Expedition/Heavy Weight Base Layer

8:36 p.m. on November 25, 2009 (EST)
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63 forum posts

I am new to cold weather (below freezing) backpacking and I have agreed to a trip in the White Mountains, NH this winter. I have a midweight base layer (some form of polyester by EMS) that I like a lot.

I intend on taking a heavy weight base layer with me and I am unsure what I should buy. I am leaning toward a synthetic as this region is quite humid even in the winter. I like the Polartec Power Stretch fabric a lot.

How much insulation (relative to the weight and bulk) do softshell pants/tops offer? They offer a lot more versatility, but I'm guessing I should opt for the base lay.


5:14 p.m. on November 26, 2009 (EST)
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172 forum posts

I like power stretch, it's a great fiber for when it's really cold and will be my first choice for cold weather base layers. Softshell is a different thing as all, and it's hard to say as most will be just a shell but you can find some that have insulation in them, things like the patagonia speed ascent or the arcteryx hercules.

7:07 p.m. on November 27, 2009 (EST)
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6,007 forum posts

Soft shells serve a different purpose from base layers and are not a substitute. The base layer is primarily a wicking layer to get perspiration and sweat away from the skin and on its way into the atmosphere. The insulating layer, which includes the soft shells, should just pass the moisture on through, though most soft shells are somewhat water repellent (not waterproof).

That said, as it gets colder, the thickness (in terms of trapped dead air space) of each layer should get thicker. When I lived in New England, it was rare that I wore a mid or expedition base layer. I usually wore a light base layer with wool pants, shirt, and sweater for mid-layer, and a windshell (not waterproof, just water repellent) while active in really cold weather (+10 to subzero). I added a down parka and sometimes down pants when stopping or while camping. In the 25 to 40 range, I did wear a waterproof outer layer, since that's when the precip is either soppy wet snow or semislushy rain. That's also warm enough that a couple layers of wool sweater were plenty to add. That was before synth fleece, pile, and such, which I would substitute for the wool shirt and sweaters, and use microfiber pants instead of the wool pants - except when wearing shirts/sweaters/pullovers of merino wool.

Thing is, it is easy to add and subtract mid-layers and hard and annoying to decide to add or remove base layers on the trail, especially when it is precipitating slushy rain or wet snow, and really obnoxious to do it under a tree covered with wet slush which decides to dump just in the midst of swapping that lightweight long john top.

Polartec Power Stretch is ok, though I prefer Patagonia Capilene, and am cheap enough that I use Campmor-branded longies (except for the Helly Hansen longies I received for free).

10:50 p.m. on November 28, 2009 (EST)
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I think the best choice for you is a Patagonia r1 pullover; it is the best expedition-weight baselayer out. It just offers the most loft of any baselayer-type pullover, and breathes quite well. Very warm under a shell when hiking.

2:54 a.m. on December 10, 2009 (EST)
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553 forum posts

Take a look at Cabela's polyester long johns in 3 weights and two models. I've owned mid and polar weight sets for over 10 (ten!)years and they are still going strong after heavy use ski patrolling, snowshoeing, hunting and winter camping.

8:28 a.m. on December 10, 2009 (EST)
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2 forum posts

What temperature range will you be in and what activity levels? Day, weekend, or extended trips? How do you feel about body odors?

My current favorite is a merino wool t-shirt (about 200 gram/square meter weight), then a second layer with turtleneck or Zip-turtle that will be acceptable in the warmest/highest exertion levels you expect.

On top of that goes a shell- like Bill said it just needs to shed wind and snow if you're sure the temp's won't get above freezing. Warmer temps demand something waterproof- at least on the upper arms and shoulders for melty snow then fully waterproof for the "hypothermia zone" from freezing up to about 50F.

Then layer in more pieces depending on the weather and exertion- 100 weight fleece is good for my experience in the Sierra. Unless you expect to be moving in temps below zero F, I suggest using wool and synthetic knits and fleece for all your active insulating layers. They are good for active use like backpacking or XC skiing because they stretch and don't compress under your pack. They also do a good job of pushing sweat moisture out from your skin (Unfortunately they also don't compress much when you need to carry them IN your pack)

I usually go with a fleece vest after the third layer. My torso will generally have about 1-1/2 or 2 times as much insulation as my arms and legs. For super cold weather it makes sense to use puffy insulation as your active layers. Legs are harder to swap out layers but luckily seem more willing to handle broad temperature ranges. If I knew it would stay below about 0F with wind chill (say zero and calm or 15F with constant breeze) I would use puffy insulation on my legs right over a thick base layer.

Finally throw on a "belay parka" of down or synthetic puffy insulation for rest breaks, camp use, emergency bivy, etc. It should be cut to go over everything else and have a good hood.

10:47 a.m. on December 10, 2009 (EST)
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311 forum posts

I agree with Bill S.It is not pleasent to change base layers on the trail and to over heat and deal with all that moisture is chilling at best.I too wear a misweight base layer and vary the outer layers to deal with the varying air temp and wind.I owned an expedition weight base layer but have used it very few times.The last time was in the Ruth Ampitheatre in Denali National park.Even then when moving during the day,climbing,i had a tendency to overheat.The more layers you wear the better and more easly you can vary your core temp.

May 26, 2018
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