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Insulation Strategy

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Insulation Strategy

Postby Milz » Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:11 am

Last year I spent two fairly uncomfortable days on Mt. Shasta as a first-time mountaineer, and have decided to upgrade my wardrobe for the coming winter. What I have is mostly alpine skiing gear - heavy, and not very waterproof or breathable (but lots of pockets!). I've already traded cotton base and mid-layers for merino/synthetic blended base layer and a capilene 4 zip-neck. I also have a North Face Venture rain-shell jacket and Marmot Pre-Cip pants that are very light and packable, but I don't think I have suitable mid/insulation layers. I foresee only 2-3 mountaineering trips per year, without technical climbing, and flexibility for backpacking, everyday, or skiing use is a plus.

I think just about any system will need a softshell added in order to be wind-proof without the rain-shell (which doesn't breathe very well). Probably a MH Mountain Tech or similar unless advised otherwise. This should be good for most mountaineering in decent weather, but I want to have additional insulation in case of bad weather and emergency situations. How much insulation should I carry to be safe/comfortable for Sierra mountaineering, including Mt. Whitney Mountaineer's Route in the winter? I have a 0-degree synthetic sleeping bag (MH Ultralamina) that should do for nights. I'm looking at synthetic insulators for moisture and cost reasons.

Insulation Options:
A) Lightweight insulator that could go under the softshell (e.g. MH Zonal, Pata Nanopuff, TNF zephyrus)
B) Mid-weight insulator that could go between the softshell and rain-shell (e.g. MH Compressor, Pata Micropuff)
C) Heavy insulator / "belay parka" that would go over the softshell and has DWR finish (e.g. MH B'layman, Pata DAS) thinking that rain shell not needed if it's cold enough to need that much insulation. I won't be doing technical climbs in the winter though, at least not any time soon, so the start-stop of climbing or need for the insulation layer to be on the outside doesn't come into play. These do provide the most loft though.
D) Insulated shell (e.g. OR Chaos) as a substitute for the rain-shell - maybe combine with another lightweight insulator or fleece and skip the softshell??

If recommending A or B above, should I get a hood on the softshell, insulator, or neither?

Any recommendations for pants? Right now I have insulated TNF ski pants with suspenders and a small bib in the back. They keep out snow and are durable, but are not light, breathable, or very water-repellent.
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby mrchad9 » Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:30 pm

A pair of long underwear tops that you can wear at the same time (sometimes I have three), a fleece, a down sweater, and a soft shell and you are set. In winter add a synthetic or down parka. I use a 1 pound 32 degree down bag and it works on all but the coldest winter trips.

People summit Shasta in blue jeans regularly so keep all the fancy finishes on the outwear in perspective if you are going on just a few trips per year. You probably won't go if it is raining, and if its snowing most any shell will work for a 2 day trip.
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby kevin trieu » Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:31 pm

all my winter climbs in the Sierra, and climbs WA, AK (not including Denali) & South America have the same setup.
-1 cap 3 baselayer (now i have made the switch to 200 level Icebreaker)
-r1 pullover or hoody (best piece of gear, ever) and micropuff synthetic vest if it gets real cold like winter climb of Rainier or on 6,000m peaks in the Andes. instead of adding a thicker belay parka, i add another layer.
-Arc'teryx Alpha SV (now i'm taking a lighter shell like the Patagonia torrentshell)
-Das Parka, cheap, rugged and field tested.
i'm able to wear all five layers at once and still be able to climb technical pitches without feeling too bulky.

On Manaslu this past October I had the same baselayer setup under my down suit and it worked perfectly.

-patagonia cap 3 base long underwear
-patagonia softshell alpine pants
the bottom combo has been good for all winter climbs in continental US but some of the colder climbs in the Andes i wish i had my Arc'teryx bib with me.

i have never used a softshell jacket so no comment.
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby Ben Beckerich » Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:17 pm

I've never been able to climb in anything more than light base and shell... I don't know how the hell you guys can layer up, even for winter climbing.
where am i going... and why am i in this handbasket?
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby kevin trieu » Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:32 pm

Ben B. wrote:I've never been able to climb in anything more than light base and shell... I don't know how the hell you guys can layer up, even for winter climbing.

at altitude i slow down and can't generate as much heat. same goes for belaying in a storm. can't move much there.

how high and/or what temperature have you climbed in just a light base and shell? some people are just beastly i guess.
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby Ben Beckerich » Sun Nov 25, 2012 6:27 pm

Cascades only- never been higher than 14,000. But it still gets cold as shit in the winter around here- especially when it's windy. I've free-balled under shell pants in single digits before, and with WCI in the negatives.

I'm not beastly- I just get super hot and sweat like a mu'fapper. I throw on a Phantom down for belays and shiver into convulsions, but I can't wear anything but base and shell while climbing.
where am i going... and why am i in this handbasket?
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby Milz » Sun Nov 25, 2012 10:14 pm

mrchad9 wrote:a fleece, a down sweater, and a soft shell and you are set. In winter add a synthetic or down parka.


Thanks, but I'm hoping I can buy less than four new jackets at once. Would the following be enough? I'm not worried about comfort in decent weather - per Ben's post, I'm sure I'd be content in a softshell and base layers. I'm more concerned about being adequately prepared if the weather gets bad unexpectedly.

*HH Warm base layer
*Capilene 4 Zip-T
Softshell
MH Compressor or similar (if very cold or at camp)
*Rain-Shell (for unexpected bad weather)
*=already have it
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby Damien Gildea » Sun Nov 25, 2012 10:31 pm

Ben B. wrote:I've never been able to climb in anything more than light base and shell... I don't know how the hell you guys can layer up, even for winter climbing.


I agree. I rarely post in these kinds of threads any more. People seem determined to go against physics, physiology and manufacturers' design with their gear. I guess if their methods are based on experience then who am I to tell them they're wrong. They must be incredible specimens to be able to push sweat out through two inner layers, an insulation layer, then out through a supposedly waterproof-breathable shell layer, defying temperature gradients, molecular behaviour etc.

I've climbed dozens of routes in Antarctica in a merino baselayer + light windshell. I recently summited Peak Lenin (7134m) in a light baselayer, merino exped weight top and First Ascent hardshell, exact same items I wore on Mt Hood in June. How people climb (or hike, or whatever...) with two inner layers, sometimes more, plus a fancy double-shelled Primaloft insulation piece as a 'mid-layer' under a barely-breathable hardshell, I do not know. The only time I remember being dressed like that was summiting Denali years ago in -30C temps, and even then I realised I was overdressed and sweating.

Modern synthetic fleece - HiLoft etc - was designed the way it is for a reason, if you must use it - to trap air, yet be breathable. Let your shell jacket do the windproofing.
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby bkva » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:48 pm

Milz wrote:
mrchad9 wrote:
*HH Warm base layer
*Capilene 4 Zip-T
Softshell
MH Compressor or similar (if very cold or at camp)
*Rain-Shell (for unexpected bad weather)
*=already have it


I just updated my for sale list in the classifieds with softshells and the FA Igniter, which is the same as the MH Compressor. Take a look...

fs-first-ascent-mountain-hardwear-t61528.html
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby Milz » Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:42 am

Damien Gildea wrote:...How people climb (or hike, or whatever...) with two inner layers, sometimes more, plus a fancy double-shelled Primaloft insulation piece as a 'mid-layer' under a barely-breathable hardshell, I do not know.


Thanks for the perspective - understood and agreed. I intend to wear just the base plus softshell while hiking/climbing/generating heat. Hopefully the hard-shell would stay in the pack the whole trip, and I would only use the insulator around the campsite. I only want to have these in case (e.g.) we got stuck in an unexpected storm and were maybe not moving for an extended period of time. I've been told that Whitney, and Sierra weather in general, can be unpredictable, and I don't want to be caught un-prepared.

I guess the question boiled-down is: How much insulation should I carry to potentially sit-out an early-season storm on Mt. Whitney?
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby mrchad9 » Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:49 am

Milz wrote:
mrchad9 wrote:a fleece, a down sweater, and a soft shell and you are set. In winter add a synthetic or down parka.


Thanks, but I'm hoping I can buy less than four new jackets at once. Would the following be enough? I'm not worried about comfort in decent weather - per Ben's post, I'm sure I'd be content in a softshell and base layers. I'm more concerned about being adequately prepared if the weather gets bad unexpectedly.

*HH Warm base layer
*Capilene 4 Zip-T
Softshell
MH Compressor or similar (if very cold or at camp)
*Rain-Shell (for unexpected bad weather)
*=already have it

I have the DAS parka same as Kevin. MH should be fine. I would also have one more mid layer at least, fleece or down. You'll want that instead of some of the above in most Sierra conditions anyway.
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby kevin trieu » Mon Nov 26, 2012 4:18 am

Milz wrote:I guess the question boiled-down is: How much insulation should I carry to potentially sit-out an early-season storm on Mt. Whitney?

i've survived a winter bivy on the summit of Carl Heller which is about 13k' with the same clothing described above plus the emergency space bivy, BD pack which has a tiny foam and a rope. those other pieces of gear are also useful. also if your partner is willing to spoon. :)
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby kevin trieu » Mon Nov 26, 2012 5:08 am

Damien Gildea wrote:
Ben B. wrote:I've never been able to climb in anything more than light base and shell... I don't know how the hell you guys can layer up, even for winter climbing.


I agree. I rarely post in these kinds of threads any more. People seem determined to go against physics, physiology and manufacturers' design with their gear. I guess if their methods are based on experience then who am I to tell them they're wrong. They must be incredible specimens to be able to push sweat out through two inner layers, an insulation layer, then out through a supposedly waterproof-breathable shell layer, defying temperature gradients, molecular behaviour etc.

I've climbed dozens of routes in Antarctica in a merino baselayer + light windshell. I recently summited Peak Lenin (7134m) in a light baselayer, merino exped weight top and First Ascent hardshell, exact same items I wore on Mt Hood in June. How people climb (or hike, or whatever...) with two inner layers, sometimes more, plus a fancy double-shelled Primaloft insulation piece as a 'mid-layer' under a barely-breathable hardshell, I do not know. The only time I remember being dressed like that was summiting Denali years ago in -30C temps, and even then I realised I was overdressed and sweating.

Modern synthetic fleece - HiLoft etc - was designed the way it is for a reason, if you must use it - to trap air, yet be breathable. Let your shell jacket do the windproofing.


the three times that i have all my layers on were 1. rainier liberty ridge in a storm above 13k', above 20k' on Huscaran Sur and climbing into the night on Carl Heller. on Denali summit day i had an rei expedition baselayer, some cheap midweight colombia fleece and my shell. it should also be noted that layering is useful because it allows you to put on and take off layers depending on how fast you move, climbing in the shade vs sun and wind speed. so when people do put on all their layers, it isn't for the duration of the climb but maybe right after a break and/or belay then they start shredding as they warm up. when layering, i based it on sweat. if i start to sweat, i take off layers. as always on a climbing forum, there's misunderstanding and assumptions.

but i think the OP's main question is regarding unintended stop for the night and whether or not he will survive away from camp with the gear he has with him.

edit: i'll now go test out my layering system here in Darjeeling, India. i'll let you guys know how it goes. :)
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby goldenhopper » Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:00 am

It was 16F when this picture was taken and I was HOT! I mean, aside from my general physical appearance that is...

Image
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Re: Insulation Strategy

Postby Damien Gildea » Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:10 am

kevin trieu wrote:...but i think the OP's main question is regarding unintended stop for the night and whether or not he will survive away from camp with the gear he has with him.


True, which is why I think his options A & B are not really options at all. The only option is 'C' and then it's a question of 'how thick?' ie. DAS or something lighter - FA Igniter, MH Compressor, Montane Prism etc. (in decreasing order of insulation). I think a DAS might be overkill, a Compressor not enough, so an Igniter (I have the 2010 model) is probably fine. Surviving such an unplanned night without tent and sleeping bag and mat will involve other important factors like hydration, calories and body position, and weather, and altitude, and...

...it should also be noted that layering is useful because it allows you to put on and take off layers depending on how fast you move, climbing in the shade vs sun and wind speed. so when people do put on all their layers, it isn't for the duration of the climb but maybe right after a break and/or belay then they start shredding as they warm up.


Not really. You're kind of mentioning two different things there. Unless there is a really extreme temp/wind change the idea is NOT to be messing with layers. Too many people start off with too much on and then get hot and need to de-layer. People need to get used to being 'comfortably chilled' when standing around at the start, then they're fine when they get going. Then if you stop for what will be more than 5min it's easy to put an insulating piece on over the top immediately, which is equally quickly removed - not put on 'after a break' and left on until you get too hot. I've seen too many groups stop and faff around with people overheating in multiple layers, trying to remove midlayers with harnesses on etc, then of course they get really cold as they're sweaty underneath, and then their ropemates get cold waiting for them to undress and re-pack.

...when layering, i based it on sweat. if i start to sweat, i take off layers.


Don't start moving with them on to begin with and you won't have to take them off.
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