Hi Andy, I was reading an old article in High where you suggested an optimum outfit for alpine winter was shelled microfleece (e.g. vapour-rise), shelled pile (e.g. buffalo) and a duvet on top (DAS or similar).
At the time, the likes of the DAS Parka, Montane Bivvy, Lowe Alpine Heatseeker, etc. all had had 250-300g of their own-brand insulation.
The latest version of the DAS though has 170g Primaloft insulation. (Similiar to a Haglofs Barrier Zone Hoody jacket I have with 170g insulation).
Ignoring the hype, is Primaloft that good that it is just as warm with half the insulation? Or do we all not feel the cold as much?!
170g doesn't seem to be very thick to be suitable as your stand-alone piece of insulation. So thought I'd ask how you find the latest jackets, with your experience.
It’s true that the original synthetic belay jackets - like the Patagonia DAS parka - had a much heavier weight of insulation, and most modern designs feature a lighter weight, but I think in all but the most extreme of conditions this weight may be more appropriate, offering a better balance between weight, bulk and warmth. Worn over a standard layering system - especially the softshell system I described - these lighter parkers will still do their job of keeping you warm when static in normal climbing scenarios (belaying, abseling, biving).
The heavier weight parkers worked better in more extreme situations, such as super cold (Alaskan winter or high altitude mountaineering), or for super extended belaying. I’ve used the old school DAS parker in the Ruth Gorge in Winter (temps reaching -50), and super long belays in frigid spots, while people like Steve House used his all the way to the top of Nanga Parbat.
So what if you want a system that will do both duties, but will still offer the same degree of warmths and protection?
If you have a specific need (big walling in Baffin for example), I’d recommend getting a bespoke belay jacket from someone like PHD, who could take their existing Zeta jacket and double up the insulation.
A more flexible option would be to have a layered approach to your booster layer, perhaps layering up a hooded midweight synthetic hooded jacket with a micro loft down jacket (or gilet), perhaps even modifying both so they can be linked (velcro, poppers or toggles). With this you’d wear your basic outer belay jacket for rough and dirty action (wet snow, belaying etc), and save the down layer (stowed in a small drybag) for bivying, super long belays or extreme cold action.
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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.Follow @ Instagram