With so many highly desirable jacket's, fleece's, vest's, shell's, hybrid's, merino's, etc etc, on the market how on earth are you supposed to figure out what combinations of gear to wear and pack? This is a question as old as Gear Pest Gus's long johns and just as controversial.
But fear not, for even the beardless can achieve comfort on the hill. Fake beards are now widely available and are so realistic that... only joking, but seriously they are these days.
The reality is that whilst the huge number of options can be confusing, no matter your shape, weight, cold threshold, choice of activity or fashion sense, everyone is catered for by a stellar cast of kit.
So here's a quick guide to the art of layering.
Comfort above the clouds with a lightweight down jacket
IT'S ALL ABOUT THAT BASE
Easy to neglect, but possibly the most important is your base-layer. This is after all the part that touches your skin and deserves as much thought as choosing a wife or husband.
Now put that down and step away from the cotton. I said PUT THAT DOWN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE COTTON. Cotton has its place but it’s generally a poor choice for using next to the skin when out in the hills. It get’s wet fast, takes ages to dry and stinks like a (insert amusing simile here).
Base-layers essentially fall into 3 categories; synthetic, natural fibre or a mixture of both with each coming in various weights and thicknesses.
Merino wool has become incredibly popular in recent years due to its natural moisture wicking and thermal regulation abilities. Fans rave how comfortable it is while others complain about durability. Nobody doubts its thermal qualities however and it is the starting point for many the mountain pro ensemble. Wool fibre is also remarkably resistant to becoming smelly and the same item can feasibly be worn for several days without causing too much offence. Great for longer trips.
Synthetic polyester or nylon base-layers are highly breathable and dry quickly. Many people (myself included) prefer the feel of synthetic. Nothing else wicks moisture quite like a synthetic base-layer and it dries faster too but can feel sticky and clammy if overwhelmed. Some of these garments are also so durable they will likely outlast you!
Synthetic/natural fibre blends are becoming increasingly common and obviously give you the best (and worst) of both worlds.
There really is no right or wrong with this one and it purely comes down to personal preference.
As long as that personal preference is never ever cotton.
Odlo Evolution Warm, Haglofs Active Blend and Mammut Go Warm
Your mid-layer is probably the layer that you will chop and change the most depending on the conditions. High altitude skiing in January will require a warmer effort than May slush bumping!
The trusty fleece is now a cosmopolitan affair composed of multiple high tech fabrics, each with varying degrees of warmth, breathability, stretchyness and wind stopping capability. Read product descriptions carefully to find the garment that matches both your needs and the conditions you will most likely encounter.
Insulated, non-fleecy mid-layers are all the rage these days. Down filled models are really light, packable and warm, though many people now opt for a synthetic equivalent. These cope much better in damp conditions though tend to be slightly heavier and often less breathable. For lift served skiing this is less an issue but if you plan on using your insulated jacket for other activities this option is worth serious consideration.
Hybrid jackets consisting of fleece/softshell/insulated and combinations there of are also widely available for those among us who are a bit indecisive.
Gus's top tip! A vest or gillet is a great idea to have packed in your backpack. They're small and light and can add the extra warmth needed when the sun disappears.
Dynafit Mera Hoodie, Ortovox Fleece Jacket, Haglofs LIM Essens and Ortovox Piz Boval
"50% of skiing is looking good and the other 50% is knowing you look good" - Confucius 492 BC Interior
Now the expensive bit. Your outer shell is there to keep out the elements whether wind, rain, snow or hail. You definitely want this to be completely waterproof but also breathable. Typically you get what you pay for and after a full day in the snow you may well be glad you splashed out a bit extra. 3 layer and 2 layer Gore-Tex fabrics are ubiquitous and excellent, but most brands produce their own proprietary systems which are often excellent and usually cheaper; Haglofs Proof and Mammut Drytech are 2 such examples. Keep an eye out for helmet compatible hoods, air vents, ski pass pockets and other features that suit your activity. Do you need pockets accessible while wearing a rucksack for instance?
For daring souls venturing into remoter parts, a good shell combined with the right layers underneath could make the difference between a horrible day and a triumphant one, so function ought to trump style in the shell stakes.
Haglofs Spitz, Odlo Spirit, Mammut Masao and Women's Haglofs Spitz.
Heading into the mountains in Winter obviously requires some additional thought. Messing around with extra mid-layers on an ice blasted peak in a January storm in the dark isn't pleasant. For this reason some sort of insulated layer which can be thrown over the top of everything is a really good idea. Here in Scotland most folks will choose a synthetic fill duvet/belay style jacket for this. Synthetic insulation just copes better with the infamously damp conditions. In drier climes like the Alps a down jacket will be lighter and pack smaller. This can also sensibly be viewed as emergency kit incase of an unplanned night out and are "de rigueur" in winter bothies.
Well that's it, thanks for reading. If you've managed to read this far then you deserve a prize. Have a free voucher on us :) You can use the code IAMFREEZING to get £20 off any order of £100 or more.
If you have any questions about any of this then just get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gear Pest Andy