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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

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.


Ian said...

If you have to ask you already know the answer.

Dane said...

Seriously, I asked because I would like to know have a reasonable explanation on the Thermatek.

Anonymous said...

You said: “Down being the ultimate combination of both clo and loft.” Have you checked out water-resistant down? “Popular Science,” Nov 2012: “To measure the water resistance of Down Décor’s insulation, we set up a side-by-side test against untreated down. We poured a half cup of water into jars with a quarter cup of fill and left both samples to sit for five minutes. We then removed the fill and timed how long it took each sample to dry naturally. When remove, the Down Décor fill retained only a couple drops of water; the untreated down held on to about 5 milliliters. The Down Décor fill dried within an hour and lost none of its loft, while the sticky, wet blob of untreated down took a full weekend to dry completely.” Page 22

Gear:30 said...

I've had similar questions. In chatting with the US national sales manager for Arc'teryx a couple years ago, he told me the same thing about Thermatek, except he said it was more comparable to DWR-treated Primaloft One. It definitely looks more like Polarguard Delta as far as loft is concerned. I imagine the story they told you is more accurate. Polarguard Delta is also more durable than PL1, which helps me swallow the $500 price tag of the Dually but makes me scratch my head about overall warmth. He also explained that, in the case of the Dually, moisture (from the outside or from the user) will not affect its warmth and performance, making it the ultimate stationary or active use cold weather belay jacket. With that said, PL1 is hardly affected by moisture and is quite a bit cheaper than the Thermatek process. In that case, the only major benefit is the increased durability of a long-staple fiber (i.e. delta/thermatek). I wonder if the glueing process for Thermatek on the shell impedes breathability? We'll have to see what the new Dually is using for insulation. It seems that there are better options now over Polarguard Delta.

As for Dri-down or Downtek (or the other water-resistant downs out there), its performance is great when new, but, in my opinion, it will not replace synthetics (not yet anyway). As far as I understand, they don't have a water-resistant down yet that will stay water resistant, at all, past 5 washes, and even one or two washes affects its water resistance quite a bit.

If what was said is accurate concerning clo measurements and loft (in that insulations with higher loft, excluding down, get jipped on the clo measurement because they trap heat slower, that would mean that insulations like PL Synergy and Polarguard Delta are actually warmer over time than their clo value suggests, because of their increased loft. I've been wondering lately why Patagonia and BD's belay jackets (BD's comes out Fall'13) would use Synergy instead of PL1. I assumed it was to keep the price down (though they were very adamant that was not the case), but maybe it is, with the increased loft, not as far off PL1 as I first thought. Hard to quantify the warmth.

So, my comments definitely don't give any answers to your questions, just more of my own questions.

Dane said...

I left the Duelly out of the conversation because it is easier to understand the last $500 price point. Question is what will the next one cost knowing Arcteryx's history. Duelly 152g/m of ThermaTek, extremely hydrophobic with DWR on the the inner shell, outer shell and the insulation. And $200 cheaper than the Fission SL. Too expensive I think but a well proven belay jacket. The design, detailing and fit are all appropriate for the use. Spot on every where that I could see but the price by comparison. But close enough to justify an elitist atitude if not the price.

The Fission SL? Really, really nice jacket on fit and detailing but at the $699 price? Much of it duplicating the Duelly, including the hydrophobic DWR liner and insulation. Even @ $450 on sale instead of the retail $699. mine will likely be returned.

I really like the Fission SL jacket but I don't like feeling that I am being taken advanatge of on price.

Dane said...

Ah yes...I had forgotten. Both the old Dually and the current Fission SL are still made in Canada. Some how that is suppose to justify the price?

Rafal said...

The new Dually will be 600 Cdn and the Solo is making a return, this time with a hood, for 400 Cdn.

Kevin Senefeld said...

Fission SL starts with an Alpha LT chassis. The shell alone costs $500, so it's "only" $200 on top for all their high tech insulation mumbo jumbo.

James said...

Dane, I've been reading your blog for awhile, and have to say that you've convinced me to buy an Atom LT, since you get so much use out of it, and it's actually reasonably priced for an Arx product. However, I happen to totally agree with you on pretty much everything else they make. My girlfriend loves their stuff (gets it at 70% off), and has tried to convince me, but I just can't agree.

The fission is a cool jacket. You take an Alpha LT type coat, and add their fancy synthetic insulation. I don't see a $700 price tag, though. Their hype about Thermatek is exactly that. Primaloft One is so good because they coat each individual fiber in silicone, making the fibers themselves waterproof, and the insulation highly water resistant. Silicon DWR finishes in my experience (which is admittedly not vast, as how many jackets can you actually use?) last the same or longer as standard finishes do. The only difference then, between Thermatek and Primaloft One is being laminated to the outer shell, which may or may not make a difference. I know that we've both had Rab Xenon jackets, and there's no quilting in the main body on those, thus no cold spots.

The kind of weather that warrants climbing in jackets like the Fission or Generator Alpine is cold. It's sitting at about -20C in Calgary right now, and that warrants having one of these as an action layer. At those temperatures, you can throw boiling water in the air, and it turns to snow. So really, do you need 28,000mm HH fabrics to stay dry? This is, in fact, the kind of weather that Pertex Endurance was designed for. It's going to be more breathable, keeping your insulation dryer, and it's still going to keep you dry from the snow outside. I think you should probably save $500 and buy the Rab, as it'll do the job better. Just my two (fifteen) cents.

Another jacket to look at would be the Marmot Trient. 2.5 layer waterproof shell with 60g Thermal R (90% as good as Primaloft One), and it's a bit under $300 (used to be a lot less...). Gives you that hardshell water resistance, and isn't too much more than the generator.

Liked your Northwall post. Thanks for putting solid information out there.

James said...

Dane, on a topic completely unrelated to this post, I was wondering what mixed/ice climbs you would recommend in the Banff Area? I moved there in August, and now that work has eased up in winter, I finally have time to climb. I can climb up to about M7 at the high end, but I'm not at my best climbing fitness right now. My partner hasn't done really any winter climbing. I'm looking for the classics that you warm up on before doing the superman climbs you always write about. I'd really appreciate hearing back from you. My email is:

Thanks in advance for any feedback you can give me. Love reading about your rockies climbs, and look forward to doing a few of them.

mforrest1508 said...

Speaking to reps from both arteryx and primaloft, I have found that for 100 gram insulation primaloft 1 has a clo of 2.7 and coreloft of 3.3. Coreloft has a clo that grows exponetially with the thickness where as primaloft does not. For a 60 gram garment I beleive that primaloft 1 would have a higher clo.

Kirk said...

I've owned both the Atom SV and Fission SL and can say the Fission is by far a warmer garment. Not just due to the goretex exterior, but the Thermatek seems to be vastly warmer for a similar feeling weight. So much so, that I believe the Thermatek isn't as breathable. It could be the overall heat it's generating (superior warmth), and the shell is likely to contribute, but without the pit zips on the Fission I would be cooked. That being said, I happily sold my Atom SV and kept the Fission for extreme cold days. I've also considered their Veilance Patrol coat with thermatek liner and I'm concerned I won't get enough use out of it due to the extreme heat it generates.