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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"THE" belay jacket?

Eddie Bauer  BC Micro Therm Down Parka, Canadian Rockies
Down insulation with a water proof shell in really cold temps.  Perfect!
The guys I have climbed with a long time have seldom seen me in a belay jacket.  And until recently (the last decade)  you wouldn't find one in my pack generally.   The first time I heard of a "belay specific" jacket was in Twight's "EXTREME ALPINISM".  Oh sure I carried a big down parka on occasion but I can could easily count the times I used one actually climbing on one hand.   
The majority of time I used those jackets to sleep in or add extra insulation to my sleeping bag by draping it over the top of me in the tent.  Climb in them...not a chance.  Too warm.  Belay in them?  On and off again?  In and out of the pack?  Going to have to be pretty cold for me to just  takes too much time. 
 Arcteryx Atom Hoody, Feb., Chamonix, France, 100g of Coreloft
I likely have a picture of every time I have ever donned a insulated jacket to climb in.  All but one are recent.  And all were in pretty cold (-15C or better).  And funny enough none of those jackets are what I would consider even mid weights.  More like "hooded light weights."    Not having a bigger jacket simply means you have to keep moving to stay warm.  You end up carrying less that way.  My partners and I have generally been able to do that even in the short days mid winter of Dec. and Jan.  
Mt. Snoqualmie, Dec.,WA Cascades, 100g of Primaloft 1
Multiple layers, 100g Primaloft One, MH Compressor Hoody with a
Arcteryx Atom LT mid layer, belaying  @ -20C in Jan.
My point to all of this is, you don't need much.
What you do need is simple.  Really good insulation first.  Primaloft 1 is a good place to start if you like synthetics.  Which I do.  Makes no sense to me to put on a down jacket when you are soaking wet from sweat and expect the down to stay dry.  I save down for the really cold and dry days.  The ones where I don't plan on sweating out my base layers.  I will work at it to make sure I do not and stay dry. 
Don't believe the sales pitch that Primaloft Eco is a great buy.  It isn't as efficient an insulator as Primaloft 1 and it a lot less money for the manufacturer.  Arcteryx's Coreloft or soem of their own insulations are excellent as are a number of other brand specific insulation's.  Again check out the details on the insulation you might be surprised. 
Any combo of 60g to 100g insulation should do the trick for usable warmth.  Full 100g through out or a body of 100g and a hood and sleeves of 60 is nice as well.  Either way check out the insulation combos.  Some really smart designs out there. 
A decent hood that easily covers your choice in helmets and a matching collar that zips up around your neck to protect you when you are sealed in.  Always nice to have a soft chin guard there as well.
Pockets?  I like two hand warmers with zips but no fu-fu please just a nylon liner.  Outside chest pocket or pockets and internal pockets big enough to dry gloves and ideally a smaller one with a zip closure for the small stuff is always nice.
A simple elastic cuff is what I prefer or a more complicated Velcro closure will work on the wrists.
Outer shell material?  Nice if it is durable, breathable and water proof. And a fit that will allow you to keep climbing while the jacket goes over everything you have on.  Throw in a two way front zipper to work around the harness.
RAB Generator Alpine jacket punches most all of those tickets as a LWT jacket.  


  • 30D triple rip stop Pertex® Endurance outer
  • Pertex® Quantum 20D rip stop lining
  • Warm 100g Primaloft® One in body
  • Light 60g Primaloft® One in arms and hood

Need a bit more warmth @ a similar weight? The BC Micro Therm does a great job as well with down insulation.  Jackets that will do everything I have listed here are hard to find.  Harder yet in the 100g insulation weight that I think are the most useful for actual "climbing jackets".   These will make a decent belay jacket that won't have to come out and go back into the pack at ever stance. 



Tim said...

Good info as usual, Dane.
However, I hope this doesn't mean I have to toss my new DAS parka?

Jim said...

I just picked up the microtherm BC for 40% off last weekend. Looks like a sweet jacket but I'm wondering how useful it's going to be in the long run. If it's cold enough to be using down (no chance of serious precip), then is the wp/b shell really necessary? Also, is it as suited for active use as the atom lt?

Dane said...

No the BC is not suited to active use like the Atom LT. But then I don't use a Atom Lt as a belay jacket either.

Down with a water proof shell? More usable than you might think. Try it and get back to me.

Dane said...

Tim? A DAS hu? You read the blog and bought a DAS? Dissappointing at best :) Let me know what you buy next and actually use?

akalpinist said...

My DAS used to be my go to piece, but then a few years ago I got a Nano hoody and it replace my DAS 75% of the time. The big belay jacket has become a thing of the past (In most situations). Last year on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter I wore an Arc'Teryx MX Hoody and belayed in a Fission SL and was fine. As far as I can tell the Fission SL is the best thing on the market right now. It has Thermatech insulation and pro shell exterior.
The Atom LT is amazing. My friend and I were just climbing in Western Kokshaal Too and even though we had other layers in our packs we did most of our climbing in the Atom LT.
Great post as usual.

Kevin Senefeld said...

Dane, can you comment more on your use of a WP/B down piece?

I favor a breathable synthetic--it helps in pushing moisture out of my system, drying out my gloves and other layers--for hard, technical climbing where sweating and working hard is inevitable. It seems a WP shell, particularly on a down piece, would severely limit moisture transportation.

I know some of the folks at the top end of climbing are enjoying these pieces too (I've heard the Arc Fission SL recommended before), and I'm wondering if you could talk about why you are finding yourself liking this bit of gear.

Dane said...

Kevin, most of what I use is synthetic with a breathable shell. The breathable shell on the EB BC piece has been amazingly effective. It breaths and has kept me dry in wet snow and on wet waterfall ice where there was water running. And it is a lot warmer than expected for the weight and thickness of the insulation. Down breaths exceptionally well as long as you can keep it dry. I am not a big fan of down in this situation but the BC is much better than expected in many ways. The Fission SL I suspect is exceptional, just not in my budget even on a pro deal. But I do WANT one :) I'd expect the new Dually to be along the same lines.

As far as actual use? I took a BC (the yellow one pictured) to Canada last spring for a week of climbing. Thinking I'd just use it for a "car coat". It ended up snowing (wet and heavy most of the time) almost every day. I had other jackets and ended up using the BC the entire trip. Including the approaches just to stay dry. I had to be careful there and just use a base layer to keep from over heating although the vent system on the BC really helped with that. I ended up climbing a lot in the BC once I got cold waiting on the belays, both leading and following. And I would dry out while waiting. All things not easily accomplished. And it is a lot warmer/drier imo than the Atom SV, a jacket I really like.

Dane said...

"The NW Alpine belay jacket seems to hit similar specs."

The NW Alpine jacket is close. Might be a nice jacket but it is heavier than what I have suggested in this post.

"four ounce Primaloft One in the torso and three ounce Primaloft One in the sleeves and hood ."

4oz is 133g
3oz is 100g

DAS is 170g Primaloft through out.

Kevin Senefeld said...

Thanks for the mini-review and thumbs up, Dane. It sounds like one of those pieces that isn't too impressive on paper as a technical climbing jacket (sounds more like a ski jacket), but ends up performing exceptionally well in the field. Another take might be Patagonia's Northwall jacket - Powershield Pro for waterproofness and wind resistance, but fleece (R2) lined. I've looked at these jackets and scoffed at them, but now some stellar reviews are coming in for this category.

What do you think Dane, is this replacing the Atom SV (MH Compressor, etc) if we can afford it? Or where do you see this sort of jacket fitting in to your gear rotation?

Dane said...

Kevin a better review from last spring here on CT for the BC if you look around. I have the NW jacket and pants/bibs from last year. Mightly impressed with the fabric. Enough so I sourced the same fabric in Neoshell and had jacket and bibs made from that. Pants are incredible. Jacket is very good but not a replacement for the Atom SV, LT or SL shells imo (NW is too heavy) but a good jacket none the less. But better than any soft shell I have seen to date. That is where the NW fabric a system over a base layer and the only thing needed is a belay jacket of some sort for when it is required. But you are getting ahead of me on reviews here!

That info is coming but a couple of back ground reviews before I get there and talk about what I currently use. :)

Taurig said...

Dane, another option in a similar vein to the Rab you mention is the Mountain Equipment Fitzroy. Ticks most of the boxes you mention and is popular in the UK for Scottish winter.

Coz said...

I used a Wild Things EP for the longest time - loved the shell fabric but found the 60g primaloft just a bit too thin. Just bought the new Patagucci MicroPuff (not Nano) as a cheap replacement, and am unexpectedly impressed - 100 g of Primaloft (of Sport, not One, tho), reasonably durable shell fabric, big hood, all for 18 oz. Pretty cheap compared to the competition as well.

I had written off the MicroPuff years ago, and while it certainly isn't perfect (cuffs need work, for instance), it seems like a reasonable choice.

Dane said...

"the Mountain Equipment Fitzroy, ticks most of the boxes"

Agreed, nice jacket, thanks for the reminder.