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Gear for 12-Day Backcountry Skiing Course
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Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Gear for 12-Day Backcountry Skiing Course on 01/18/2011 18:23:35 MST Print View

So, I am considering enrolling in this backcountry skiing course at NOLS:

The course takes place several times during the winter months (December - March) in the Teton mountains (Idaho/Wyoming). The course is going to involve pulling pulks, hillclimbing, skiing down the hills (once climbed), and outdoor skills clinics (i.e., sitting/standing around), and sleeping in yurts, igloos, quinzees, snow caves, etc.

Anyway, I need help in selecting gear. I did contact NOLS with some questions, and I am waiting for their response, but I figured hitting up the collective wisdom of the BPL community wouldn't be a bad idea.

NOLS does publish a suggested equipment list, but it shys away from making specific gear recommendations (unless that gear is Patagonia, lol), and it probably doesn't take lightweight into account as much as safety, which is understandable.

Anyway, a bit of background on myself. I am somewhat fit. Hit the gym 2-3 times/wk. When I am moving, my body throws off a lot of heat and moisture (sweat). When I am at rest, I tend to get cold to the bone (I am a cold sleeper). I have a relatively slender frame with longish arms, so Patagonia doesn't really fit me so well (or snug for that matter). Also, I have never been to this part of the US, so I am completely unfamiliar with what to expect in terms of temperature, weather, etc. (I have a difficult time distinguishing between different levels of cold. To me, it's all cold!)

At the moment, I am trying to put together a Torso layer system. This is the suggestion from the NOLS equipment list:

1. Synthetic T-shirt - Synthetic fabric only
2. Mid-weight Top - Light or mid-weight base layer made of polypropylene, Capilene or ZeO2
3. Expedition Wt Top - Expedition-weight top, Patagonia R2, lightweight fleece, or a wool sweater
4. Fleece vest - Fleece or Synthetic-filled vest
5. Fleece/Insulated Jacket - Thick fleece, Polartec, Primaloft, or a lightweight down jacket
6. Ski Jacket -
7. Wind Shirt -
8. Insulated Parka - A synthetic of down-filled winter parka with a hood. This must fit comfortably over all your upper body layers.

These are my proposed ideas to try and match the NOLS suggestions. This is where I need help in deciding, so input is welcome and encouraged. (Mind you, I'm not trying to look like a fashion plate with all of the Arcteryx stuff, but their gear does fit me better than any other brand that I am aware of).

1. Arcteryx EON SLW T-shirt (lt merino) ( or Arcteryx Rho LTW Zip (mid merino) (
2. Arcteryx Rho AR Top (Polartec Power Stretch)(
3. Arcteryx Atom Lt Jacket (60 gm/m² Coreloft insulation) (
4. They rent these, so I will probably go with a rental, purchase later if need be
5. They rent these, so I will probably go with a rental, purchase later if need be
6. I already have a Theta AR ski jacket (Or is it Beta AR? Hmmm...)
7. They rent these, so I will probably go with a rental, purchase later if need be
8. They rent these, so I will probably go with a rental, purchase later if need be

Items 1-3 on the list are non-rentable, so I really need to square these away beforehand.

Anyway, I just thought I'd focus on the Torso layers for the moment. I'll come back with questions later regarding Lower Body layers, Gloves, Socks, etc.

Thanks in advance...

Edited by NightMarcher on 01/18/2011 18:36:13 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
NOLS skis list on 01/18/2011 19:48:28 MST Print View

That list would have be bringing all the clothes in my closet. ;)

Chris, Mike Clelland teaches some of those classes, and made a great gear list post a few years back. I'd find it.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Reply to Dave on 01/18/2011 20:17:53 MST Print View

Hi Dave,

You must be referring to this thread:

Yes, I did read through it, and I found it to be a useful and informative resource. However, if memory serves correct, I think Mike was also looking to lighten/streamline his load. Also, the thread's a couple of years old. With new gear, product discontinuations, and whatnot, I thought it might be worth pursuing some up-do-date advice.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
that's a lot of layers on 01/18/2011 20:49:10 MST Print View

not going to argue w/ NOLS (doesn't Mike C teach at NOLS??), but that seems like an excessive amount of clothing- if their suggestion is to have all of these layers and then based on conditions you're going to have to choose which ones go and and which ones stay- then maybe. If their suggestion is to try out all possible combinations- then maybe. If they are suggesting bringing/packing all of the above, than I stand by my excessive claim.

a thin base layer top/bottom (some prefer syn, others wool- I'd suggest trying both and see what works best for you)
a mid layer- something breathable that can be worn on the move (I like R1)
a wind shell (windshirt)- again breathable that can be worn on the move, but w/ good DWR to shed snow
softshell pants or a mid layer lower+ wind pants (w/ good DWR)
a good insulating parka to throw over everything when stopped
for overnights I'd add insulating pants to the mix

when you're on the move, it won't be unusual to be only in the base layers

Brendan Lammers
(mechB) - F

Locale: Washington DC
NOLS gear lists on 01/18/2011 21:03:32 MST Print View

Well, I'm not much of a skiier or a winter backpacker even, but I have done a NOLS course in the past (30 days backpacking in the Wind River Range). I can tell you from experience that the equipment lists that they issue are a little bit redundant. I assume the fact that they list so much equipment (and make you carry so much, at that) is because of the liability issues surrounding taking people into the backcountry. No one on a NOLS course has ever died of hypothermia, that's for sure.

In particular, it looks as though bringing the Expedition Weight Top, Fleece Vest, and Fleece/Insulated jacket would be a bit excessive. I don't want to be liable if you freeze to death (nor does NOLS, apparently) but I can't imagine that you wouldn't be warm with a midweight merino wool baselayer (check out Icebreaker Bodyfit 260), a midweight fleece (200 weight fleece) or a ligher-weight down garment (something along the lines of Montbell Down Inner Jacket or a Western Mountaineering Flight Vest), plus that *really warm* down parka that they call for. You could even bring both a 100 or 200 weight fleece plus an "inner" down garment to be safe. Check out the state of the market reports on down garments here on BPL (articles->state of the market reports).

It's a similar story with their listed bottom layers. It's probably not even possible to put on midweight bottoms, expedition weight bottoms, fleece pants, Goretex pants, and insulated pants at the same time. That's 5 pairs of pants. I recommend Icebreaker for whatever merino stuff you're going to buy (i.e. the longjohns).

In general, just be judicious about what you buy/bring. It seems overwhelming when you look at the gear list, but once they go over your gear in the pre-departure gear check, they are a little more lenient. That said, I couldn't recommend doing NOLS more, you'll have an amazing time.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Polartec Power Stretch Weight Rating on 01/18/2011 21:29:05 MST Print View

What is the weight rating for a Polartec Power Stretch garment (such as with the Rho AR)? Is it 200?

I cannot find the information on the Arcteryx or Polartec web sites...

Edit: Okay, it appears to be on the heavier side of 100, according the chart in the first post of this thread:

Edited by NightMarcher on 01/18/2011 22:37:19 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
hmmmm on 01/19/2011 08:34:09 MST Print View

thats more clothing than the guiding companies recommend for 6000m peaks !!!

NOLS must be saving polar bears in the arctic ...

i dont see why youd need a ski jacket, both and r2 fleece and a fleece vest and a fleece jacket ... etc ..

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
experimentation on 01/19/2011 09:03:03 MST Print View

^ like I said above if it's to experiment to find what works best for you, then I can see that being valuable (albeit expensive!), if not- overkill to about the 3rd power :)

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Backcountry Skiing - Torso - On the Move on 01/19/2011 16:44:09 MST Print View

Appreciate the suggestions thus far. Honestly the intention of this thread was to come up with a practical, safe, and lightweight gear solution that would work best for me given my body dimensions, not to debate the validity of NOLS' gear list. To be fair, NOLS does rent many items, so it's not as if they expect a student to purchase every item on the list.

Anyway, based on your helpful suggestions, this is what I've devised for my torso solution for skinning up the mountain on a good weather (sunny) day:

1. Bas Lyr - Arcteryx Rho LTW Zip (mid-wt merino)
2. Ins Lyr - Arcteryx Rho AR Top (Polartec Power Stretch) *(I may remove if I overheat)
3. Out Lyr - Arcteryx Celeris Top (wind shirt)

For skiing down the mountain (or for a heavy snow day) add to 1-3:

4. Out Lyr - Arcteryx Theta AR Jacket (I would throw this on over all other layers, because I anticipate a few spectacular tumbles in the powder)

Let me know what you think. Thanks...

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
on the move on 01/19/2011 17:18:37 MST Print View

not familiar w/ the Arcteryx line, but yeah a light base layer, a breathable mid layer (that can be added/subtracted) with a windshirt (that can also be added/subtracted) covers you on the move in the winter :)

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Hood or No Hood on 01/19/2011 23:16:09 MST Print View

Here's a question for you ski tourers... Many insulation layers and jackets come in hooded and non-hooded varieties. Which would you recommend?

Normally, I don't use attached hoods when I am piste skiing. I wear a wool hat, and it suits me fine. Only when I am stuck on a chair when the gusts kick up do I ever pull the hood of my ski jacket over my wool hat as I attempt to hunker down.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Hood or No Hood on 01/19/2011 23:36:55 MST Print View

If I am moving all day, like a day tour, I never take an insulated parka. Normally, I will have a shell parka with some number of thin insulated layers under.

All of that changes if I am out overnight ski camping, since generally there is some evening and morning time when I am just stomping around and trying to stay warm. That's where the thick insulated parka comes out. Also, I will wear two layers of warm hat.


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Layers... on 01/20/2011 00:51:38 MST Print View

As a current winter backcountry camper and former Winter Survival instructor to U.S Army ROTC cadets I'd recommend the following:

BASE LAYER> MID weight polyester longjohns & thin polypro sock liners (double thin liners if it's very cold)

MID LAYER> 200 weight fleece sweater (Pullover recommended)

INSULATING LAYER> polyester filled jacket (like a Patagucchi Nano Puff, but something more reasonably priced. 300 wt. fleece is just too heavy and not as warm)

OUTER LAYER> a GTX or eVent mountain parka and Similar membrane or nylon wind pants

GLOVES> W REMOVABLE liners and large enough for thick pile liners. (carry spare medium and thin glove liners as well) Dry glove liners in sleeping bag overnight.

MITTEN SHELLS> to put over the thick glove liners in bitter weather. This is a safety item and should always be carried in winter, day tripping or overnighting.

BOOTS> Use a VBL to keep boots and heavy socks DRY. **Wear knee high gaiters for boot warmth (adds about 15 F.)and to keep snow out of your boots.**

UL RAINSUIT/VBL SUIT> Worn over thin polyester "sleeping only" long johns to keep your sleeping bag dry over a several day period. This too is an essential.

(BTW, for very cold weather I add a 300 weight fleece vest. It's most often used on the trail & the insulating jacket for camp, with or without the vest.)

Edited by Danepacker on 01/26/2011 21:16:24 MST.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Re: Layers on 01/20/2011 17:08:40 MST Print View

"INSULATING LAYER> polyester filled jacket (like a Patagucchi Nano Puff, but something more reasonably priced. 300 wt. fleece is just too heavy and not as warm)"

Hi Eric,

Would you recommend hood or no hood for this type of layer?


Edited by NightMarcher on 01/20/2011 17:09:18 MST.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
To hood or not to hood on 01/21/2011 01:03:45 MST Print View


I prefer no hood on an insulated jacket but that's because I'm wearing a Nepalese made "Everest" brand wool Peruvian style hat (W/ fleece liner) and can cinch up my GTX parka hood over it anytime I need more warmth or wind protection. Even at 40 below F. I've never needed more than that on my head.

If you like an insulated jacket with a hood go for it. For sleeping with the jacket on for more warmth the hood would be nice. I wear a light fleece "sleeping balaclava".

For daytime use some people like a heavier fleece windproof balaclavas but I find a fleece mask is all I need in addition to my wool hat in bitter weather.

P.S. If the temps where you are taking the course commonly get below 0 F. you may want to take an insulated vest to wear under you insulated jacket, especially around camp... and in the frigid morning.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/21/2011 01:07:07 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Layers... on 01/21/2011 02:04:44 MST Print View

Eric's list is very close to what Sue and I take winter ski touring for up to a week, with a couple of small changes.

Outer layer - I use EPIC MYOG shell, while Sue uses an OR Zealot (pinched off me).
Ski boots: membrane in boots, no VBL socks
VBL suit for sleeping - no, use thermal layer instead. Our conditions may be a bit warmer than Eric is talking about though.


Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Robbin' hood on 01/23/2011 20:57:24 MST Print View

On the "to hood or not to hood" matter, I was thinking "no hood" and using the wool stocking cap + hood on the big puffy parka while in camp/at rest. I never use hoods when I am on the go--they mess with my peripheral vision and reduce my ability to hear.

Would most of you go "no hood" in such a way? Is there any compelling reason that an insulating layer should have a hood?

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
versatility on 01/23/2011 21:05:27 MST Print View

a hood adds versatility w/ very little weight hit, having said that- other than my parka (which is mandatory on your main insulation piece), everything I have is hoodless :)

I am going to try a lightweight hooded merino base layer next season though and see if I'm missing out, the R1 hoody is awfully popular as well, might even give one of those a go too

Chris Wood

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
No hood for me on 01/25/2011 16:24:24 MST Print View

Unless you are wearing your hood on your hoody midlayer most of the time, which I rarely do on my R-1 unless I am stationary (rest break or in camp) or it is very, very cold, -10F or colder, it gets in my way. OR, as happended the other day, fills up and gets covered with snow. It wasn't snowing out, but snow was being blown off the trees, and before I knew it, my hood was full of snow. I think I will go hoodless from now on, and stick with fleece neck gaiters, buffs, and balaclavas. Come to think of it, I keep re-learning this lesson over and over. I love my hoody mid-layers, but they are not optimal for me in the winter. At least for high-output backcountry ski touring and regular cross-country skiing.

Just my personal observations and experience. YMMV.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Socks... on 01/26/2011 18:58:18 MST Print View

So, what do you ski tourers/backcountry skiers do for socks? Knee-high? Calf-high? Ankle-high? Insulation sock only? Thin liner + Insulation sock? Single sock? Double sock?

Correct me if my understanding is wrong, but alpine ski boots are taller, hence the need for knee-high socks. But telemark ski boots are comparitively shorter (?), so do you guys tend to go with calf-high or ankle-high socks?