ounces) isn't bulky or annoying to carry around. If you're thinking of buying this jacket for recreational activities all year round, it's one we'd recommend. However, if you're seeking ultralight performance, other options may serve you better.
The exterior fabric provides excellent wind and water resistance in poor weather. While it's far from waterproof, the double layers of synthetic materials easily cut the wind. They also help wick away water for several minutes in a heavy downpour before saturating.
When testing, we often ran into wind and water. The Piz Bial features a continuous face fabric made of 100% Pertex Quantum material, which is known to entirely sheer the wind. Given the reversible nature, both the inner and outer layers are made from this material. The interior is composed of a wool material, which provides amazing and unbeatable insulation when wet.
When caught in a rainstorm on a hike, this jacket became saturated with water. Luckily, the water didn't permeate to the inner layers, keeping us dry. While the insulation eventually did get a little wet, we still felt warm hiking on the trail. Have no fear if you accidentally get caught in the rain; it will keep you warm, even if the fabrics do eventually saturate after several minutes of moisture. But, if you expect to be in a fair amount of rain, you'll want to bring along your rain or hardshell.
Comfort & Coziness
We love the Ortovox Piz Bial's reversible nature; you basically get two different jackets for the price of one! The reversible option is not available with a hood; if a hood is a must, they do have other options that appear to be constructed of similar materials. Aside from that, this jacket isn't incredibly cozy but it sure is comfortable. It layers easily and has lots of room in both the torso and arms, which will allow for a base layer and fleece to be worn comfortably underneath.
Wearing it with bulkier mid-layers is no issue. The Pertex Quantum liner easily slides against even the fleeciest of layers, while the arms offer lots of room for additional layers. We love the different pocket options, which are dependent upon how you wear the jacket. On one side, it has one taller, but shallow chest pocket that's big enough to fit a smaller iPhone.
On the other side are two smaller hand-pockets that are lined with a soft fleecy material. We appreciate this versatility. When climbing, we typically used the side with the chest pocket, and while hiking or walking around town, we preferred the hand pockets. What's also cool is you can use all pockets, no matter the configuration; the ones on the inside can just be a little harder to access.
Designed as a 'light' jacket, we're surprised by its breathability. We tested it while running in cold weather, and while the Pertex Quantum shell isn't the most breathable, we appreciate that you can open up the zippers for a little more ventilation. When running in cold weather, we were warm and comfortable, especially when the temperatures were below freezing. As soon as the sun came out, we found ourselves taking it off quickly and wrapping it around our waist. The jacket isn't very thick, so it offers some breathability in that respect. It'll perform perfectly for resort skiing, hiking, and backcountry skiing on super cold days. For everything else, find a more breathable option.
Style & Fit
We love the reversible options in this jacket that offers two different colors and styles. The face fabric and super colorful look really do turn heads. We had plenty of compliments from strangers, and the fit is regular and true to size. The arms and torso lengths are "regular", but taller women may find the arms to be a little short.
The back of the jacket is fitted and provided our broad-backed women with enough room to easily paddle a boat and climb. The material isn't very stretchy but holds its shape well. While it doesn't have any adjustable pull-strings around the hem, the precisely placed elastic offers a sufficient fit that makes this jacket appear relaxed and athletic. We appreciate the relaxed and athletic look, which is excellent on its own, worn both ways, or underneath a shell.
This jacket is expensive as an initial investment. If you like what you see and you're seeking a jacket that offers good warmth through all the seasons — with amazing insulation when wet — you might find value in it. Plus, you basically get two jackets for the price of one. It's versatile and great for all uses; from backcountry hiking to ski touring, it's built for the mountains. However, if budget is a big concern and you're not ready to throw down, check out other high scoring contenders; however, you'll find that none offer the performance and versatility.
The Ortovox Swisswool Piz Bial Jacket is super unique. First, it's reversible and has different functions on each side. The color combinations are awesome, with many choices to choose from. While it's considered a lightweight jacket, it offers the best warmth (when wet) that we've tested so far; this is due to its materials, which are wool-based. We appreciate that it's compressible, even though it doesn't come with a stuff sack and can be used for a plethora of functions.