Synthetic midlayer or heavier belay parka for Cascades fall/spring mountaineering


Original Post
Galen Herz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined 23 hours ago · Points: 0

I've seen a number of threads about gear for Baker/Rainier/Adams here, and thought you all might be able to give me some good feedback. 

My current layering system is short on warmth and I'm looking to pick up a new piece (or if need be, two). 

Current system:

Merino Baselayer - Light layer (R1 Fleece) - Softshell (OR Ferrosi) - Shell (Alpha AR) - Puffy for camp (Montbell Superior Down Parka, very light at only 8.3 oz) 

I'm considering adding a synthetic layer (deciding between BD First Light, Nano Air, Atom LT, OR Cathode) that would layer on top of the Ferrosi, or getting a heavier puffy (BD Cold Forge Hoody looked good).  Or doing both. 

I tend to run hot when moving, and am wondering if I'd ever be moving around with the Fleece/Softshell/Synthetic all together? I've never used a synthetic layer, so haven't had much experience with breathability. 

Also, my primary concern with a synthetic is lack of durability based on this thread: https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/111770709/synthetic-puffy-longevity, and I'd rather not have to replace something often. If anyone has information about the durability of Patagucci's FullRange insulation vs Coreloft vs Primaloft Gold vs Primaloft Silver, I'd be very curious. 

Thanks! 

Amy Krull · · Utah · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 45

Atom LT is a staple in my pack. Most frequently I use it as my last layer as it breathes well. Then it comes down to the route (shade or sun) and output (blocks vs. simulclimbing or soling where output is more constant.)   So many PNW are big on simul-ing or roped glacier travel and it hovers around freezing my go-to outfit is two baselayers (one thin wool, one of R1 and atom) with the option to throw on the shell or puffy if you slow down. Mine is from 2013 so I can't say durability is an issue.  

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 650

Hi Galen, in order to make any real recommendations we will need some information on what you want to climb.  I've done some climbing in the Cascades in all seasons and feel that I have my system pretty dialed in.  For the absolute coldest conditions, here is what I wear on my upper body (in order):

Wool T-shirt - mine is made by Mammut

Arcteryx Fortrez (Equivalent to Patagonia R1)

Arcteryx Atom LT

Arcteryx Beta LT (Hardshell, only used if very windy or there is precip)

Black Diamond Stance Belay Parka (typically only used at belays)

For late spring/early summer snow and ice routes, I drop the Atom LT.  If you're doing more general mountaineering, I bring a wind shell (Arcteryx Squamish or Patagonia Houdini) which helps enormously when it is windy but you are moving constantly on moderate terrain.  I did not bring a wind shell on the North Ridge of Baker in early June and regretted it - I would have been perfectly comfortable with the wind shell on top of my Fortrez fleece.  

In regard to "durability" of synthetics, it is a totally valid concern.  My Atom LT has gotten pretty flat over the last three years, but I have worn it at least 200 days during that time (in town and in the hills).  I haven't noticed flattening on my belay parka but I've used it far less than my Atom.  Down is nice and light but in the PNW you can count on your gear getting wet.  I like synthetics for my mid layers, but I think that you could easily use down for a belay parka and have no issues.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 478

The "active insulation" garments are really meant to replace a fleece/softshell combo. I doubt you would ever wear an R1, softshell AND any of the "active" oriented puffies you listed if you run hot on the move. For reference I wore a thin merino, BD coefficient, patagonia nano light hybrid, and softshell ice climbing in the Canadian rockies at -10F in the shade and was just a tad cold. I took off the softshell over everything when hiking back out from the climbs later in the day. 

It's hard to narrow down advice, I'm not sure exactly what you're looking to have your system do better. There's a really big difference between what I would wear in early May vs late August and a massive difference for winter. Also what I would bring on Rainier is different than any North Cascades climb.

What season are you climbing in? Are you asking for the standard glacier routes where you will be moving most all of the time or more technical routes that you might be belaying pitches on? Are you cold on the approach, at camp, or coming back down when the going is easier?

Porter McMichael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 10

I ski tour with an atom lt as my outer layer near baker all winter. If its raining or snowing real hard Ill add a shell outside of that. Underneath I usually only have a thin synthetic base layer and a fleece vest. It breathes very well but mine is definitely a lot flatter than when it was newer. At higher elevations in shoulder seasons I will run the same system, and for summer mountaineering I will drop the vest and switch to a down puffy instead of synthetic (in summer Im more likely to stay dry and want more warmth and less weight for higher climbs). Ive never owned a softshell, haven't seen the need and don't have the money to find out...  Just my 2 cents!

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

Nick probably has you covered, but I'm a gear nerd so here's my feedback.

Galen Herz wrote:

Merino Baselayer - Light layer (R1 Fleece) - Softshell (OR Ferrosi) - Shell (Alpha AR) - Puffy for camp (Montbell Superior Down Parka, very light at only 8.3 oz) 

This is a good starting point, basically the same as what I and Nick and many others use.  A few comments:

  • A light mid insulating layer, like an Nano Air, Cathode, Atom LT, and many others, is nice for adding warmth (while retaining breathability) while active in very cold temps, such as winter ice climbing, mountaineering, etc.
  • A heavier over-the-top warm layer is key for staying warm in situations where you stop moving (resting, belaying, summits, and emergencies).  This is the ubiquitous "belay jacket."
  • The Superior Parka (70g fill) is more of a down sweater than a jacket/parka, in my opinion.  That's even less fill than a Ghost Whisperer.  That's a great piece for staying warm between burns at the crag, or on shoulder season hikes, or even some mountaineering, but I don't think it's warm enough for shoulder season climbing at elevation.  YMMV.

I'm considering adding a synthetic layer (deciding between BD First Light, Nano Air, Atom LT, OR Cathode) that would layer on top of the Ferrosi, or getting a heavier puffy (BD Cold Forge Hoody looked good).  Or doing both. 

Keep in mind that they have completely different purposes.  One keeps you warm while active in cold conditions, the other keeps you warm when you're not active.  The former must be breathable, the latter not so much.  So, the right thing for you is very dependent on what you'll be doing.

I tend to run hot when moving, and am wondering if I'd ever be moving around with the Fleece/Softshell/Synthetic all together? I've never used a synthetic layer, so haven't had much experience with breathability. 

Maybe.  It's rare that I am in an R1 + Cathode + Ferrosi (my system) outside of winter (too how for most spring, summer, and fall climbing).  On the other hand, I've definitely used that system when it's cold, mostly ice climbing and winter alpine snow/ice.

Also, my primary concern with a synthetic is lack of durability based on this thread: https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/111770709/synthetic-puffy-longevity, and I'd rather not have to replace something often. If anyone has information about the durability of Patagucci's FullRange insulation vs Coreloft vs Primaloft Gold vs Primaloft Silver, I'd be very curious. 

It is what it is.  Be nice to them, expect a couple season's use probably, and expect to replace them.

Jason4Too · · Bellingham, Washington · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 0

I'm also in the PNW and I've pretty well settled on a Mountain Equipment hooded shirt as my winter baselayer or a long sleeve thin synthetic shirt for my summer baselayer (I hate sunscreen), I'll layer an OR Uberlayer or a thin synthetic vest or both in either order, and a goretex 3-layer shell over the top of it all.  For winter trips into the alpine or overnight trips that I want to be extra warm hanging out without getting in my sleeping bag I'll pack one more thin synthetic vest that fits a little closer that I can layer under the Uberlayer and vest.  I don't typically find myself in a situation in the winter that requires a belay so I don't carry an extra heavy synthetic jacket for that but there are a few good choices.  For my legs I go back and forth between mid weight and heavy weight longjohns under 3-layer goretex shells but that's mostly a vanity thing, I've also been really happy in softshell pants for big-vert days I just don't like the tight look over ski boots.

Galen Herz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined 23 hours ago · Points: 0

Thank you all for the replies.

Nick Drake wrote:

It's hard to narrow down advice, I'm not sure exactly what you're looking to have your system do better. There's a really big difference between what I would wear in early May vs late August and a massive difference for winter. Also what I would bring on Rainier is different than any North Cascades climb.

What season are you climbing in? Are you asking for the standard glacier routes where you will be moving most all of the time or more technical routes that you might be belaying pitches on? Are you cold on the approach, at camp, or coming back down when the going is easier?

I'd be climbing in early May and later, less technical, mostly scrambles/boot packing. For the volcanoes, I'd be doing the standard glacier routes. I think my current set-up is pretty solid for most summer trips, and I'm really just looking to add warmth for the other seasons, mostly for being at camp, resting, etc. 

My biggest question at this point is whether I'd receive comparable warmth at rest from an Atom LT + my light Montbell down jacket compared to a belay parka. 

I'm leaning based on your reply and Kyle, to go with a belay jacket. I don't think I'd be doing any ice climbing/winter alpinism that warrants the Atom LT over R1 + Ferrosi. 

Also, any thoughts on BD Cold Forge Hoody? I'd prefer the weight/size savings to DAS/ BD Stance Belay Parka if it will keep me warm enough, and it is marketed by BD for sub-zero temps.  

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 478
Galen Herz wrote:

Thank you all for the replies.

I'd be climbing in early May and later, less technical, mostly scrambles/boot packing. For the volcanoes, I'd be doing the standard glacier routes. I think my current set-up is pretty solid for most summer trips, and I'm really just looking to add warmth for the other seasons, mostly for being at camp, resting, etc. 

My biggest question at this point is whether I'd receive comparable warmth at rest from an Atom LT + my light Montbell down jacket compared to a belay parka. 

I'm leaning based on your reply and Kyle, to go with a belay jacket. I don't think I'd be doing any ice climbing/winter alpinism that warrants the Atom LT over R1 + Ferrosi. 

Also, any thoughts on BD Cold Forge Hoody? I'd prefer the weight/size savings to DAS/ BD Stance Belay Parka if it will keep me warm enough, and it is marketed by BD for sub-zero temps.  

Yeah I think you're well covered with the R1 + softshell combo for those seasons and you'll have a more versatile system. If anything else I might add a thin synthetic puffy vest you could throw over the softshell if you need a little boost of warmth. 

From my own experience a thinner synthetic and down sweater don't match a warmer belay piece. A few years back (when I had more body fat and ran warmer) I had a 50gr monthbell synthetic jacket and stoic down pullover in the 7-9oz range on a late may jaunt up Eldorado. I was COLD at camp in the evening and ate dinner in my sleeping bag and cold again just booting up in the morning. 

I also happen to own a BD cold forge, it fits in a funny spot being 30% primaloft gold and 70% down. It's heavier for the warmth than a down jacket and doesn't keep loft when fully wet like synthetic (yes you will still cold when it gets damp, found out ice climbing). I use it when cragging in spring/fall when temps tend to be under 50, I don't bring it in the alpine. I think you would get the more warmth with less weight/pack size from a montbell alpine light down. If you want the wet resistance to loft loss and a bit less pack space the MB thermawrap guide is 120gr and a great price point.

AlpineIce · · Upstate, NY · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 255
Nick Drake wrote:

The "active insulation" garments are really meant to replace a fleece/softshell combo. I doubt you would ever wear an R1, softshell AND any of the "active" oriented puffies you listed if you run hot on the move. For reference I wore a thin merino, BD coefficient, patagonia nano light hybrid, and softshell ice climbing in the Canadian rockies at -10F in the shade and was just a tad cold. I took off the softshell over everything when hiking back out from the climbs later in the day. 

It's hard to narrow down advice, I'm not sure exactly what you're looking to have your system do better. There's a really big difference between what I would wear in early May vs late August and a massive difference for winter. Also what I would bring on Rainier is different than any North Cascades climb.

What season are you climbing in? Are you asking for the standard glacier routes where you will be moving most all of the time or more technical routes that you might be belaying pitches on? Are you cold on the approach, at camp, or coming back down when the going is easier?

+1 for "active" insulation.  I switched to a Nano-Air Light Hoody/Proton LT Hoody, temperature and weather depending, and ditched my R1+ softshell + 60g synthetic puffy combo last season.  I pack an Alpha FL for wind and precipitation protection.  Honestly though, the active insulation pieces dry so fast, I rarely need full-on Gore-Tex.  In super cold temperatures, I've even paired the Nano-Air Light Hoody and the Proton LT Hoody and never felt too hot.  Both pieces breath really well.  The key is allowing the active insulation to inhibit air permeability by not enclosing the system with a hardshell or softshell. 

This approach actually saves a little weight because I'm not packing a synthetic puffy along with wearing a softshell/R1 combo.  For the belay, I have a Rab Resolution Jacket, which is pretty heavy, but when static, I get cold quick and need the additional down fill weight for maximum warmth.

You're absolutely right though; what works for me, may not work for you - Everyone runs a little warmer or cooler than the next.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply