by Andrew Murdoch
I go for briefs and a short-sleeved 150-weight merino T.
Why? Wool resists odour far more than the polyester or polypropylene alternatives (manufacturers’ promises of durable anti-bacterial treatments on synthetics are lies IMO).
150-weight merino wicks moisture (the role of a base layer) and dries quickly. Heavier 200-weight merino takes much longer to dry.
Modern polyesters are superior at wicking moisture (don’t absorb moisture, unlike wool which absorbs 30% of its weight) so if odour isn’t an issue for you, or if your trip is short, go synthetic by all means.
In Summer, nylon shorts and wind shirt. In my case, Cordura nylon cargos with pockets for map, phone/GPS, snacks and Marmot Driclime vest or jacket.
Why? Nylon is durable and quick-drying. Marmot Driclime garments are windproof, great at wicking moisture, lightweight and lightly insulating. Breathability and wind protection can be hard to find in the same garment. Breathability is key.
In Winter, above the snowline, Marmot Scree softshell pants and Outdoor Research Ferosi softshell jacket.
Why? Both of these garments are as light and breathable as softshells get, consisting mostly of nylon with a small amount of elastane. They offer more warmth and toughness than the Summer combination with the joint benefits of breathability and wind protection. Again, breathability is key.
In general, though, softshells are of very limited use in the NZ outdoors, certainly for longer trips.
Most softshells have additional insulation to the above models which makes them not very (or not at all) breathable.
Manufacturers’ promises of Durable Water Repellency are lies IMO, the face fabrics always wet out under heavy rain.
The softshell concept is designed for cold dry climates, we have a wet one.
INSULATION LAYER 1 (ACTIVE)
A long-sleeve light weight thermal synthetic top (often used) and three quarter length bottoms (so they can be pulled over boots, seldom used).
Why? Generally sufficient warmth whilst on the move with a pack on your back, lightweight, breathable. Stops the cold clammy feeling of a wet hard shell on bare skin if it’s raining.
INSULATION LAYER 2 (ACTIVE)
A light weight breathable polyester fleece (eg 100 weight polartec, grid fleece, polartec alpha), breathable and quick drying. Optional layer but I generally carry it.
INSULATION LAYER 3
Also optional, depending on time of year etc, but generally carried. Synthetic puffer jacket, in my case Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody.
Why? Warmth when stationary:
• as a layer for cool evenings around camp
• as part of a sleep system allowing a lighter sleeping bag to be carried
• as a Sh#t Hits the Fan layer when someone in the group breaks an ankle on the tops in a gale...
Personally I prefer synthetic over down because it still offers some insulation when damp/wet and can be used as active insulation if things are really bleak.
Down fails when wet (manufacturers’ promises about modern ‘dry’ treatments to down making it impervious to moisture are lies IMO), and if worn under a shell for any length of time it will get damp through condensation.
If buying synthetic, look out for garments containing modern Continuous Filament Insulation (eg PlumaFill, Coreloft Continuous, Climashield Apex) which have better durability and performance when wet than traditional Short Staple Insulation (eg Primaloft Gold).
HARD SHELL LAYER
Light weight OR Foray gortex pack-light jacket, Marmot Precip full lenth zip overtrousers (they go on without having to take your boots off).
Why? Outdoor Research jackets often have ‘torsoflo’ side zips which can effectively turn a jacket into a poncho. This means much better venting than pit zips, and it is venting rather than a jacket’s ‘breathability’ which determines condensation levels and therefore comfort.
Manufacturers’ claims about the long-term breathability of their traditional hard shell garments are lies IMO. The breathable laminates clog up with dirt and body oils fairly quickly after first use and while it is worthwhile cleaning your jacket with specialist non-detergent cleaners, those pores never come up like new.
Likewise the ‘durable’ water repellence of a jacket’s face fabric wears off pretty quickly and while it’s worth retreating with something like Nikwax, it will still wet out which destroys breathability.