My Technical Clothes

Nick P. asked me on Facebook yesterday about gear and clothing. I started writing him such a long email that I stopped and created this post instead.

First, there was Goretex, the breathable and waterproof laminate material...and wind-proof to boot. And everyone jumped on it. But I think the breathability of Goretex is simply relative. Before that something was either waterproof and unbreathable, or breathable and wet. Goretex is better, but its not the do-everything material.

Next, there was Windstopper. Windstopper is a breathable but windproof material. Paired with fleece, it was perfect for a number of insulation pieces. Until the weather got wet - then you needed to put on Goretex again.

Now, there is a number of "soft shell" materials out in the market. One of the first was "Schoeller", and now any company not using Schoeller is offering product line using a similar fabric. This is not intended to be a do-it-all fabric. It breathes well, resists wind well, and repels light rain. It also can take advantage of the heat generated by the wearer's movement to keep the fabric dry. It has become the fabric of choice among endurance athletes, not to mention the climbers, skiers, and runners.

For climbing and skiing thoughout most of the west, Goretex is not necessary 90% of the time. I do have a pair of very simple Goretex pants for snowy days that I sit around, like when I'm belaying a partner ice climbing or riding a chair lift. Otherwise, it only gets packed if I think I'm going to be in those conditions. I also have one of the most light weight, waterproof, and unbreathable jackets on the market - if its really going to rain, than I really want waterproof, but I also want it to pack into the smallest possible space. Besides, this if for that other 10% of the time. In the Pacific Northwest, I'm more likely to wear or carry a full-featured Goretex jacket - though I don't own one right now! I really depend on reliable weather forecasts to decide what to take and what to pack, erring on a willingness to be uncomfortable rather than carry extra weight.

I also try to carry and wear "one layer" clothing systems, wear I only need to add a single layer at rest to keep warm. What this layer is depends on the season and what I plan on wearing while active.

I don't carry a lot of extras. I'll carry an extra pair of socks for every two days, i.e. one pair for the weekend (on my feet), a second pair for 3-4 days, a third pair for 5+ day trips. I only bring "storm" clothes if the wather forecast is iffy. I bring an extra-heavy knit cap and a extra insulation jacket for evenings in camp.

On my lists, I start with the heaviest/beefiest/most durable item down to the lightest. These clothes don't all go in the pack - instead I try to make an educated guess by watching the weather trends and forecast. It takes a little bit of trial and error, and I still don't get it right every time.

Getting it right - an active layer during a ski tour on Mt. Vinson. photo / mark allen


My hats come from a variety of brands, but can be broken down into heavy knit caps, light knit caps, and ball caps. I try to make sure that none are so tall that when I wear a helmet on top it pushes the brim down to my eyes. My ball caps are synthetic - I want something that dries out fast after soaked with sweat or rain. The most I'll pack is one of each.

Its a comfort thing, and takes up zero space and weight. I have a large collection of lightweight Buffs and various fleece neck gaiters. I prefer the fleece neck gaiters to be a little oversized so that the fabric doesn't press up against my mouth.

I'll carry up to three consecutive weights of gloves as well, but on day trips I'm more likely to only have two - on really nice sunny days only one. Since lightweight gloves wear out faster, I have one pair of nice "climbing gloves" for technical trips, and significantly cheaper leather gloves for less technical uses and skiing. I found a leather pair at Lake Tahoe that have an great fleece liner built into the glove.
Outdoor Research-Alti Gloves
Black Diamond-Patrol Gloves (double as hot-pot grips)
Ace Hardware Tahoe City-Leather Gloves with fleece liner new this winter
Home Depot-Leather Gloves with no liner.

Feathered Friends-Rock and Ice Parka
Patagonia-Puffball Jacket or Feathered Friends-Hyperion Jacket with Custom Hood new this winter
Mammut-Laser Jacket or Patagonia-Winter Guide Jacket new this winter
Patagonia-Guide Jacket new this winter
Patagonia-Figure Four Jacket out of production, the Traverse Jacket is probably the closest match

Patagonia-Dragonfly Jacket not produced in the winter, stay tuned for next summer
Montbell-U.L. Down Inner Jacket or Patagonia-Micro Puff Pullover
Patagonia-R1 Hoody
Various-button down, short sleeve shirts, such as the Patagonia-Short Sleeved Puckerware Shirts
Various-synthetic t-shirts

Mountain Equipment Co-op -Instigator Pants
Patagonia-Backcountry Guide Pants new this winter
Mammut-Champ Pants or Patagonia-Alpine Guide Pants
Patagonia-Simple Guides Pants not produced in the winter, stay tuned for next summer
Various-long underwear
Patagonia-Ultra Trail Shorts for summer approach hikes, not produced in the winter, stay tuned for next summer

I've tried a variety and I'm still looking. For skiing I wear a variety of thin ski socks, trusting my boot liners to keep my feet warm. This strategy worked even for multiple ski descents from the summit and nearby the Vinson Massif in Antarctica last winter. For ice climbing, winter alpine climbing, and mountaineering I'm wearing Patagonia-Ultra Heavey Weight Mountaineering Socks. For everything else I'm wearing Patagonia-Midweight Hiking Quarter Socks.

For resort and sidecountry skiing-Garmont Adrenaline
For backcountry skiing-Garmont Mega Ride
For telemark skiing-Scarpa T2X
For overnight mountaineering-Scarpa Alpha out of production, replaced by the Omega
For ice climbing and day trips-La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX
For summer alpine rock and ice-La Sportiva Trango S Evo GTX
For summer light alpine-La Sportiva B5
For rock climbing-Five Ten Ascents now the Vmile, Hueco now the Coyote Lace-ups, or Moccasym Slippers
For comfort-Chaco Flip Flops