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Vapour Barrier Suit experiment
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Ellie Taylor
(Ellieoak) - F
Vapour Barrier Suit experiment on 10/04/2011 14:40:01 MDT Print View

High up in the Andes, where we are going in November, temperatures could get down to minus 25 degrees. When camping in cold conditions over multiple nights, the down insulation in our sleeping bag and clothing gets damper and less effective every night due to the moisture vapour lost from our bodies condensing out into these layers. Vapour Barrier suits seem to work in several ways to keep you warmer:
• Retaining the moisture from insensible perspiration between the skin and the vapour barrier greatly reduces wetting out of the insulation layers;
• Because the perspiration cannot evaporate, you save the body heat you would use to evaporate it;
• Once humidity inside the vapour barrier approaches saturation, insensible perspiration is reduced, saving water as well as heat.

Vapour Barrier sleeping bag liners are available, but you cannot wear your insulation clothing inside the liner (as it would wet out) so you cannot use the insulated clothing you carry effectively.

There are a few Vapour Barrier suits available from America. However, there is another issue. To put on and take off you vapour barrier suit, you have to strip naked or down to your base layer. Most people would find the suit too hot to walk in, and will only use it at night. Once the tent is up, you can crawl in your sleeping bag to undress and put the suit on. But getting up early in the morning in frigid conditions can be the coldest time. You not only have to strip off, but your skin is wet and as soon as you remove the VB, you lose additional heat evaporating this. Brrrrr. Much better to keep the VB suit on until you’ve started walking and have heated up through exercise. So, we designed VB suits that can be removed without taking off the outer layers of clothing.

Being new to VBs, we first trialled wearing cheap non-breathable waterproofs over a base layer and under other clothing at -11 degrees. Fantastic – a really warm and cosy night in the tent, and the amount of moisture on our skin remained minimal and never uncomfortable. So we designed our removable VB suits and made them out of the lightest silnylon we could get. Unfortunately, our week in February on top of the Cairngorm plateau proved rather mild, and they were only tested at just below zero degrees. They were toastie warm and comfortable and were easy enough to remove once we started walking. They will only really get tested when we use them high up in the Andes.

The photos show my suit. Derek’s is similar but not the same (we never quite agree on the ‘best’ method!). To put it on, the two arms velcro together at the neck and are put on first, then the body of the suit is zipped on over the arms, overlapping tightly round the armpits and with some velcro tabs connecting the two. Each leg of the trousers goes on separately with a large overlap, and elastic cords each side are pulled tight and done up in a bow. The body of the suit tucks into the trousers which are tight with elastic round the waist, and elastic cords are pulled tight at the wrists and ankles. Light rubber gloves for the hands and polythene bags for the feet are put on over base layers for comfort.

The suit can be removed with tight-fitting multiple layers of clothing on top of it. When the elastic is undone on the trousers, the silnylon is so slippery that each leg can be pulled out from the ankle underneath our powerstretch tights. The jacket body un-velcros at the shoulders, the front zip is undone, and it pulls out at the waist. The sleeves un-velcro at the back of the neck, then pull out at the wrist. You do not need to be a contortionist to do any of this.

The total suit weighs 200g almost exact. It should save far more than its weight in insulation layers. We also try to create multiple uses for home-designed items. The elastic cords at the wrists and ankles are designed to pull tight shut, so that each leg and arm can be used as a sausage-shaped almost-waterproof bag when not being worn. These will give additional waterproof protection to items in the pack, and provide good storage bags within the tent. In addition, stuffing a leg with clothes and reversing the other leg over the first, then feeding one end through the elastic cord at the other end, creates an excellent neck pillow for use on the long plane and bus journeys we will be doing.

Our experiments with VBs so far are very positive but limited. Because we have been able to find few reports on using VB suits in cold environments, we intend to report further on ours once properly tested.Ellie's Vapour Barrier Suit

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Vapour Barrier Suit experiment on 10/04/2011 14:57:13 MDT Print View

Minus 25 degrees, C or F?

I guess it depends on what kind of weather you run into. I've been up high in the Andes only once, and that was in the month of January. The coldest temperatures we had were around -5 to -10 F. Although we were snowed upon several times, the air stayed quite cool and dry most of the time, and I don't believe that sweat or vapor became a problem at all.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Vapour Barrier Suit experiment on 10/04/2011 15:45:30 MDT Print View

Hi Ellie

> The suit can be removed with tight-fitting multiple layers of clothing on top of it.
Very clever. You would need plenty of overlap, but you seem to have that.
Yes, we would love more information, please.


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Vapour Barrier Suit experiment on 10/04/2011 17:34:41 MDT Print View

That is consistent with other experience I have heard

VBL is good for many days at very cold temperatures

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Vapour Barrier Suit experiment on 10/04/2011 18:02:10 MDT Print View

I gotta try this vapor barrier thing. I am probably going to experiment with just trash bags cut out for chest.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Vapor barrier for Andes. on 10/04/2011 18:16:30 MDT Print View

Neat idea; I really don't like the idea of stripping naked at below 0F.

The Peruvian Andes are very arid in the northern summer (July, August, Sept), so vapor barrier clothing might not be needed. I haven't camped very high there. Local climbers said that it can get very cold up high, way below 0F (-40F is what I remember, but I might be remembering wrong). I think it might also get pretty warm on the glaciers in the sun.

S Long

Locale: Wasatch
Re: Vapor barrier for Andes. on 10/04/2011 20:07:18 MDT Print View

This looks like a fantastic idea. I have used vapor barrier suits, but the mornings are always tough. I would love if this sort of thing were available to buy. I would buy one for sure.

Ellie Taylor
(Ellieoak) - F
Vapour Barrier for Andes on 10/05/2011 06:45:41 MDT Print View

Yes BG, I'm in the UK, so I meant minus 25 degrees C, which is as cold as it seemed to get when I monitored weather forecasts last winter for 6000 metres-ish (summer in S America). A lot of the time we'll be much lower in the heat, and having to carry all that cold weather gear, so weight is definitely an issue. We've been making lightweight insulated overshoes as well. We'll be in the Argentinian Andes mostly.

It's true that we're used to Scotland which is pretty soggy to say the least, so I guess people are right that it will be drier than we are used to, but we will still sweat!

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Vapour Barrier for Andes on 10/05/2011 10:23:09 MDT Print View

What I'm wondering is:

Would it not be possible to actually hike in a VB with a light layer on top and thats all?
like a VBL suit with, say, softshell pants and a light shirt (SW or something) (the weight would depend on the temp, of course)

If it were cold enough to balance out the trapped heat, couldn't you just hike in the VBL?

I've got some VBL socks, and wore them for 3 days/ nights straight from 10F at night to ~30F days and my torso was hot but my feet were fine the whole time. I bet these temps would be too hot, but if it were actually cold...

I've never worn a VBL shirt- maybe the heat would crazy-intense.

Also- a VBL vest?? Wouldn't your pits be soaking your clothes? Thats a sweaty area close to the edge of the garment.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Re: Re: Vapour Barrier for Andes on 10/05/2011 10:54:52 MDT Print View

I own a set of the RBH Designs VB Shirt and Pants and socks. I have the optional venting options and added a couple of my own. You wear these next to your skin and never take them off while on your hike. When you start getting warm vent them. When you get cold put something on over the VB things. You wear them inside your sleeping bag or quilt. If you get to hot get a lighter bag or quilt.

RBH Designs - VB Clothing

Edited by bfornshell on 10/05/2011 10:55:27 MDT.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: Re: Vapour Barrier for Andes on 10/05/2011 10:57:40 MDT Print View

Ahh so you've done it!!

What temps? Apparently it works? Will you buy me some?

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Re: Re: Re: Re: Vapour Barrier for Andes on 10/05/2011 11:12:31 MDT Print View

I live in HOT Texas so most of my testing has been in warmer temperatures. I have a Blog comment about that from a few years ago. The key is venting when you start to get warm. This can be at 0 degrees (F) climbing up Mt Washington, NH in the winter with a 60 pound pack and starting to get really warm or at 45 to 55 degrees (F) wearing a lighter pack in warmer weather.

RBH Designs Testing

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Vapour Barrier for Andes on 10/05/2011 11:32:27 MDT Print View

Interesting! THat a far greater temp range than I would have thought.

Since I live where its wet and freeze/ thaw is every night/ day I wonder about VBL on trips. Hike in them and keep your insulation safely packed until you get to camp is what I ponder.