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Berkshires-Down or Synthetic?
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Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Berkshires-Down or Synthetic? on 04/30/2006 00:29:50 MDT Print View

My nephew is heading off to Williams College in the heart of the Berkshires in NW Massachusetts next fall. He owns some fleece garments and some down which work well in California's Sierra Nevada. Will his down garments serve him in day activities and multiday trips, or should we move him into synthetics only for a damper climate?

Re: Berkshires-Down or Synthetic? on 04/30/2006 13:02:09 MDT Print View

Unfortunately there's no ready answer to this question, due to variables of personal experience and motivation, use of equipment, hiking and camping technique, etc. So why not let him venture out, experiment, then decide for himself? There's an outfitter right in town.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Berkshires-Down or Synthetic? on 05/01/2006 04:25:08 MDT Print View

Other than the 70's when I was in the military, spent my entire life in NewEngland. So, I'd say sometimes down is "if-fy".

Often temps are right around freezing and precip is very wet snow which transistions to freezing rain (not the same as sleet) or sleet - any of which, including the wet snow, soaks even DWR treated outer fabrics if one is spending an afternoon outside. A GTX or similar WPB membrane, or Epic fabric is better for down garments. This occurs a bit less up there than further south or along the coasts, but still happens from time to time.

A relatively inexpensive, more water resistant/proof shell garment (jacket or anorak) is also an option as maybe a cheaper alternative to buying a whole new GTX+down garment.

Even synth garments can get pretty wet under these conditions. Personally, I find the layered shell garment the way to go since I'm too cheap to spend hundreds on a good quality GTX+down garment.

BTW, the Bershires are great. Mt. Greylock is nearby - the highest point in MA and the AT runs right through it.

Decades ago, my wife did a medical internship up there at the hospital in Pittsfield. Great area. Make sure he has dinner at "Dakota" sometime. Great decor (hunting lodge style) and cuisine (e.g. Mesquite trout and chicken - two of my favorites). He can take in some concerts at Tanglewood if he's around in the warmer months and some great B&B's in the area if you want to visit him (plus a Hilton in Pittsfield and motels all along the main route if you don't want to stay in a quaint New England Bed-and-Breakfast - some built in Colonial times).

Get some input on this subject from Glenn Roberts (on these Forums) too. He has a son who lives right there. Glenn, you're up.

Lynn Danzig
(lynnkatzdanzig) - F
Pittsfield - Hilton on 05/01/2006 08:18:12 MDT Print View

FYI - Don't look for the Hilton that was recommended in Pittsfield because it is now a Crowne Plaza. Same location - exactly where I was for my high school prom and wedding a couple decades ago!

I don't live in The Berkshires any more but don't freak about buying winter clothes. Layers will work, especially for college students and there are stores and of course ordering via the internet!

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Pittsfield - Hilton on 05/01/2006 09:00:16 MDT Print View

Thanks for the "heads up" on the Hilton. It's probably been quite a while since we last stayed at the Hilton.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
Red Lion Inn on 05/01/2006 09:02:31 MDT Print View

According to my son, the Red Lion Inn in Norman Rockwell's town (the name escapes me - I'm old) offers good food and a fringe benefit. He said he and some friends from work were eating there one evening when a guy walked in, went over and picked up a guitar from the corner, and started singing and playing. Turns out it wasn't karaoke night - just James Taylor amusing himself for the evening. (He lives nearby, and does this occasionally just for fun.)

By the way, my son uses mostly fleece for his ski and kayak escapades, but also uses down for general wear and for his sleeping bag. (He doesn't hike much anymore - says paddling is easier.)

There's a really good outdoor shop just outside Pittsfield called the Arcadian Shop - your son might want to wait until he gets to college, then stop in the store and ask them what people use. (I've bought several items there, and found them to be very well-informed and helpful; so has my son.) There's also a couple of shops in the towns right on the AT, though I've never been in them. Finally, there's an Eastern Mountain Sports in the mall just north of Pittsfield where you might be able to get advice (but I'd be a little leery since it's a chain.)

Also, for what little it's worth, I hike in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. The temperatures run somewhat similar to the Berkshires (except the lows usually stop just above zero), and it's an equally wet and humid climate. (We get periodic thaws, so the snow doesn't pile up the way it does up there, but other than that, it's very similar damp conditions.) I use fleece to hike in, but carry a down sleeping bag and a down vest for camp. I wouldn't want to hike in down (too hot), but I've never had any trouble using it in camp. I do wear a down vest outside to blow snow at home, and don't have any dampness issues - but I'm not working up quite as much sweat as when I'm hiking, either.

I'd probably send him with what he's got, and an awareness of the damp conditions he's heading into. He'll quickly get a feel for what works for him, and can tweak it from there.

Edited by garkjr on 05/01/2006 09:15:39 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Red Lion Inn on 05/01/2006 09:11:22 MDT Print View

The town is either Lee or Lenox - I'm having a senior moment - i believe Rte 6 stills runs right by it. James Taylor also gives a summer concert at Tanglewood (at least last summer and this summer). The Red Lion is the pinnacle of B&B's.

Red Lion Inn on 05/01/2006 20:42:24 MDT Print View

Stockbridge MA - where well-coifed men wear red scarves affectatiously to the back while holiday shopping.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Red Lion Inn on 05/02/2006 00:40:56 MDT Print View

Stockbridge, is it? Just south of Lenox and Lee. Good. That's settled. The other side of the Mass Tpke, right?

Not sure about the Rte 6 though, think i got that wrong too. thinking about it, it's probably Rte 7? Sorry, can't recall. I think it's 7 as I know 7 runs from Norwalk (Silver Star Diner - best diner around; excellent greek food; best Souvlaki i've ever had; has actually had famous NY Food Critics visit - it's that good - of course that was decades ago too, so who knows now) , in southern CT not too far from the coast up through the Berkshire region.

I do at least remember being given a tour of two Red Lion Inn's guest rooms. Never understood the appeal of B&B's, but my wife like's them. So....the rest was a done deal.

Edited by pj on 05/02/2006 00:41:38 MDT.

John Wielgus
(JWiels) - F
Berkshires-Down or Synthetic on 05/03/2006 10:13:17 MDT Print View

I grew up in the Berkshires, moving just a bit eastward to the CT river valley in '82 for college. Still count it as close to home. Hiking there a few times a year ever since. Any and all seasons. Williams College is a beautiful campus and in the Hoosic river valley, a very cool lucky place to be for the next four years.

My personal preference from 30 years of Berkshires hiking and camping is synthetic. I'm not a fan of down. I had far too many cold wet failing insulation experiences as a boyscout and into my 20s to ever use a down bag again. Careless youthful mistakes and ordinary mishaps with the wet, perhaps, but down takes too much care for me. Lots of water risks here from constant damp springs (though NOT this year) to the afternoon summer thunderstorms to cold winter rains changing to snow. Using down requires extra diligence here. (I'm not on any anti-down crusade, if I could afford waterproof down bag, well it might be different. Or rather if I could afford to replace them.) Hiking here will always always always involve some strenuous sweat inducing climbs. Especially if you go further north into the VT green mountains, the NH White Mountains or the NY Adirondacks. Couple sweat production with brush, rocks, trees and other gnarly bits that try to poke out your stuffing, not to mention your jacket and I choose synthetics. The Berkshires do get a few months of nice cold winter, but there is always those weekends when you can do the hike that the weather does a snow-to-pouring rain-to-bitter cold dance over the course of one day. Proper and careful care always help, of course, but down has not been my friend. To each their own. I only use down in my winter over jacket/parka when I'm going to be fairly sedentary for awhile and I know the temps will be near or below zero. Synthetics have served me very well.

As for places to stay: The Berkshires is a very tourist oriented area with many lodging options. The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge about 45 min to 1 hour south of Williamstown is arguably the most high end place to stay. Stockbridge is one town west of Lee (I-90 Mass Pike Exit 2) and south of Lenox. Pittsfield is roughly midway between these and Williamstown up north. Pittsfield is the nearly dead former industrial center, not the nicest place. Not horrible, just not the place I would recommend staying, and I grew up there.

I would suggest staying in or near Williamstown. There's plenty of lodging from high priced ('ala Red Lion) to basic (Motel 6-ish) to AT shelters if you're willing to hike up Greylock. You can even drive up Greylock, which is either disappointing when you reach the top or inspires a feeling of superiority for climbing up to the 3491 ft peak of the highest point in Mass. (woo-hoo!) Bascom lodge is also on the summit.

Roads: Rt. 7 runs North-South Williamstown thru Stockbridge south to CT on the western side, Rt. 8 North-South from North Adams thru Pittsfield, Lee and south to CT on the eastern side. Rte. 2 East-West across the north thru Williamstown and North Adams.

Gear shops: The last time I was in the Arcadian shops on Rte. 7 in Lenox (~7? years ago) I found them way too pricey. Catering more to the wealthy summer home folks from New York City. There is (was?) a good gear shop in Williamstown, that I now can't recall seeing this past summer. EMS has a store at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro just North of Pittsfield and literally built on the places I played growing up. Decent for basic some stuff, but turning into more of a since their corporate buyout. Bennington VT is about 10+ miles north of Williamstown on Rt 7. Had a gear shop ~3 years ago. Nice town.

Trails: AT runs right N-S over Greylock into VT. Trail heads walkable from Williams College. I believe their outing club maintains a trail from near downtown running northward to join the AT.

Some links: (Williams Outing club)

Hope this info helps.
J Wiels

Edit: Notice now that this is in the Winter hiking forum, so I should probably add more winter specific comments. (First post jitters and all.) Berkshire winters being cold with plenty of wet mixed in, I recommend synthetics. There.

Edited by JWiels on 05/03/2006 10:29:37 MDT.

Glenn Roberts
(garkjr) - F

Locale: Southwestern Ohio
Great Berkshire synopsis on 05/03/2006 16:20:20 MDT Print View

Great, informative post on the Berkshires! My own experience is limited by only visiting half a dozen times so far, and listening to my son talk about kayaking, dayhiking, and skiing there.

I couldn't find anything in your post that didn't sound right to me, based on my limited experience in the region. However, I like the Arcadian shop. You're right - they don't carry a lot of bargain basement stuff, but they're still outdoor oriented, with a pretty decent, if higher-end, backpacking assortment(unlike my local outfitter in Dayton, OH, which has relegated its backpacking section to one small corner of the second floor to make way for all the Columbia, Woolrich, and other "Gee, don't I look outdoorsy?" clothing they now specialize in.)

Again, nice post.