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post #1 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 12:05 PM Thread Starter
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Insulation in outer layer versus mid layer

I am looking at a couple online sales and I'm not sure the best way to go here. I currently own a crappy Burton Poacher jacket that I bought at The-House because reviewers said it was warm. Well its not warm to me. And I dislike being cold.

I need to figure out how to keep myself warm during the coldest days riding.

So whats the best most versatile way to work outwear? Is it better to buy a waterproof insulation free shell and then dump real money into a high end mid layer for really cold days? Or should I spend the money on a real nice insulated jacket? I can still wear the Burton Poacher on warm days or on the west coast obviously.It has no trade in or sale value so it'll stay in my closet

The Poacher is supposedly 40g insulation, but it feels paper thin. Whats a good insulation level if I wanted to go the insulated outer layer route? Like 80g, 100g, something like that?

Or conversely - what do you look for in a good mid layer? I know the North Face Denali is the most "classic" mid layer. But I want to make sure I'm paying for specs and features - not brand.

Is there a primer on this somewhere - or even conventional wisdom? Anything the hive mind can share would be great!

Last edited by EastCoastChris; 11-04-2013 at 12:32 PM.
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post #2 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 12:16 PM
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I always buy uninsulated shells. They're just more versatile. You can layer up underneath for cold days or wear them over a light base layer on warmer days. If you buy a thick, heavy insulated jacket or pants, then you're pretty much stuck just using them on really cold days.

In terms of insulating layers, IMO fleece is fleece. It's all synthetic and relatively quick drying. I buy cheap. I have a couple of pairs of Old Navy fleece pants and fleece shirts that I get a lot of use out of that I paid about $10 a pop for. Don't spend you money on mid-layers is my advice. Buy good shells and good base layers. As long as your mid-layers are insulating and relatively quick drying, that's all you care about.

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post #3 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 12:23 PM
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For me it's all about layering and the focus of the shell is only to keep you dry and block wind which is also perfect for warmer days or spring riding... For warmth it's all about your base and mid layers which you can add or remove as needed... I personally love cocona tech for its breathability and currently run with a base layer and 2 different mid layers a cocona hoodie and an insulated mid for those frigid days and if its overly frigid can even wear both mid layers under my shell.... So in other words layering is the way to go for versatility but make sure the shell is at least 15k waterproof or better because a wet mid layer isn't going to do you any good...
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post #4 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 12:29 PM
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There are differing schools of thought on this and it actually gets pretty damn technical depending on who you're talking to, what they're doing outside and where the are doing it. Some people like soft shells after a base and mid layer, others like a puffy insulated jacket to throw over that and despise outer hard shells.

Others like the base/mid (fleece or wool)/waterproof shell. I like this system because I like hard shells even though they don't breathe for shit (and yes this even goes for eVent and Gore-tex). But that is because I don't want to buy a bunch of jackets for each outdoor thing that I do. So a hard shell works good for me all around if I do run into inclement weather hiking or fishing or snowboarding. However, if I just bought the jacket for snowboarding, I'd probably go with something more breathable like a thick soft shell for my outer layer.

I've never been a fan of insulated jackets because they simply lack versatility for me. I have a 40g jacket that I rarely wear because I over heat very easily in it. Actually, I just wear a poly/cotton blend hoodie over a base layer (and sometimes a super thin fleece) for about 75 percent of my riding just because I like the breatheability of it.

Aside from all that rambling, just Google layering system and you'll find a bunch of stuff on it. FWIW, my wife gets cold skiing VERY easily, and has had good success with both a big puffy insulated jacket and her 3-in-1 Columbia. Over a base and mid-layer, of course. Edit: I don't mean she wears both the puffy and the Columbia, but either/or.

There are people here who know much, much more about this than I do. Just keep in mind that nobody has an end-all be-all answer on this because of all the variables involved. A lot of it is trial and error.

Last edited by trapper; 11-04-2013 at 12:31 PM.
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post #5 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 12:30 PM
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For me the best approach to be really warm is:

Goretex shell
Mid to Heavy weight icebreaker merino in one or two layers in middle
Light merino icebreaker base layer (optionally substitute base layer of tech fibre such as Patagonia capilene or burton or volcom equiv base layer)

Also optionally reduce the merino mid layers and use a down puffy vest instead.

I like to go merino all the way but contrary to what they claim it gets stinky even with washing so I use a cheaper base layer in a tech fibre and that gets replaced more often.

I find that several layers of merino under a goretex shell will keep me warm even when it's damn cold, if it gets colder than that it's not much fun anyways.
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post #6 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 12:35 PM
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start with base layers. The first layer should be fairly form fitting, so that it gets the sweat off of your skin, and into the subsequent layers, so that eventually with a good jacket, the sweat can pass through, keeping you warmer.

I personally like Hot Chilly's.

From there, the intermediate layers depends on the weather conditions.
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post #7 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 01:13 PM Thread Starter
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Cool cool cool. I was leaning towards nice shell plus decent mid layer honestly - for the the same versatility reasons people are mentioning.

I know a lot of manufacturers claim to have waterproof fabrics that retain breatheability (like GoreTex) but in your collective experience, does this claim really hold up? Breathability would be awesome, but I don't want to sacrifice dryness or warmth to get it. I tend to run hot doing anything - biking, running, snowboarding. But I tend to feel really cold when not moving (like on the lift.) So if I'm going the hard shell route, I def want to "shell" out (lol) for something that stands up to its claims. But I've never tested any of the standard snowboarding gear fabrics. Evo has a decent primer I've read through here Waterproof Ratings and Breathability Guide | evo

But anyone have thumbs up for any of the proprietary stuff in addition to the vote for GoreTex. I know GoreTex is nice and flexible though which I like. As a female I have boobs I have to pack away to ride. But I don't really have big hips so I usually buy men's jackets as the straightness of them seems to fit loose without being baggy. But stiff shell fabrics totally get hung up on even packed away boobs.

I have a boating jacket made by Atlantis that I wear as rain gear for normal outdoor stuff like camping and fishing - and one day last year when it was really raining at the base lodge and snowing at the summit, I wore it over wool/wool/fleece and it really did the trick. But it wasn't too cold that day obviously. But damn it was nice to be that dry (at least on top) on such a brutal day.

The mid layers I can totally play with a bit because its cheaper to do so. I like the merino wool base layers a ton. But I will try both wool and fleece as the layer under the shell and go from there. The down mid layer is an interesting suggestion too, wouldn't have thought of that. But I will look into it, see what's out there. Maybe I can get something on dogfunk/REI/backcountry and return it if it doesn't work out.

Last edited by EastCoastChris; 11-04-2013 at 01:15 PM.
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post #8 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 01:21 PM
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I can't speak from experience on eVent, but from what I've read and researched it is supposed to have better breathability than Gore-tex. Same is true, I think, for Mountain Hardwear's Dry.Q Elite fabric. But I think the difference for the average user is probably negligible. No experience with those fabrics so I can't say for sure.

Again, I love hard shells with a waterproof membrane (and I usually go after Gore-tex too, probably because they are great marketers) because of their effectiveness from keeping out the wind and weather, but the reality is that no hard shell is going to be anywhere near the breathability of a soft shell jacket, fleece, or blended hoodie. That is the main reason for pit zips on hard shell jackets.

Having said that, comparing the Gore-tex stuff that I've worn to old, less technologically-advanced raincoats, I definitely notice the difference in breathability.
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post #9 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 01:40 PM
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here's my layering system: you can add/remove for comfort. all items=cold as fuck=no problem


starting from next to skin:

-ultralight relaxed fit baselayer: I like patagoina cap1, but silk and merino wool are also top choices.

-some kind of hi-tech t-shirt: to protect the delicate fabric of my baselayer from zips and other harshnesses

-merino wool sweater: I would say mine is a sort of mid-weight sweater, definitely one of my favorite pieces that provides so much warmth with full breathability

-nano-puff jacket: on super cold days this will stop any wind that may penetrate the shell and provides a fullness to your setup for zero air/wind pockets and full insulation without the restrictive problems of an actual puffy (too hot for me 98% of the time but absolute necessary toaster item on frigid days)

-shell jacket. the xxx/xxx rating that you require depends on location, here in CO and Utah 5k is fine as its almost never wet, the coasts may enjoy a little more beef. Goretex is expensive and fucking awesome - buy it if u can no matter where you live.

I never have a problem with my legs getting cold but if it is very cold I will wear heavy fleece pants between baselayer and snowpants. I don't have any fancy baselayers for leggings but I like my loose fitting lightweight polartech all the time and then you can double up if needed - I tend to like a little air down there even when its cold, my boys don't love the sauna.

another favorite item: merino wool buff. discrete head covering under helmet when cold, wind block, face cover, neck, uv protect, fucking rad piece.

I should probably do a sticky somehow, as I've written this like 6 times now and I think I've gotten to the point where my methods (which I learned from people with more experience than me, Nivek for one) are biblical.

things to avoid:

cotton: socks, sweatpants, sweatshirt, t-shirt, boxers
anything tight: some people will swear by their tight baselayers (I know it makes you feel like spiderman), but if you are cold, follow the advice of relaxed fit. tbh I could probably get away with the tight shit as I'm never cold, but no thx.

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Last edited by snowklinger; 11-04-2013 at 01:55 PM.
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post #10 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-04-2013, 02:10 PM
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Originally Posted by EastCoastChris View Post
I know a lot of manufacturers claim to have waterproof fabrics that retain breatheability (like GoreTex) but in your collective experience, does this claim really hold up?
I tried DryQ, eVent (Elite) and Neoshell. In my opinion they are more breathable than Gore Tex (well, maybe not eVent) but not nearly as good at waterproofing. But once you have an improved breathability you also need to increase insulation in cold temperatures.

Trying different layering options over the years I basically came to use 3 things (at least until further advances in material design may change everything):

X-bionic compression base layers
Peak Performance primaloft jacket
Gore Tex shell, no insulation

That's all I ever use. If the temps are especially punishing I may add a thin microfleece. If it's warm I ditch primaloft. The reason I like this layering "system" so much is because it works for really all kinds of weather. For me personally staying dry is more important than staying warm which Gore Tex achieves in spades and to deal with overheating I can simply unzip my primaloft slightly under the outer shell and still maintain the integrity of waterproof layer while letting the body breath.
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