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Winter Middle layer for Backpacking/skiing
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greg jenkins
(OCPik4chu) - F

Locale: CO, Rockies
Winter Middle layer for Backpacking/skiing on 01/16/2012 13:08:21 MST Print View

So Ive been slowly replacing gear this season since Ive either grown out of or worn out what I was using before and I am wanting to get some good quality equipment that will last me a while and be versatile/multiple use if at all possible. But frankly Im fairly new to the lightweight backpacking so Im looking for a little advice.

The goal here is a middle layer that I can wear backpacking and skiing in the winter with one special case that I will get to shortly. Im sure this may limit my options as one is pretty physically demanding (heat generating) while the other is much less but Im sure there is something I can find that will give me both.

First what I have/use currently:

Base layer:

UnderArmour ColdGear Long sleeve Compression Mock - had this for several seasons now and love it.
Hot Chilly Skin Midweight bottom - picked it up on clearence recently, used it a few times and love it. Very light but still warm, hardly remember its there. Probably isnt the best on the market but it was very cheap, its not too heavy(both in material and actual weight) and compacts quite nicely (smaller than soda can) so I fell that role is filled well.

Outer Layer:

Burton Snowboard jacket shell - Had this for several seasons, I know its heavier than one might use when going full LW packing but remember this is ski gear as well. Its very water resistant/proof, has vents for cooling and plenty of great pockets for small items that I always try to have with me no matter what.
Some generic snow pants, cant recall brand but they work fine.

So what Ive mentioned so far has been enough for most of what I do, especially if actively hiking (in fact it was almost too hot when this weekend when backpacking in ~30degree weather) So the main thing Im wanting for the base layer top is something for when at camp that will help with the warmth from just sitting around idle. The second main thing Im looking for are some good pants that can be worn under the snow pants if needed for extra warmth and/or be used by themselves during the spring/summer for hiking and backpacking. So being zipoff is a big requirement.
The last thing Im looking for which is semi-related is suggestions on sleeping bag liner. I apologize but I always mix up the terms for sleep type (warm sleeper vs cold) but I prefer to sleep in colder weather and I generate quite a bit of body heat so something that is only 20' for someone else could easily be a 10' for me or even colder depending on what im wearing. So what Im looking for is a nice light weight liner that will get me another ~10' with my sleep system nothing major just something a little extra since im expecting to be in -10 - 0'F nights coming up in the next cpl months and would rather improve the bag instead of wearing a bunch of clothing at night.

Price isnt much of a restriction but Im hoping/expecting that each of these items is in the <$100 which I feel is reasonable. If its great quality and built to last Im ok with stretching the budget some. (and thats per piece, not total). Well Hopefully this is enough information to get some suggestions but if you need clarification please ask and thank you for the help :)

Chris Bowman

Locale: ORF
skiing midlayer on 01/16/2012 13:38:11 MST Print View

I just got back from a ski trip. Temps were around 15 degrees with a decent wind and I was fine on the lifts with an icebreaker 260 base, MH monkeyman fleece and a light shell with no insulation in it. I've used it for backpacking before and it good, just a little bulky and heavy.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Layers on 01/16/2012 14:37:56 MST Print View

Question 1:
I'm not so sure you need a middle base layer. Typically heavier weight base layers are quite heavy for the warmth they provide.

I use three upper body pieces in the winter:
1 - Thin long sleeve base layer
2 - Shell jacket
3 - Puffy jacket

When hiking/touring etc, I normally wear base layer + shell, and then when I'm stopped (meals, summits etc) I toss the puffy on over top of all that. If it's really warm or I'm really working hard, I ditch the shell and just wear the base layer.

In the winter, you're usually either working hard & warm, or stopped and getting cold quickly. This is why a nice puffy that can be worn over everything else is great. It's also easier to use than an extra mid-layer, because you can just keep the shell on instead of taking it on & off to put the mid layer on/off.

There's some affordable puffy options from Montbell, GoLite and First Ascent (when they have sales on). Montbell sells the Alpine Light parka (what I have) for $195, which you can find on sale for $150. GoLite has the Roan on sale right now (half off) for $149 and you probably should pick one up:

Question 2:
Warm, zip-off, go under your snow pants and can be worn by themselves in the summer? It sounds like you might be better off getting two different pairs of pants. Grab some tights (on sale for $55 at GoLite) or fleece pants (REI) for under your snow pants and then get yourself some nice summer pants. Get down pants (GooseFeet) if you really want warm for the winter (~$130).

Question 3:
Wear the puffy mentioned in #1, maybe add the tights/fleece/down pants mentioned in #2 and if you're really still cold add some GooseFeet down socks.

Edited by dandydan on 01/16/2012 14:38:32 MST.

greg jenkins
(OCPik4chu) - F

Locale: CO, Rockies
RE:\ winter midde layer on 01/16/2012 15:06:30 MST Print View

I guess I was a little vague on question #2. I dont need warm zip off pants I would like some pants that primarily work best for the spring/summer but are lightweight/not too warm because 1) Im a warm bodied person so I dont need that much warmth, and sure as heck not in the summer and 2) if they can fit under snow pants that would be ideal. thank you for the answers so far. the MH Monkey (more specifically the lite) has caught my eye but your right it does seem a bit heavy. I really like the fact that it seems to be not too thick so it would fit underneath a shell or wind breaker and the thumb holes are a major plus for me as thats one place that is 'unguarded' while skiing. I am concerned that it would be too heavy for me.

And if Im understanding your suggestion it is to get heavier pants/jacket and just wear them in the bag instead of getting a liner?

I guess I should emphasize how 'warm bodied' I am lol. Generally the outside temps have to be <45' (no wind) before it 'feels cold' in just a golf shirt and jeans. Sleeping I generally have a pair of gym shorts (no shirt) and normal bed sheet for anything 60'+ and I sleep just fine. At the camp I was at last weekend when we were packing up it was ~30' and in the layers mentioned in my first post with the exception of jeans instead of snow pants I actually got quite hot even with the shell unzipped and the vents open while hiking a short (<2mile) distance through a bit of snow (2-6") with mild elevation gain.

Only a few times have I felt truly cold when skiing but it took wind chill in the -10 to -20s to do that so I dont need anything super heavy.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Layers on 01/16/2012 15:12:40 MST Print View

"And if Im understanding your suggestion it is to get heavier pants/jacket and just wear them in the bag instead of getting a liner?"

I guess what I'm saying is get the upper and lower body layers that you need, and then wear those to bed as well and hopefully you won't need a liner to stay warm.

Stephan Doyle
Re: Layers on 01/16/2012 15:31:56 MST Print View

1) Midlayer: how warm do you need this to be? A fleece is great if you're going to be wearing it while active, but that same fleece won't keep you warm sitting around at 10ยบ.

2) Pants: so many choices here. Patagonia makes good ones. I don't think anyone does pants better than Arc'Teryx, but they don't have zip-offs (I like the Ramparts for sun protection - more comfortable than shorts in the mountains). Regardless, I think you're better off with some cheap tights when you next extra warmth in the winter, fleece if you need LOTS of warmth.

3) Liners are silly. YMMV.

greg jenkins
(OCPik4chu) - F

Locale: CO, Rockies
RE: winter midde layer on 01/16/2012 15:46:40 MST Print View

@Dan Ok thats what I thought. In regards to the Puffy jackets I guess Ill have to go try some on because they seem like they would be very warm. Also how much space do they take up when compressed? I had a down vest a long time ago that I used for camping that had a stuff sack but compared to its size it really didnt compress too well. Something with a removal hood would be ideal I think, my head doesn't get that cold and I have a light fleece beanie if I need a little extra (or a helmet when skiing)

@Stephen, ok then, I just saw liners mentioned in several threads while browsing the site so it seemed like a good solution but I wasnt dead set on it or anything. No big deal. The more I learn the better.

And if the pants are light enough that the ability to zipoff isnt necessary then that is fine since Id prefer long pants + no suncscreen then having to slather that all over half my body. Looking for something that is lighter than jeans (terrible I know, lol) but still actually pants (ie, not long underwear or a base-layer, etc) and to emphasize again, the pants do NOT need to be warm. They need to fit under snow pants so that I can take off said snow pants without walking around in long underwear, not because I need more warmth. I apologize for that being unclear but that was the 'exception' I referred to originally.

For the upper body middle layer, warmth is the bigger factor unlike the pants. I would say something just on the lower end of fleece would work. It doesn't need to be extremely warm because even with just the shell most of the wind is blocked and the underarmour keeps the cold off my skin so something to fill in the air gap is all. If there is something like the MH Monkey Man suggested earlier but a bit lighter material would be the best I think.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: RE: winter midde layer on 01/16/2012 16:31:19 MST Print View

a fleece layer like Patagonia's R1 makes a great mid-layer when moving (layered over a thin base layer), but totally inadequate for wear around camp in the winter

for temps down to 0 your going to need a pretty substantial down or syn insulating parka

for skiing you could probably get by w/ a lighter syn parka (I wouldn't recommend down for use while skiing) something like a Patagonia Micropuff (maybe even a Nanopuff)- neither of these however would be adequate for camping down to 0 w/ just a base layer and shell

what you could do is purchase a light to mid weight syn jacket/parka for skiing and then a mid weight down jacket and combine the two for camping- either piece could probably fit very well into a 3 season scheme as well

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Compression on 01/16/2012 17:00:29 MST Print View

The fill power of down essentially tells you how much the down will compress. 800 fill power down, means 1oz (by weight) puffs up to 800 cubic inches. If you get lower end down (ie. 500-600) then it won't compress nearly as small as 800-900 FP down (since it didn't puff up nearly as much in the first place). You don't want to abuse your down by cranking into a golf ball sized wad in a compression sack, but you can compress high end down a lot without damaging it.

The Montbell Alpine Light parka that I use easily fits into it's nalgene bottle sized stuff sack, and I could probably take it to 1/2 to 2/3rds of that size if I used a roll top sack. I like roll top sacks rather than compression sacks, because they're lighter and it's not so easy to over compress stuff. They also are normally waterproof.

You can certainly do without a hood, but it's sometimes really nice to have both a hood and a warm beanie when it's howling on a summit. It depends what you're going to be up to though.

Edited by dandydan on 01/16/2012 17:01:03 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Winter Middle layer for Backpacking/skiing on 01/16/2012 17:45:14 MST Print View

First of all, what do you call a mid-layer? I think of something like a "heavy base layer" like Patagonia R1 or Cap4 or Power Stretch, on up to 200W fleece. If you are talking camp/belay use with minimal activity, then I think of puffy layers on the order of Patagonia Micro Puff, First Ascent Igniter and on up to lofty down stuff.

If you are thinking of a thin insulated jacket, I think the lighter insulated jackets like the Mont Bell Thermawrap or Patagonia Nano Puff don't deliver much: you get a wind shell and a light insulation layer, which a windshirt with hooded R1 or Power Stretch layer would meet or exceed--- with more versatility. I would use one of those hoodies with a puffy vest for the next step colder and that is my recommendation for you to try with your ski shell. I prefer synthetic, but for camp use and no rain, down can be very light, compact to carry and warm. A vest is just nice to have on day hikes and cool summer mornings when you want just a bit more over your base layer until you get moving.

For zip-off pants on the light side, look at the Outdoor Research Equinox Convert pants. They are light without being too fragile and they are free of cargo pockets-- just plain front/rear pockets, so less on the Inspector Gadget side of things. Ex Officio Amphi Pants are good, and the REI Sahara pants are excellent in hot weather, but much more on the baggy side. I'm not up to current models on Mountain Hardwear's pants, but their track record has been good for me.

greg jenkins
(OCPik4chu) - F

Locale: CO, Rockies
RE: winter midde layer on 01/17/2012 15:21:19 MST Print View

@Dan & Dale

I appreciate your responses and let me see if I can elaborate a bit.

First off I thank you for the down explanation I had long forgotten the explanation of down 'weight' so that clears up that question.

For the compression of the parka the size of a Nalgene works for me just fine. The ones the size of a 2liter soda are what I was wanting to avoid. For the hood my ski shell has a hood on it with ties/drawstrings that allow me to zip it up so nothing but my ski goggles are exposed (even with a helmet) so that was the 2nd reason for not needing/wanting a second hood on the puff jacket but if there is one that is removable then Id consider it. My head doesn't get that cold and it only takes a little covering to warm my body, hence the beanie to trap in heat and the shell to stop the wind/weather. But again I will keep it in mind as I think to really pick this I'm going to have to go into a store (there is an REI flagship nearby) and try some things on to see for sure.

@Dale, What I am considering a 'middle layer' is something that would be worn underneath a shell jacket to provide the additional warmth needed during more sedentary activity such as around a camp, cooking/siting/setting up tent, etc. Said middle layer would expected to fit underneath a shell, over my 'base layer' if needed without making me look like the kid from 'A Christmas Story'. ie, not restrictive. While I like the idea of the puff jacket option something is telling me that it will be much more warmth than I might need without going into a thinner option which would hinder its versatility in colder temps. I do however like the idea of the down jackets for the space saving reasons, meaning it could be small enough to easily stuff into a day pack for 1day hikes in case the weather can turn bad which it sometimes can do in the mtns.

So far I'm liking the Cap4 the best out of the options thus far. Seems to be just about the right style I would prefer. The full zip front for easy removal, not too thick so wouldn't be 'too' warm and can be packed somewhat small and fit under the shell easily. Thumb loops would be all it needs to bee 100% perfect IMO. As for the pants I'm liking the REI Sahara's, especially since there seems to be a sale on them locally atm and I do prefer the cargo style a bit more.

Personally if the weather is anything but clear I will always have the ski shell on over whatever else I may be wearing. Its very resistant to the elements, even wind and heavy rain (I wear it often on a day to day basis).

And I haven't yet found where to edit my locale (perhaps I must be a paid member) but I live in Colorado so in case that alters your thoughts any.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
middle layer on 01/17/2012 18:26:34 MST Print View

base layer + cap 4 + shell = not very warm for sedentary duty around camp at freezing (let alone anything below)

cap 4 makes a nice mid-layer for on the go stuff when it's cold, but for winter activities where you may stop, your not going to get by very well w/o a warm insulating layer- down or syn

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: middle layer on 01/17/2012 19:25:31 MST Print View

Is your ski shell insulated or just water/wind protection? If it has insulation (they often do) then this definitely alters your system a lot (and our recommendations).

Now if your shell is not insulated then I agree with mike, a cap 4, sitting around, at night, will be miserably cold for your expected -10-0F nights. Sun and movement make huge differences in warmth levels and sitting around camp they both disappear.

There's a reason why people always seem to have a big puffy michelin man jacket when snow camping in winter, because they're pretty much required.

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Winter Setup on 01/17/2012 19:50:53 MST Print View

Echoing what a number of others have said. A heavier base layer with shell is great while active and then a puffy jacket to put on top of all that for stops and camp. My personal setup is the Patagonia R1 Hoody for my baselayer, Mammut Ultimate Hoody for shell and First Ascent Igniter Jacket for insulation that goes on top of all of that for stops and camp.

Their are plenty of good choices for all three of those layers. Sounds like the piece your missing is the outer warm layer. The point in winter is you don't want to be shuffling middle layers. So it doesn't make sense to be looking for a mid layer that sometimes will be on and when your active will be too much warmth and have you pulling it off. That's why the outer layer (like a Belay jacket) is perfect. You don't have to shuffle in/out of other layers to manage your warmth.

greg jenkins
(OCPik4chu) - F

Locale: CO, Rockies
RE: winter midde layer on 01/18/2012 09:24:18 MST Print View

Hmm well I do see what you are saying and I get it but based on the camp last weekend, since I didn't have a middle layer to speak of (a t-shirt over the UnderArmour) and sitting in camp in the 20s-30s was not cold at all. I even took off my gloves at several times because I just wasn't that cold. I will admit that my experience in camping in very cold weather is limited but being out in it skiing and for other things isn't nearly as limited.

That being said my next expected time to be camping (in what is hopefully 0'F) is early next month. Before that time I will try to get out some for an overnight-er or two to really evaluate how I feel in different temperatures. Sounds to me like I will have to experiment a little to find what works best for me.

Currently on the low end(per yall's recommendations) I see something like a cap 4 or possibly a cap3 or an R1 hoody. With going up to a First Ascent Igniter(which I really liked) or the Montbell Alpine or similar.

As for shuffling layers I don't expect to be doing that much. I retain body heat fairly well(maybe too well, lol) if Ive been doing anything strenuous so I don't expect to be wearing any of these options while on the move, only when stopping at camp at the end of the day (probably not even lunch unless its extremely cold) so I really don't expect that to be some big inconvenience but it's a valid point

Looks like I have some testing to do still. Also the ski shell is just a shell, no more insulation than a cpl of t-shirts would give so its basically just a heavy duty wind/water shield and it has a hood.

@Randy, It has to be very cold for me to need more warmth than what I listed above I just generate that much heat. The hike in that night(5-7pm) it was in the low 20s with about a 30mph wind. With just the gear mentioned in the first post I was totally comfortable so I wont be replacing those original layers with anything extra or my brain would boil while on the move. But I do see some validity to replacing the shell with a puff when I am at camp to get me the extra warmth needed w/o swapping layers as you describe. Now I would just concerned about durability/weather resistance of the puff jackets in that regard. or should I expect to need the ski shell on top if the weather is really bad?

Kenny R.
(k1t0r5) - F

Locale: Florida
Re: RE: winter midde layer on 01/18/2012 10:13:33 MST Print View

I think you're underestimating just how much colder you'll be sitting around sedentary at 0* compared to how you are while moving around at 0*. If you try sitting around camp with just an underarmour baselayer, a cap4 or cap3, and a hardshell in 0* temps, you will be very cold. If you're trying to stretch a sleep system down to those temps along with the inadequate clothing, then you're looking at a potentially dangerous situation.

I've learned this the hard way. I'm fine in just a light baselayer and windshirt while hiking as long as the temps are above 0. The second I stop though, it takes a myriad of clothing to keep myself warm. Much more than I ever would've expected before camping in winter. Sure, you may be more 'warm-blooded' than myself and most others, but that doesn't mean you can get away with completely inadequate clothing.

Do an experiment for yourself. One night put on your baselayer, a cheap fleece hoody (approximating the warmth of a cap3 or cap4), and your shell along with whatever else you'd plan on wearing while at camp. Try sitting on your front porch for about 3-4 hours in single digits and see how you feel.

In my opinion, it would be reckless to go into 0* temps without a substantial amount of down or synthetic insulation. If you get too hot... unzip your shell and/or jacket to vent heat! Sure you'd probably survive in those temps with less, but what happens if the temps drop below what you were expecting? With no significant insulating jacket and a bag not rated for those temps (liner or not), you're suddenly looking at a problem.

Edited by k1t0r5 on 01/18/2012 10:21:57 MST.

greg jenkins
(OCPik4chu) - F

Locale: CO, Rockies
RE: winter midde layer on 01/18/2012 12:27:13 MST Print View


I completely agree that just going out into the backwoods without so much as trying the gear locally is a terrible idea without knowing what to expect and I will certainly be doing so before hand. I just have a hard time grasping this extreme need for warmth based on my experiences in the outdoors in general. I am also fully aware that the shell alone doesn't provide any warmth (I know you didn't say that, just bringing it up) because in just a t shirt or golf shirt standing out in the cold weather during the day is not enough warmth but I have found the difference with just the under Armour to be a massive change in acceptable temperatures. What this has slowly developed into is perhaps the need for just two pieces instead of one. Something in the cap 3/4 area for when its 0'+ (that is, isnt expected to get below that or close to it) and a good puff for the extreme cold (<0') since one would be too little or too much for the temps in between.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
hyoh on 01/18/2012 13:28:06 MST Print View

hike your own hike they say :)

I will add that if I were a paid (or unpaid for that matter) guide and someone were to go out w/ me for a winter trip (heck even most shoulder season trips) in Montana, I would have to politely refuse if their clothing only included a shell, base layer and light fleece (cap 4, R1, 100 weight fleece, etc) top

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: RE: winter midde layer on 01/18/2012 13:43:42 MST Print View

You keep confusing the issue. No one is arguing that you can stay warm with fairly little insulation while hiking. Nearly everyone can, I'm particularly cold intolerant and have no problem staying warm while on the move, often overheating.

The point of everyone's advice is that when sitting still for any period of time two things happen. Your metabolism slows down (ie you stop producing as much heat) and any heat you have already generated begins to be lost to the environment. There is nothing you can do about the first event aside from increasing your physical exertion. The second concern is why we have insulation and puffies to begin with, they slow down the loss of heat.

Again 20s and 30s are not that cold. There's a world of difference at 0F and colder. (really once you hit single digits). Personally I think the word "frigid" is really just the result of trying to drop an F* bomb through chattering teeth ;)

While I've moved to merino, I agree that the UA Cold Gear is impressive and great on the move, but you'll be far more comfortable picking up puffy for camp. Any thing that makes you look a little bloated will probably work, the really thin insulated layers (MB Down Inner, Atom LT, Pat *puffs) will keep you alive, but probably miserably so.

martin cooperman
(martyc) - M

Locale: Industrial Midwest
How to be comfortable at rest outdoors in the evening on 01/18/2012 14:26:06 MST Print View

I would second what Kenny said, and do a test right in your own backyard. I note that you are located in the MidWest. I'll assume that means the northern Midwest, as in Michigan, rather than, say, Oklahoma.
If that is the case, pick a night when it's going to be cold. Tomorrow night in Cleveland where I live they're predicting a low of 16F.
Go sit outside in all your gear. See what happens.

Things won't be that dire if you bring inadequate clothing on a winter trip, at rest.
Worst case, assuming your sleeping bag is adequate, is you'll get chilled sitting around and get in your bag.

Or perhaps you plan on a fire keeping you warm. That would certainly work.

Some of these things are best learned by doing, as long as there's recourse to a safe alternative. Your sleeping bag ought to provide that recourse.
Write back and tell us how it worked.
Marty Cooperman
Cleveland, Ohio