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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Ya gotta stay dry to stay warm" Part 2 and the Patagonia Knifeblade Series

I think it fitting to start this essay with a picture of  Doug Tompkins climbing in Scotland from an old Chouinard poster.

Much as I would like to say other wise I haven't been doing a lot of climbing this winter.  I've been chauffeuring my family at least one day a week to and from the ski hill for lessons.  More skiing can never be a bad thing so I figured why just ski while I waited?  Why not teach again?  I might well learn something as well!  And I find a mental break from winter climbing good for my brain.  Less stress trying to manage and stay up on the weather, the snow pack and current conditions.

But like any "job" outside you don't get to choose the weather you work in.    You get the blue bird powder days along with the rain dump at 35 degrees.  Better come prepared.  Or be prepared to really suffer.

Yesterday I suffered.  I generally do once a year or so...while skiing or climbing.  My dues, generally, paid in full for not paying attention early on.   But it could have been worse!

This time I stayed totally dry head to toe from 2 feet of fresh pow in the morning to a full on freezing rain by mid afternoon, to full on monsoon by late in the day.  I was also full kitted from head to toe in a set of Patagonia's Knifeblade Series, the uninsulated versions of jacket and pants made of Polartech Powershield Pro.

to be fair:

A buddy of mine whom I trust was out in very similar circumstances (both physical activity and for weather conditions ) and his Knifeblade pants soaked through at the seat and thighs.  I can only report what I have experienced personally.  I can't tell what others have experienced.  If you find something other than what I write please let me know and I'll be sure to add your referenced data/experiences as well.  Or simply add a comment, which ever suits you.

Only issues I have had with PPP recently with daily use is wetting out on my seat on storm days riding a chair lift.  (more use in the last few months than I ever get ice climbing in a season...were I seldom actually sit down)   Always stayed totally dry doing anything but alpine skiing on a lift.  And even then it is only my butt marginally soaking through.  Work hard enough after that and I find the layers will dry out  a lot easier than they wet out.  So PPP is not a full on rain suit.   But for me it is close enough to use as my full suit in terrible weather short of full on rain storm if I am at all active.  I really like the breathability and the stretch in the material Patagonia has been using to date.

Last post I talked a little about my feet and just one technique you can use to keep your feet warm.  Keeping dry really is the key to keeping your insulation layers worth as well as they might.

Sure the best insulation is key as well.  I am a big fan of Primaloft One and high quality 800+ fill down.  The other insulations?  Not so much and I own/have owned garments made from most of them.

Shell materials?  Again big fan of Neoshell and Gortex.  But you really need to make sure you know what you are buying. (and that aint always easy for anyone including me)

Neoshell in particular comes in many different variations, insulated and uninsulated.  Goretex in multiple fabrics and laminates.  All offering differing levels of protection.

One fabric (and there are several in just my collection with this catch name) that I have come to rely on and judge "the best" out door choice for any of my uses is, Polartech Powershield Pro.

Just happens that Patagonia produces the garments I use of Powershield Pro.  Not sure if that is a chicken or the egg thing.  But either way the fabric is so good in both insulated and uninsulated from I am here writing about it.

I original garments I got were the Northwall Pant and a Knifeblade Pullover.  Neither fit me well.  But no surprise as Patagonia seldom fits me well.  The 1st pair of pants I ended up returning.  The Pullover while a funky fit I kept coming back to while doing a in-depth shell test.

I still have three shells for that original series of tests.  Two from Westcomb and one from Patagonia.  But that ONE?  I have three of the Patagoinia Knifeblades in two different models.  The original bright orange pull over in a XL, a 2nd pull over in a bright green and a size Large,  and one of  the newest Knifeblade jackets in a XL.  Sadly I ma really in between sizes on this one.

Patagonia Knifeblade Pullover

And I went back and re bought a pair of Northwall pants.   Two of my partners  are now using the  Northwall pants.  And both now rave about just how good the North Wall pant is.   I had a Northwall jacket as well.  But that one I found could be easily replaced with a more efficient Knifeblade uninsulated shell in one form or another that I could then layer under..

I get dinged by buddies all the time at the seemingly painful detail I go into on the blog about gear.

I admit to liking things "my way" and explaining why they are or are not done "my way.  And my way certainly isn't  always "your way" or more importantly need to be.

So I could go into great detail on the Knifebalde and Northwall series from Patagonia.  And that was my first intention.  But I won't.

Patagonia makes the Northwall pant/bib and jacket in a insulated Polartech Powershield Pro material.  It is a virtually wind and water proof, soft shell that is amazing for cold weather anything.

Patagonia also makes the Knifeblade series in uninsulated Polartech Powershield Pro.  Same big /pant style, a hooded Pullover and a hooded Jacket.  

Even if the Patagonia designs and sizing doesn't fit you perfectly the Powershield Pro fabric is so good it is more than worth trying one of these garments. 

I can never figure out why Patagonia's patterns and sizing keeps changing between series and garments.  Bu thy seem to.  My medium North Wall pant fits perfect.  My medium Knifeblade pant were too small,  while the large pant is too big.  Really disappointed on the sizing and some pattern features.  While you may not be at all. 

But I still own and use all of them. 

I can say without any reservation in all my own skiing and alpine climbing that Polartec Powershield Pro is the best outdoor fabric I have ever used.  And these pieces show below are my everyday go to outdoor garments, skiing or climbing.  I use others...but these are the "rocks".

You wanted stay warm?  Stay dry.  Polartec Powershield Pro and the selection of Patagonia garments here will do that for you.   Water, wind proof soft shells and 4 way stretch.  May be the holy grail.

Insulated Northwall Pant

Insulated Northwall Jacket

Uninsualted Knifeblade Pullover

Uninsualted Knifeblade Pants


Uninsualted Knifeblade PJacket

More on Powershield Pro:


Unknown said...

Question about insulation:

Do you think the new Aerogel clothing emerging out of various R&D departments has a chance in real world application. Especially the climbing market?

Steven Kovalenko said...

I have been running with the Northwall pant and jacket combo for climbing this winter, and couldn't be happier in the Canadian Rockies. I run the MEC T3 baselayers under them. I tend to run cold and these keep me happy. I never wear the jacket on approaches since it is too warm, but it is perfect when climbing.

I have never put so many holes in a new pair of pants since they are so baggy, but I am warmer, drier, and happier overall If only the pants were tailored a little better. I would never wear the Northwall pant for a day of gymnastic mixed climbing, but they are great for any other winter slugging you can throw at them.

I heard through the grapevine from a Patagonia store employee that Polartec might discontinue this wonder fabric since it costs too much to make, and the margins are not high enough. Don't know if there is any truth to that rumor... I hope not! More people need to love this stuff.

Dane said...

Agreed, amazing fabric, not the best pattern makers and design work.

Can't seem to find anyone but Patagonia and one Mammut jacket made of the Pro version. Makes looking at the Mammut version tempting.

Dane said...

Aerogel? Hopefully yes!

Unknown said...

Yeah... Snooping around the net brought up some post on that tended to frame Aero Gel in a less favorable light... Especially with regards to its weight and incompressibility...

Brandon said...

Love my Knifeblade pullover and couldn't agree more that the powershield pro fabric is my go to for ice climbing. Unfortunately was just told by a patagonia rep that they are dropping the knifeblade line...just hope they keep using the fabric.

Anonymous said...


just returned this years jacket. Large was too bulky and sleeves way too long while medium was too tight through chest and armpits. Could you tell me if the pullover fits differently or if you have noticed a different fit from year to year in the same garment and size. Thanks for any help on this and thanks for such a great and useful site.

Dane said...

I had similar problems with the jacket and pull over. Returned a Large and went with a XL wwhich is way too big but still useful for skiing or codl weatehr wher i want more insulation. Same with the pull over but I can climb in the Lg or XL pull over. Nether really fit me all that well. But they have some stretch and the fabric is magic.

Knifeblade pants were off the charts on sizing compared to the Northwall gear.

Just tried on some nano puff stuff in the Seattle store. Walked away with a XL hooded jacket but couldn;t wear a Large pull over. Although I have 2 larges at home I am wearing out. Both of them fit fine. 2 years ago the hooded jacket in a XL was huge and baggy on me...this one is nice and snug in all the right places. I haven't changed in weight. My guess from all those experiences is Patagonia sells what ever they get shipped.

Sad because as slick as my NWall pants are and how good the Knifeblade pant should have been the sizing is totally FUBAR for me. YMMV

Anonymous said...

Mountain equipment has a jacket (Pulsar), that should be very similar to the Patagucci Northwall. It's made from Powershield Pro and backed with grid fleece.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the valuable real world experience Dane! I didn't think the knifeblade would be as waterproof as you describe. How long do you think that level of storm protection will hold up? Do you trust the long term waterproofness...OK, I mean "real-world-dryness" enough to leave the gore-tex at home if you're heading out on an expedition and/or up a multi-day technical alpine route in North cascades, Alaska, Patagonia, Alps etc? What about weight concern? Knifeblade pants seem like good kit for lightweight alpinism at 17oz if you can leave the shell pants at home. Still wondering about the pullover though when it comes to good kit for alpinism. A houdini at 4 oz and something like an M10 at 8 oz is still a marginally lighter weight system with arguably better breathability in the houdini and better storm protection in the M10? Maybe you throw in the piton hybrid instead of an R1 and dispense with the houdini all together and you're even lighter?No question Knifeblade is the more durable and stretchy system...and all in one...Lot's of trades...thoughts?

Unknown said...

I was told by a very popular "someone who helps design patagonia products" at the ouray ice festival last year that the jacket "might" be marginally more trim in the waist than the pullover since you dont have to pull a jacket over your shoulders to get it on/off. I haven't tried them both on to compare.

Dane said...

Don't think they got the sizing question right. My bet is the Pullover is tighter at the bottom, having both.

Yes you can leave the Goretex at home IMO.

Doesn't get much wetter than it does here in the Cascades mid winter. I spent a FULL day out (several now) where it went from wet snow to full on rain by noon. We went till after dark. In our group of six only two of us dry at mid day. Their day ended early, soaked to the skin. One in new Gortex Pro bibs and jacket (Mountain Equipement) and me in full Knifeblade kit, pants and Jacket the only ones dry all day. And I was totally dry inside/out and warm.

Impressive when you think about it and not even getting a wet ass from riding a chair lift. Ya, I can leave the Goretex at home, no problem. Not the first time this fabric has saved me on a wet, nasty ski day. Kind of days that are great skiing but I would never be climbing in such terrible weather.

"arguably better breathability"...ya, by a long shot with the Polartec Powershield Pro leading.

Anonymous said...

The Northwall jacket and pants are my go to for skiing. I've snagged the cuff of the pants on my crampons while fast hiking downhill, but never while climbing. Nevertheless, I'm thinking about having this guy make me a pair of lightweight PSPro pants/tights with smaller ankle cuffs:
He seems to have all kinds of different weight Polartec fabrics, and he offers full custom sizing for a ridiculous price.

Dane said...

The guy you have mentiuoned in Salmon is confused on what PSP actually is. Never a good sign from a custom tailor.

From his web site:

"Power Shield Pro:
90% of the time you are outside, the weather isn’t that bad. So there is great benefit in giving up a little weather protection, in order to get a lot more breathability."

Power Shield Pro is actually much more weather and water proof and less breathable than Power Shield.

Agreed, alpine skiing is a great place to use Power Shield Pro!

Bill Porreca said...

Dane have you ever tried any of Polartec's Neoshells? Just curious what you think of the Neo Shell versus the Power Shiel

Dane said...

Hi Bill,
I have used Neoshell from the very beginning in many different garments now. Still own a few of them in pants and one s-lwt shell.. Written a bunch about it here on CT. Lots of different Neoshell fabrics. Some very similar to what I/Patagonia is using on the PSP. Both are very good. I think much of it depends on what they laminate to, as much as the laminate. Patagonia has been solid on fabric choices I think for climbing and skiing. One of the reasons I like the PSP so much. And with the right fabric used for the job, Neoshell does as very well too. In fact it was a few Neoshell pieces that distracted me from my original Powershield Pro garments. Took me a while to use the PSP enough to realise just how different and good the PSP really was.

Matt said...

Good point Bill.

Dane, Can you explain the real world differences you have encountered between the neoshell and PSP?

Also, where do you think the polartec alpha will fit in with this?

Wouldnt PSP or neoshell with say 60gm alpha be a great action jacket? Like an ultimate version of the Atom Lt?

Dane said...

Haven't found an Alpha piece that interests me enough to buy yet. PSP and Alpha would interest me.

Neoshell is like PSP as it can be laminated to anything. I have found Neoshell in the 4 garments I use it with not as wind proof as I would like in a shell, or a too heavy shell..(Marmort Zion).

The PSP I have only used the Patagonia products and again depends on what it is laminated too. Northwall is insulated, Knifeblade is not. Good wind protection on both NW and Knifeblade. More so IMO than my super light Noeshell. Makes sense since one is generally a super light shell and one isn't so light.

Kinda a Goldilocks question. "This bed feels just right". The other two differences are (again laminate used I suspect) the Knifeblade materials are more durable soft shells (not just lwt shells) and they stretch (4 way) a LOT more. Two big issues for me if the breathability is close and the water proofness the same...which I think they are in use.

Anonymous said...

From what i can gather on the internet and various talk with rep. It seems to me that neoshell and psp are from the same tech family tree. (Strangle power shield pro is not related to the non-pro version in terms of tech)

When polartec launched psp a few years ago before neoshell, people considered it too much compromise on waterproof ( WC 5m vs neoshell 10m) as a hard shell but also too much reduction in breathability as a softshell. So now not a lot manufacturers still offer the, at least not in europe. (Only ME puslar, montane tighertooth pro, the two pata mentioned in the post can be found in stock) Shame, because i thought psp is a better all-rounder.

Duke said...

hey dane,
if i wear large in atom lt hoody ( small guy bulky upperbody)....medium or large in knifeblade pullover?


Dane said...

Duke, I'd try a large. Let me know how it fits will you?

Lucas Meserve said...

Say Dane,
Maybe give another look at Brian's post about

I think the text there comes strait from Polartec's website rather than a miss understanding of the tailor.

Dane said...

Lucas agreed. My fault as that is a polartec quote.

My quote:
"Power Shield Pro is actually much more weather and water proof and less breathable than Power Shield."

Gortex if you need a water proof covering. But PSP is actually pretty good in that direction. PS is not. Nuances for sure and my apologies to foxwear. Guy there likely knows more than I ever will about fabrics. I just use them.