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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, December 31, 2012

How Many Days in Your Life?

happy face, solo, winter summit

If you are 25 I suspect you have never bothered to count.  The answer is 9131.  If you are 45 the number is 16436

I never use to think about such things.  But now I do.  That in itself means something.

Never forget that your life can change for ever in just a moment's time. 

You only get so many days in this wonderful journey. Make sure you use each and every day you are here to the best of your abilities. Something not so easy for most of us.  It can be hard work. 

Each one comes at us all in the same way.  Just one day at a time.  Your choice on how you decide to use them and with whom.  

The HAPPY dance, post race
Happy New Year 2013!
And remember, no one gets out alive :)

Aphix Hoodie.the Atom LT but different?

Chris Denny pretty much hits on all the high points of the new Arcteryx Aphix Hoodie in the video above.  But you need to listen closely to what Chris is saying and  pay attention to the detailing he points out in the video to get the best impression from that 1 minute Arcteryx ad.

I am the first to tell you, I LOVE this new jacket.  That doesn't happen often.  I see a lot of expensive clothing.  Few pieces really impress me or will I ever climb/ski in very much.  The Aphix has impressed me. And I will be doing both climbing and skiing in this jacket.  Not a common feat for any jackets I own.   But I am also the first to tell you that the Aphix is NOT an Atom LT.  I don't down hill ski in an Atom LT.   It is not warm enough.  I do use a Patagonia Nano Pullover skiing often enough though.  Not being an Atom LT is both good and bad from my perspective depending on how you plan on using the Aphix.

There is no doubt the Aphix was specifically designed for something.   You need to figure out where you can use it best and if it was actually designed for you.  Weird as that might sound.  Unlike the Atom LT which just about anyone can appreciate right from the get-go.  The uneducated (more like anyone paying retail) might well hesitate on the Aphix for a few reasons.

This is what Arcteryz says on the hang tang if you bother to read it.  "Intended use: a very warm mid layer for active use on frigid days."

Other tags say, "made in Bangladesh" and  "this article contians NEW MATERIAL ONLY".  "DWR treated for stand alone use."  Seriously.    Made in a Middle East sweat shop by some really poor folk may be, but no recycled Primealoft Eco,  milk bottles or pillows here!

"Lightweight insulated hoodie that can be used as a stand alone piece or as a cold weather mid layer. Inset panels of stretch fabric under the arms stop just above the hip for extended range of motion without compromising warmth. Stitched insulation is radiant Coreloft™ that traps heat. Well suited to cold dry conditions. Dropped hem positions jacket for maximum core protection; collar and hand pockets are insulated. Proficient at warmth and weather resistance."

From Arcteryx:

Technical Features
  • Breathable
  • Insulated
  • Compressible and packable
  • Wind resistant
  • Stretchy side panels
  • Articulated patterning for unrestricted mobility
  • Gusseted underarms
Hood Configuration
  • Insulated hood
Zippers & Fly Configuration
  • Webbing zipper pulls
  • Full front zip with insulated wind flap
  • Metal zipper pull on main zip
Cuff & Sleeves Configuration
  • Stretchy cuffs  (ya, not really)
Hem Configuration
  • Drop back hem
  • Adjustable hem drawcord
Pocket Configuration
  • Internal chest pocket
  • Two hand pockets with zippers

But the REAL question is,  "What specifically was the Aphix designed for?"

Arcteryx sez:

Funny how Arcteryx has finally adopted the term "sweater".

But I do see how the Aphix would be a good ski sweater.

Slim fit with a longer body and arms.  All seem to be perfect for under a shell.

Atom LT Hoody compared to a Aphix Hoody?

Atom LT, Men's Large  416g / 14.5oz
Aphix, Men's Large  540g / 18.5oz

In a nutshell Dane sez:

* Aphix is longer (body and arms) than Atom
* Aphix is a slightly trimmer fit than Atom
* Aphix is more breathable than the Atom
* Aphix is NOT as stretchy as the Atom
* Aphix is 80g Coreloft, the Atom LT is 60g Coreloft

More from Arcteryx:
"At the heart of the Arc'teryx Men's Aphix Insulated Hoodie lies Coreloft insulation.  This jacket compresses down easily so as not to waste valuable pack space, and side stretch panels give you ultimate mobility so you can reach for holds or reach out to plant a pole in deep powder."
  • Coreloft synthetic insulation is lightweight, and the insulation compresses and regains its loft quickly so you won't have to worry about cold spots after tightly packing this jacket
  • DWR coating shrugs off light moisture and precipitation so you can depend on this hoodie as a stand-alone jacket or a cold-weather mid-layer
  • Stretch side panels allow full range of motion at your core and underarms so you can reach or stretch without feeling held back
  • Cuffs stretch over light gloves in order to seal out the elements (good luck with that as there is no stretch in the cuffs)
  • Insulated hand pockets   (the collar is not lined)

Aphix shell is: 40D nylon, lightweight, wind resistant mini ripstop taffeta

Atom Lt shell is: Luminara™—Stretch nylon ripstop fabric with wind and water resistant, air permeable PU coating and DWR finish.

Atom shell stretches.  The Aphix shell does not.  It is a big deal in these weight jackets.  And the Luminara is likely one reason the Atom Series is so durable.  I am not expecting much of a "mini ripstop taffeta".    There is a spin on the language,  "mini ripstop taffeta "  :-)  Who exactly in the Arcteryx marketing department came up with that copy after a long lunch?  Either way don't expect the taffeta on the Aphix to shrug off the abrasion like the Atom Series of garments do.  The Aphix  you'll rip holes in under similar circumstances when you snag things on the shell.  But the taffeta of the Aphix will make it easier to layer over.   The slick taffeta shell is a definite bonus if you are going to use it that way.

Aphix is 80g Coreloft, the Atom LT is 60g Coreloft

Vents on the Atom LT are made from Polartec® Power Stretch®
Vents on the Aphix are made from Helius™ a lightweight, breathable, stretchy, plain knit textile

Most importantly I think is Helius seems to breath better than Polartec Power stretch.  But not because the Helius is a more breathable material it is not.  Simply because the Helius is a lot thinner.
Likely 1/2 the thickness of the Polartec material used.

All the photos above and below are of the Aphix Hoodie

The Aphix has 216 square inches of the vent material, from your wrist all the way down your side to just short of belly button level.  36"x 6".  The Atom LT uses 156 square inches of vent material, arm pit down to waist level. 24"x 6.5"

The model's pants are the bright blue here.

Imagine the width of the stretch material under the arm on the Aphix from this picture. 

There is a BIG difference in the amount of surface area covered with a breathable fabric on these two jackets.  Fully 1/3 of the length of each arm is a breathable soft knit, Helius™, on the Aphix.  The Atom Lt is full insulated 60g Coreloft in the arms.   

Same side vents (dark blue material) on the jacket version of the Aphix

What ever the Aphix gained in warmth with 20g more of Coreloft on the Atom LT it also gained even more in ability to vent/breath by the extra square inches in venting material.  I noticed the lack of insulation in the arms during my first use of the Aphix on a mid 30F degree day.  It is easily noticeable just how much better the Aphix breathes than an Atom.  If for no other reason that there is a lot more surface area not as well insulated on the Aphix.   Great from technical climbing or a skin track...not so good for skiing down hill imo.    Unless of course you added a shell.

For warmth?  Until you cut the wind with a is going to be a toss up imo between an Atom LT and a Aphix.   Add a shell and no question the Aphix will be warmer.

The Aphix's side panel stretch insulation is likely more wind resistant than the Atom's Power Stretch.   But the Aphix material is also likely half the actual thickness of the Power Stretch.  In the real world I find the Aphix material breathes better.  And you'll feel the out side temperature/wind through it easier.   There is more breathable material in the surface area of the Aphix to "breath better".  Your arms aren't likely to ever over heat in the Aphix.   The "hard finish" of the Helius material also seems to shed snow and rain better than the Power Stretch.  But that observation is really a push.  That difference is slight. 

By comparison the hoods are the same in size and with no adjustments.  They work well enough with helmets.  But it could easily be done better.   They do make a wonderfully warm and puffy collar though when fully zipped up and the hood down.  

Arcteryx makes the hoods all the other makers are judged by.  I have to wonder how they can make such terribly fitting stand alone collars on their other jackets?  Seriously, what is up with that?

The jacket's bottom hem draw strings are the same.   Two, one on either side.    Same nicely done  wind baffles behind the main zipper on both jackets.   The front zipper isn't.  The Aphix zipper locks in place any where along the zipper line.  The Atom's intentionally does not lock.

Pockets are pretty much the same.  Two on the outside that are zippered, with one sided, back of the hand, hand warmer liners.  And one internal chest pocket that is zippered.  The Aphix has sewn zipper pulls.

Really long sleeves, no stretchy cuff on the Aphix.  Be sure to catch that typo in the Arcteryx ad if you are buying sight unseen because you'll be disappointed if you did not.  Atom Lt has a normal  length sleeve and nice stretch cuffs with a snug fit at the cuff on most anything.  I like the Aphix cuffs but Arcteryx missed the detailing there imo.  If  I am wearing gloves the cuffs just bunch up against the glove,  may be not the best seal on a jacket/glove combo, unless you have a shell and Velcro cuffs over the top of both.    My answer without a glove is to simply roll them up.  Yes, I roll them up, seems to work OK as hard as that might be to believe.    Not the best solution on a expensive, nicely tailored jacket.  If they had been stretchy even that long they would be golden, but they are not stretchy.  Not a deal breaker but annoying enough everyone seems to have already noticed.   The jacket is good enough though that some are simply having the jacket custom tailored with a new cuff.  Costly at best, ugly at worse!   No matter your ape index you won't pull these cuffs off your wrists once spread out to full extension.

The jacket 's hem is really long front and back.   Below the tail bone in the back.  Long enough in the front that I worry about ripping the zipper out skiing.  Thankfully the elastic on the hem allows you to move the hem up a bit.  But a snap and reinforcement there would have eliminated that worry.   I have no doubt the Aphix was intentionally designed that way.  Seems I am obviously missing  exactly what this jacket was specifically designed for.  Under a shell most likely.  And I do really like this jacket.  But it will seldom go under a shell when I am using it.   It fits my needs well as a stand alone climbing piece in my "action suit".     The over all fit in the body is almost perfect for me.  That might have you ignoring the few unmistakable nits on the design.

It works as a stand alone garment so well in the right conditions climbing.  May be even better than the Atom LT.   But, thankfully,  it is not an full blown Atom SV either.  So may be some of the Aphix design details are simply lost on me.  And likely almost everyone else.  Which begs the obvious question?

The long hem does make it really easy to tuck into a harness and keep it there though.  I like that.  The slim fit on the Aphix is perfect for me.  Slimmer than the Atom LTs' cut for sure.   The fit is what makes the other small issues, "small" for me.   I really like the, hybrid "heavy sweaters" available in combos of  60/80/100g/m synthetic insulation weights with the more breathable fabrics sewn in where appropriate. 

Aphix is one of the best yet even all the while being just a tiny bit funky.  But then the Atom LT wasn't designed to use as the top of your cold weather "action suit" either.  The Aphix might even do the job better.  My bet is it will.

If you like what you have read and want to know more check out the detailed pictures and reviews on line here and else where:

I'll be writing about the Aphix again.

My guess is  Arcteryx will clean this jacket up a bit at some point.  They will shorten the body some, fix the cuffs and shorten the sleeves.  Not everything I'd want in a jacket that I climb or ski in.  I'd like a slightly shorter body, a sturdy snap closure to beef up the zipper.   Atom LT cuffs added to the long sleeves and some lining at the collar for my chin.  A slightly bigger hood with some adjustment would be on my wish list.   How about moving those pockets up 5 inches or so to clear a harness completely or ditch them all together for Napoleon pockets instead since I am asking?

So before they mess this jacket suggestion is if you like climbing in an Atom LT...check the Aphix out before Arcteryx changes it drastically or simply ditches it completely.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Synthetic Insulation 60g to 100g

Sweaters and LWT Belay Jackets

The typical question:

"I will climb Rainer this  Orizaba, Kili, then Aconcagua!
 What do I need for clothes?"

Here are some thoughts on a well proven "systems approach" that you
may have not had.   It is a multilayer and multi use cold weather system
 based at least two garments.  One garment with  60g insulation and the
 another with 100g insulation.   The bench mark Patagonia DAS belay
 jacket is 170g insulation by comparison.

For really cold temps I have used up to 4 lighter layers or 280g of
insulation, plus the resulting eight layers of nylon shell material that
comes with it. 3 layers @ 60g and one at 100g. Surprised actually, at
just how easy/well the system works.  And how easily regulated for
mid winter technical climbing at altitude, a cold bivy, a quick ascent
of Rainier in summer or Fall/Spring alpine climbing.   One garment
at a time makes the buy in easier and the mutilayers should give you
 a lot of use/durability over the long haul.

I have a good many choices in the closet and find myself actually
using variations of this system almost full time these days. Simply
because of what is available for a "system".  It is the lightest,
breathes the best and is the easiest to pack cold weather system I
have used.   Generally 2 layers of 60g. When it is really cold I'll
add the 100g as a third layer.  May be even a fourth for an open bivy.

Sure a single thick down jacket will be the warmest and breath very
well.  Might even be the lightest.  But they are fragile.  Get down wet
from sweat and you loose much of the insulation.  Add a water proof
 shell and you limit the breathability.  One big warm layer and you
don't have a lot of options for temperature control.  There is defiantly
a place for down garments and even multiple layers of down I think. 
But for technical climbing I suspect multiple layers of synthetics offer
 a better choice for most of us.

No where was Alaska mentioned in the opening quote. Nor was it
addressed by me originally.

I've done multiple trips to the Alaska range. For time spent (45+ weeks)
 almost a full year on the glaciers there. Half of those trips included the
 summit on Denali. All but one were originally to more technical
objectives first, just not very successful. Trivial record compared to
many climbing there now.   I've taken down jackets to Alaska twice.
 A synthetic bag once.

Below, you are looking at an open bivy on Mt Deborah, Alaska using
 both, 4000' off the deck.. We did three open bivies that trip. Not the
first or the last with that or other combos. But not once did I  "sleep
 like a baby".

But not taken a down jacket or a synthetic bag to Alaska since '80.
Dated technology in many ways now for what I was trying to do.
None of my partners or myself have had a cold injury...on any
mountain while using synthetics. Would I take Down again now?
Sure, depending on the objective..

There are some pretty amazing synthetic stand alone jackets available
these days, the Patagonia DAS, The Arcteryx Duelly or Fission SL,
The MEC Tango among many. "Stand alone" meaning the biggest
and most insulation in a "belay jacket". They are sized to go over all
your clothing. Some nice down choices in that category as well,
Eddie Bauer XV, the RAB Nuetrino, Mtn Hardware Nilas and the
Naronna Lyngen. Specific combos of lighter weight insulation
offer even more choices.

Back to the question?

"At some point I'd love to get up Orizaba, Kili, Aconcagua, and
wondering if jackets for something like Aconcagua is going to be
overkill for a Rainier jacket?"

Polish route on Colfax n Feb '10.

Mid weight down jackets like the Narrona Lyngen pictured above
can be a good choice for climbs like Aconcagua and warmer

The experience of using a 60g and 100g weight garment  seems
imo to be a better *combo* for the mountains listed, having
on 3 of the 4.

The coldest I have ever been in the mountains was in the Alps in
the winter of  2010/11.    Great technical climbing just a 20 minute
tram ride above Chamonix and only minutes from a latte and a
nice salad.

May be I should have actually zipped up that last 100g layer. In
Alaska I probably would. Well may be I would.

In the picture above, my base layer is a R1 Hoody.  From the R1
out I am using a  Atom Lt @ 60g, A Patagonia Nano Pull Pullover
another 60g layer (which are a part of my "action suit") and
finally a Atom SV @ 100g.  For a total of 220g.  I had stared
the climb in a single 60g layer and as the day got colder I
added layers.

Synthetic garments layer well. They will dry from body heat
alone from the inside out.    I have not found adding down
layers to a pile garment of any sort as effective transporting
moisture.   Where a layer of Priamloft 1 does very effectively.

One of the reasons the Patagonia DAS @ 170g is likely the
most widely used synthetic belay jacket made.  Helps of course
that Patagonia was the first to market a belay jacket based
specifically on Mark Twight's ideas and writings in

I think anything over 100g weight insulation as your last layer
is generally over dressing for technical climbing in the US and
Canada, short of the typical Alaskan climbing season and
Canada or the Alps mid winter.

Lucky for us there are a lot of choices in my preferred
combinations of 60g and 100g insulation.

Eddies Bauer:
Has two in the First Ascent Series.  The ever popular
Ignitor @ 100g and the newest hybrid on the block with
40g of Primaloft 1, the Accelerant Jacket.

Offers a number of garments in these weights.  The Nano
Puff Series @ 60g and the 100g weight in the Micro Puff Series.

Has the Atom series..Atom LT in the 60g and the Atom SV
 in 100g weight.

Mount  Bell:
Has the Therma Wrap BC which is unique with insulation 
80g Body and 50g sleeves
The Therma Wrap Pro is 80g though out  

The jackets from RAB that  I looked at are the Xenon @ 60g
through out and the Alpine Generator with 100g in the body
and 60g in the arms and hood.

But as much as these 8 jackets look the same..they clearly are
not.  Patagonia uses a Primaloft 1 and Priamloft Sport for
insulation.  There is a significant difference in insulation value
between the two Primaloft offerings.  RAB is using Primaloft 1,
the gold standard for synthetic insulation by most accounts.

Acrteryx offers the garments listed here in Coreloft.   By Arcteryx's
admission its Clo rating is 5% less than Prmaloft 1. 

Mont Bell is using their own Exceloft synthetic insulation. 
"Exceloft a combination of 8-denier compacted polyester tubing
with extra-thin, 0.7-denier polyester thread makes the insulation
remarkably compressible. In addition, Exceloft absorbs very little
water, making it highly resistant to saturation and extremely
quick to dry."  And my take from all that is either a combo
of the Exceloft and their shell materials or just Exceloft makes
a warmer garment for fill weight than Primaloft.  But I have not
seen Clo numbers to  prove me right or wrong.  Just a educated
guess from using all these garments as they were intended and
in a controlled environment simply for this comparison.

This came in from a reader after I first published the comparison
on,  Thanks Sean!

Montbell's Winter 2012 catalog,
"Compared to some synthetic insulations of equal weight,
EXCELOFT achieves the highest Clo Value (a measurement
of thermal
insulation)."  (page 16)

Clo and fill weight?

Synthetics are measured by grams per square meter of fill. •60 g/m²
Double the thickness of the insulation and you get,  •120 g/m²

Weight has nothing to do with fill power or Clo values (which is
basically an esoteric heat retention measurement for the human body).
 Grams per square meter is just a measure of physical weight.

Which brings me to the real part of the story when you make
comparisons.  The outer shell materials are obviously really
important for the intended use.  As is the detailing and construction
of the garments. 

The combos I have used and like are a combo of pull over and
and zip front.  Generally I want a hood on the 100g layer but a
hood on both is welcome as well.  Although I think at times
the 60g garments can be really versatile in both versions, with
or without a hood.   40g, may be even more so.

Weights in a Men's Large on my digital postal scale:

Eddie Bauer
Accelerant Jacket 13.5oz
Ignitor 20oz


Nano Puff  Pullover 10.5oz (no hood)
Nano Puff  Hoody 13oz
Micro Puff Hoody 18oz

Atom Lt Pullover (vented- no hood) 10.5oz
(see the next review for the 80g/m Aphix Hoody)
Atom LT Hoody (vented) 14.6oz
Atom SV Hoody 18.6oz

Mont Bell
BC (no hood and vented) 13.1oz
Pro Hoody 16.8oz

Xenon Hoody 11oz
Alpine Generator Hoody 20.7

How about a direct comparison of the 60 g garments no vents?

Accelerant Jacket 40g PL1 13.5oz  (note this is 40g PL1 not 60g)
Nano Puff Pullover 10.5 (no hood)
Nano Puff Hoody 13oz
Xenon Hoody 11oz

And 60g garments with vents.
Atom LT pull over (vented) 11.oz
Atom LT Hoody (vented) 14.6oz
BC (no hood and vented) 13.1oz

Again as close as the weights are you have to make sure you are or
are not getting a hood.  And if the garment offers a stretch fleece
under the arms for venting.  Both will add weigh to a garment. 
And depending on your requirements may be some usefulness.

The side venting on a shelled and lightly insulated garment is most
easily identified in my mind with the Atom LT.  I started using the
Atom series several seasons ago and have written about it many
 times in the last 4 years.  Eddie Bauer has take this to the extreme
in the Accelerant Jacket with 40g weight  PL1.  Mountain Hardware
 offers a version as does Mont Bell among others.  For an active
layer where you also need some extra warmth I think the idea is
brilliant.  Enough so that I have stopped using soft shell jackets
changing out for a 60g layer of synthetic insulation with venting
and a good hood.

Aton Lt in use @ -25C
Ignitor Jacket 20oz
100g PL1  Lightweight 1.25 oz  20-DENIER 100% Ripstop nylon
With StormRepel® Durable Water-Repellant Finish

Micro Puff Hoody 18oz
" Lightweight, 1.7oz 30-denier 100% recycled polyester ripstop,
windproof shell made of recycled polyester and treated with a
Deluge® DWR"

Atom SV Hoody 18.6oz
Gossamera™—100% Nylon ripstop fabric with water repellent
coating DWR

Pro Hoody 16.8oz
"Ballistic" nylon is one and a half times more abrasion resistant
than other similar weight fabrics and boasts three times the tear s
trength of nylons that are almost 20% heavier. 100-wash rated
POLKATEX DWR treatment."

Alpine Generator Hoody 20.7
30D triple rip stop Pertex® Endurance outer and a Pertex®
Quantum 20D rip stop lining

Fit?  Fit is obviously such a personal thing.  I am 6'1" and 190#.
Here is how I have used these garments and my comment
on the fit in that use.

Accelerant Jacket:  It is a slim fit and feels like a more traditional
sweater as there isn't much too it.  But warmer than you would
think for the weight and good wind protection as well.

Ignitor:  Is a full zip and light weight sweater with a lwt fleece hood. 
Warm enough and wind proof enough to work as a layering piece
or as outer wear.  Interesting garment that should draw a lot of
attention once people learn how to use it in their own clothing

Nano Puff  Pullover:  I generally use this as an over shell for
the Atom light.  It is a big and boxy cut on me.  Nothing
flattering but I love the weight and warmth of this jacket/ sweater.

Nano Puff  Hoody: This one is again big and boxy for the size
on me.  It is a little heavy and I don't like the hood size.  But for
 the weight and versatility of a full zip and a usable hood
others might love this one.

Micro Puff Hoody:  With Primaloft Spot this one holds little
interest for me but then the price point reflects the use of a
less insulation.  Same issues with Patagonia with fit and
pattern for me on this one.    

Atom LT Pullover:
Atom LT Hoody:
Atom SV Hoody:

These I'll admit are go/to pieces for me.  They fit like they were
 designed to layer together and every detail is almost perfect on
both jackets.   The Pullover is a slim fit that I use as a wind
proof sweater. Awesome hoods by themselves on the jackets
or in combo and over my Petzl helmets, which generally
 impresses me.   I have zero complaints on these two after
several years of use in some really cold conditions.  They
have a tailored athletic fit which I really like and never
bind while climbing.  I simply love the combo.

BC (no hood and vented): I like the option of not having a
hood on occasion.  And I really like the vented style garments.  
The 50/80g combo also added a garment here that is significantly
 different in warmth.  I have to look for places to use it and then
 decide why I should instead of an Atom Lt.  But it is good
enough to make the effort.
Pro Hoody:  This is a jacket that made me realise I really am
a gear snob.  For it's 80g weight it seems warmer to me than
the Atom SV by comparison.  I really like the pattern and
detailing.  The hood (which will take my helmets) and knit
 cuffs stand out.  As does the pattern.  It is athletic and very
fitted.  This has become one of my very favorite 100g
jackets...even though it is only 80g weight insulation. 
Go figure!  Big surprise to me all round and a very
pleasant surprise at that.

Xenon Hoody:  This is a sneaky little guy.  It is not sewn
through like the Patagonia 60g Primaloft.  And it is two
ounces lighter.  It has a Pertex QuantumGL® 10 Denier
shell fabric inside and out.  There is more to this one than
easily meets the eye.  My only down side is the hood is good
only under my huge helmet.   The shell alone and the way
RAB has done the insulation makes this one sort of  "out
of category" in a very good way.  It has replaced my
Atom LT on windy days and dropped a few ounces
in the process.

Alpine Generator Hoody:  If the Xenon is "out of category"
the the AG is a ringer here.   No one else using  a Pertex®
 Endurance outer and a Pertex® Quantum liner.  The hood
is the best of the bunch imo and the Acteryx hoods are
VERY good.  The sizing spot on for layering.  This jacket
seem to me to be a specific built belay jacket with no
compromises.  There are no bad 100g jackets listed here
but the AG is a step above all of the ones I looked at in
this review.   It is as obvious and as simple as that.   Be
sure to check your sizing. I've found RAB to run a little
on the small size across their range.

The point to the conversation here is that as singles or as
combos synthetic garments for climbing even in the harshest
of conditions can easily be justified.  With the right combination
 of garments you could easily use a lighter one listed here for
a chilly day cragging or a combination of several for a  speed
ascent of the Cassin.

If you ended up here by chance be sure to look at the
following review of the new (fall 2012) Acteryx Aphix
Hoodie.  Things just keep getting better!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Scarpa's Phantom Ultra lwt boot...again.

The Phantom Ultra, on uber classic, Canadian WI5, Carlsberg.

Editor's note:
The Scarpa Phantom Ultra is by far my favorite lwt mtn boot.  It isn't perfect but climbs well, is warm enough and best of all, fits my feet exceptionally well.  I've commented on this boot many times in the past here at Cold Thistle.  And like Dave I am looking to climb in the new Rebels Ultras asap to make a side by side comparison.

Our British contributor in Chamonix, Dave Searle, offers his review.  Hope you enjoy!

Dave chipping away in his Ultras, high on the Colton/Brooks, N. Face of le Droites.
Scarpa Phantom Ultra Review
By Dave Searle 

I’ve had my pair of Scarpa Phantom Ultra’s for about a year and a half now and they are overdue a resole.  They defiantly got “finished off” on my latest trip out to the Kangchenjunga region of Nepal this past autumn where the endless moraine bashing on the Yalung glacier saw the rubber on the toe wearing back to the plastic which also started to get rounded off leaving me very little in the way of a toe welt to strap my poons to. Gutted.   Lesson learnt for sure (resole them sooner rather than later) but this is besides the point and only a small part of the story my Ultras have to tell. 
Drytooling an M10 at the Zoo

These are without a doubt the most versatile mountain boots I have ever owned.  I was originally on the market for a new summer alpine boot to replace my Scarpa Charmoz.  I ummmed and arrrrred over the baffling array of different boots on the market before settling on the Ultras.  Why did I choose them over a Charmoz or Trango for my summer boot I hear you say.  Quite simply it all came down to weight.  I stuck my size (42) on the scales and they only came up 200g per pair heavier than a non gaitered, B2 summer boot.  Now why would I buy a boot which I couldn’t take mixed or ice climbing or even dry tooling just because they were 200g lighter.  It’s a no brainer really.  I haven’t regretted my decision once and they have served me very well over the past 18 or so months.  Only 18 months I hear you say.  Yeah probably not ideal but hear me out.  For a start they aren’t finished yet and I’m pretty sure with a descent resole job they would last me another hard year.  I’m also not the friendliest person to my boots and believe me when I tell you these have seem some action.  I’ve used them on countless drytooling sessions, toe hooking and wandering around at the base of my local crag on sharp dusty rocks.  I’ve used them of the 1000m north face of the Droites in autumn where I was impressed with their warmth (just about warm enough for this I might add, which isn’t too bad considering I would ordinarily be using a pair of 6000s at this time of year) and their support for climbing long ice fields.  I’ve used them on the Chamonix Uber classic the Frendo spur where they climbed rock extremely well and were light enough for a speedy ascent.  I’ve used them for countless short ice and mixed routes in the massif and in Scotland where they performed exceptionally well due to their nimbleness, dexterity and support. 

They are comfy on the walk in due to the small amount off flex you get from the sole unit and remained comfy after wearing them for an entire month whilst at 4800m and above on the Yalung glacier in Nepal.  All in all these boots have impressed at all turns and have kept my feet comfortable through all kinds of weather and conditions. 
Dave's well worn Ultras

Now for the down sides, and yes there has to be some to authenticate a write up of a piece of gear otherwise you can be sure that the wool is being pulled over your eyes by someone on the payroll.   Might I also add that I was not given these boots, I went into a shop in Chamonix, none the less, and slapped down 370euros of my hard earned cash on these.

Typical Chamonix choss @ M7 while sporting worn out Ultras.
First off I must admit I’m not a great fan of the lacing system that is provided.  The laces are pretty slick so anything short of a reef knot and you can be sure your boots will come undone over the course of a few hours, which is slightly frustrating.  I’ve also been slightly let down by the waterproofness on a couple of occasions, mostly in Scotland where it is pretty wet, to say the very least.  I’ve taken to waterproofing them with some silicone based proofing gel which works well, for a route or two but it would be nice for them to stand up to wetness a bit better.  Some friends of mine have also hinted that the lack of ankle support in these boots isn’t a good thing but I hold a different feeling on this, horses for courses I guess.  
(editors note:  I too have been really impressed with the ankle support and flexible mid sole this boot offers compared to more than a few that look similar and should be better performers, but don't climb as well.  Or offer the comfort of the Ultra)
All in all I have been very happy with my Ultra’s.  I’d recommend them to anyone looking for all round mountaineering boot that covers you for most things in the Alps apart from when it’s genuinely cold or if you get cold feet easily.  They really are one boot does it all from running up north faces to climbing M10 at your local crag or jittering your way up your latest super thin mixed project.   What for me next?  I’d like to have a whirl on the new Rebels Ultras which look super nice.  If it came down to it though I’d defiantly settle for another pair of Ultra’s or perhaps just a resole on my current ones.                 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If you use the Back Country?

There are any number of lessons I take away from this excellent NY times write up about a deadly avalanche at one of our local ski areas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pray you can be so lucky!

I have come very close to serious injury or more likely death three times ice climbing.  Twice in one season @ the same place on the easy snow decent of a grade 2 ice climb.  The other on the easier ice approach slopes of a grade 3 a decade later.

The lessons have not easily been forgotten.  Thank goodness.   Most serious car accidents happen within a couple of miles of  home.  It is the easy stuff that will likely bite you if my experience is any example.

Similar story here:

Or a simple gear mistake here:

Y'all be careful out there!

Merry Christmas!
"I hope this finds you celebrating the joy of life with
the ones you love."

Winter Solstice from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

Stay sharp...and stay alive this winter!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Systems Approach?

On occasion I repost something I find of particular interest from the blog links listed on the side of Cold Thistle.

Recently I have been working on a number of design projects and seen a few others starting to produce results.   Even after a lot of effort the results may be of limited value.  Eventually a well thought out  "system" will allow one to use less clothing, carry less weight with better protection from the elements, all while being more versatile.   Think a seamless approach, head to foot.

I think to design well, you need a beginner's mind, an open mind.  The student's mind.  And enough experience to know what really does work and why.

Below are a couple of good thoughts for you.  I don't agree with everything listed in the blog post.  I think tucking your pants into a modern gaitered boot (Phantom and Batura) for example is a bad idea.  Tucking your pants is simply a faster way to get cold, wet feet eventually.  

Look closely at the upper left hand corner and else where on the Phantom Guide's gaiter.  This is what happens when you tuck your pants into your shorty boot gaiters in the wrong conditions.  That is all moisture out of my boot!   A good antiperspirant applied to your feet prior will help as well.

But when thinking of a "clothing system" these two are good info worth remembering.

More here:

heat loss thru the head

another misunderstanding that leads to rescues and unrequited goals. people thinking they lose 50% of their body heat thru the head so they get away with just a good hat is a myth so embedded its not even questioned.

the head loses the same amount of heat as any other part of the body does in ratio to its size – in this case about 9%. meanwhile, somewhere often ignored but which does have a surface area approaching 35% is the legs.

think about it next time you dress for the cold.

crampon patches

crampon or ‘slash’ patches do little to protect your trousers, and do a lot to make your feet cold.

20 years ago when crampons had 20 teeth and fabrics stretched less and had more abrasive textures they were a big deal. now, the seam that joins them and the difference in fabric properties are more likely to catch a crampon than deflect one.

of course bad footwork will create the odd nick, but a thick layer of unbreathing cordura or, worst yet – absorbent Kevlar – is trapping more moisture around your ankles than the odd nick will let in.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A serious question about Arcteryx insulation?

I am sitting at my desk with a ton of information at hand.  But nothing on the Arcteryx ThermaTek or Coreloft that I can verify.  I asked Arcteryx directly twice but didn't get an answer.  I want to make an informed decision on a jacket purchase and this isn't making it easy.   When the jacket is $699 retail one might pause before "jumping in".

"Fisson SL (76g) and a Duelly (152g) of ThermaTek "

The question I want answered is:  How does the

Arcteryx Fission SL, shell is 2 layer Gortex,  76g g/m fill, weight 27.6oz and $699 retail

compare with some thing like a

RAB Alpine Generator Hoody,  shell is Pertex® Endurance, 100g/m fill, weight 20.7oz and $235 retail

Or very close to the same if not equal warmth....below, the Arcteryx Atom SV Hoody, 100g/m Coreloft, weight 18.6oz and $259.00

I find the difference in retail pricing troubling and the extra weight even more so.  Having both jackets here at hand makes a physical comparison easy enough.  I might believe the Gortex Fission will be  the equal to the Generator for warmth.  But the Generator and the SV both show more insulation thickness.  The Rab version has more insulation and it's insulation is 5% better than Coreloft according to the Arcteryx source.  Where does the high tech Polarguard Delta (aka ThermaTec) fit into that equation?  Because 76g/m sure doesn't look very warm compared to 100g/m sitting here at my desk!  ThermaTec had better be some amazing stuff.  And if it is such amazing stuff as the price would indicate how come there is no comparitive numbers to show us?

What am I missing?  Because it looks to me like any one of the 100g/m jackets will be warmer (although not water proof like a Goretex garment) and a LOT cheaper.  Enough so you could easily still buy a Gortext or Neoshell and still be ahead with only a 8oz penalty on the Fissoion SL (Super Light?).

I'd really like to keep the Fission SL.  It is a nice jacket.  Just wondering how that price point is some how justified.  Anyone have an answer they care to share?

This is a letter from Arcteryx to a customer I have seen:

"Currently, Arc'teryx does not have a recorded clo value for Coreloft. Apparently, there are two standards for testing clo value when it comes to Coreloft and even these tests vary with weight. In some instances Coreloft was tested and found to have a higher clo value compared to Primaloft. Other instances, Coreloft was tested with a lower value compared to Primaloft. Overall, I was told
that the accepted standard is Coreloft falling 5% below Primaloft One when tested head to head.

With regards to Synthetic fiber fill there's two factors that relate to warmth.

One is clo and the other is loft.

Insulations with high clo values, like down, are very fast acting. A garment with a high clo value, once on, traps your body heat very quickly. In comparison, insulations with high loft, generally have a lower clo for a given weight. The higher loft takes longer to heat the insulation and feel the insulation warm, but there is the potential to trap a lot of heat. Down being the ultimate combination of both clo and loft.

Frequently, to make up for Primaloft having a higher clo, Coreloft has a little more loft.

I was also informed that when determining the warmth of down, knowledge of the weight is really important because the density of the down can vary. However, synthetic insulation is different because the density does not vary. When comparing 2 comparable synthetic down jackets, the higher the g/m^2 the warmer it will be."

More to the point I think depending on what is true and what is merely speculation on the author's part:

"This one is warmer and also will be way better at resisting any moisture pickup due to the totally waterproof Thermatek fill. Another consideration is the construction; the insulation is laminated to the inner shell so there are no cold spots from baffle stitching, and this also makes it's loft last longer.

Thermatek is the Bird's trademark name for taking Polarguard Delta insulation, and then dipping it in DWR, and then LAMINATING it to the face fabric. It's spendy because it's just as labor intensive as it sounds, and no one else does anything like it.

The ThermaTek uses a bit different construction so this will be equivalent warmth to the Atom SV.

Therma-Tek and Primaloft-2.7 (78gm) Thermatek and 133gm Primaloft offer the same loft"

This is a good read:

RYAN JORDAN is the Founder/CEO of Backpacking Light

Polarguard is the most popular insulation for synthetic sleeping bags. It is an extremely long strand fiber, and it is possible that the insulation in a sleeping bag might consist of one continuous strand. This fact helps the insulation last longer, as the long strands are less likely to clump. Because it is comparably stiff, you don’t see Polarguard in applications other than sleeping bags very often. There are four generations of Polarguard out there, and you still see all of them floating around. In order of ascending performance and cost, they are: Polarguard, Polarguard 3D, Polarguard HV, and Polarguard Delta. Delta is the pinnacle of the Polarguard line, and consists of hollow fibers for the lightest weight and highest efficiency. You will see this fill in most higher-end synthetic sleeping bags.

Primaloft has occupied the opposite end of the construction spectrum from Polarguard, with soft short-strand fibers made from microfiber polyester. Primaloft is highly compressible, very soft, and feels a lot more down-like than any other synthetic insulation. It also has remarkable water-resistance properties. The principle drawbacks to Primaloft are durability and price. Because of its short fibers, Primaloft is more prone to bunching and sees limited use in sleeping bags. While it is still cheaper than down, it is at the top of the price range for synthetics. There are a few varieties of Primaloft, but the most commonly seen are Primaloft Sport, the value option, and the higher-end Primaloft One, which features finer fibers and more water resistance. The newest material from Primaloft is called Infinity, and it is Primaloft’s entry into the continuous filament field. Look for it to compete against Polarguard Delta in sleeping bags.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Time Warp and Ice Gear"

I wrote this back on 2/20/08 on our local climbing forum.  That winter was the first year I climbed with a pair of Nomics.  Not much has changed in the last 5 years that I can tell really.  Head lamps have gotten better.  Boots marginally so but nothing earth shaking.  Clothes have gotten warmer and lighter.  But some of this seemed like a real revelation 5 years ago.  Umbilicals and leashless tools are common now.  They weren't well received by all 5 years ago.  Most of all I am just  glad I finally got off the couch again!  It has been a fun ride.

Hopefully beginner and intermediate ice climbers and aspiring technical climbers in an alpine environment will find the info and opinions to follow helpful. Nothing new here. Twight and Gadd cover it all much better in their respective books. The two books compliment each other. Buy them. Twight’s “Extreme Alpinism” has the best coverage of the details. His book is the “required read”. Gadd takes up the technical discussion from where Twight ended. I’ve reread both in the last month several times and gleaned other's suggestions for the Internet to try out. Gear choices are constantly being out dated. Good gear makes climbing easier...and safer.

I have little time for the guys who have opinions but have yet to have btdt. So a little back ground, and still enough ego to share an opinion. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I was fortunate enough to climb a few routes that are still considered worthy accomplishments. In no special order, the 2nd ascent of Slipstream, mid January, in 7hrs with a car to car time of 14 hr. r/t and a walk down the Athabasca. An early one day ascent of Polar Circus with 3 more ascents of the route by 1982. 2nd solo of the Becky route on Edith Cavell taking a direct line up the climb from the car door, 7hrs from lacing up my boots to the summit cross down climbing the East Ridge and back for lunch. A new route on N face of Temple. The 2nd ascent of Super Couloir on Deltaform, in a storm, via the original finish. Other water fall routes like Upper weeping wall (twice), Pilsner, Carlsberg (a couple of times), Takakkaw, Borgeau LF, among many.

So nothing horrendous even by the standards 20 years ago and light years behind stuff being done today. But climbs many guys are still aspiring to as they gain confidence and skill today.

By ’85 I wasn’t really climbing much ice. I was doing a lot of trad climbing up to .12b. Sport routes held little interest for me. I found other hobbies and work too committing. Climbing began to take a back seat after living that life style for 20 years. At some point I realized I wasn’t climbing at all. Not climbing rock, ice or mountains! That went on for too many years.

Then in Jan '08, a full 20 years later, I'm was dragged into Canada for ice, cold turkey, off the couch.

Past 50 years old (trust me that sounds older to me than it does to you) I at least have the means to generally buy what ever I wanted for gear. Yes, time will even solve the major problem of most every dirt bag climber \:\), even this one.

I bought into the Schoeller revolution. I had a pair of stretch European salopettes from the '80s that I last guided and heli skied in so I knew that was the right track. Bought the Arcteryx soft shell MX top and bottoms in several weights. More on that later. Also bought a new set of tools, a buddy gave me a set of newer crampons (more later on the subject as well) and off I went.  Fat, dumb and if not happy at least excited to be climbing ice again.

Avalanche conditions in Canada this winter could hardly be worse. We started off on Louise. It is cold, I mean –30C cold. I have fewer clothes on than I have ever climbed in. I have the lightest gloves on I have ever used for winter ice and the most flexible ankles in lwt boots that I could image. I hate that damn pillar no matter how many times I have climbed it (over a dozen). But with this gear Louise’s pillar is the easiest I ever seen it.

The next 14 days of ice and mixed climbing were a real education thanks to my many old and new partners and mentors willing to put up with me.

OK, here are “MY” opinions. Not every one will share them. Remember everyone has one and you too are welcome to yours here.

After a full two weeks of climbing in everything from a pissing down NW rain, a snow storm dropping 6” in an hr, and down to –30C with hallowing wind I can say hard shell clothing is obsolete for technical climbing short of some really horrendous conditions I can’t actually image being out in. And with 7 trips to the Alaska Range I can image some pretty shitting conditions. My suggestion? Buy the lightest weight, most stretchy garments and learn to climb in what Twight calls his “action suit”. If it aint got a hood that will go over a helmet easily don’t buy it.

Only caveat to that is your base layer. You might want to think about putting some wool next to your body and a light synthetic layer/s over it. Add hoods that will go under and over your a helmet. The “R” series Patagonia hoody or the really simple Nike hoody (which I like even better for cold weather) works well. Thumb loops on the sleeves have been around 30 years at least and are really cool features in cold weather BTW.

Always take a few pair in the pack or pocket. At least one pair specifically for when it gets really cold from a change in weather, your exhaustion or a long, cold belay. Depending on the climb I will use a thick glove or a mitten. You'll want to error on the side of caution when choosing the “big” glove. You don’t want to pull out the ‘big ‘uns” and find you still are not warm enough and screwed. Heat packs are a good option to carry as well. Remember hydration and calorie intake are as important or more so than big gloves and a belay jacket. I’m using a really light glove made by Mountain Hardware, the “Epic”. REI has the same glove just a bit less durable. Go light…you’ll be amazed. Carry spares to stay dry as required. I’ve only pulled my “big” gloves once this season. But I have gone through up to three sets of the lighter gloves to keep my hands dry. The light gloves aren’t very durable. Leather rappel gloves are a good idea and work well on some hard mixed depending on temps.

Hats? Headbands under the helmet regulate heat better with helmet and layers of hoods than a hat will. The band will also add to your warmth if pulled down to your neckline and nothing to drop. I no longer carry a hat. But I pull on or off any one the layers of hoods over my helmet at belays or while climbing. Try that with a hat while climbing a hard pitch!

Leashes? This ought to get some comments. You’d have to be an a complete, uneducated knob to climb with a leash on a modern tool. No ifs on that one. The human form and the tools are finally a synergistic extension of the mind while climbing. Ice climbing at any level is simpler, warmer and EASIER leashless. Hard to believe but that will make even hard grade 5 ice more secure.

Several of my buddies disagree some with my conclusions and they know the differences, tells me I only came to my conclusions because I haven't climbed ice in 10 years so the change was easier for me. Remember I am an old guy, and trust me if leashless wasn't faster, easier and warmer I would NOT be doing it. I don't give a shit about appearances, I just want to get up the climb as fast with the least amount of effort as possible. Leashless is a big part of both.

Umbilicals? For what the mind can’t control? If you are less than 70m from the ground climb leashless and forget the umbilical. If you are higher than 70m put an umbilical on the damn thing. Nothing worse than sending your 2nd  your spare tool or climbing a hard pitch with one tool or being forced to jug or worst of all rap. Trust me, an umbilical is better than wrecking a good relationship or worse yet an expensive trip.

I now flatly refuse to climb with anyone that hasn’t got their tool tied on to something. My time and experience is just too valuable to me to waste it on a tool getting knocked off at a belay or dropped for what ever reason, including me knocking it off by accident. How about leaving a tool at a v thread on the rap.    That has happened more than once to even some very experienced climbers.    Umbilicals use to be seen as a sign of incompetence.   Now I see there lack as a sign of ignorance on anything past a short sport route. Before you start rolling your eyes...take a look at what the "big boys" are doing these days on alpine routes. Makes me think that passing 4 tools around between 3 guys (after dropping two leashless tools) on one of the bigger/harder alpine routes made a broad impression.

I've already had to rap 2000' after a partner dropped a tool on a hard alpine route in perfect weather. Lost a perfectly good alpine rack as well in that experience. Not excited to repeat that costly adventure.

Boots? Fruit boot technology is catching up to the Mtn. boot technology. You’ll climb different in them but you’ll also climb better. Ice becomes more like rock climbing in the soft ankle boots. Haven’t found one I want to send 1000m of hard 55% alpine ice in but it is entertaining trying to figure out how to rest the calves with French technique at every opportunity. More time in soft boots will likely encourage me to take them on endurance alpine ice.

Now we have both warm boots and soft ankle boots that have a rigid sole for even my size 12 feet. They can be amazing. Check out the usual suspects to see what fits you. I like the Batura for cold stuff close to the road (they are hard to dry out) and the Spantik for anything over a day out. There are much lighter boots I could be climbing in. We’ve only just seen the beginning to the newest boot technology. In the future look for a dbl. layered fruit boot that is warm enough for Denali which you’ll actually want to use for that M10 at your local crag.

Tools/crampons? Any of the newest tools from Grivel, BD or Petzel works better that anything from even a few years ago. BD seems to have the biggest issue breaking picks. Grivel has the solid reputation of bomb proof and no one can question how well they climb. Petzl stuff is not cheap but climbs very well and is very durable as well. The other brands at the moment are simply "hangers on". If you aspire to climb hard forget anything that doesn’t have good leashless support.

Mono points? If you want to do hard mixed it is the only game in town. Not impossible to climb hard with dual front points but why bother with the extra effort? Same with fruit boots. You don’t intentionally climb hard rock in big boots. Why would you do hard mixed in them? You need to take the time to fit any crampon perfectly. Then take the first few days you climb in them and fine tune the fit. Dropping a tool sucks. Dropping a crampon can easily get you DEAD.

Ice screws? If you aren’t currently climbing with the newest generation of Grivel screws, specifically the Helix, you are wasting energy. I’ve tried EVERY new screw design currently on the market, in almost every snow and ice condition you can think of. With all due respect and with no hype, no bs, there is no other manufacture even close to Grivel's current production. The Grivel screws are as revolutionary to ice climbing as Jardine's Friends were 30 years ago. Big statement I know. But placing good gear, easily, where you want it instead of were you could makes climbing much, much easier and a lot safer.

Add some quick draws, and a few slings made to absorb the load and pretty much set. The lwt wire gate biners hold everything together and don't easily freeze. Plate or “guide” belay devices that will allow you to belay off the anchors with a documented catch on a 400’ fall (yes FOUR hundred feet) will take the rest of the load.

My rack? Helix mostly and only one 22mm screws. With the newest test results I have switched to a lot of 13cm shorties. The Helix stack on a carbiner just fine. Buy the big plastic racking biners from BD or Petzel. They work even better for racking screws and axes.

Headlamps? I spent the last week intentionally climbing many of the 30 or so 60m pitches in the dead of night with a headlamp. I have the high tech rechargeable BD and a cheap 3 AAA Petzel. I prefer to climb with the Petzel as the softer light is easier on my eyes. The BD on the bright halogen setting was good for scoping out the ropes on free hanging 50m raps and complicated route finding. But the Petzel was tiny to carry (unnoticed) and more than enough to get down anything and good enough to get me up anything I can climb.

I am leading at the same level of difficulty on ice now, as I was 25 years ago. You have no idea how unrealistic that really should be. All the while with less effort, while being safer. The main reason, the Grivel Helix. The rest of the stuff mentioned just adds to a more enjoyable and fun experience. Gear will always change over time so stay up on it if you want to keep up.

Spend your money wisely. Thirty year old designs got me up some decent climbs back in the day. The new stuff, if you buy wisely, makes those same climbs much, much easier. That only makes the next level of difficulty much easier to reach. Stay safe and hopefully I’ll see ya out there! I'm the old guy with white hair, and funny tweetie bird boots, stop by and say "hi".
Edited by Dane (02/20/08 6:34 PM)

Interesting comments on the original thread:

Happy holidays to all!  And thanks for reading Cold Thistle..