The layering essentials - fleece and shells recommendations

8:03 p.m. on November 19, 2011 (EST)
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Hello all,
First of all - it is my pleasure to be able to join this great community! Hopefully I will stay here for a while.

Having done fun-mountain-hiking for years, I decided that it's time to progress and get more serious about this hobby. My plan for the coming year includes: Kilimanjaro, Alps in summer and Alps in winter.

So, I need to slightly "refurbish my wardrobe" (I would be embarrassed to say what I have been using so far). I am looking to buy a set of garments which would be as versatile as possible and which could serve me for long time (and accompany me as I progress). I already have various Merino base layers.

I have thought about getting:
1)sweater (midlayer, e.g. 200-300 fleece)
2)fleece/softshell jacket (think: wind)
3)Goretex shell (trousers + jacket)

This way I would be able to wear just base layers + fleece jacket in warm and windy conditions (10-15C), adding sweater in winter and shell in snow/rain (think -10C). I am not convinced, though, whether getting the sweater is a good choice (instead of e.g. parka, and to treat my fleece jacket as the mid-layer)

Having reviewed this and other fora, I thought about:
1)Arc'teryx Strato or Delta or Patagonia R1 Hoody
2)Arc'teryx Atom LT jacket (or maybe Arc'teryx SV hoody? or Arc'teryx Hyllus?)
3)Marmot Precip (or Arc'teryx Alpha SL or SV, if it's worth)

I would be grateful for your opinions about my plan and recommendations of particular products!

I know that ultimately I will probably end up with the whole selection of clothes, but I would like to have something for a good start without buying 10 different fleeces of different grades...

Thank you so much for your help!
Best regards,
Theriel

9:36 p.m. on November 19, 2011 (EST)
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I am headed to 18,500 feet in March. I have a base layer of polartech or marino wool. I also have a lightweight shirt for over that. I then have a fleece. I got a Mountain Hardwear 800 fill puffy, and if needed I have a hardshell. I also ahve a lightweight Marmot Precip for lower alt where I don't need an actual parka, but to protect from the rain with matching pants. I have a pair of softshell pants for daily use no matter the weather on that trek. I have gaiters too, because they are quite useful. I have light gloves and heavy big gloves with liners in them for cold cold altitude. I have a balaclava and hat that goes over my ears. I ahve a 0 degree bag and a liner which rates the bag down a few more degrees. I have a bag pad that fits in my Big Agnes bag. I also have ex oficio undies, which are also made for men, and they dry quickly so they are good for hot days as well as quick clean/dry at the end of the day. I have an assortment of bandanas as well and glacier glasses as well as another pair of glasses for back up. I have med and heavy socks and liners so that lower altitude my feet wont roast and higher altitude my feet wont freeze. I have trekking poles to save the knees.

9:40 p.m. on November 19, 2011 (EST)
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Welcome to trailspace theriel. I hope you do stay here and become an active member. There are lot of friendly and knowledgeable people here. They'll argue with each other occasionally but that means are getting more than one opinion which is usually a good thing.

As for layering I'm from Florida and layering amounts to adding a t-shirt and jacket when it gets really cold (lower 20's).

10:02 p.m. on November 19, 2011 (EST)
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First thing is that while the Alps in summer and Kilimanjaro during the usual climbing seasons are similar enough in temperature and storm conditions, the Alps in winter is far colder and stormier. Look at my Kilimanjaro trip report here on Trailspace. The 3 are still pretty different.

You will definitely need the waterproof/breathable outer layer on Kili and the Alps in winter. Although it can and does rain torrentially in the Alps in summer (one summer in Chamonix, I waited a week to get clear enough weather to make an easy climb), you can get away without the pants if you have a highly water-resistant climbing pant (Supplex or similar, heavy enough to resist wear on the rock).

Matterhorn storm two nights before I first climbed it -


matlitn2.jpg

The first couple of days on Kili, you will go through a rain forest, and lots of wet weather, even in the "dry" season. Here is a section of the trail in the rain forest:
kili-06.jpg
Actually, the umbrella is not a bad idea. Some people do the first couple of days in shorts and Tshirts with a poncho, because the lower part of the mountain is pretty warm. The upper part gets fairly cool, though, and can still be foggy and damp. Your listed fleece plus merino skin layers plus wp/b will do well. I would suggest you consider eVent rather than Goretex, though, since eVent breathes better. And be sure your jacket has pit zips - you will need the wide range of ventilation over the 13,000 feet or so elevation difference. The photo below has me in eVent shell and bibs (from Wild Things Gear in North Conway, New Hampshire - it snowed during the last three days to the summit) -


kili-56.jpg
You don't say your intentions for the Alps in winter. If you are intending climbing the peaks, I hope you are well-trained, and/or are using one of the professional guide services. Winter storms in the Alps can be very fierce, though the hut system is really great. Skiing really calls for a different kind of clothing.

It would help if you provide some more details about your itinerary, as well as where you live (some clue as to the climate your are used to and activities you normally do summer and winter).

10:56 a.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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Hello,

Thank you so much for help! giftogab - I have various equipment and currently I would prefer to focus on getting the right stuff as regards middle and outer layers.

Bill - answering "where I live" is probably the least useful answer. In the last couple of years I have lived in Central Europe, southern Spain (around Sierra Nevada), England, NYC... I hike whenever and wherever I can, but quite intensively.

if you don't mind, I will allow myself to keep asking :).

"Your listed fleece plus merino skin layers plus wp/b will do well" - do you mean that I will be fine just in expedition grade base layer + Atom LT + shell, in -15C (or whatever it is at the summit) !? Although I could stack e.g. my 150g t-shirt + 300g merino sweater and treat them as base layer...

Does anybody have any recommendations for waterproof/breathable outer layer"?

Also, coming back to the original question - is it good to have a sweater fleece + fleece jacket, or would it be better (and enough!), as Bill suggested, to stack base layers and then just take fleece jacket?

Thank you once again for help!

1:26 p.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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@ Bill S :

Thankss for the great pictures.  In the last picture there is a sign that reads:
 kili-56.jpg
What in the heck do they mean the "World's Higest free standing mountian"? Do they hold mountians up in a different manner than in the USA? I thought that here in my neck of the woods the mountians were free standing as well, for if they are not, how would they hold them selves up.  If that is Africa's tallest freestanding mountian then what is Africa's tallest non-free standing mountian?   Is that Kilimanjaro that you tread upon?

2:00 p.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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theriel said:

.......

Bill - answering "where I live" is probably the least useful answer. In the last couple of years I have lived in Central Europe, southern Spain (around Sierra Nevada), England, NYC... I hike whenever and wherever I can, but quite intensively.

if you don't mind, I will allow myself to keep asking :).

"Your listed fleece plus merino skin layers plus wp/b will do well" - do you mean that I will be fine just in expedition grade base layer + Atom LT + shell, in -15C (or whatever it is at the summit) !? Although I could stack e.g. my 150g t-shirt + 300g merino sweater and treat them as base layer...

Does anybody have any recommendations for waterproof/breathable outer layer"?

Also, coming back to the original question - is it good to have a sweater fleece + fleece jacket, or would it be better (and enough!), as Bill suggested, to stack base layers and then just take fleece jacket?

Thank you once again for help!

 Actually, "where you live" probably should have been "Where you live and where you usually do your hiking", that is, where your experience to date has been. If you had said you had hiked in the Alps and Pyrenees, I think most people who have been there would surmise that you already had some experience in the relevant climates. Depending on where in Central Europe, could say the same thing, if it included winter camping and hiking.

Anyway, to list what I had with me for Kilimanjaro (keep in mind that the porters required by Tanzanian law will carry all but your day pack up to high camp for you - lunch, water, camera, rain gear in your day pack, and your guide will probably insist you limit your day pack to 10 kg or less) -

Capilene 2 bottom and top

Marmot "stretch suit" - expedition weight 1-piece long john, but didn't wear it  on summit day, since it was plenty warm - left this at high camp.

Coolmax underpants and T-shirt

Cloudveil Serendipity jacket (Schoeller fabric softshell) - started at midnight with this in pack, but put it on later, since guide insisted on going so slow ("polepole!"). Timing was ok, since it put us on the summit just at sunrise. A party that had left a couple minutes earlier got their summit photos in total darkness. I wish we had left later and moved faster.

Fleece vest

Integral Designs Dolomiti (Primaloft-filled jacket, similar to Patagonia DAS jacket - in pack, since everyone said it would be really cold, but only wore this when sitting around at the higher camps, stayed in pack on summit day)

light fleece shirt

Supplex (microfiber) pants.

eVent wp/b jacket - Wild Things Gear - I highly recommend this, or the Marmot Alpinist or Patagonia Super Alpinist. I had a Marmot Alpinist 3 that I replaced after 10 years with the current Alpinist version. Both the Marmot and Pata are the current high performance Goretex - good, but doesn't breathe as well as the Wild Things eVent. All 3 have pit zips, which you will really really want on Kili or the Alps in summer in any waterproof/breathable. I also have an inexpensive Montane eVent (UK manufacturer) with no pit zips, which breathes well, but in even mild winter weather like we get in the Sierra Nevada (California), I wear it unzipped most of the time.

eVent bibs - Wild Things Gear - Rab also has good wp/b bibs and salopettes. My son has one which has worked out quite well. With both the Wild Things and Rab (and the old Marmot Alpinist 3 bibs I have, but pretty worn now), you can open the side zips for ventilation. All 3 of these are full side zip, so you can put them on and take them off while wearing hiking boots, ski boots, skis, or snowshoes - nice feature when the weather is changeable and you get a sudden rain or snow storm, or the storm abates and you want to remove the waterproof pant.

To repeat what I said earlier that you questioned, yes, on Kili, your merino skin layers (top and bottom), plus fleece plus wp/b jacket and bibs/pants/salopettes, will work just fine, especially if your guide (required by Tanzanian law) rushes you off the summit in 5 minutes or less, as they all seem to do. I was lucky with Patrick (my guide), plus very insistent that I had photos to take and the 2 geocaches to locate. So we stayed about 15-20 minutes. I didn't mesure the temperature on the summit, but I doubt it was as cold as -15C. Maybe -5 to -10, but not -15. We had only a slight breeze, so no wind chill to speak of. We were by ourselves almost the whole time, since the previous party had descended while it was still dark, and we didn't meet any ascending parties until almost back to Stella Point (where the trail up from Barafu Camp reaches the crater rim).

However, a lot depends on your metabolism. Some people tend to be warmer and some tend to be colder. If you tend toward the cold side, you might want to add something like a light synthetic parka (Integral Designs, now part of Rab, doesn't make the Dolomiti any more, but there are some others out there by Patagonia - DAS Parka or their Puff jacket, Rab has one similar to the ID Dolomiti, and others). I do not advise down for the parka, since you are likely to get rain at the lower elevations, even in the "dry" season. Down is ok for your sleeping bag, since your porters will arrive and set up your tent for you well before you get there - I was going between camps in about 4 hours ("target" times are between 5 and 8 hours), including taking lots of photos, and they still had everything set up at every camp.

Alps in winter is a different matter. You will want more than you have listed in the way of insulating layers.

2:16 p.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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apeman said:

What in the heck do they mean the "World's Higest free standing mountian"? Do they hold mountians up in a different manner than in the USA? I thought that here in my neck of the woods the mountians were free standing as well, for if they are not, how would they hold them selves up.  If that is Africa's tallest freestanding mountian then what is Africa's tallest non-free standing mountian?   Is that Kilimanjaro that you tread upon?

 A tiny bit of searching gives the answer.

2:19 p.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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Welcome

2:22 p.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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I have thought about getting:
1)sweater (midlayer, e.g. 200-300 fleece)
2)fleece/softshell jacket (think: wind)
3)Goretex shell (trousers + jacket)

This sounds great.

Be cautious when buying item (2), make sure it is also wind stopper.

3:35 p.m. on November 20, 2011 (EST)
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Bill - thank you so much for your time and this post. I really appreciate it. If you ever happened to be around NYC or (later next year) in London, it will be my greatest pleasure to invite you for a beer, tea, dinner, lunch - anything you want!

I will allow myself then to ask you gentlemen:

What fleece jackets (windstopper) or softshells (more insulating and breathing than waterproof) would you recommend?

I have come across Arcteryx Atom LT, Bill recommends Cloudveil Serendipity... anything else? Any opinions?

12:24 a.m. on November 21, 2011 (EST)
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Bill S said:

apeman said:

What in the heck do they mean the "World's Higest free standing mountian"? Do they hold mountians up in a different manner than in the USA? I thought that here in my neck of the woods the mountians were free standing as well, for if they are not, how would they hold them selves up.  If that is Africa's tallest freestanding mountian then what is Africa's tallest non-free standing mountian?   Is that Kilimanjaro that you tread upon?

 A tiny bit of searching gives the answer.

 Ahhhhhhhh, and just as a tiny bit of searching  can aid in fining out what a free standing mountian is and even, the tieniest amount of reading sometimes releveals all.  Thanks Bill S

12:53 a.m. on November 21, 2011 (EST)
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Well, for a functional fleece(plus will save ya a few $$$s) check out Mountain Hardwears Windstopper Tech jacket. I have one on in my avatar. Great fleece imho. They can be had at $90(normally $180) now being MH is bringing out a new version of this model. I think its called the Mountain Tech jacket if I remember correctly. It even has pit zips lol.

Love mine. Very versatile.

2:26 p.m. on November 21, 2011 (EST)
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Theriel, I think Bill is quite right, you are already on your way as far as having experienced some of the conditions there in Europe. I use a light base layer of capilene or other synthetic wicking material. Over that, I sometimes use Merino wool. The capilene will wick moisture from the body better than the Merino, so that's why I usually don't wear it as the base layer. Over that, I'll often wear a quality fleece sweater, such as a Patagonia. On top, I'll use a lightweight breathable shell, usually Marmot or Patagonia. This is for torso. In more extreme conditions(-15 C and below) I have a down sweater(duvet) that can be worn under the jacket. Below the waist, a base layer of capilene, and the shell pants. In moderate conditions, I sometimes hike in the capilene, with a pair of light shorts over. I've got several pairs of wool breeks(knickers here on this side of the pond) like Schoellers or Bonningtons, so I sometimes will still wear these in winter. Of course, wool has the advantage of insulating even if wet.

As has been said, everyone has a different internal heater, so one person's comfortable is another person's cold.

Having multiple layers helps to regulate your body temperature. A key that Bill alluded to, is being able to add or subtract layers, more easily accomplished on the torso and head, than below the waist. Also, at lower elevations, it will tend to warmer and wetter.

Important, is that even though things like capilene will wick moisture away from your body, you will be careful about keeping your body heat regulated well enough that you aren't sweating into your down sweater at lower elevations to find it has lost some of its insulating value when it gets cold.

Balaclava helmets, not really a helmet, but a full head and neck hat, will be effective as so much heat is lost through the head, and such a hat can conveniently be stuffed into a pocket. 

Hand covering are also important in cold conditions. I'll often use a light glove or glove liner, synthetic, silk or wool, and then a heavier glove, synthetic or wool, and top that off with a shell mitten that is basically a waterproof breathable fabric mitten. The latter are less clumsy than an insulated mitten for moderate conditions, and with the glove liners, I can still tie knots, etc. without having to expose bare skin.

4:29 p.m. on November 21, 2011 (EST)
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Erich said:

...Balaclava helmets, not really a helmet, but a full head and neck hat, will be effective as so much heat is lost through the head, and such a hat can conveniently be stuffed into a pocket. 

Hand covering are also important in cold conditions. I'll often use a light glove or glove liner, synthetic, silk or wool, and then a heavier glove, synthetic or wool, and top that off with a shell mitten that is basically a waterproof breathable fabric mitten. The latter are less clumsy than an insulated mitten for moderate conditions, and with the glove liners, I can still tie knots, etc. without having to expose bare skin.

 Thanks for mentioning this, Erich. I intended to make the comments about head covering and gloves. (Note the "Peruvian" windstopper fleece hat I have on in the summit photo in my earlier post in this thread). A balaclava helps when it is windy, though wasn't needed when I did Kili. As noted, you lose a huge amount of warmth through your head (especially when you wear out the roots of your hair from heavy thinking as I have done - or is it that the hair that used to be on top of my head has migrated to my chin)

The Peruvian hat in the photo is from OR. The balaclava I prefer is from Mountain Hardwear. It is Windstopper as well, but has a mesh covering for each ear. Windstopper and WindBloc in hats and balaclavas also block sound, making it hard to hear your companion 10 meters away, which can be very critical when you are on the rope crossing a crevassed glacier. I also find the Windstopper and WindBloc fleece jackets to be very non-breathable, hence very hot for me when exercising hard, like on a steep climb. That's why I gave the ones I had to my son, who finds them just fine.

4:35 p.m. on November 21, 2011 (EST)
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Bill S said:

Windstopper and WindBloc in hats and balaclavas also block sound, making it hard to hear your companion 10 meters away, which can be very critical when you are on the rope crossing a crevassed glacier.

Absolutely. I was actually surprised of how much sound was muffled when I wore my MH Dome Perignon.

0124001143.jpg
I agree this could up the ante as far as danger goes but I do have to say that it was somewhat welcomed when I found myself with a tent mate that snored so loud that he practically caused the inner tent to shutter a bit.  

2:41 a.m. on November 22, 2011 (EST)
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Bill S, a balaclava is my last line of defense, so to speak. It is almost impossible to find the wool ones with the brim. Still, if you can find them, they do a great job of retaining warmth, if not real heat. If I am working hard, my now old dachstein balaclava is too much warmth for -25 C. I still carry it and it can be rolled up to a mere hat in only freezing conditions.

It is hard to find shell mittens these days. OR has only one type in their inventory at their store, which, IMHO, caters to folks in less extreme conditions, but is also less practical.

Rick, your reference to snoring reminds me of Mormon Tom Frost on Annapurna. His tent mate, like many English climbers of the period was a chain smoker. Tom, a pretty even tempered guy usually, had a very uncharacteristically violent outburst after a week of blue pallor in the tent.

Erich

10:04 a.m. on November 22, 2011 (EST)
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giftogab said:

I am headed to 18,500 feet in March. I have a base layer of polartech or marino wool. I also have a lightweight shirt for over that. I then have a fleece. I got a Mountain Hardwear 800 fill puffy, and if needed I have a hardshell. I also ahve a lightweight Marmot Precip for lower alt where I don't need an actual parka, but to protect from the rain with matching pants. I have a pair of softshell pants for daily use no matter the weather on that trek.

 I guess this part should cover that, then. Iw as just trying to give you an idea what a trekking company strongly urges us to have and went beyond your focussed topic.

10:24 a.m. on November 22, 2011 (EST)
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I have  North Face Wind Wall 1 that I got at the red Rock rendezvous. It was cold a windy that weekend and it stopped the wind well.

 

Here is some tech on it:

Features:

  • Two hand warmer pockets keeps extremities toasty
  • WindWall fabric wind permeability rated at 14 CFM
  • Hem cinchcord seals in heat on those cold trail stops
  • Standard fit

Specifications:

  • Weight: 1 lb 5 oz
  • Fabric: polyester
3:21 p.m. on November 24, 2011 (EST)
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Thank you all for your help!

As my research progresses and knowledge dramatically increases, I slowly start realizing... what I don't know :). If somebody had opinion about the following, I would be grateful:

Gloves-wise:

1.Is Outdoor Research  Mt Baker Mitt Shell still regarded as "the shell" to have? (it is a new version of the previously widely recommended on this forum OR Endeavour)

2.Erick wrote about having "a heavier glove, synthetic or wool" - to use as middle layer - do you have any particular recommendations? I already have smartwool glove liners to use as my base-layer.

Shell-jacket wise:

3.You have kindly recommended Marmot Alpinist, Patagonia Super Alpinist, Wild Things Gear eVent, Arc'Teryx Alpha SV... However, is paying $600 for hard shell the best solution? I am asking honestly and I don't mind paying this amount of money if anything short of aforementioned equipment will not be sufficient if e.g. in the future I wanted to do some multiple-day high Alps climbing/hiking. Naturally, I would prefer to avoid paying twice. But, what about e.g. Arc'Teryx Alpha SL, which is much cheaper at $300?

Thank you once again!

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!

1:09 p.m. on November 25, 2011 (EST)
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I don't have direct experience with the Mt. Baker, but do have a pair of the Endeavours. In Europe, you will probably be able to find other makers. The key is that they be light and breathable. With you wool liners, you may not need anything else for your planned conditions. However, a wool mitten would work. Dachstein mittens are still available and are the very best wool mittens,(my opinion). They may be overkill for much of what you've described, except for the Alps in winter. My base layer is always quite light, often using silk as it allows me to work and not end up sticking to metal objects.

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