Cold Weather Layering
February 18, 2008
Maybe I am just getting old, but I find myself getting colder every year. Maybe it is because I do most of my skiing at night, but I am finding myself looking at temps more and more.
I plan to take a trip or two this year to Vermont and I really need to know how to dress better. I am looking for some suggestions on good base layers, mid layers and possibly a new jacket. I am currently skiing with some Under Armour, a cheap fleece and my Helly Hansen hardshell. The hard shell is about 7 years old and does tend to let the wind in. I keep hearing about softshells, but I have never given them a try.
Any suggestions or tips would be appreciated.
Under Armour Cold is a good base layer, stay with that.
(Summertime Under Armour is designed to wick and cool, don't use that. It is not as bad as Coolmax, mind, which really feels like an icebox in winter.).
I would look to improve the fleece layer, and possibly the outer shell.
200 weight Polartec or equivalent has been the standard here for a number of years. I suspect that your current fleece is some version of this. With pilling, stretching, chafing I suspect that the original warmth has diminished some.
As I see it, there are several ways to improve the warmth of this layer:
1) Merino wool, brands such as Smartwool, Icebreaker are the non-itch flagships. Pretty much everyone makes wool layers these days though, from Patagonia and Nike to discount labels. You may be able to get reasonable stuff from Target or Malwart that actually improves upon your current fleece.
Optimises: all day and jacketless comfort, possibly cost.
2) Synthetic fleece in a waffle-print pattern. Patagonia call this 'Regulator' technology, but it is available from other brands. It traps much more air than 200-weight first-generation fleece and exchanges air from warm to cool parts of your body because it provides for cross-body airflow.
R2 (Patagoniaspeak) is the typical layering thickness although cold VT days might call for expedition-weight R3. R1 is for spring skiing or 2-layer fall rain hike layering (R1 next to skin and rain shell on top)
Optimises: Breathability for high-perspirers, breathable shells work better with this type of design
3) Polartec PowerStretch or other stretch fleece. This is available in 200 weights, it improves upon your usual fleece because it is tailored to be more fitted to the body, eliminating air gaps. Imho it can work -too- well for spring skiing.
Optimises: Freedom of motion, and helps eliminate layer bunching particularly around the waist and armpits
4) Down vest. My favourite of these is the Western Mountaineering Flash. Alternatively, a zip-in-down layer for your jacket. Nothing else is this warm. I've skied MSA at night, it dropped below -30, and I had no trouble.
Optimises: pure glorious warmth
5) Wind-blocker fleeces. A lot of these fleeces (Windbloc, Windpro, Nailhead) are actually too heavy-duty except for vests.
Some feel like corduroy or velour-surface material. They work, particularly with lighter, airier shells.
Optimises: wind blocking at the front, durability, may be worn as outer layer for spring skiing.
All of the above is to my best knowledge, if someone knows better feel free to point it out.
HH hardshells from around Y2K actually breathe very, very well. If the shell is in reasonable shape and still repels rain I'd consider hanging onto it, for spring skiing if nothing else.
There are many options beyond that, including ones with zip-in down layers (see above). I'll let others monopolise bandwidth for a bit.
Comprex has some good info. Some of us are lucky enough to lose body fat as we age. Those folks will naturally feel colder as they lose some insulation. One other thing to consider is that 40% of your body heat escapes out of the top. You may find that upgrading your headgear is the quickest way to warm up. A helmet is often so good at retaining heat that you need to use the vents to stay cool.
You're right, last year when I started wearing a helmet I found I was instantly warmer than I used to be just wearing a ski hat.
Any thoughts on Under Armour Cold versus Patagonia Capilene versus any other brand base layers?
I have never used Patagonia Capilene, but I wore Under Armour Cold last year and never was uncomfortable even as it go down to the single digits.
Any thoughts on Under Armour Cold versus Patagonia Capilene
Warmth overall: advantage UAC
Wind resistance*: about the same
Wicking: advantage UAC
Stretch fit: advantage UAC
Stink resistance: New Capilene > UAC >>> old Capilene
Durability*: advantage Capilene
Luxuriant comfort+silky feel to persuade gf: Capilene >>> UAC
Both of which beat out LIFA or Duofold or Hot Chillys, IMHO, of course. Dirtbag that I am, I am just as likely to blow $50 at Marshall's for 4-5 Nike or Brooks wicking compression tops which rival UAC and Capilene for warmth and wicking but none of the other features.
*I confess I use ski long johns and tops on the bike.
Does anyone know of any (oxymoron alert) good cheap under armour alternatives or perhaps a way to get under armour cold for less than $50. I apologize if this question has already been asked / answered on the forum but are the $30 store brand alternatives in any way inferior to under armour (i.e. Walmart's Starter line or Target's Champion C9 line, or REI / Dick's store brands) ?
I do not believe the store brand alternatives are inferior. You are largely paying for the brand name with Under Armour. A "friend of a friend" is one of the principals of Under Armour (a company based out of Baltimore), and I heard secondhand how gleeful they are that people are willing to pay so much for "cheap polyester clothing made in China." As far as polyester clothing goes, I think Under Armour is high quality, but you're definitely paying a premium for the brand name and their Super Bowl commercial, and I would doubt the store brands are much different. (They may well be made in the same Chinese factories.)
I ride alot of lift access terrain as well as hiking and skinning some backcountry(probably about 80-90 days a season combined) I "think" I have finally dialed my layering in this season to handle both lift access as well as backcountry travel.
The change I made this year was in my upper underlayers. Everyone's body temps vary of course, but my profile is "tend to get warm and sweat quickly when active" which is a problem for cold weather activities, especially backcountry travel.
I have used underarmor, chile, patagonia, and other brand name base layers in the past. But this year I bought upper base and mid layers from Wal-mart (Starter at about 10 bucks a piece). For me this starter line is the best upper baselayer I have worn yet. It wicks well, is a good weight, seems to be more durable, and fits great. I even like the Starte Mid-layer tops better than anything I have ever worn before for the same reasons. I've liked the starter top layers so much that I have brand new patagonia upper layers that I haven't even worn this season.
I wear starter base and midlayers under burton shell jacket in lift access, and in the backcountry usually climb with just starter baselayer and sometimes shell jacket(depending on wind and temp) and usually throw on midlayer before descent.
I have not used the starter bottoms so I don't know what those are like. Under normlal winter temps(0-25 degrees) I use patagonia silk weight bottoms for the backcountry and midweights for the lift access directly under shell pants. Lightweight Patagonia socks in all conditions. This year I have been wearing a black burton bottom shell. Next season I will buy a pair of lighter color bottom shell that will absord less light/heat on bluebird days.
I change this lift access formula a little when I go to places where I have to sit on a cold icy lift chair for 15-20 minutes to get 1000 feet or vert or so...I usually go heavy bottoms underlayer with boxers over top and shell pants and use an underlayer top a heavy top midlayer and shell. When it is windy and real cold (or raining) and I'm faced with a icy chair and a 15-20 minute lift ride I find the best layering to be a pair of carharts, t-shirt, baseball cap and a stiff drink.
Today, I am headed to the Teton Backcountry for some deep turns and it is bluebird and in the Mid-Twenties with a Low Avy forecast.
Scott & Tucker thanks for the responses! I think I'm going to get a pair of both the Starter and the C9 base layer stuff (2 sets would still be cheaper than 1 under armour shirt) and test them out at Timberline next weekend. If anyone's interested I'll post my opinion after the trip. Thanks again.