Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Layering Part 1

I got home the other night from climbing, changed my clothes, and climbed into bed.  My wife rolled over and said, "You're not going to shower?  Gross!"  I told her that I didn't sweat the whole time I was climbing and I'd showered before I left, so I didn't stink.  She rolled over, smelled me, and agreed I didn't stink and said I could stay.  She then said, "How do you go climbing for four hours and not sweat?"

The key is proper layering

The fact is, the last few times I've been snowshoeing or climbing I haven't sweat (except a little under a pack).  I have sweat a ton less this winter compared to other winters but I've also been getting out a lot more often.  I have found that you have to feel just slightly cool so that you don't sweat.  If you're moving, chances are you will feel good.  If you stop, you may get a little chilled.  That's the ideal.  Before you get cold, throw on a warmer layer over the rest of your clothes.  This is the action suit/belay jacket idea.

A couple good link for more on winter layering:

Last year I thought I had finally found the perfect winter clothing system.  For the upper layer, it consisted of the Arcteryx Rho LTW as a baselayer, the NWAlpine Black Spider Light Hoody, the Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody, the Arcteryx Alpha LT Jacket (I have the SV but if I had to do it again, I'd get the LT), and finally the Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket.  Actually, my ideal would have consisted of the Arcteryx Dually Belay jacket, if it wasn't so dad blame expensive. 

NWAlpine Black Spider Light Hoody

Climbing Ogden Via Ferrata in Arcteryx Acto MX Hoody

 Anyway, I felt like this combination of jackets would take me anywhere I would ever want to go (at least in the lower 48 and probably even Canada and AK).  I wouldn't always take every layer with me on a winter outing, but mostly.  For the bottom layer, my ideal system would be the Arcteryx Rho LTW pant, the Arcteryx Gamma LT pant, and the Arcteryx Kappa pant.  The Rho baselayer is plenty of insulation on the bottom layer for hiking and climbing in all but the very coldest situations (0 degrees or colder while hiking uphill or climbing strenuous rock/ice).  For standing around in cold temps (below 20 degrees), I prefer happy pants (insulated pants that make the cold weather climbing experience much more enjoyable).  Almost every company make them, but the best ones have full side zips.  The best I've found are the Arcteryx Kappa Pants (though quite pricy), but the Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants are quite good as well.  Rab has an updated offering (Photon Pant) that looks pretty nice and I'm excited to try out. 

Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pant

Arcteryx Kappa AR Pant

 My wife, Kelsey, has a pair of First Ascent Igniter pant which she loves and, I must say, they fit her very well.  I originally ordered them for her because I found them online for a good price and I wanted her to enjoy winter backpacking with me a little more.  When they got here I was impressed with the quality of the manufacturing.  The only compaint I have about the pants is that the side zips don't go all the way to the waist.  The men's version don't either.  They are perfect for her because she doesn't do very much climbing with crampons.  I, on the other hand, would pretty much only use them on climbing trips with crampons.  Without full zips, it is impossible to get these pants on and off without ripping them into pieces without taking your crampons off first.  This is, at the very least, a hassle, and at the very most, dangerous, depending on the terrain you are on when you put them on.  Anyway, for climbing applications, get happy pants with full side zips.
So, my layering generally goes something like this:
If the weather is 25 degrees and not snowing:
 and I'm hiking uphill, I wear a long sleeve baselayer (Arc Rho Ltw) and softshell pants. 
If I'm climbing, I throw on a weather/wind resistant hard- or softshell to keep dripping waterfalls at bay.  I really like the Arcteryx Acto MX Hoody or I use the Arcteryx Alpha SV Jacket. 
If I'm resting I throw on the Atom Lt Hoody.  I may layer the NWAlpine black spider light hoody under the atom is I think I'll be sitting around for a while.
If it's snowing, I throw a hardshell over all the layer (with all vents open if hiking)
If the weather is 15 degrees or colder and not snowing:
and I'm hiking uphill--Baselayer, NWA hoody (if not windy) or Arc Acto Hoody (if windy)
If I'm climbing--Baselayer, NWA Hoody, and Arc Acto Hoody or Hardshell (Arc Alpha) OR baselayer and Atom Lt Hoody.  The Atom as a climbing layer is one of my favorite options.

Climbing in Atom Lt Hoody, Middle Teton, October 2010
never overheated, never got too cold

If I'm resting--Rab Neutrino or baselayer, NWA Hoody, Atom Lt Hoody, and hardshell.
If it's 15 degrees or colder and snowing:
and I'm hiking uphill--baselayer, light softshell (Arc Acto) or NWA Hoody (not water resistant, but if it's that cold you shouldn't get wet in it, unless you're really working up some steam).
If resting and snowing--same as if not snowing.  At 15 degrees or colder, there is no need for waterproof.  Even water-resistant is usually unnecessary.  The snow simply won't melt, unless you sit or kneel in it.

I pretty much take the same jackets on almost every trip now.  If the weather is going to be above 15 degrees but below freezing and I'll be moving most of the time, I take a baselayer, the Acto, and the Atom Lt Hoody.  I wear the Atom to climb in if it's near 15, the Acto to climb in if it's closer to 25 or 30, or all three if I'm belaying.
If the weather is below 15 degrees, I take a baselayer, the NWA black spider light hoody, the Acto, and the Rab Neutrino.  I only wear the Neutrino for belaying/sitting around, but I'm always warm. 

Anyway, that is, in a nutshell, how I usually layer during the winter.

What works for me may not work for others at the same temperature.  It varies based on many factors.  Body fat percentage, diet, fitness level, hydration level, etc.  The key is to understand the principles--hike slightly cool, action suit/belay layers, etc., and adjust them according you one's own personal physiology.

Some thoughts on particular pieces of gear that I have really been impressed with (or not) will be on Winter Layering Part 2

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