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Classic down filled puffer jacket under hardshell ?

Hi !

I am a little new to mountain/cold weather layering.

To be very very warm in very very cold weather, can filled puffer jacket be used under hardshell ?

What should be used under a hardshell in very very cold weather/expedition type ?

Is seems that filled puffer jacket are warm but do not resist as well as a hardshell to water.

thanks for your input


maybe to make it more clear as I am not an English native speaker, can this be used under a hardshell ?


If the weather is truly "very very cold" (below -20C/-4F), you really do not want a hard shell. And if you are exercising, the Himalayan parka with its Windstopper outer is not breathable enough. That parka by itself is ok for standing around (assuming you are wearing the base layers and midlayers that are usually used at -20C and colder), even in windy conditions. At those temperatures, you do not have to worry about rain or wet snow soaking through, since water is very solidly frozen at those temperatures. If you are kayaking on open ocean, where you might encounter liquid water (very salty water) at those temperatures, you do not want a down-filled parka anyway.

If you look at photos of Himalayan expeditions, you will see that at the higher altitudes, they are wearing the down-filled parka as the outer layer with no hardshell over top of it.

Hardshells are intended for a combination of shedding liquid water and wet snow. Since water freezes at 0C/32F, and snow can remain slushy (especially during a snow storm) down to -10 or -15C/5F, above about that temperature is where a hard shell is most useful. If you know that you will have a range of temperatures, and are likely to encounter wet conditions, a hard shell is needed - for example, on most North American mountains (New England Presidentials, Sierra Nevada, Cascades, British Columbia Coast Range, and the Alaska Range where you go from 7000 ft up to the summit of Denali at 20,000 ft), and in the Alps in Europe (and New Zealand Alps). In the cold of winter in some of the North American ranges, you do not need a hard shell (a wind shell will do), though you can ge warm weather systems even in mid-winter. On the other hand, in the inner part of the Antarctic continent, a hard shell does not breathe well enough, even with pit zips, when you are on the move.

So the question is, where are you going, and at what season of the year?

I've got the older TNF Baltoro which is the previous version of the Himalayan. TNF makes it confusing by naming a different parka the Baltoro, but that is not mine. the other Baltoro seems to be discontinued.

Mine is Goretex with 700 ci down fill. I've worn mine in about +15F/-10C (actually +14 as Bill points out below)with just a base layer under it. It is extremely warm.  I wouldn't wear anything over it either, no need. The point in wearing a down parka is to take advantage of the fill. Crushing it under a hard shell defeats the whole purpose.

Thank you for the answers.

Well, I was used to temperatures of about -10°C.

Usually even if its snows at these temperatures, then the snows on your jacket would get wett, reason why I was wondering if something has to be put on top ?

Now maybe at -20°C or lower, the snow doesn't get wett on a jacket ?



One significant difference between your Baltoro and the current Himalayan is that your Baltoro has a Goretex shell (which is waterproof/breathable) and the current Himalayan has a Windstopper shell, not the Gore wp/b. So Bouddha's question about wetting is a good one. I have found that Windstopper is fairly water repellent, but not really waterproof. However I think that at -10C (which is +14F, not +15F to be nitpicky, not that a degree makes a lot of difference), there may be enough heat leaking through to melt some of the snow. So the Himalayan he is asking about could get some moisture into the down at temperatures of -10C and above.

[Personal bias here - I have had Windstopper (and WindBloc) items and find them to be way too non-breathable. Plus the Windstopper balaclavas I have really cut down on hearing. I now use a Mountain Hardwear balaclava that has small mesh "windows" over the ears that make hearing your buddy yelling at you from a rope length away much easier to hear (doesn't help in a howling blizzard, though).]

0C to -10C is in that marginal range that a waterproof outer might be of some benefit (though I used to wear my 1964 Terray down parka, which just has a plain old ripstop nylon outer, even in light rain when climbing in the Alps and never got it soaked at temperatures just above freezing or lower - I don't recommend this). At temperatures down to -15C/+5F, I would not use down-filled garments. I would use a softshell like a Cloudveil Serendipity (Schoeller) or a fleece like a 300 or Pata's R3, or maybe a Primaloft-filled jacket like a Pata Nano-Puff or an Integral Designs Dolomiti jacket. But your point about a hardshell tending to compress a fill, whether down or Primaloft, is correct - you are losing at least some of the loft just from the weight of a hardshell, and if it is not a very loose fit, you lose a lot of the loft. That is the big advantage that fleece, pile, or a soft shell has over filled jackets. On the other hand, soft shells, fleece, and pile tend to be heavier for the weight and don't compress as well as either down or Primaloft.

Bouddha, in general your guess that snow does not melt enough to wet below about -15C is correct. But like all rules about weather, you can encounter circumstances where it will (like the snow falling through an inversion layer).

Thanks Bill for explaining the difference. I'm not that familiar with Windstopper. One thing I noticed is that the new jacket also has some Climashield in it. Not sure where-maybe in the hood?

My parka is a medium and is so big that it only stuffs to about the size of my MacPac -5C down bag, so even if I did want to wear a hardshell over it,  a hardshell that would comfortably fit over my parka wouldn't be useful for much more than that because without the parka under it, it would be about 2 sizes too big for me.

I could probably fit my Nuptse under my rain jacket that is use like a hardshell (REI Element) but it isn't anywhere near as big or warm as the Baltoro.

that North Face parka looks like a lot of jacket for the conditions bouddha is talking about.  for me, a big parka with 800 fill down is better suited for temperatures -20f (-28c) or colder.  if you tend to get very cold, though, then you might want the loftier insulation.  if you're looking at parkas with that kind of loft, you could also think about the mountain hardwear absolute zero, the marmot 8000 meter, or one of the feathered friends heavy parkas.  all have some kind of waterproof/breathable outer shell.

there is still a value to having a waterproof/breathable outer shell for the really big, fluffy down parkas, even if there is no prospect of getting rained on; the waterproof/breathable shells do a better job protecting you from high winds.   

like bill s, i'm not a fan of gore windstopper in fleece or parkas because it has such a limited ability to breathe.   

there are other down parkas that might fit the bill for temperatures in the range of 20f to -20f.  they aren't as warm as that north face parka, but they cost a fair bit less and are still quite toasty.   i use a mountain hardwear down parka, the sub zero sl, that has some kind of proprietary waterproof-breathable outer shell.  it's 650 fill down, so not as lofty as that North Face parka.  i don't wear it when i'm hiking or moving in the winter - too warm - but great for taking breaks or when sitting still in the morning or evening.  It's too lofty to wear under most hard shells.  the outer waterproof/breathable shell does a nice job with snow/rime melt and wind, it has a great hood, and it has a lot of nice features.  very happy with it.   

the marmot mountain down and shadow jackets are pretty similar. 

Interesting comment that the Marmot 8000 meter jacket has a wp/b outer shell. Mine (bought in 1998 or thereabouts) has a ripstop nylon shell that definitely is not waterproof (I just checked it under the spray). It is quite windproof, though, being the same fabric as my 2 windshirts. I see that the Marmot website says the current version (exact same color scheme) does have a Membrain shell (their in-house wp/b), and currently lists for $550 (much more than I paid). Membrain is supposed to be quite breathable, though not quite as waterproof. But for my uses, I do not heed a wp/b outer shell - I only use it in temperatures of -20F and lower.

My Feathered Friends down pants have a Pertex (microfiber) shell. At the time I ordered them, FF was doing semi-customizing of a lot of their stuff (I think they have stopped doing that). Knowing that I would only be using the pants in sub-zero F temperatures, I chose the Pertex. I don't remember a wp/b being among the choices.

I'm a believer in the WPB-shelled down parkas. I've got a Marmot Iceland parka that I absolutely love; it's the Greenland jacket (maybe 3/4 the down of the 8000m) with a Membrain shell. I like having the extra protection for those rare instances where cold + wet are mixed, like emergency situations such as a hasty snow cave or bothy bag bivy...

i looked at a feathered friends bag and parka the past couple of years but decided i couldn't justify the expense given the conditions i normally see.  too bad, because they make nice gear.  i'm pretty confident that they make the rock & ice parka with an eVent shell, and that eVent was an option for the sleeping bags.  

i'm not sure if a waterproof outer shell is necessary for deep freeze conditions - the only liquid you're bound to see is a wayward mug of hot chocolate or tea - but i think the manufacturers have trended in that direction.  i'm pretty sure the MH absolute zero only comes with a wp/b shell too.  

I have had a number of highend, such as original Marmot Mtn. Works, and a Ricard Egge, down mountain parkas, both with and without WPB shells and much prefer the regular fabric ones. I have a bunch of Pertex-Primaloft ID jackets and a Montbell U/L synthetic one, as well and find these to be more useful on average than any down parka I have ever had.

Wpb shells on a down parka just add needless weight, will not keep the down dry in a real rainstorm and make the garment very hard to dry quickly. They do not "drape" as well in  real cold and are just more of a "sales gimmick" than a practical addition to a winter mountain wardrobe, IMO.

I never wear a down jacket unless it is 10*F or colder and prefer the synthetics for most uses until it is well below zero. I never wear a shell over my down jackets, defeats the whole purpose and a GOOD down parka will have a windproof shell, anyway.

Down garments are wonderful in the conditions/situations they were really intended for, but, they are not the generalized "cool weather" jackets that the "cool" factor from the long gone days of "CSN&Y" until today's local "mall rats" would seem to indicate.

Merino under very light Primaloft inder eVENT works much better for most situations.

Just a side note, Eddie Bauer is having some good sales and free shipping on most down jackets. The First Ascent line is top notch stuff, used regularly on serious outtings like Everest, and the prices are decent.

Call me crazy, but I have been experimenting with layered down “sweaters”.  Buy them in progressively larger sizes, for example one medium, one large, and one extra large, and use to create an excellent layering system.  I use in conjunction with long johns, fleece top, cycling tights (bottoms), and a goretex rain parks and rain pants (above zero), or my old Helly Hanson and Trailwise 60/40 top and bottoms for sub zero.  In camp I swap the tights for down bib pants.


The layered down sweater approach is more expensive than an artic down parka, but it provides a better warmth:weight ratio, and is more versatile.  Have yet to be cold in this set up.


BTW: why doesn’t anyone make trad 60/40 gear anymore?  I love the breatheability and wind stopping capabilities of 60/40, but particularly liked the friction characteristics, whereas tech gear and other nylon like fabrics turn you into a toboggan should you fall on a inclined pitch of crust.



Ed, why do you think anyone (anyone knowledgable and experienced, that is) would call you "crazy" for experimenting with the layered approach? That's really the only sensible way to go.

As you go from standing around waiting for everybody to be ready to go to moderate exercise to strenuous exercise to stopping for a break and snack to strenuous exercise to a level section of trail to descending an easy slope, your body generates different amounts of heat. Add to that starting the day before dawn, then heating through the day, a cold wind and precipitation arising, and vigorous work setting up camp, then sitting around in the evening before retiring, it is obvious that being able to easily and quickly adjust layers is the only way to go.

Having only the gigantic, thick down parka does not allow the needed versatility for the widely varying conditions. As you can see from my avatar, when hauling our loads in Antarctica, we were stripped down to a midweight long john layer, a "power stretch" suit, and bibs with a full side-sip that was opened up along most of the sides. The temperature at the time of the photo was about -20 to -25F and a light breeze. I was plenty warm. When we stopped for lunch, the R3 fleece and wind jacket came out - easy to stuff those in the pack when time came to move and back to the strenuous exercise. Then in camp,after setting up the tents and sitting around, the down parkas and pants came out as the sun circled down to a few degrees above the horizon and temperatures dropped.

You are taking the smart approach.

In Yosemite, I took my big parka and insulated pants to wear at night in camp since I get cold easily. (Then why do you go winter camping, my puzzled friends ask me, for which I have no good explanation other than it's fun.)

During the day or hiking, my parka would be far too much in any weather I'm going to encounter in the near future.

Many of the winter campers in Canada who belong to the wintertrekking website wear old style gear-wool base layers, wool jumpers (sweaters), wool pants and many wear a big cotton anorak with a fur ruff on it.

Some wear modern gear, but according to them, the old school stuff is cheaper, better around fires (they use hot tents for the most part) and breathes better at temps around -30C or so when they are pulling a heavy tobaggan and sweating a lot. They only pull out the down gear when they stop or maybe at night when just sitting around from what I can tell.

Canada is a huge and largely unpopulated country and the approaches to winter outdoors recreation and/or work ( which is usually just bloody miserable as sitting at one's computer discussing it is VERY different than doing forestry work at -25*F on snowshoes in eight feet of snow, BTDT, don't miss it much!) differ considerably between regions. Here in BC as in western Alberta, you will tend to find more "mountaineering" types of cold weather gear and less heavy woolen stuff.

I have used both extensively and the BEST of the contemporary mountaineering clothing WILL out-perform the older woolen gear by far under conditions of severe cold and wind. It is also much lighter and we are discussing backpacking here for which I find most woolen and fleece clothing too heavy. At 64 in the steep, forested and wet mountains of BC, I watch my gear weight and will no longer bother with heavy wool and I have largely given up fleece as it never did for me what some claimed it would when I bought my first items in the '70s.

I layer my clothing, of course, but, I do not agree that a layering of three down sweaters is lighter and more thermally efficient than a GOOD down alpine parka. My elderly Richard Egge, is a double "duvet", offset seams, superb down, as fine as any I have seen/used in over 40 years and with a double placket-snaps-snowskirt closure. I have worn this in perfect comfort from 20*F to -41*F , over only a merino top and been comfortable by adjusting the closure-hood at these temps.

The shell material in these garments, as in sleeping bags, is a conductor and also adds major weight to the garment/system, so, I think that wearing three layers of down sweaters is both heavier and less efficient than wearing a good alpine, they do not have the hood and neck protection necessary in  real cold.

I like an insulated vest under a parka for REAL cold and merino under that and have never felt more comfortable at severe temps. when outside for several days, often solo, using an unheated mountain tent and not having any heat source of any type. That said, we all differ in our metabolic and psychological reactions to various ambient stimuli and one should use what he finds works best for him and his specific environment.

I am VERY adapted to cold and wet and often hike at below freezing in a light T-shirt, sans base layer. My buddy goes nuts at the sight and shivers whenever it gets below about 50*F....he has climbed in the Hindu Kush, Alps and North America and is over 20 years younger than I; he can leave me in the dust all day in the mountains, but, I am far more relaxed and comfortable in the cold, wet and dealing with Grizzlies than he will ever be.....just different strokes and all that.

I think Dewey's comment on multiple layers of down sweaters actually refers to another thread where the poster mentioned it explicitly. But his comments are very relevant here as well, and I agree with Dewey that, to carry it a bit further, multiple layers of filled (down or synthetic) garments is a path of rapidly diminishing returns. The big advantage of filled garments is that they can be stuffed and compressed readily to carry compactly. The side effect is that when putting on multiple layers of the jackets and vests, they compress readily, just as they do when packing, but with the consequence that they lose loft, hence insulating value. That is, put a 2-inch loft jacket on top of a 2-inch loft vest, and you get a lot less than a 2+2=4 inch layer. In general, you are better off wearing a suitable base layer (light, midweight, or expedition weight long johns), under a Merino wool or modern fleece (hey Dewey, the current fleece is MUCH improved over the fleece, or worse, pile, of 20 years ago, much lighter) insulating layer, under the outer down jacket. That insulating layer won't compress like the down or Primaloft when you put another jacket over top of it. Put another layer on top of a filled layer, and you almost always end up compressing it at least a bit, hence losing insulating value.

The ads talk a lot about "soft shells". But, as I have pointed out elsewhere on Trailspace, there are "soft shells" and there are "soft shells". Every manufacturer seems to have a different idea of what qualifies as a soft shell. You will see fleece, Windstopper/Windbloc, Schoeller and Schoeller knockoff, DriClime (a fleece-like lining under a nylon shell), and even from one manufacturer, Merino wool hoodie listed as "soft shells". Some provide insulation only and let the wind through, some provide some or a lot of wind proofness, some provide a bit of water repellency. Soft shells can provide the insulating layer, but you better take a good look at the particular garment and not just web-order SuperMountain's Patented Soft Shell - it may or may not provide what you want.

And to get back on the OP's topic question, and to emphasize what several other posts have noted - a hard shell on top of a filled jacket (down or synthetic fill) will compress the puff fill to some extent - a LOT of compression if the hard shell is not purchased large enough to not compress the fill when zipped closed (which means the hard shell may be way too large to be useful without the filled jacket underneath).

I do not agree that a layering of three down sweaters is lighter and more thermally efficient than a GOOD down alpine parka...

..The shell material in these garments, as in sleeping bags, is a conductor and also adds major weight to the garment/system, so, I think that wearing three layers of down sweaters is both heavier and less efficient than wearing a good alpine, they do not have the hood and neck protection necessary in  real cold...

While my experience is subjective, I found the multiple down sweaters every bit as warm as my L Bean expedition parka (the one used on many Himalayan and Alaskain expeditions).  Shell material is a conductor, but if heat is being transferred from one thermal insulating layer to another adjacent layer, little if any radiation occurs.  This is analogous to the radiation effects of the fabric that separates the duvet layers in your parka.  Likewise the shell fabric in each sweater is a fraction of the weight of my parka’s shell.  That, in combination of less fabric used in pockets and lightweight zippers, probably makes shell material weight a toss up.  This in fact was one of my objectives; to do away with the redundant shell of my down parka, since I already have a dedicated shell garment.  Alas my sweaters lack a substantial hood.  No biggie, I never was fond of down hoods anyway; instead I use balaclavas and alpaca scarves, and the hood of my shell parka as needed.  The real short coming of down sweaters, layered or otherwise, is they are not as long as a full on expedition parka.  This is not a problem for me, as I use down bib pants in conjunction with the sweater combo.

..The side effect is that when putting on multiple layers of the jackets and vests, they compress readily.. ..That is, put a 2-inch loft jacket on top of a 2-inch loft vest, and you get a lot less than a 2+2=4 inch layer...

You are right Bill, it is critical to properly size all elements of a layering system, so they do not reduce the effective working loft volume.  As I mentioned, my sweaters along with all elements of my layering systems are sized so they do not compress underlying layers.


The Egge double duvet I own and have used since autumn 1976, is lighter than any US-made parka of similar insulating value that I have ever seen. I have owned ORIGINAL Marmot Mtn. down jacket, worn a FF and several others of the high end US makes. No parka I have ever seen will equal this and it is shelled with a bright orange-red VERY highcount nylon that is much lighter and tougher than anything else I have seen.

I have worn this at a measured -40* beside Kootenay Lake and on the same day I also wore my layered MM down gear, this was warmer. It is among the best pieces of gear I have ever owned and I have had my share.

I do see your point in the versatility of your system, but, I do not think that it all will be as light and warm as this type of parka. If, I were to get an American one, the only one I would now consider is a custom job by Nunatak...and, this would also be a double duvet type and they have the reputation at present.

Once you get into using woolen hats, scarves and various non-attached items of a system, it becomes heavier and less effective in severe conditions, IMHO and that is my only concern here as I have said, I use Primaloft gear for most situations.

BTW, if heat is not transfered by radiation between layers of a garment or sleeping the conductive shell does, how is it transfered? I ain't no goldang rocket scientist and maybe Bill can explain this...I do far better with biosciences than that there chemistry and dangnabbed physics stuff!

Heat is sort-of "pumped" out from between ones layers simply through body movement, even just the action of breathing. Yes, the spaces between layers help with "venting," but as they are doing this the partially-warmed air is being replaced with colder air. It's not a "transfer" proper, but more a "loss" from the system. Fewer layers equates to fewer "inter-layer" spaces, and less potential for said loss.

Heat is sort-of "pumped" out from between ones layers simply through body movement, even just the action of breathing. Yes, the spaces between layers help with "venting," but as they are doing this the partially-warmed air is being replaced with colder air. It's not a "transfer" proper, but more a "loss" from the system. Fewer layers equates to fewer "inter-layer" spaces, and less potential for said loss.

Cinching up hem line draw strings and closing collars and wrist openings will greatly reduce this effect, and encourage the air to simply vent to a different area of the garment layers, rather than be pumped out to the open air.  Keep in mind heat is pumped out of the insulation elements of any individual garment in a similar manner too.


Great discussion here fellas, I learned a few things...

October 31, 2020
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