Insulation Layer & Gloves for Winter Camping along AT
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Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
Insulation Layer & Gloves for Winter Camping along AT on 12/04/2010 12:21:00 MST Print View

I've been trying to piece together advice from the various forum posts on clothing for winter camping along the AT (mostly in VA). I'm specifically looking for a flexible, but warm, top layering system. Last winter, I used the following in dead of winter here (20's F during day, and high single digits at night) and was OK, if a little cold (mostly at camp in the evening, and mostly my hands):

Hiking:
Base: Under Armour Cold Gear
Mid (if needed): Columbia soft shell
Shell: REI Shuksan

Stopped (add to Columbia mid layer):
Heavy synthetic crew of some sort (I can't remember brand)
No name fleece layer

This year, I want to get rid of heavy mid layers. So gear will be:
Base: Icebreaker Mondo Zip (200 g/m2)
Mid: ??
Shell: REI Shuksan ( I know I could go lighter here, that's for another winter :) )

I'm generally pretty good dealing with cold, and as mentioned elsewhere on this forum, while hiking, I can generally get away with just base layer and shell down to pretty low temps. But need more warmth when stopped (and to go any lower on temps generally). I think it makes sense to go with a puffy here in terms of warmth/weight, and I really like the look of and the reviews on MontBell insulating gear. Any advice on which to get (I'm generally leaning towards down)? I care about weight, but moreso about flexibility in layering warmth. I'm mostly going to be using this in VA, but when I take trips to the mountains further North East or out west, I'd like to be able to layer whatever I get (maybe add a R1/R2 fleece, or another puffy?) to meet those conditions as well. The Down Inner and Ex Light look like good candidates, but I wonder if I need more warmth (if mainly used at camp) from something like the Alpine Light? Also, I see the synthetic thermawrap mentioned a lot as well here, but that seems as more of a secondary midlayer?

As for quick glove advice, I have smart wool glove liners, and MH Jalapeno gloves. I like layering and less bulkiness, but definitely need more warmth than last year (mitts on top?)

Any thoughts on the above would be really helpful! I can clarify as needed. Thanks

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Insulation Layer & Gloves for Winter Camping along AT on 12/04/2010 17:37:08 MST Print View

Just suggestions, working outward from your Icebreaker top:

A lightweight down vest (like a Patagonia Nano weight)
A hooded wind jacket, like a Patagonia Houdini.
A Primaloft-insulation top (Thermawrap or maybe an EB/First Ascent Igniter, especially for the price).
Keep the Shuksan eVent jacket.

This might give you a lot of versatility, from a cold start (wool top, vest and wind jacket), to hiking (wool top and wind jacket) to stops (throw on synthetic top) to camp (just the vest + shuksan or primaloft + shuksan, etc).

For gloves, I'd add a light shell layer for wind over the smartwools, but at those temps I'd bring an additional warmer glove for camp.

Josh Newkirk
(Newkirk) - MLife

Locale: Australia
layers on 12/04/2010 17:54:42 MST Print View

I have both the thermawrap and the alpine light. I plan on using the thermawrap more for breaks on day hikes and use the alpine light for night time and stuff on overnighters during the winter. I think the alpine light would be more useful in your situation unless you wanted both for versatility.

Gloves, i guess you could get a pair of fleece gloves to go under your shells and over your liners.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Insulation Layer & Gloves for Winter Camping along AT on 12/04/2010 20:28:53 MST Print View

The Montbell jackets are awesome, however in my experience the Down Inner isn't warm enough for me at single digits in camp. Just not enough puffiness. For winter I use an old Sierra Designs down jacket that weighs 25 ounces and is plenty warm.

For those sorts of temps (20s over single digits), while hiking I wear a wool long sleeve base layer and a Marmot Driclime jacket, light windbloc n2s gloves, and a light fleece beanie. In camp I put on a microfleece top -- something like a 100 weight base layer -- then the down jacket, then a rain shell if needed. Heavier mitts, w/b overmitts, and a heavier fleece balaclava for my hands and head.

Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
Insulation Layer & Gloves for Winter Camping along AT on 12/05/2010 17:05:45 MST Print View

Thanks for the advice.

So, one concern with the Alpine Light in terms of flexibility is how warm/heavy (relatively so) it is. I can see the Down Inner being used 3+ seasons around camp (and a no brainer to toss in any pack), whereas the Alpine Light seems too warm to use (or just too large to carry for the warmth needed) above say, 40 degrees. I guess a question I have is what can I layer that will equate the down inner parka's warmth with the Alpine Light Parka's warmth? Perhaps a R1 hoody, a thermawrap, or a warmer vest to go under the down inner parka? I will almost always have the Icebreaker Mondo Zip on below, and the eVent shell on top.

Thanks

Allen Butts
(butts0989) - F - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies
alpine light on 12/05/2010 17:58:15 MST Print View

That may work but the fact is unless you have the alpine light you're not going to have the same loft with anything else. For winter camping it is a great feature to have a hood as well, an extra ounce or so for a good deal of comfort. If you've never owned any of mont-bell's clothing before I can assure you you will be very pleased with the quality and feel.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
insulation layer on 12/05/2010 18:13:24 MST Print View

I've come to the conclusion (maybe the wrong one :)) that for those kind of temps you really need a dedicated "winter" down parka. I have MB Ex Light (very similar iclo to the UL inner) and it's a great jacket, but even w/ a decent mid layer (R1) and a shell- it's not enough

The Alpine Light on the other hand (combined w/ a mid layer and shell) should be. While the Alpine Light is "too much" for most 3 season endeavors, it should be fine for shoulder seasons and winter. If it was really cold, I'd throw in the Ex Light to layer under the Alpine Light- hopefully I won't be out much in those temps :)

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
hands on 12/05/2010 18:15:01 MST Print View

I'll add for hands- I use a smartwool glove liner w/ OR Endeavor overmitts and throw in OR PL400 mitts to boot.

Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
Re: insulation layer on 12/05/2010 20:21:32 MST Print View

thanks for the advice...I think you guys are right - I'm trying to stretch my layers a bit too far in this case (hard to get enough iclo in general, let alone while not looking like the Michelin man)

That being said, before ruling out the Down Inner Parka for good, has anyone successfully done that layering (and if so, what garments underneath)?

So, say I get the Alpine Light Down Parka, you're probably right that that's all I need in shoulder seasons and the winters as described above (lower temps would require another layer, but like you said, not sure I want to be experiencing that :) ) What recommendations for staying warm on cool-cold summer nights in the mountains (30-50's maybe)? Do you use a puffy (if so, which one) under your wind shirt, or just the R1?

Edited by jeffthink on 12/05/2010 20:25:36 MST.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
3 season on 12/05/2010 20:31:06 MST Print View

Jeff I use the Ex Light for almost all three season stuff- my base layers are either Merino 1 or Cap LS shirts- ex light over that at camp (cool stops), I'd add my Houdini over that if cooler yet (or breezy)- that's done me just fine to about freezing (that's w/ a beanie/gloves and R1 bottoms as well)

I think Will used a combo of a ex light w/ a WM Flash over for some pretty cold stuff- still two jackets and the Alpine Light would be warmer than the Flash

Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
re: 3 season on 12/06/2010 11:27:56 MST Print View

Mike, thanks so much for the great info. So, with the Ex Light, you don't even bring the R1 during 3 season? That'd be nice to just have base, light compactable puffy, and windshirt. I guess then you add the R1 to go lower in shoulder seasons, and once it hits a certain point, you bring your winter parka?

In terms of 3 season, I do think I might go for the down inner instead of the Ex Light for the hand warmer pockets (despite increased weight), and a bit more durability because of thicker outer fabric. Thoughts on those two things?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: re: 3 season on 12/06/2010 11:47:01 MST Print View

I use a LS cap 1 base down to about freezing while hiking. The only addition that I generally will make is a windshirt if it raining/windy/really cold. When stopped I have a ex light and I can add the windshirt on top for some extra warmth along with gloves/liners and headgear. This setup is also my normal winter snowshoeing gear but I will add two caveats: I rarely stop and sit around and second because I go solo I am somewhat of a fair weather snowshoer and won't venture into the sierras if the weather is heading south.

I wouldn't hestitate to take this setup anywhere on the AT from VA south.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: re: 3 season on 12/06/2010 18:09:02 MST Print View

exactly- R1 isn't added until shoulder seasons/winter- then typically lose the ex light and replace w/ a warmer down parka

if you go for the UL inner (which I think is a fine choice- it's still VERY light!) I'd go w/ the parka version- having a hood, even in 3 season use can be very handy- if the ex light had that option I would have opted it for it

hand warmer pockets are nice too :)

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: on 12/06/2010 19:42:21 MST Print View

I might be a little tolerant for discomfort in the cold but I just use a Montbell Ex. Light down jacket in conjunction with a wind shirt. If I need more insulation I just wrap up in my quilt. Your sleeping bag or quilt probably the warmest thing you're carrying, might as well use it for more than just sleeping in.

Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
Re: on 12/06/2010 21:00:47 MST Print View

Matthew,
That's interesting - what kind of conditions have you comfortably experienced with the exlight + wind shell + your quilt around camp? And what about moving around trying to get things done with the quilt wrapped around you - any issues?

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: on 12/06/2010 23:46:23 MST Print View

Jeff,
Sorry I forgot to mention I do use a Cap 3 base layer top too! But using the quilt to compensate for the cold has worked for me down to single digits out here in the CO Rockies and the teens in Washington's Olympics. Wrapping up in a quilt does get in the way with tasks like cooking but for just about anything else it certainly makes more sense to me to use the quilt than carry another jacket that I would only wear while in camp. If your looking for a more 'freedom of movement', Jacks R Better's quilts are designed for multi use.
Obviously, this is just my $0.02. I prefer to spend most of my day walking, especially during the colder months, and minimize the time I have to allow my body to cool down.
By the way, what part of VA will you be frequenting? Southern VA (Mt Rogers area) should be a lot colder than say Shenandoah. Spent several years stationed in VA Beach. I have a lot of love for VA and her mountains!

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
look on 12/07/2010 13:11:08 MST Print View

just look at it this way .. they're both 3 season jackets

UL inner ... spring, summer, fall

ML alpine light down ... colder spring/fall, winter

both together ... colder winter

Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
thanks on 12/09/2010 11:58:47 MST Print View

Thanks for all the advice. I actually ordered both jackets (no place around here to try them on in store), and am going to do some testing in the cold tonight. Might be dangerous move since I could end up loving both...

First impressions are "my god, how are these this light?!" - I can't even imagine the Ex-light. It's like wrapping myself in a cloud. Really like the ultra inner's style, but alpine down definitely feels warmer. We'll see.

Re: Matthew - I live in Charlottesville, which is a great spot to frequent many of VA's (and WV/NC's) mountains. Most day hikes are in Shenendoah, and most multi-day trips are in George Washington National Forest. Plan on doing more time in Mount Rogers area this winter.

Re: Eric - great point!

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
impressions on 12/09/2010 12:53:17 MST Print View

please post up your impressions when you get a chance :)

also let me know how fitment is- if they differ between jackets

Jeff Bordogna
(jeffthink)
Impressions on 12/13/2010 08:32:48 MST Print View

So, I honestly am being careful to not wear these 2 jackets too much, because I'm planning on sending one back and don't want anything to happen to it. But my impressions are:

Down Inner Parka:
Feel: Unbelievably light, like putting on a cloud...seems like magic that it can keep me so warm with such little material
Fit: It's fitted (which I like, as opposed to some other down sweaters) but I can easily fit other layers underneath. I'm 5'10"/150 and the length + arms are perfect and the chest fits fine (though another 10-15 pounds on me would make it perfect). Easily fits layers underneath and shell on top.
Look: Actually, this was surprising a point of contention. The royal blue is pretty shiny (and reading some reviews of other colors says the same), to the point of looking over the top - fine for camping, but not as good for around town/out to dinner. Not sure how this compares to the Ex-light. Also, my wife says that the vertical lines on the fitted style, in combo with the logo being at the bottom of the jacket, make it look sort of like a girl's jacket (not sure I agree, but there you go). Neither of these things is a dealbreaker, because I'm generally after function more than style, but I do want to feel good about wearing the jacket around town.
Function: It has only gotten down to around 25 here the last few nights, and this jacket works fine at those temps, particularly when I put up the hood. This was a test of sitting on my porch with just a base layer + this jacket (no hat or gloves even) for an hour. I wish I could test it at lower tempatures. I certainly deal with the cold pretty well, and I really want to know how low I can go with this. Packs up into a softbell - I can definitely see throwing it in my pack during any season or condition as a result.

Alpine Light Down:
Feel: Definitely light, but after holding the down inner, can really feel the 7 oz difference in weight. Again, feels really good wearing, but feels like you're wearing a coat, not a cloud. That being said, it also feels warmer because of the extra weight/down.
Fit: More fitting than other down jackets like Patagonia down sweater, but not as fitting as the Down Inner. Size/fit are about the same as above. Fits fine over layers, and under my shell (though I look a bit puffy in the latter case).
Look: I got the black, and it looks pretty good. Not nearly as shiny as the blue down inner (though I wonder if the other alpine light colors are). I also like the more traditional baffle design, and logo on the chest. The jacket is certainly puffy, but not Michelin Man level. I do wonder if I'll wear this around town as much as I would the Down Inner style as a result.
Function: Totally comfortable down to 25 sitting outside - again, felt a bit warmer than the down inner, but hard to tell since I was comfortable in both. As with above, I wish I could test lower temperatures, and layer combinations. Packs down pretty small, but only to about twice size of down inner - still light/relatively packable, but I begin to question ease of throwing it in my pack at any time.

Overall:
I like both jackets, but I'm concerned about the closet test on the Down Inner because of its shininess to wear around town or out to dinner, and the Alpine Light Down because of its puffiness for non-really cold days, and for general usage. I really wish I knew how low I could push the Down Inner, esp. with layers (base + fleece + down inner + shell) because I seem more inclined to want to pack up / wear it all year round. The Alpine Light Down seems like something I'd wear primarily camping in dead of winter, and other than that, I wouldn't need that sort of warmth.

Decision:
Still no decision - I think that if there was a black down inner parka (or similar non-super hero color/sheen), I'd keep that and see how low I could push the temps with my layering system (my hands are what I always have issues with, not my core). In that case, I'd buy something heavier to augment it, like the Alpine Light Down, as needed. The one pro of keeping the Alpine Light Down now is that I'm pretty confident in not hitting a bottom in terms of coldness with it + layers (at least in places that I would want to visit... -20 or higher). I'm thinking I can push the down inner + layers to 0, but I don't really know for sure. Will keep thinking about it for next few days before sending one back.

Hope this helps someone else. Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions!