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Layering and Keeping Warm. What Do You Wear?
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By NickMartel
From Tucson, Arizona
Nov 24, 2011

I am thinking about trying some mountaineering as such I have begun building the skills I think I will need. So the specific question I have now is what do you wear at different weather/temperature conditions. (I am asking to figure out what I have and what I need to get...Holidays!)

For Example (making this up. I live in Tucson so have no experience with cold weather):

20-35 degrees
Top: Thin cotton long sleeve shirt, thin wool sweater, fleece jacket, hard-shell.
Bottom: Cotton Long johns, fleece sweatpants, insulated hard-shell overalls.

Basically I am wondering what people use for their layers and how many layers, why. I know that wool is good because it stays warm when wet.

What do people use for the base layer that is exposed to sweat? Cotton to absorb it? Wool to say warm even if wet from sweat? Some high tech fabric that "moves" moisture away from your skin ect...\

Thanks for taking the time to read and/or reply.


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By mark felber
From Frisco, CO,USA
Nov 24, 2011

Cotton kills. Cotton clothing will absorb perspiration and hold it next to your skin, cooling you off. Get wet in a rain or snowstorm while wearing cotton and you will be in trouble.

Wool is an excellent insulator, but it does absorb some moisture. For a given thickness, it's comfortable over a wider range of temperatures than synthetics. It supposedly does not absorb and retain body odors the way some synthetics do, but you can end up smelling like a wet sheep if you get wet enough. It's also a little harder to wash than synthetics because of the way it absorbs water. Some people think wool is too itchy, although this is less of a problem with the newer merino wools.

Synthetics (fleece, Capilene, etc.) absorb no water, so they keep you dry when you are sweating. The good base layers are designed to move moisture away from your skin as you perspire. Synthetics are super easy to clean and generally cheaper than wool. On the down side, they do retain some body odor, and they don't insulate quite as well as wool.


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By Yarp
Nov 24, 2011

NickMartel wrote:
I am thinking about trying some mountaineering as such I have begun building the skills I think I will need. So the specific question I have now is what do you wear at different weather/temperature conditions. (I am asking to figure out what I have and what I need to get...Holidays!) For Example (making this up. I live in Tucson so have no experience with cold weather): 20-35 degrees Top: Thin cotton long sleeve shirt, thin wool sweater, fleece jacket, hard-shell. Bottom: Cotton Long johns, fleece sweatpants, insulated hard-shell overalls. Basically I am wondering what people use for their layers and how many layers, why. I know that wool is good because it stays warm when wet. What do people use for the base layer that is exposed to sweat? Cotton to absorb it? Wool to say warm even if wet from sweat? Some high tech fabric that "moves" moisture away from your skin ect...\ Thanks for taking the time to read and/or reply.


You might want to try reading a little book called "Freedom of the Hills". I think it touches on this subject. And yeah, cotton is pretty much the worst thing to wear into the mountains. But you'd know that if you actually wanted to learn to walk outside instead of just posting on the inturdwebs screaming "look at me, look at me! I wanna be a climber!" Good luck with learning mountaineering on the intardwebs.


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By NickMartel
From Tucson, Arizona
Nov 24, 2011

@Yarp: See thats the kind of stuff you don't learn about being a desert native where the coldest it gets is around 32 occasionally, but is 2ed nature to people from cold climates. I am asking for personal experience and observations/recommendations which can not necessarily be gained from a book.

Look at me look at me I'm an intardweb douche-bag (in my Yarp voice).


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By Andy Hansen
From Longmont, Colorado
Nov 24, 2011
Intruder, 5.11+. Zion National Park. Photo: Matt Kuehl

Capilene base, merino wool LS, patagonia R1 (or equivalent) nano puff insulation and softshell outer. Usually what I wear consists of all or some of these depending on how cold/warm it is or if I will be in the sun or not. If it's hovering above the freezing mark I'll wear capilene base and merino longsleeve with a shell. If it's cooler than that I'll wear just capilene an RI and a nano or other insulation with a shell. I think the worst thing is getting too hot- but you can delayer. What would be worse is not having enough layers or options to stay warm.


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By Dave Swink
From Boulder, Co
Nov 24, 2011

Nick,

You put us in the unhappy position of agreeing with Yarp (throw-up-in-back-of-mouth). Anyone posting general questions about layering that include several references to cotton would be assumed to be trolling unless they were a long-time mp poster like you.

Freedom of the Hills is a great place to start learning the basics. Follow that up by reading Extreme Alpinism by Twight and you will be ready to ask good questions about putting together a layering system.

Here is a starting point; what are you trying to accomplish with layering? First, you want to maintain your body at a cool but comfortable temperature while moving.

Factors that can work against maintaining that cool, comfortable temperature:

  • cold air temps chill the body
  • trapped body heat from movement overheating the body
  • built-up sweat amplifies chilling from cold air temps
  • wind amplifies chilling from cold air temps
  • changes in exertion level, air temperature, or wind

So you need a layering system that will keep you warm when it is cold out, but not let you overheat while moving, and transfer sweat away from your body quickly while blocking wind chill. Then your layering system needs to adapt quickly and easily to changes in conditions.

Next, when you stop for more than a couple of minutes, you are going to need layers to make up for all of the body heat that is no longer being generated.

My layering system for climbing a couple of Colorado fourteeners on Tuesday:
wicking polyester T-shirt
Patagonia R1 hoody
Hooded softshell (advanced with extra wind resistance)
Patagonia Cap 3 long johns
Softshell pants
liner gloves
shell mitts

This worked well in 20 degrees temps with up to 15 mph winds. As we got higher the wind increased so I added:
full coverage balaclava
googles

That worked ok in winds up to 30 mph. If it had gotten colder, windier, or if I had to stop for more than a couple of minutes I would have added on a hooded light down sweater (under the softshell).

All of this is just what works for me. Gather opinions from others but you owe it to yourself to read up too.

Oh, and don't practice that Yarp voice. It could get stuck sounding like that!

Dave


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By Yarp
Nov 25, 2011

NickMartel wrote:
Look at me look at me I'm an intardweb douche-bag


You said it, not me. Get a clue gumby.


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By Jarek
Nov 25, 2011

Yarp wrote:
You might want to try reading a little book called "Freedom of the Hills". I think it touches on this subject. And yeah, cotton is pretty much the worst thing to wear into the mountains. But you'd know that if you actually wanted to learn to walk outside instead of just posting on the inturdwebs screaming "look at me, look at me! I wanna be a climber!" Good luck with learning mountaineering on the intardwebs.


I found this somewhere on the web "Aggressive/offensive behavior toward other people is often used to claim status, precedent, or access to an object or territory. In other words, people act aggressively/offensively towards others to improve their own status or their place in a given community. Often these people are insecure and require psychological reinforcement of their value." As bad as cotton in the the mountains...


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By Yarp
Nov 25, 2011

Jarek wrote:
I found this somewhere on the web "Aggressive/offensive behavior toward other people is often used to claim status, precedent, or access to an object or territory. In other words, people act aggressively/offensively towards others to improve their own status or their place in a given community. Often these people are insecure and require psychological reinforcement of their value." As bad as cotton in the the mountains...


Thanks for that. I'll discuss it with my counselor on Monday but I'm pretty sure you summed me up fairly succinctly. I call the OP out as an idiot for asking a stupid question and you pull out the DSM looking for my disorder. Glad you've got extra time on your hands to assist me in achieving a zen-like state of mental health.


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By Tparis
From Pottersville,New York
Nov 25, 2011
fall foliage 5.7+ slab

anyone that knows enough to specify that their shell is a hard shell as opposed to a soft shell should know that cotton base layers are a bad idea. I say troll.


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By NickMartel
From Tucson, Arizona
Nov 25, 2011

@dave:Thanks for breaking down some basics + reading recommendations, have been looking for freedom of the hills for a little bit at the local library, UofA library ect... may just have to buy it.

I asked also because this past weekend it was cold (45) when we headed out so I was in a long sleeve shirt and fleece. Took off the fleece as soon as we got moving, soaked my shirt and got super hot, ended up taking it off and unzipping the pants legs off my bottoms and setting them on a rock while we climbed until the afternoon when we were in the shade and it got cold again by which time luckily it was dry. It was cotton like most of my clothing. I guess I am in the market for some synthetic stuff if I want to mess with the cold.

@tparis I only know the difference between hard and soft from reading about them. Don't own any of that stuff since it only rains 15-20 days a year and stays pretty warm. The clothing I asked about was purely hypothetical/made up as a formatting example.


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By Wyatt H
From Casper, Wy
Nov 25, 2011

Here's what I use:

Thinnest merino short sleeve t-shirt I can find: Icebreaker 150
Light windproof/wicking do-everything layer: Marmot Dri-clime
Midweight stretch wicking baselayer: Paradox (from Costco) leggings
Breathable/tough softshell pants: Marmot Cortina for dry or warm conditions. Any other conditions use a non-membrane softshell pant
In my pack I keep:
Huge puffy: New Balance Fugu (down) if its dry Mammut Stratus (synthetic) if its wet out
Super breathable/durable Shoeller softshell layer to climb in: MEC Feratta 2.

If its gonna be cold I carry a super thin fleece layer: First Ascent Bat Hang Hoodie

If its gonna be wet I carry a lightweight rainjacket: Marmot Precip

Gloves - carry a bunch. Warm mittens for belay, thin windproof for approach, a few pairs of thin dextrous work gloves for climbing.

Hats: A buff and a beanie


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By Sunny-D
From SLC, Utah
Nov 25, 2011
Top of Jah-Man Sister Superior

Mark Twight has a book called Extreme Alpinism that has really good information on clothing systems.
www.amazon.com/Extreme-Alpinism-Climbing-Light-Fast/dp/08988>>>
Freedom of the Hills is a great read on more then just the clothing of mountaineering...
Look up Patagonia or Marmot or Rab or Arc Teryx or any other outdoor brand and you will have a great start on clothing systems.


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By andrewc
Nov 25, 2011

NickMartel wrote:
I asked also because this past weekend it was cold (45) when we headed out so I was in a long sleeve shirt and fleece. Took off the fleece as soon as we got moving, soaked my shirt and got super hot, ended up taking it off and unzipping the pants legs off my bottoms and setting them on a rock while we climbed until the afternoon when we were in the shade and it got cold again by which time luckily it was dry.


Never start hiking warm. Always start out a bit chilled. Learn to figure out how much clothing will keep you warm after 20 to 30 minutes of hiking uphill.

Check the time when you leave and if you are still not more or less warmed up after 20/30 minutes then feel free to put on a light sweater or whatever you have.

This rarely happens. What more often happens is that even if you start off chilled you still end up overheating a little bit.

Try to wear the mininum amount of clothing needed to keep warmish while moving and throw on a big coat when stopped.

This concept keeps you warmer throughout the day as you won't soak through your clothing.

Obviously absolutely no cotton unless its really warm out. Exactly what clothing you wear isn't that important as long as it is of the proper weight for the conditions and breathable enough so your sweat doesn't overwhelm your clothing.


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By dorseyec
Nov 25, 2011

wow you really didn't know not to wear cotton? My 12 year old sister who plays video games at least knows that. Thought that was common sense, apparently not.


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By andrewc
Nov 25, 2011

dorseyec wrote:
wow you really didn't know not to wear cotton? My 12 year old sister who plays video games at least knows that. Thought that was common sense, apparently not.


If you grow up in the desert where it never rains and is never that cold, its hardly common sense.

Good on your sister for not wearing cotton playing mario cart though.


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By dorseyec
Nov 25, 2011

Really? I pretty much thought that was common sense for anyone in the outdoors. I assume you would not road bike in cotton in the desert either right? Doesn't everyone know cotton stays wet forever?


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By Sunny-D
From SLC, Utah
Nov 25, 2011
Top of Jah-Man Sister Superior

I think it is funny that everyone here is ragging on cotton and how it kills. However cotton is exactly what you want in the hot desert-specifically for the reason you are all quoting why you don't wear it. It holds moisture and helps you stay cool on a hot day.
If you live or work in the desert cotton can be your best friend.
In the cold mountains it does not work but in the desert well...


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By trailrun.reynolds
From Seattle
Nov 25, 2011

andrewc wrote:
Never start hiking warm. Always start out a bit chilled. Learn to figure out how much clothing will keep you warm after 20 to 30 minutes of hiking uphill.


That is the key to successful layering. You can bring more than you need to the trailhead and leave it in the car. I always start out pretty darn chill. If I know that I will be keeping a pretty high pace, i.e. trail running, biking, snowshoeing, or XC/BC skiing I basically start out with a slight shiver. And at that the soft/hard shell stays in the pack unless its precipitating or high wind. And try to keep sweating to a minimum by adjusting your layers. Although synthetics do not much absorb water and insulate fairly well when they do get wet, any moisture next to the skin will rob you of heat as it evaporates.

Figuring out the optimal layering system will come with experience. My internal thermostat generally works too well. I tend to hike in shorts and a t-shirt in high 40s and will carry a light fleece jacket for when I plan to stop for awhile. In the 20s-30s pants with a synthetic short sleeve and wool long sleeve (merino ~200 wt) combination are generally enough for me as long as I am moving.

And as has been stated synthetics are generally much cheaper.

Have fun in the backcountry! And cotton kills.


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By David Hertel
From Sitka
Nov 26, 2011
Climbing a coulior of steep snow on the First Ascent of: The Ship's Prow, near Skagway, Ak

NickMartel wrote:
Look at me look at me I'm an intardweb douche-bag (in my Yarp voice).

For sure.

I live in Alaska, and have a pretty good system for layering. Both in the mountains and general outdoor winter conditions. Last year I worked as a dog handler training for the Yukon Quest. Our kennel was locted 25 miles outside Fairbanks and it gets really cold up there. As far as winter conditions, I generally layer like this:

- Base layer of synthetic or wool long underwear. Capaline is a good synthetic base layer. (I've found that I stay warmer if my base layer stays snug and hugs the skin a little bit. With loose layers, I shiver a lot more.)

- Patagonia R1 layer or equivelant (Personally, I wouldn't get the R1 without a hood. It doubbles as a balaclava and fits nicely under a helmet. Also, Khul makes a great arylic and alfpaca fleece sweater if you want that little bit extra insulation. I swear by these)

- Softshell. This will do just fine in extreme cold since the outer of the jacket is very water resistant, and unless you are climbing a melting waterfall, you wont need a hard shell over this most of the time. (Last year I picked up a Black Diamond Clothing softshell from Costco for $25 and it works great.)

- This goes for Pants as well. Insulated shell pants are usually the end of my layering for leggings. Just make sure they are very water resistant or water proof if possible. Reinforced lowers are a bonus. They help prevent tearing a hole if you happen to catch your pants with your crampons.

- Down Jacket for the belays. It gets really cold belaying on long ice and mixed pitches. You're gonna want something with at leat 650 goose down fill. Significantly warmer and lighter than synthetics. A hood is nice, but not necessary.

- A hard shell that fits nicely over the down is good to keep snow and moisture from soaking up in your jacket. Wet down is worthless so look for something with taped seams. It works nicely on warmer days when ice conditions are a little wetter and down isn't necessary. Make sure the hood fits over your helmet for multi pitched routes. It's nice to not have snow pouring down your neck and the last thing you want to do is drop your helmet pulling on and off your hood on an ice climb. (The belayer is constantly bombarded with falling chunks of ice.)

- For footwear, I would stick to plastics. They are stiffer and a lot warmer. Due to their rigidity, they feel pretty much the same in the long run as they do when you first put them on your feet. You dont need to wear them around the house awkwardly to beak them in. Also they all have toe and heel welts so any crampon can be adjusted to fit. If they get wet, you can take the liners out and dry them quickly. (Wool socks are best.)

- Gaiters are a must. It keeps deep snow from filling your boots and caking arount the cuffs of your pants. The taller they are and the stronger the material, the better protection you get from crampon tears.

- Gloves are obvious. Mittens are better when mushing, but for climbing, get something with a removable liner. I carry extra liners with me in case I have to take my hands out of my gloves for something and loose one. Also, if your hands get wet, an extra pair of dry liners comes in handy. (I am a big fan of the REI Switchbacks. They are gauntlet style and have chords for easy adjustments. I have never had snow slip down my gloves and if my hands start sweating, I stash the liners and still have excelent insulation. They've done me well in temperatures as low as -53 awc.)

I hope this helps. I covered most everything in mountaineering as well as interior Ak layering. I don't wear my plastics mushing, but I also don't wear my Cabelas Trans Alaska IIIs climbing. For 20-30 degree temperatures, I personally would drop the down coat and wear wool pants instead of shells, but I'm not alcimated to Tucson's climate. That seams a bit warm to me at this point. You may want to check out some of the neoprene gloves from Glacier Glove. You can pick them up fairly cheap at Walmart. I have several pairs I take with me to the lower 48 for warmer ice climbing. And stay away from cotton. You can get hypothermic if your s**t gets wet and things go sour at 30 degrees.


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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Nov 28, 2011
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3

For footwear, I would stick to plastics. They are stiffer and a lot warmer. Due to their rigidity, they feel pretty much the same in the long run as they do when you first put them on your feet. You dont need to wear them around the house awkwardly to beak them in. Also they all have toe and heel welts so any crampon can be adjusted to fit. If they get wet, you can take the liners out and dry them quickly.

Absolute nans on plastics being warmer, or being more rigid enough to make them superior.


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By camhead
From Vandalia, Appalachia
Nov 28, 2011
You stay away from mah pig!

Sunny-D wrote:
I think it is funny that everyone here is ragging on cotton and how it kills. However cotton is exactly what you want in the hot desert-specifically for the reason you are all quoting why you don't wear it. It holds moisture and helps you stay cool on a hot day. If you live or work in the desert cotton can be your best friend. In the cold mountains it does not work but in the desert well...


That's irrelevant. Gumby OP was asking about keeping warm, not keeping cool.


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By davecro
From Golden, CO
Nov 28, 2011
Summit of Estrillitas

Don't forget cashmere! I wear a cashmere sweater from grandma above my baselayer. It is better than merino in everyway: it dries faster, it's lighter, it's warmer, it's stronger and insanely comfortable. My brother found a couple at the local thrift store.


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