Wool, goose down & high-tech synthetics. By Kirsten Varsek
Shopping for winter sport clothing can be daunting: so many styles have few discernible differences. We suggest attacking the maze of snow suits with the rallying motto: “I just want to stay warm!”
Leading outdoor clothing companies like The North Face, Patagonia and Helly Hansen organize their winter products into three-layer systems. Tim Johnson of Patagonia Banff explains that you need “a base layer to remove moisture, a breathable mid-layer to trap body heat and an outer layer to protect against the elements.” When comparing fabrics and insulators, Tim suggests, “Look for the most warmth for the least weight.”
<b>Base Layer:</b> Some outdoor enthusiasts begin layering with their favourite t-shirt. But moisture-absorbing cotton is more likely to be hypothermia-inducing than, well, insulating. Instead, choose spun synthetic underwear that wicks moisture from the body such as Helly Hansen’s HH Dry made from Lifa polypropylene. “This hollow, lightweight fibre mimics polar bear fur and effectively traps body heat,” explains Banff Helly Hansen’s John Walters. Non-itchy merino wool base layers are also top performers.
<b>Mid-Layer:</b> Wool is an effective natural insulator that has remained popular during the era of synthetic innovation. But successors of the first synthetic pile developed in 1961, such as The North Face’s TKA fleece, are today’s prevalent mid-layers. In the Rockies, fleece is ubiquitous as both sport and day wear.
<b>Outer Layer:</b> American aviators wore goose down filled jackets during WWII; this insulator is still cherished for its incomparable light weight and warmth. “Down is also very compressible,” says Tim. “It’s really good for cold, dry climates like the Rockies.” The ‘fill power’ of goose down indicates warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility; Patagonia’s limited edition Encapsil Down Belay Parka boasts an unprecedented 1000-fill.
But Anne Elkins at Chateau Mountain Sports notes that “synthetic insulators perform well and cost less than natural products.” And unlike down, they insulate when wet. The North Face’s lightweight ThermoBall jackets employ ‘frayed’ PrimaLoft clusters that imitate down’s ability to trap warm air and offer the same warmth as 600-fill.
A quality base layer, mid-layer and insulated outer layer will keep you “warm and happy on the slopes,” says Anne. Peruse our sport stores to discover top technologies to keep you toasty.