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Down or Fleece: Which is the warmer mid-layer for standing around in the cold (READ: ski instructing)?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

After a weekend of teaching intermediate skiers in 5 degrees and wind, I have decided to buy that expensive mid-layer.  Down or fleece?  I'm worried that the down may compress under my heavy uniform hard shell (not in the picture) and lose some of its insulating properties.  A down jacket made of nylon might also trap moisture if I have to climb up the hill to help a fallen student!  What is your brand-specific recommendation?  And while we're at it, what's your favorite baselayer for this situation?  Patagonia Capilene, Merino, or Smartwool?

 

 

Thanks!

post #2 of 26

You're going to get a recommendation from every manufacturer out there.

 

My "go to system" when temps start hovering around 0 degrees (Fahrenheit) is a Patagonia Down Sweater layered over a 100-weight fleece over Patagonia Capilene 2.

 

The whole combination is pretty light.  Doesn't restrict mobility much.  I purposefully got a shell jacket that had plenty of room underneath for layering so I don't have to worry about compressing everything.

 

If it gets stupidly cold, I have a synthetic insulation piece from Arc'teryx (Atom LT, I think it's called?) that I'll put over a 200-weight fleece.

 

I prefer a couple lighter layers than one heavy layer, even if I know it won't be warming up enough to even consider taking anything off. 

post #3 of 26
Down.
post #4 of 26

You want a good wicking and non damp feeling base layer. I like a thin smartwool for that. Down will retain moisture and lose insulating properties when wet. It also take a long time to dry out without damaging the down. A fairly coarse fleece may be better if you will be sweating and then cooling repeatedly. It can also be dried out quickly, even during lunch break if needed.

post #5 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skisbootspoles View Post
 

  And while we're at it, what's your favorite baselayer for this situation?  Patagonia Capilene, Merino, or Smartwool?

 

 

 

Thanks!

 

 

Smart wool 'wool' is all merino. I've had good luck with both Pata Capilene and Smart Wool Merino base layers.

post #6 of 26

Arc'teryx atom LT is a freaking awesome midlayer, and makes a good outer layer for warm conditions. It's neither down nor fleece but a composite of synthetic fabrics. Super light, warm, and insulated.

post #7 of 26

Father Dyer Peak, correct?

 

Primaloft


Edited by hirustler - 12/9/13 at 7:11pm
post #8 of 26

Primaloft

post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikoras View Post
 

Arc'teryx atom LT is a freaking awesome midlayer, and makes a good outer layer for warm conditions. It's neither down nor fleece but a composite of synthetic fabrics. Super light, warm, and insulated.

+1.  Have had the Atom LT for several years.

 

Also might consider the Patagonia Micropuff or Nanopuff.  Micro is the warmer version.  Similar concept as the Atom.

post #10 of 26
+1 on the Patagonia nano puff. Used it over light capilene and smart wool with soft shell when cold, windy, sleet, etc and it has bee plenty warm, very pleased with wicking (compared to regular down), and suprisingly wind resistant when used along on mild days. Find myself using it a lot.

Mountain Hardwear ghost whispere is supposed to outstanding as well, but think whomever picked out the colors was on something. Not pretty.
post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by marznc View Post
 

+1.  Have had the Atom LT for several years.

 

Also might consider the Patagonia Micropuff or Nanopuff.  Micro is the warmer version.  Similar concept as the Atom.

 

I think these are proprietary names for primaloft.

 

I had the Patagonia Micropuff Hoodie and replaced it with an Arcterx version which I use now.

post #12 of 26
Might want to check out Outdoor Gear Lab they have really good reviews on both fleece and puffy jackets.
post #13 of 26
Thread Starter 
Hmm, this seems to be a very personal question! I wish we had clothing ratings similar to those for sleeping bags. Of course, I've been cold in bags that were rated for colder temps than those experienced, but it's nice to have the comparison.

Maybe I'll have to try both and post my results!
post #14 of 26
The two warmest layers I have found (and I field  test a lot of them) that add the least amount of weight and bulk are a Primaloft One (Specifically the Patagonia Nano Puff Pull over) and another Patagonia product the Micro D fleece.  Not always a big fan of Patagonia but these two under a shell are literally hard to beat with anything of similar weight and few if any for mobility.  Not every product Patagoinia uses..or any one for that matter uses Primaloft ONE.  Beaware of that when you see the Primaloft label.  You really do want the Primaloft ONE.
 

Down is generally good.  Very good in the right application.  But not always the best under a garment when compressed. or damp, just as you suspected.  A bad down garment won't live up to what a good down garment (high quality down fill and good materials) which is where the reputation for down comes from. By comparison down is harder to keep clean and to clean once dirty than synthetics.  Vests are good as well.  Two mid weights here are better than one really thick layer for what you/we are doing IMO.

 

That said if I was trying to pinch a penny...a good thick fleece is going to be hard to beat for price compared to warmth.  But just be sure you can move in it under your shell.

 

I have a lot of clothing to choose from.  I'll be using a 80g Primaloft One mid layer piece this winter myself for teaching on cold days, a  Rab Bastion or the 60g Patagucci Pull over.  The Bastion is a upgraded version ofthe Arcteryx Atom Lt....biggest change?  Primaloft One instead of Coreloft and 20g more on the fill, 80g instead of 60g.  Athletic cut on the Bstion is a bit better IMO as well. And a more wind resistant side panel on the Bastion.

 

Here are some good examples of both:

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2013/10/mountain-equipment-bastion-jacket-think.html

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2010/12/climbing-sweater.html

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/12/synthetic-insulation-60g-to-100g.html

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2011/02/arcteryx-atom-lt-hoodyjust-how-good-is.html

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/12/aphix-hoodythe-atom-lt-but-different.html

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2011/04/patagonia-nano-puff-pull-over.html

 

and finally the Micro D which everyone should own..its warmth is amazing for the weight

pick a decent base layer to go under it.  I use Costco's Merino wool base layer

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2013/04/patagonia-micro-d-14-zip-synchilla.html

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2013/10/patagonia-micro-d-14-zip-synchilla.html

 

Been between 15 and 20F here all week at the house and I have been wearing one non stop...indoors and out.  I'll wear one to the mtn in the morning.

 

 

Primaloft comes in several versions (Primaloft Eco and SPrimaloft port are common) .  The warmest BY FAR is Primaloft One.  Arcteryx uses a generic product branded as their own and renamed, Coreloft and  in some other garments a proprietary insulation called Thermatek.  None are Primaloft One however.  Primaloft is warmer by independant testing when comparing identical fill weights with anything else on the market out side of goose down.  I can back that testing up with my own experience as well.   The various insulations are not the same and simply don't protect at the same level.   Not that Coreloft is bad.  It isn't.  But Primaloft One is warmer per weight.


Edited by Dane - 12/10/13 at 2:56am
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikoras View Post

Arc'teryx atom LT is a freaking awesome midlayer, and makes a good outer layer for warm conditions. It's neither down nor fleece but a composite of synthetic fabrics. Super light, warm, and insulated.

http://coreloft.com/

And indeed, it's a great piece!
post #16 of 26
I think for most people, down is warmer, and combed and carefully treated merino must be a great base layer. However, I sweat moving around or standing still, when outside in the cold I sweat as soon as I enter a heated building or car and then freeze when I go back out. I'm just a damp person. So although I love down, the only down I own is a comforter, and as for wool, it's great, it doesn't stink, most people find a light merino baselayer to be dry and comfortable, but on me it's not just damp and cold, but they have yet to come up with wool that doesn't make me want to tear my skin off--except for my feet, which perversely don't feel good in anything else.

I was a starving outdoor professional when Patagonia was getting big with the people with money who visited my little wonderland, so I reflexively avoided Patagucci for decades, but having their outlet in town has really corrupted me. Patagonia capilene is the only synthetic underwear I've found that firmly resists odors. They have a light and dry feel on the skin , and there are always bins and bins of them right by the outlet's front door, so I'm now head-to-ankle with it (my feet being saved for wool) for cold weather activities. BTW, the nano puff is much thinner than the micro, but is at least as warm, which is a little freaky. The stuff is amazing. I can soak it with sweat or get drenched in a wet storm and I'll still be truly warm. It's the only synthetic clothing that actually lives up to its hype day after day. I also have a Patagonia Snowbelle shell, and when I broke down and bought an insulated jacket I looked far and wide but (yawn!) ended up with an insulated Snowbelle. I flirt with the down sweaters and jackets hanging by the checkout counter, but it's Primaloft One that I take home and do my best (and so far fail) to wear out. The outer fabric feels nice and may literally be bombproof, and with 60 grams of Primaloft One it's like having a heater with me. A small one, anyway. It took several years to get over the embarrassment of that little Patagonia patch--I even took the patch off of the first few outerwear pieces I bought--but I got over it.

Now I need to look for this micro-D fleece that Dane talks about. I've been ignoring base layers since I procured two of each possible weight of top and bottom, but although I did have my nano on before the heat got going this evening because my 20 year old cat was sleeping on my fleece jacket, I have yet to put on my cold weather under-layers unless I'm on my way out the door.
post #17 of 26

I run really cold while teaching this level. At 5 degrees ill will wear a patagonia or smartwool or icebreaker wool long unerwear, a fleece, a marmot down jacket, and my instructor shell. When out free skiing I will ditch the down if i am skiing tons of bumps or hiking.

post #18 of 26
Pure insulation value wise, nothing come close to good quality (800 fill power) down, even best synthetic insulation like primaloft one is only comparable to 550 power down, fleece isn't even on the same chart.
post #19 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by jzmtl View Post

Pure insulation value wise, nothing come close to good quality (800 fill power) down

 



Yup. But, once down is compressed it doesn't have much insulation value. I've been wearing basically the same thing for about 4 years and it has worked well for me, even when we have some really cold weather. I wear either a Patagonia R1 pullover or an Icebreaker merino turtleneck as a base layer, a Patagonia down sweater and either a Patagonia Powder Bowl shell or a Descente DNA shell. My hands and feet might get cold but my core never has. YMMV
post #20 of 26

Just a thought.  

As an instructor use good gear, but being too well insulated is going to take you farther from your students experience.  (I ran ski schools in Alaska for a number of years and preached this to my instructors)  If you are cold in a class how are your students?  Maybe keeping them moving more is a better answer?  Just a thought.

 

Have been using a fleece with "Omni-Heat" for a couple of years, and really like it.  It looks like little silver dots on the inside. Reflects heat in and still breathes.  Mine is a Columbia but have seen several companies using this stuff.  It gives you a very wide comfort range.

post #21 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger View Post
 

Just a thought.  

As an instructor use good gear, but being too well insulated is going to take you farther from your students experience.  (I ran ski schools in Alaska for a number of years and preached this to my instructors)  If you are cold in a class how are your students?  Maybe keeping them moving more is a better answer?  Just a thought.

 

Have been using a fleece with "Omni-Heat" for a couple of years, and really like it.  It looks like little silver dots on the inside. Reflects heat in and still breathes.  Mine is a Columbia but have seen several companies using this stuff.  It gives you a very wide comfort range.

 

I try to keep myself warm and comfortable so that I can focus on my students.  I definitely don't want to be cold just because they are.  There are pretty obvious cues that people will give out when they are cold or uncomfortable.  It's always a good thing to keep a lesson moving.  I have been trying for several years to get better at talking less and saying more.

post #22 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by jzmtl View Post

Pure insulation value wise, nothing come close to good quality (800 fill power) down, even best synthetic insulation like primaloft one is only comparable to 550 power down, fleece isn't even on the same chart.

True to a point.  The real difference outdoors is less dramatic.  An inch of down insulation isn't any more effective retaining heat than an inch of Primaloft One, everything else being equal the down garment will just be lighter.  In actual use the Primaloft garment will be more consistent for warmth and less effected by environmental/use such as  moisture, compression of the insulation or insulation shifting leaving a cold spot.  Down will just weight less.  It is the weight of the Down that makes it such a good insulation compared to other materials.   Down does have its place in the out doors, no question.   To be the most effective insulation 800 fill down is the obvious choice.  Most often it is not 800 fill down.   The reality of down is limited by a few factors that Primaloft or even a decent pile garment are not effected by.  Down will fail for several reasons, moisture..either from the outside (rain) or the inside (sweat), and  compression.  Down garments being compressed under a shell is a classic example of how a down garment can be limited insulation.

 

No clue where the OP is.  I'm in the PNW.   The climate you are in will effect what is a better choice as well.  Dry like Colorado or Alberta or wet like the PNW.  Dry is always going to be a better place for down.  I have several down jackets.  One in particular, a Eddie Bauer Microtherm BC, is really amazing for it's light weight compared to the level of warmth offered.  But I wouldn't layer over it.  One of down's greatest attributes is how well it breaths/passes moisture.  Stick down in as a mid layer buried under too many shells and you are likely to get the down (the actual insulation) wet/damp from body moisture alone. The resulting warmth of the garment will quickly go down hill.

 

If you are using a garment a lot, cleaning becomes an issue.  Some down garments you can throw in the washing machine and then machine dry.  Even the ones that can take that kind of abuse  it isn't the easiest task to get it cleaned and re fluffed.  Synthetics are simple much easier to care for  and more durable in my experience.

 

If one were to ask what is the warmest and lightest jacket, my answer would be down.   The warmest and most durable/reliable jacket, Primaloft One.   But there are so many other factors you need to consider.  Including how active or inactive you will be and the environment you'll be in.

 

When you start layering  it is a totally different game.  Best warmth for the weight layering.....no question it is a good 800+ fill down vest.  It allows  a good bit of body moisture to escape instead of being caught up in the insulation lowering the down's effectiveness.  In the right conditions  a down sweater might be the best choice for additional warmth.  I just  don't see it here.

 

Same reason so many like the Atom Lt.  The breathable mesh side panels help keep the insulation (and you) dry while offering a good layer of insulation.   But a better used pattern for a synthetic than a down garment if you want to layer with it, as a similar down garment will wet out quicker in the same application with the resulting loss of insulation/warm.

 

Bottom line? How do you choose down over a synthetic?  If you can keep it dry nothing better than a good  down (750+ down) for a warmth to weight ratio.  If you know you aren't going to be able to keep it dry, from the inside or outside, a synthetic is likely a better choice.

post #23 of 26

Down is generally the best warmth/weight ratio.  But it doesn't deal well with a lot of moisture, and if it's got a nylon-like coating it tends not to breathe as well.  Some of the synthetic alternatives are a little better in that regard.

 

I find fleece midlayers to be pretty effective.  But I also tend to get overheated while I'm skiing, so I usually don't need massive warmth.

 

When it's brutally cold I double up on base layers.  I do also have a down piece that I'll swap in as a midlayer (or wear in addition to a fleece), but I'm still sort of experimenting with that.

 

Like Mr. Junkie said, best thing for getting cold standing around is to not stand around so much!

post #24 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skisbootspoles View Post



Maybe I'll have to try both and post my results!

 

Don't forget a proper midlayer for legs and, if you're really in need of down midlayers,  it's also time to think about boot gloves

post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dane View Post

True to a point.  The real difference outdoors is less dramatic.  An inch of down insulation isn't any more effective retaining heat than an inch of Primaloft One, everything else being equal the down garment will just be lighter.  In actual use the Primaloft garment will be more consistent for warmth and less effected by environmental/use such as  moisture, compression of the insulation or insulation shifting leaving a cold spot.  Down will just weight less.  It is the weight of the Down that makes it such a good insulation compared to other materials.   Down does have its place in the out doors, no question.   To be the most effective insulation 800 fill down is the obvious choice.  Most often it is not 800 fill down.   The reality of down is limited by a few factors that Primaloft or even a decent pile garment are not effected by.  Down will fail for several reasons, moisture..either from the outside (rain) or the inside (sweat), and  compression.  Down garments being compressed under a shell is a classic example of how a down garment can be limited insulation.



For measuring insulation it's usually given weight per area, and the same weight down is more puffy than primaloft that's for sure. The fill power is basically a measurement of how puffy it is.

Many brands now make DWR treated down so moisture is less of an issue. And don't wash with detergent, mild soap only, or the stuff designed for washing down.
post #26 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by jzmtl View Post


For measuring insulation it's usually given weight per area, and the same weight down is more puffy than primaloft that's for sure.

 

Correct again to a point.  Sythetics are measure by  g/m2 and Down by cm³/g

 

"Depending on the intended application, the highest available fill power may not be necessary. A high fill power will provide more insulating ability for a given weight of down. The warmth of a down comforter depends not only on the fill power, but also on the quantity of fill. So the difference between a comforter with 550 fill power down and a comforter with 700 fill power down is that the 700 fill power down comforter will be lighter for the same warmth rating. High fill powers are most important for weight sensitive applications such as backpacking. Down (or any insulation) provides warmth by trapping a layer of air that separates the cold side from the warm side. A thicker layer of trapped air gives more insulation. This thickness is often called "loft." A comforter that uses 550 fill power down, for example, would have to use approximately 40%-50% greater weight of down than a similar item that uses 800 fill power down to provide the same loft."

 

Down isn't really any warmer in the grand scale just a lot lighter for comparable warmth than most insulation choices.   Primaloft One being the exception.  There is a reason that Prima loft One holds several patents as a "synthetic down".

 

But the real numbers are...it takes twice the weight of Primaloft One to duplicate  the same insulation as 800 fill down.     Warmth is the same, only the weight of the garment is different.

 

Quote:

Many brands now make DWR treated down so moisture is less of an issue

 

In actual use short term yes.  But in the most recent tests of the new hydrophobic down treatments, none are as durable (down) or long lasting (loft or moisture resistant) as simply high quality 800+ fill Down.  800+ down is limited in production and costly.  Sadly the Industry hype doesn't live up to the facts yet.

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