This is a post from Feb of '10 . But
as the seasons and gear options change I thought it worth re posting
(or in this case lack of layers)
was lucky enough to spend the last week ice climbing around Banff
and on the Icefield's
Alberta Canada. Places I have climbed and skied in most winters for
Besides the obvious high quality ice climbing I was really looking
forward to field testing some new (for me anyway) pieces of clothing and ideas
on cold weather use.
But before I get to what I used on this trip and the
results, let me back up a bit and tell you what I have used in years previously
and have been happy with generally.
The coldest temps we would actually
climb in hover around -25/-30C (-22F). Anything colder and I retreat to a
shelter, hot springs and good food. Not uncommon to see
+10C (50F) on calm
days in the sun on sheltered ice climbs.
Generally Merino wool
piece set ups and one piece union suits depending on the temperatures. Some
times even those would get layered.
Mid layer/insulation ?
your weight and material but generally some sort of pile gear. Pile pants and
pile shirts or sweaters.
Outer layer/ protection?
Early on it was
nylon shells, then Goretex
and then Shoeller
style soft shells of wool/spandex (25
years ago) and more recently synthetics (Shoeller and its copies) with real 4
Boots were singles and dbls
. Often times with Supergators
on the singles
and even the dbls
were boiled wool Dachsteins
with/without over mitts. My favorite
over mitts and when
required a foam pad between the layers to keep your hands from getting too beat
up with straight shafted tools. Dachstein
gloves had their place as well...but
generally considered a luxury. Goretex
shelled gauntlet gloves with thick pile
liner came next and have remained a standard with leashed tools.
tools? Here is where much of the info I am relating splits. True leashless
tools like the
Fusion or the Petzl
have in many ways redefined what we use for clothing on ice/mixed climbs. Gear
that easily works leashless
will NOT be warm enough, in my
experience, for leashed climbing.
OK..back to the clothing
An old saying I heard as a kid was, "Eskimos never sweat." The
thought behind that? It was just too cold in an Arctic environment to ever risk
getting wet, soaking your insulation and then having that insulation freeze.
Makes sense, but how do you ever get anything done and not sweat if you are
working hard and trying to climb fast?
(I'm about to repeat info now that
can be better understood by reading Mark Twight's
and Will Gadd's
Obviously you'll sweat on the approach unless you really back off
the pace. I don't do approaches longer than just a few minutes in my climbing
upper layer. I dress really lightly on the top layer for the walk in and then
dry off and change to dry clothes at the base of the climbing.
dry I use a belay sweater/jacket (depending on insulation required by the temps)
to let my body heat dry me off and keep me warm while drying out at the belay if
I have broken a sweat climbing. Better yet climb with a light enough and
breathable enough set of clothing that you don't wet your body or gear on
anything but the hardest leads. It is a tough balancing act.
Four words that are saying a lot! You need to
push the definition of both imo
I switched a few years ago to all
clothing. But unbelieving in just how far I really needed to go I bought all the
gear in a insulated form. To be specific Arteryx
Gamma MX hoody
and pants. I have worn out a set of both
over time. And I still love both of them for climbing. But for everything but
the very coldest weather (below -20C) I find that material (Polartec
Power Shield in
the Gamma MX line) to be too much now.
Why too much? Too heavy
physically, too warm and not breathable enough.
OK, you ask, "WTF
, Dane?" "That is a
$400 piece of kit (Gamma MX Hoody
) you encouraged me to buy last year and
now you are telling me it is rubbish?...too warm?...too heavy?"
I thought the Gamma MX hoody
would be the one piece of clothing I
would always take on alpine/ice routes. Now I am saying it is too much?
Yes....but don't throw it away just yet :)
You need to go back to the idea
that "cool muscles work more efficiently".
Mind you it might take you a
bit of effort to find out just how "cool" you are willing to work at to make
this all work. That might include a trip where you dress too light and freeze
your ass off to find out just how "cool" you'll want to be :) I'd suggest you
make that trip, a low risk, high energy event. If you blow it bad on the
clothing combos at least movement will generally keep you warm. You need to iron
out your system in a fairly controlled environment.
The rewards are worth
the risk imo
. But to
be sure, blow these combinations in a big way and cold injury is almost certain
or even death will be the end result. I have used the system at a fine edge half
a dozen times now and I had significant performance and recovery break through
each time. I also look back and thank my lucky stars that there was no
"incident" on those climbs that could have easily precipitated a disaster. An
unplanned night out in bad weather while cutting it close on gear can be more
than just uncomfortable.
The results of 24 unplanned hrs out in 10F
temps? A full year of recovery.
Here are my current
thoughts on winter clothing systems. Limit the layers. Yes, limit the layers!
The first picture in this post is me climbing early in my career in mostly wool,
with temps rapidly going to -40 as the sun went down. It was pretty miserable at
the time and to be honest a little scary. I had never been in such temps and
that exposed before.
But a couple of things made a big
difference. I was mobile, light layers made that possible. I was dry internally
because the clothing breathed well and so I stayed warm if I kept moving. Funny
now because I realised as I typed this morning that the clothing pictured there
(circa 1973) would be a perfect set up for leashless
climbing now in very cold temps...say
-20C but not at
So limit the layers and stay mobile. Easy
to do now with modern clothing.
using a R1 Hoody
inner layer. MEC
makes R1 tops and bottoms for something like $60 retail. Or you can buy
Patagonia's for $150. Same exact material and in several ways the MEC
clothing is better
there is a easy decision?!
Yep, just the R1 and nothing between
it and my skin. Although my lowers are actually Costco longs...almost expedition
weight but some brand name called "Paradox". The R1 seems to be just a bit much
on my legs and I lose some mobility compared to the Paradox lowers (in a synthetic originally and now Merino wool as well) which seem to
slide in the outer shell pants I am using easier.
depends on the outside temps and the level of aerobic action I expect. My
current choices going warm to colder temps are:
Eddie Bauer Front
Point jacket..it is a combo hard shell and soft shell . Very water resistant (my
top was dry in a soaking waterfall that went straight through my pants and
filled my boots to the brim) and very breathable. I am highly impressed with the
details of this garment
and the combo of materials used. A
almost immediate favorite for cold technical climbing. But there are other lwt
shells that will fit this catagory. (I am currently using Polartech Powershield Pro as my choice in fabric for shells.)
Atom Lt Hoody
....lightly insulated shell with stretch
vented sides and under the arms. And the Patagonia Nano garments here as well. (both still in use and the best available IMO) Again a surprise, water resistant as well but
not tested to any extreme yet. Very warm for its weight and thickness but useful
in the right temps (cold) for hard climbing because the stretch side panels and
insulated body breath so well.
Worth noting that I have now
cut one full layer from the previous suggestions from even last year's system.
Insulation is used as required in the base layer and in the outer layer. And
most manufactures are now making something similar..Patagonia's Nano series is
another example. Mtn Hardware has one as well. But there is no separate
insulation layer short of the belay jacket. The real insulation is in layer
THREE where the insulation can EASILY be added or just as likely removed to keep
you dry and mobile.
For my pants I have been using the Arcteryx
Gamma Lt. for two
winters now. (Patagonia Knifeblade and Guide pants are a big hit currently with me) I did add a set of grommets to use them as a pant gaiter. And no
one more surprised than me that a set of generic long johns and a Gamma Lt.
would be good enough to keep me warm and toasty from -20C to well above freezing
and still breath enough on the "death marches" while toiling and dripping in in
sweat. Only disadvantages I see are they aren't very durable and the lower left
leg could be more tapered if my crampon "wear" is any
A Belay jacket chosen for the
degree of warmth required and how much drying will be required.
Listed in amount of warmth is required.
Warm temps to cold and how much moisture I expect:
*shown here in combo with the Atom Lt @ -20C in the shade* (lots of other
high quality jackets in this category now)
Mtn Equipment Nilas
Primaloft 1 garments and some of the Arcteryx jackets are a good choice as well.
As a system that is it...THREE... layers
total. And one generally will be in the pack.
Maintaining your mobility, cutting down on weight by doing so
allows you to move faster. You can then use lighter weight boots and gloves and
still stay equally as warm or warmer while moving faster with less effort! Add
the advantages of leashless
tools and the differences of what you
can get away with for a glove system while still being comfortable is
You have to remember it is a SYSTEM. If required I
could carry and use both layer TWO pieces together for extra warmth. I'll do
another post and describe the boot and glove systems
I am using with this clothing
and Outdoor Research and Mtn
Hardware for gloves cover the brand names
here for me.
Bottom line on the field testing? Climbed harder and faster
with less effort and less clothes and in more comfort than ever before in
Canada. Huge success for me.
An after note..
A long time climbing
buddy who on rare occasion reads the blog busted on me for listing all the brand
names I use. I search out the best gear for my own use and buy it at retail. No
one giving this stuff to me. But that doesn't make it the best gear for your
use. I list the manufacturers simply so you can make direct comparison for your
A note on Summer clothing?
Summer temps for me mean even less layers. 2 generally in warm weather and back country trips. My base layer? Generally a tech shirt of some sort. My lower layer? Pants or shorts depending on the temps. Dress light! Dress for success. And keep moving.
My 2nd layer is a Patagonia Sun Hoody generally or a RAB Boreas. The third layer if required will be a wind shell. But I seldom take a wind shell with either hoody mentioned, even while spring skiing. By July the shell is generally a stow away item seldom used.
When you start reading in the newest clothing catalogs about "their" newest three layer system, REMEMBER it wasn't anything new even 4 years ago!