Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
synthetic mid-layer and other dilemmas
Display Avatars Sort By:
Misha Berger
(aeropenguin) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
synthetic mid-layer and other dilemmas on 07/11/2012 20:11:31 MDT Print View

I am sure this has been covered a hundred times, but I still can't figure it out. I would like a good layering kit 3-season kit to use with a 30 degree bag. I am planning trips to the JMT, Lost Coast, and Grand Canyon all in the next few months.

As far as I can tell, I want one thing from each category. I have weighed everything on my own scale for size small, for reference:

*Every day wear:
REI Sahara Tech l/s shirt

Smartwool lightweight l/s crew: 7.4oz
Smartwool midweight l/s crew: 7.8oz

*Synthetic mid (for hiking in):
Patagonia Nano Puff: 9.0oz
Patagonia R1: 10.1oz
REI Heavyweight zip crew top "long underwear": (guessing around 10oz)

*Down puffy layer (for arctic conditions, camp, and boosting my bag's rating to the down to the teens.... that's the idea at least):
Montbell UL Down Inner jacket: 6.4oz
Patagonia Down Sweater: 11.4oz

*Rain shell (for rain and/or just wind)
Cut down Tyvek overalls: should be around 6oz for the suit.

Here's what I notice:
1. The Nano Puff is lighter AND probably warmer than the R1, so why is everyone so crazy about their R1? Is it because the Nano Puff isn't as sturdy as an outer layer or that it takes longer to dry?
2. The R1 just feels redundant over the midweight wool top. There is just way too much fabric on my arms. The R1 fits okay over the lightweight crew, but still hugs my skin and feel like one really thick base layer. Should I size up on the R1 or stick with the lightweight? The midweight seems a LOT warmer for only 0.4oz more. (It's also less scratchy for some reason.)
3. Is it just me or are a lot of UL folks skipping the synthetic mid layer altogether? Everyone says the down jackets are too hot to hike in usually, but there's no way a heavily vented nylon shirt and a midweight crew top will keep you warm hiking below freezing... will it? I just don't have enough experience to know. The other thing is that the last thing I want to do if I'm just developing a slight chill, is TAKE OFF my shirt in order to slip a base layer on under it. I suppose for a long enough hike, doing this once or twice a day isn't so bad -- does this bother anyone else?
5. I know, I know... wind shell. I'm not opposed to the idea -- I just don't *understand* it. It seems like you can only wear it for so long until it soaks through if raining, and I would like to hike through any afternoon thunderstorms comfortably. As for ventillation, shouldn't full armpit and chest zippers be sufficient? If I were using a poncho-tarp, windshirt becomes a gimme, justified by camp chores/exploring when shelter is pitched, but otherwise I just don't get it.
6. How I ended up with the most expensive items in each category is beyond me. (All were clearance or used though.) If you have any suggestions for equally good layers I am all ears. (Can return most of it still.)

One last thing: Am I likely to encounter arctic conditions anywhere I'm headed? Lamentably, no. To be honest in my mind I am preparing for a full PCT or similar. Not out of a desire to "be prepared for anything" but just because I let my imagination loose a little too much and want a versatile kit. I am also going lightweight for overall enjoyment on the trail, which means not having to log miles every second I'm not in my sleeping bag. If I'm totally overdoing it let me know however.

Sorry about the rambling and thanks in advance for your input.

Edited by aeropenguin on 07/11/2012 20:17:22 MDT.

layers on 07/11/2012 20:46:46 MDT Print View

1. Fleece breathes infinitely better than puffy insulation. Use fleece while hiking, puffy in in camp or when stopped. Unless really really cold, Hiking in 20s, light 100 wt fleece is enough, body warms up.

Puffy will get soggy with sweat that condenses in it under exertion, it insulates too good. Never hike in down for that reason, synthetic is more forgiving.

2. You really want a ul wool top, not a midweight. You lose the layering principle with too heavy of a baselayer. The lightest that doesnt fall apart.

3. You dont hike in down because it will wet out from sweat condensing and then never dry. The R1 IS the synthetic midlayer . Yes, a lightwt wool top and light fleece will be plenty warm hiking down into 20s. Your body heats up . OK to wear the heavier insul until it does, just take it off before start sweating.

Your base layer is just that, the BASE layer. You wear it FIRST, and put others on top. WIth the exception of a long sleeve under a short sleeve and when it heats up a lot, then remove the long sleeve.

5. Its a WIND shirt, not a RAIN shirt. When COLD WINDS suck the heat out of you in the mountains at altitude, it can do wonders. I dont use one, just my Driducks, works the same and plenty breathable.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: synthetic mid-layer and other dilemmas on 07/11/2012 22:06:11 MDT Print View

You want something which will keep you comfortable while hiking and then more insulation to put on to keep you warm when not hiking (breaks, camp, sleeping). Experience is your best guide with this because each person is different. You need a layer to block strong wind while still being breathable. Many times, a rain jacket is adequate for this. If you're constantly wearing it while hiking, a windshirt would be better suited to the task.

If it's only getting down to 30 degrees at night, then I hike in a short sleeve polyester t-shirt, thin nylon pants, and use my rain jacket as my wind shell when necessary. For longer breaks and around camp, a thin synthetic insulating jacket works well. Down is fine too if you can keep it dry. I hope to add a windshirt to this system for areas with constant, strong wind. If you're very careful not to get it wet, you could always stuff your sleeping bag inside your rain jacket for warm camp insulation.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
synthetic mid-layer and other dilemmas on 07/11/2012 23:50:37 MDT Print View

I'm guessing your mid-layer problem is envisioning HOW to use a mid-layer with your "everyday" button-down shirt. It is a little easier to layer OVER a worn base layer (a L/S or S/S wool or synthetic t-shirt) than removing your Sahara shirt to put another layer UNDER it. I have a similar MH Canyon shirt, but I almost never wear it and one reason is ease of layering. I don't have a good answer to this one; maybe someone should post a direct question about layering with a button-up "travel" or "hiking" shirt. I'm guessing folks just put take off their shirt and put a L/S base layer under it.

I think your list should look more like this:

*Base (choose 1, for hiking in):
REI Sahara Tech l/s shirt:
Smartwool lightweight l/s crew: 7.4oz
A L/S synthetic crew or zip-top: +/- 5oz

*Synthetic mid (choose 1, for hiking in if chilled):
Smartwool midweight l/s crew: 7.8oz
Patagonia R1: 10.1oz

*Down puffy layer (choose 1, for long breaks and in-camp):
Montbell UL Down Inner jacket: 6.4oz
Patagonia Down Sweater: 11.4oz

*Rain shell top (choose 1):
Tyvek suit: 6oz
DriDucks jacket: 5-6oz
UL WPB jacket: 6-12oz

*Wind shell:
Patagonia Houdini or comparable: 4oz

*Gloves, Hat:


You want to build a modular clothing system with little redundancy (although there might be some) that will keep you (a) warm without overheating while you are walking and it is not raining, and (b) warm and as-dry-as-you-can when it is raining until you can walk out of the weather or make camp and change into dry and insulating clothing or a sleeping bag & shelter.

My base layer is usually a S/S wool t-shirt. I might instead wear a L/S wool t-shirt or a L/S or S/S synthetic t-shirt, all depending on the expected temps + humidity.

My mid-layer is a L/S wool hoodie or a Power Stretch L/S zip top, worn if I'm actually chilled while walking, otherwise in the pack. This base + mid would keep me warm enough at least into the low 40s/high 30s while walking, especially with hat + gloves + wind shirt.

My wind shell is a pertex hooded shell, that goes on when I stop or if there's, well, wind. If I'm not wearing it, it is in an outside pack pocket. Regardless of which wind shell you have (see David Chenault's recent article), they will ALL be more breathable than a WPB-laminate shell but still block any heat-sapping wind! A good wind shell works as part of a system that ALSO includes a rain jacket. My rain shell is around 6 oz and my wind shell is 4 oz. You are right, however, that one shell can do the job of both. In my opinion, this is just a case where two UL shells are better than one heavier WPB rain jacket.

My insulation jacket is a Montbell UL Down Parka or a MH Phantom (shoulder season) that I'm only going to be wearing on an extended break or in camp. I wouldn't hike in it unless it was below freezing and I was trying to get out of some bad situation.

Finally, a few other points:

You call this is a 3-Season list, but write about walking in below-freezing temps. You should probably adjust your list if you will be in extended below-freezing weather. I do think your Smartwool mid-weight layer or your R1 under your Sahara shirt would be fine while you are generating heat.

I don't think anybody walks through an afternoon thunderstorm comfortably, it's just a question of whether you are going to get eventually wet from condensation from your body or from the rain. If it doesn't last long or you stop for shelter, well, that's different.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
ether dri-clime on 07/12/2012 01:34:13 MDT Print View

I think you can get away with just one LS wool shirt as a base. A synth/merino combo is best b/c it'll dry quicker, but the smartwool will work fine. The REI shirt + merino is redundant.

Mid--I like the marmot driclime ether as a mid layer over wool. Its warm (but not too warm to move in), it breathers well and it wicks amazingly. Its also a couple oz lighter than an R1. You can wear this alone as a sleep layer as well, so no need for the long underwear. Its hard to explain why this garment is so good, but I'm pretty convinced its magic.

Puffy--the nano or or the montbell UL would do you well. I like a synthetic because you can dry out your base/midlayers quickly under it, and then it'll also dry out quickly. down is lighter/warmer though.

Rain Shell-OR Helium II (or something similar

This combo, at about 30oz total, would save you some significant weight and you wouldn't lose any versatility over the system above.

You won't experience anything arctic. Be safe, but "don't pack your fears" (as andrew skurka likes to say).

Misha Berger
(aeropenguin) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
wow... on 07/12/2012 03:12:29 MDT Print View

Thanks all for the tips!

To clarify, I want a 3-season kit that can naturally be expanded, say with the addition or substitution of one item, to a 4-season kit. Hence I am trying to look at the big picture, but I do not plan to bring any more than I think I will need for the given trip.

The R1 still feels like just another base layer, and don't see how it "pulls its weight" in terms of layering. Although I could hike in below freezing temperatures in just the smartwool and R1, I am frustrated that I either have to keep moving, or put on the next layer, which would be down and for most situations overkill. If the R1 were a little thicker, seems like it would bridge the gap between base layer and insulation layer better. The R2 is only about an ounce heavier, yet no one ever seems to talk about it. Why is that? Any good 200-wt polartec jackets for me to consider?

I admit the Sahara shirt is technically redundant, since my plan was to use it in the heat or at most with just the wool base layer. However, I just don't think anything else comes as close in functionality in warm weather, such as I'll encounter in the Grand Canyon or perhaps on a hot day on the JMT. The wool would just rip to pieces while bushwhacking parts of the Lost Coast Trail next weekend. Any other ideas for how to replace the nylon hiking shirt if it is indeed redundant?

As for the wind shirt, I trust that it is well worth its weight (you give me no choice ;) ), but in the interest of simplicity and budget, I will probably just stick to the waterproof (non-breathable) rain jacket and use its venting zippers to keep from getting soaked from within.

Edited by aeropenguin on 07/12/2012 13:06:43 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
R1 on 07/12/2012 11:11:53 MDT Print View

youre supposed to keep moving in it ... and often you wear something like a windshell or softshell over it in winter ...

the worst thing to do in cold temperatures is to sweat ... better to be a tad cool on the move than a tad warm

when stopped, throw on the poofay

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Re: wow... on 07/12/2012 12:14:25 MDT Print View

"The R1 still feels like just another base layer, and don't see how it "pulls its weight" in terms of layering."

The R1 is my winter baselayer. Most things I use for 3 season use have no business in a winter setup. So personally I just don't understand your objective.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
synthetic mid-layer and other dilemmas on 07/12/2012 12:20:15 MDT Print View

You're new here so allow me to translate from the original "eric-speak".

"Poofay" = a jacket that is puffy, like a down or synthetic insulated jacket, worn to retain heat generated by your body when at rest during outside activities like hiking or climbing.

Eric, Just kidding.

Misha Berger
(aeropenguin) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
windshirt+montbell instead of patagonia down on 07/12/2012 13:04:12 MDT Print View

"Most things I use for 3 season use have no business in a winter setup. So personally I just don't understand your objective."

My objective is to buy a few high quality, versatile items, and not a separate wardrobe for each season. Using your R1 as a winter base layer seems perfectly multi-use to me though.

Hmm... I never thought of the wind shirt as a thermal boost for the fleece layer, only as an alternative to the rain jacket. If I had a wind shirt, I would feel better about keeping the frail MB UL jacket instead of the heavier Patagonia. Considering what I paid for the MB (used here on Gear Swap) and the clearance price for a Stoic Wraith wind shirt right now, I would still be lighter, cheaper, AND more versatile if I kept the MB and returned the Patagucci. Plus of course I'd have a dedicated layer for when it was warm but windy. Maybe I should just give it a try??? It's just hard for me to justify keeping something so (relatively) expensive and frail as the MB... there is always a feather poking out from the seams somewhere... and I would end up never wearing it around town. Although, I guess that's something only I can decide for myself.

Edited by aeropenguin on 07/12/2012 13:05:37 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
reading on 07/12/2012 13:58:06 MDT Print View

misha ...

for cooler weather read this ...

all the fancy gear in the world wont do any good if you dont understand the principles and applications behind it ...

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Re: reading on 07/12/2012 14:14:49 MDT Print View

The softshell article in the above link should be required reading for anyone doing winter activities. The reason I said earlier that nothing in my 3 season line-up is used in Winter is because an ideal winter setup is a beefier base layer (like an R1) with a softshell over it if it's windy and then at stops and summit you put on the Puffy (aka The Belay jacket). I might possibly have use for a beefy base layer in the shoulder seasons as a mid layer but I would never use a soft shell or big puffy layer for 3 season use, just not necessary.

Edited by randalmartin on 07/12/2012 14:15:51 MDT.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
softshell on 07/12/2012 14:37:19 MDT Print View

i use a light softshell all the time for climbing or other such ... it often takes the place of the R1 in the spring/fall

there are many ways to skin a cat ... not just the approved BPL ways ;)

layers on 07/12/2012 19:18:05 MDT Print View

Believe in the layering principle. Your layers have to be light enough that you can use them all together in LAYERS to have the most flexibility to suit the widest conditions.

You will always have to adjust depending on activity level, conditions, altitude,temp, etc.

Exposed to wind or not
Sun shining or behind clouds
Time of day/temperature
Going uphill, or downhill (easier)
Temp changes due to altitude

what exactly is it you are opposed to?


Locale: South West US
Re: synthetic mid-layer and other dilemmas on 07/13/2012 02:26:50 MDT Print View

Okay layering with what you have, I'd do this:

-Wear REI shirt for general activity
-Keep light-weight wool in pack for sleeping or combined with REI shirt
-Get wind shirt to wear over both if needed for warmth. Wind shirt adds a lot of warmth somewhat negating the need for mid-layer (on the move). You don't need the wind-shirt but they breath MUCHO better that WP/B stuff. And they're light. And bug-proof.
-Add insulation over when in camp
-Add rain jacket as needed for warmth/rain pro

Changing shirts at the beginning/end of the day isn't too bad. If you're cold in the morning just hike a bit before changing. Your insulation layer might be on the light side if you get cold easy. The MB is good for me to about the mid 30's. It's possible you may get low 20's/upper teens on the JMT, though the weather is typically much better than that. Also, make sure you have a warm neck and head!

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: wow... on 07/13/2012 19:44:49 MDT Print View

Two comments:

1. While I understand the button down shirt, I find my wind shirt replaces it pretty well for backcountry use. I wear a light wool base layer (l/s or s/s), then put a wind shirt over it when it gets chilly or breezy. I cannot wear my rain shell while hiking unless it's bitterly cold and windy (say, below freezing with 30 kt winds.) Otherwise I just sweat too much. Not all people have this problem, of course.

That said, the nylon button down shirt can act as a wind shirt over a base layer. It's just heavier.

2. The layering concept works well in any season, but I choose different pieces based on the season. So, a very light single layer wind shirt April-October, then a Marmot Driclime for the winter. A microfleece pullover for my insulation layer in warmer weather, then a UL down piece for spring and fall, then a big puffy down jacket for winter. My base layers usually stay the same (150-wt wool), though in winter I'll add a heavier base layer shirt as needed. Some of these can do double-duty, but for the most part winter is a different animal even here in NC, and requires different pieces.

Misha Berger
(aeropenguin) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
response on 07/15/2012 03:14:18 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the input, guys!

Eric: Thank you so much for linking me to Andy Kirkpatrick's pages! Regarding his soft shell page, I realized that the jacket I have been using all this time for my long hikes is a lined lightweight polyester track jacket (Adidas Climaproof). Comes in at around 10oz in small and is loose, perfect for layering. Who knew I was ALREADY doing what you guys were suggesting (or close to it). I tried on a Houdini but can't swallow the price. On the verge of ordering a Stoic Wraith, which is supposedly equally breathable but almost half the weight. Is it just not as durable?

M B, I am not exactly opposed to anything, just grappling with two main questions at this point:

1. What is the best base layer to go under the R1 so as not to be redundant? (Tried on a few other fleeces and only the R1 fit perfectly. Taking your word on its superior breathability.) I want to try on a microweight merino s/s shirt to see how that feels. That way it wouldn't bind with the R1 either.

2. Is there a way I can replace the REI hiking shirt with my other layers? Say, use synthetic instead of wool so it doubles as my hot weather shirt, and add a wind shell if chilly? That would be considerably lighter, and more versatile. Also, the REI shirt was wet the entire 20 mile hike I just got back from (Muir Woods to Stinson Beach to Mt Tam back to Muir Woods), so not sure if it was doing its job. It was quite comfortable the entire time though: soft, light, and airy. And that's after rolling up the sleeves and unbuttoning it halfway down my chest.

clothes on 07/15/2012 03:30:53 MDT Print View

In cold weather,maybe high around 50, where the lightest layer I expect to wear is long sleeve, I wear long sleeve base wool shirt, then have a SS to put on over it, then fleece, then puffy and raingear. The SS is really just in case daily temps get too hot for LS alone, its really not needed at all.

In warmer weather, say a daily high around 55+ ,I wear just the SS, and have the fleece, puffy and RG. No LS base.

Just wear what you need to be comfortable at any set of conditions, there is no perfect combination.

Nike and Walmart stuff also work just as well as the overpriced, overhyped stuff you buy from other places. My lightest shirt is a Nike SS shirt that weighs 3.4 oz, its what i usually wear in hot weather, $20. Wool doesnt dry fast and is a bit overhyped IMO.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: response on 07/17/2012 09:15:36 MDT Print View

the jacket you have might be a tad heavy compared to what some here use ... but you already own it and itll likely work just fine ...

my advice is to work with what you have, buy new "lighter" stuff as it wears out or if you find it doesnt work ... not go out and buy all new stuff in one go ...

the more experience you get, the better youll find what works for you .... spend the money you save on adventures, think of it as gear testing ...

fun, not gear is what matters

Misha Berger
(aeropenguin) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
final push... on 07/17/2012 19:59:45 MDT Print View

Lighter gear will not only allow me to have more fun, but to complete the JMT in the time allotment I have without risking serious injury. There is just no way I could physically finish the whole thing with the type of pack weight I had previously.

I like to evaluate all of my purchases in the units of dollars per ounce lost. If I can lose 7.5oz with a Stoic Wraith for roughly $50, that is money darned well spent. Most UL guys seem happy spending $300+ on a new bag that saves them the same weight. By contrast, a titanium spoon that saves me 0.2oz for $15 is terrible.

Anyhow, I think the best thing I can do to save weight right now is devise a way to leave one of my layers at home. Let me know if I'm becoming a drag (or not searching around enough... more reading material always appreciated). However, I am at the place where I just want to make a final decision, order what I don't have, and stick with it -- so any and all comments are tremendously appreciated.

In order of most weight lost:

1. Replace fleece and down puffy layer with a single synthetic puffy (Nano Puff).
Saves ~10oz and $100 (for the R1).
Compromise: In cold scenarios, I am slightly underserved -- if I'm not generating enough heat to get by with just the merino base and the wind shirt, I have to put on the Nano Puff pullover, but then I have to slow down since it doesn't breathe as well as a fleece layer would.

2. Keep the REI hiking shirt at home, and just hike in the merino base layer / wind shirt combo instead. If it's HOT hike shirtless.
Saves ~7oz and $20 (sell hiking shirt on forums perhaps, like new... or return it).
Compromise: Must carry sunblock to hike shirtless, which brings me back to the same weight. Merino snags on things and gets worn out under pack straps. Not as well ventilated.
Alternative: Perhaps just use a synthetic shirt instead? This would be less warm than the wool, but I think I'm covered for warmth, and it would wick better in any temperature. I'd just have to wash it more often. Would save me an additional ~$30 and a few more ounces (although it wouldn't count towards the pack weight since I'd always be wearing it).

3. Use the REI hiking shirt as a wind shirt and keep the wind shirt at home.
Saves ~3oz and $50.
Compromise: Not as effective as a wind shirt, but you get to have the best ventilated hiking shirt for hot weather. Must remove outer layer when you're already cold in order to slip the base shirt on under it.

(4. I could combine 1 and 2 w/ "alternative": bring only a synthetic hiking shirt base layer, the nano puff, and a wind shirt (and waterproof jacket). If too cold, get into sleeping bag. This may be pushing it though.)

Looking at the above, it seems pretty obvious I should order a wind shirt... haha. (And not opt for #3.)

I swear I will shut up about this soon, and start making my own calls from experience with what I decide on now!

Edited by aeropenguin on 07/17/2012 20:47:47 MDT.