Warmest Fabric/Insulator?

kojackJKU

Autism Family Travellers!
I work as a journalist and cover rallies in Canada. the season opener is north of Ottawa, and often is -30c in the daytime, plus windchill.

I wear a wicking baselayer (Merino), a sweater (Merino), a down sweater (thinner, meant for layering 500 fill down), goretex shell. I stay dry, warm, comfortable, even at night, when it gets colder. I don't know that there's a right single later for when it's really cold. There's too big a risk of moisture not to layer.
Im with you. There is NO one type of clothing that does everything, wool is great, but it needs a wind/waterproof shell to be effective. Down is great, but again you need some type of wind/waterproofing. Now wool would be fine for winters in the southern states where lots of people post from here. But in Northern climates, and especially in Newfoundlands super damp cold climate theres no way in hell im going outside in winter with just wool on. Windchill will kick your *** in seconds. Plus the damp will finish you off as well. I have a Canada goose jacket, its probably the best jacket for warm, dry and comfort in the cold, but it's huge. So for doing my daily runs I have a Columbia down parka with Omni Heat, It is probably 80 percent as warm as my Canada goose, waterproof, and lightweight. For pants I have a pair of Columbia Omni tech, Omni heat pants that I wear a lot, dry, warm and very comfortable stretch materials.

Jeans are the worst pick for winter cold weather. Go with even a waterproof shell with a warm base layer.
 

MDM54

Observer
Primaloft.
When it was first introduced to the consumer market, focus groups perceived it to be not warm because it was so thin. So rather than attempt to change that thin perception, it was reintroduced in a bulked up form.
Really like it in socks, don't get that clammy feeling.
Originally developed for the military, it is actually very fine denier polyester. The finer the denier, the more surface area for air molecules to adhere to equals greater insulative value. The same large surface area attributes can be attributed to down and wool. Although they each have other and different performance characteristics than Primaloft.
 

workerdrone

Fulltimer
It always amazes me when people don't know HOW to layer too - I've seen folks who I thought were otherwise pretty smart think that they'd be better off having windproofing closer to the body and the insulation outside of it ?

Give me thin wicking layers near my skin, no drafts at the waist, a poly 'neck tube', thick synthetic socks, a hat first of all if I want to be warm.

Then some fleece with a down vest or sweater on top of that if it's brutal cold.

Then a goretex shell or even a rain coat to top it all off, something that blocks the wind. If it's non-breathable it's not a major problem IMO, just need to keep the activity level down and use venting to make sure I stay dry.

I'm fond of those thin fleece pajama pants - wear them inside a pair of jeans for abrasion resistant and normal looking warmth, or inside wind / goretex pants.

Thin syn sock liners make my feet extra happy.

A lot of the fleece and synthetic stuff at Walmart does the trick perfectly well - you don't need to buy $400 down parkas to be toasty.

LOVE the $40 insulated snowsuit there ^ to just pull on over whatever and do some quick dirty winter work.
 

kojackJKU

Autism Family Travellers!
Nope, you don't have to spend 400 on a parka to stay warm, mine cost me 87 tax in. That's a Columbia down jacket, with Omni heat. Awesome warm. Today since its only -2 deg celcius and rain, I am using my Columbia Omni tech convertible jacket with fleece liner, my Columbia light weight polartec half zip shirt, Columbia Omni tech/heat outdoor pants and Columbia bugabootoo boots with Omni heat. This stuff is the best and not at all expensive. I love walking out in this crappy weather and being dry and warm.
 

libarata

Expedition Leader
I stay quite dry and warm in my wool coat, and Wickers base layers, wool sock, and leather boots.
 
Wool there is nothing that compairs. Don't get me wrong I love fleece and pirmaloft, thinsalate but if only could choose one it would be wool for it's warth dry or wet and it's wind breaking ability. Yes it can get heavy. But it always works.
 

kojackJKU

Autism Family Travellers!
Yep, I bet you do in Virginia. Come visit here today, stay out in it for awhile, and come tell me how dry you are. Its been pissing down rain and -2 deg celcius all day. No wool jacket is keeping you warm and dry in that. Not without a waterproof layer somewhere. I am after using 1/2 a 40 lb bag of ice melter on my steps all ready today. The ice is a few cms thick on the rest of my rigs. Lovely weather.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
I'm a huge fan of wool as a compliment to high-tech modern fills and materials, but it does have limitations. During my month in Iceland this year I finally broke down and bought a beautiful handmade wool sweater. I loved it. It was perfect.
 

Kiwi-Yank

Adventurer
there are obviously different opinions on this.

having spent many years as a mountain climber - in other words freezing my *ss off on far too many peaks. and then subsequently wandering around various continents .... I will go with good quality fleece.

None of these fabric should get wet. You need a good outer shell that is waterproof and breaks the wind.
for shells, I use good gear made by Marmot. not cheap, but gets the job done. NOT goretex. I never had any luck with goretex - maybe OK for mild showers, but not if you are getting pelted by rain.

keep your fleece dry.
use a good shell.
if you think you are going to get well and truly plastered with bad weather
keep a second DRY fleece jacket in your backpack, double wrapped in strong plastic trash bags.
the key to good insulation is keeping it dry. do that and you are in good shape.

good luck.
and have fun out there!!

Kiwi-Yank
 

kojackJKU

Autism Family Travellers!
there are obviously different opinions on this.

having spent many years as a mountain climber - in other words freezing my *ss off on far too many peaks. and then subsequently wandering around various continents .... I will go with good quality fleece.

None of these fabric should get wet. You need a good outer shell that is waterproof and breaks the wind.
for shells, I use good gear made by Marmot. not cheap, but gets the job done. NOT goretex. I never had any luck with goretex - maybe OK for mild showers, but not if you are getting pelted by rain.

keep your fleece dry.
use a good shell.
if you think you are going to get well and truly plastered with bad weather
keep a second DRY fleece jacket in your backpack, double wrapped in strong plastic trash bags.
the key to good insulation is keeping it dry. do that and you are in good shape.

good luck.
and have fun out there!!

Kiwi-Yank
We get pelted here with rain ALOT. We are the wettest place in north America, more on the east coast of the island, but we get more rain annually than any other place in north America. Gore tex never failed me once. Nor has any of its imitators like the Omni Tech from Columbia. I also have a ground brand jacket my wife got for me for 1 cent. That thing is perfectly dry.

Fleece is great, and works in most conditions. But I find after awhile it compacts if you are wearing it for a long time. I find down compacts but give it a few shakes and it fluffs right up. fleece you have to wash it and dry it in order for it to "fluff" back up for warmth.

I know that I would not even attempt mountaineering with a Canada goose jacket however. you would be dead in no time from exhaustion. ha ha...they weigh a ton.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
I too have never had GoreTex fail me, but I'm also diligent with my maintenance of the outer DWR coating. Living in a part of Alaska that got nearly 10 feet of rain per year, I learned that GTX just needs lots of love to perform optimally. On my recent bikepacking trip in Iceland, I was exposed to rather heavy rain for four days straight with intermittent rain for the remaining 8 days with nowhere to hide but my tent in the brief evenings. I stayed bone dry and warm with my merino wool mid-layer. I have since stopped using any fleece. I just prefer the warmth to weight of wool as well as it's ability to stave off the funk that plagues many synthetics. It's also more playable and moves with me better than fleece which often has limited stretch.

As for down, it's often a retreat layer I used when in camp when my heavy activity has halted for the day.
 

libarata

Expedition Leader
Yep, I bet you do in Virginia. Come visit here today, stay out in it for awhile, and come tell me how dry you are. Its been pissing down rain and -2 deg celcius all day. No wool jacket is keeping you warm and dry in that. Not without a waterproof layer somewhere. I am after using 1/2 a 40 lb bag of ice melter on my steps all ready today. The ice is a few cms thick on the rest of my rigs. Lovely weather.
I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, at down to -40* temperatures, and plenty of wet, sloppy stuff to compliment a full range of winter weather. Never once, have I wished for different coat material. The wonder of wool, is that you remain warm, even when wet. As for the wind? Quality wool, don't skimp on cheap imported wool that is probably cut with polyester or cotton. It will weigh more, but wont come near to melting when by a fire as you dry it. I have completely immersed my feet in water at -20F, filling my boots with water. If I had anything but wool, I would have been in trouble. Yay wool! I wore GoreTex in the Navy, and its very stuffy. I could never vent enough of the moisture, and my cotton uniform became soaked anyways from sweat. I will wear it when sedentary, but would LOVE a goretex poncho and gaters.
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Sidenote- If I get wet, I get wet, it never bothers me. I wear materials that maintain its thermal properties even after a good dousing. Fleece requires your body to heat the moisture out of it and loses the majority of its thermal properties, cotton kills. I have never been able to afford down, so I go off of other folks words. Wool has yet to kill me, it maintains 80% of its thermal properties when wet. I am working on making a waxed poncho.
In the summer, I wear thin wool, and carry a poncho. I wear the same wool socks as winter.
 
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Daz

New member
This is a real horses-for-courses kind of discussion (and an informative one, at that)!

There are lots of options out there, so it really comes down to what you're up to and what sort of weather you expect to encounter. To wit: Will it be cold and wet or cold and dry, or a bit of each? Is durability and longevity a requirement? Is breathability important? Should the jacket be lightweight and/or packable? Is price an issue?

I worked in the ski industry in western Canada for over 20 years primarily as an avalanche technician. I worked in two distinctly different mountain climates; I spent a long time in the Purcells in southeastern BC (read: cold and mostly dry), and a couple years on the North Shore mountains right on the west coast of BC (mild and extremely wet). This gave me a real opportunity to learn what does and doesn't work. My 2¢...

For sheer warmth in cold and dry conditions, nothing beats down. It's light and very compressible which means you can squish it down to next to nothing in your pack. The down itself is durable, and will retain its loft for years if you take care of it. However, many lightweight down jackets aren't terribly tough, and it doesn't take much to tear their shells and set loose a flurry of feathers. The other big obvious downside - as everyone else pointed out - is that it is pretty much useless when wet. I haven't tried out the new water repellent down but it sounds awesome. Best use: Staying warm in cold, dry weather when you're sitting around or otherwise not too physically active.

For warmth in cold to cool conditions when it might be wet and/or you're active and sweaty, then a synthetic insulator like Primaloft is great. It's a little heavier and not as compressible as a similarly warm down garment, and apparently the Primaloft will break down over time, but it stays warmer when wet, dries quicker, and is usually cheaper than down. I have a much loved, much worn and in-need-of-replacement North Face Summit Series (the older version of the Redpoint Optimus) and it's probably the jacket I wear most. It's wears well on its own, fits over light layers, and under shells equally well. Google "belay jackets" and you'll find a whole heap of options from lightweight jackets to full-on parkas.

As for wool, I love all my merino base layers but I've never really used wool as a heavier insulating layer. My Mrs has an Icebreaker wool midlayer jacket and she loves it - it's replaced her Primaloft jacket.

Fleece and softshell - awesome stuff if you need breathability and wind protection along with some water resistance. One of my daily tasks as a patroller and avi tech on Grouse Mountain (on Vancouver's North Shore mountains) was patrolling about 4 miles of backcountry snowshoe trails with a total elevation gain/loss of around 1500 feet. The weather ranged from mild and misty, to cool and snowy, to mild and torrential rain, to occasional blazing sun - sometimes all in one day. I was really impressed at how functional and dry a good hard fleece/softshell jacket and pants can be even in wind driven rain when you're out there exerting yourself. I often found myself leaving the Gore-Tex shell in my pack, and the Gore-Tex pants back in my locker. Keeping the DWR treatment fresh helped a lot.

... Which segues nicely in to waterproof/breathable shells. They're a must-have for any outdoorsy pursuit, but they're not a magic bullet. Sure, they're waterproof, but if you're out for hours doing really active stuff in wind driven rain you'll start to get damp either because you're perspiring more than the jacket can vent, or water eventually finds its way in somewhere.
They work best if you keep them clean, maintain the DWR coating, and only put 'em on when the wether gets windy and/or wet. Also, use your pit zips accordingly (makes a big difference!). The nice part about a decent waterproof/breathable shell is it's pretty light, durable, and packs down nice and small.

Cliff's notes: If I were headed out on a several-month all-weather expedition and had limited space, I'd pack a waterproof/breathable shell and some sort of Primaloft jacket. And always with a hood!
 
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