Belay Jacket Question

15 November 2014

Belay Jacket Question

Category: Q&A

Hi Andy, Having read your articals I'm looking for a belay jacket, initially for Scottish winter stuff and am having difficulty making up what weight of fill to go for. The choice looks to be between primaloft 100gsm (e.g. ME Fitzroy) or 200gsm (e.g. ME Citadel). The overall weight difference isn't that much so is there any good reason to go for the less well insolated jacket or would it just be overkill? I tend to run fairly warm but then again hate being cold. Any advice much appreciated,



The relative importance of weight, bulk, robustness, warmth and cost of a belay jacket probably comes down to when these features seem the most important. 

In the shop or when buying online, cost will be a big factor as warmth and weight will be abstract ideas to you as you start typing in your paypal password or parting with the cash.  In a warm shop, dressed in t-shirt it’s easy to be swayed by that extra £50, or sidetracked by some gucci fabric and material, or even a tiny stuff size, but remember, primarily a belay jacket’s chief role is to boost your ‘survivability!’. 

When you’re in the car park heading up into the morning gloom of a frosty Glencoe price will not be important anymore, but bulk, as you try and stuff the jacket away into a pack just a tad too small. Walking up to the Hornli ridge in January you my well be cursing that extra 500grams you bought in that heavyweight jacket as your unacclimatised body fights to push the blood around.  How warm is too warm will not be a factor when you find yourself stuck on the summit of the Verte waiting for dawn in order to find your way down, as even the warmest coat will cool when static for long enough, with some puny supposed belay jackets being belay in name only, and really no better than a thin fleece.  As for robustness, when that storm hits you far from safety you’ll find the warmth - sometimes sweaty - of keeping that jacket on just helps you nerves enough to stay safe, this is when you find that gossamer shell rips to shreds as you move over the rock.  So how important is each aspect?  To come up with an answer you need to ask yourself as few honest questions:

1.How fit are you?
2.How slow do you climb?
3.Do you get cold easily?
4.What kinds of routes will you be using this for?
5.What’s your budget?
6.Do you understand what a belay jacket is for?
7.How strong as you mentally?

For decades people carried no real spare clothing, they just took clothes off, then put more clothes back on.  If it was really cold you may carry a down jacket, but often this would be saved until things were either desperate, or you were out of danger (like walking to the pub, or sitting in the cafe so you looked like a gnarly alpinist).  I won’t go into what a belay jacker should be (read my thoughts here) but just to recap:

The jacket should be light, with an overall weight of between 600 to 700 grams total weight.
This weight of jacket, when added over your ‘action layer’ will keep you warm when static at alpine winter temperatures for an average winter pitch. On winter walls a jacket double the weight is needed, along with puff pants, down mitts etc.
The jacker should feature a hood that will fit over a helmet.
It should not be an insulated shell, as a shell adds unnecessary weight, and this weight should be formed from insulation.
Bulk wise it should be small enough to fit in a stuff sack attached to your harness.
Fabric wise this needs to be water resistant (snow proof), but more importantly tough enough to deal with rough use.
Like most kit I like this has to conform to the AK47 idea, in that you can chuck it in the mud, rain, snow, stamp on it, abuse it, and it will still work (unlike a down jacket).

Working for Montane I can’t really comment on other brands, but ME, Rab, PHD etc all make good belay jackets, and as for Montane, I think their Ice Guide jacket is pretty much perfect (but then I would say that!).  Whatever jacket you buy make sure you wear all your normal kit when trying it on, as it needs to fit over all your layers.

Note: If you'd like to ask a question - no matter how dumb - then email me and I'll try and help.


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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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