With temperatures plummeting in the UK and the mountains of the Alps being relentlessly pounded with fresh snow on a daily basis, the chances are some of you may be thinking of digging out the old winter kit for a wee ski, walk or ice climb at some point in the near future.
And because it’s super cold and you’ve been very good all January, you might even be looking at upgrading some of your kit or adding to your existing set up. If so… read on, and if not, do a mountain girl a favour and read on anyway…
For years the winter layering system has been the same: baselayer, fleece mid layer, and waterproof shell outer layer. With a variety of sport dependent tweaks, ski tourers, mountaineers and other nutters who like to play outside when it’s freezing have essentially been layering up like this for ages. But over recent years, there’s been a change. Ladies and gentlemen – I give you – the lightweight insulation layer.
To avoid descending into a world of gear geekyness, I am going to keep this very simple. Insulation layers are awesome. Whilst they weigh next to nothing and take up very little room in your pack, their most important feature is that they keep us cozy. They keep us warm by keeping body heat in, holding it close to our skin and buffering us from the icy cold air. And in so doing, they keep us happy, which keeps our friends and family happy, which then spreads to a general feeling of worldwide wellbeing which may lead to the end to the global recession… OK perhaps not but never underestimate the importance of being warm on the hill, it’s very often the determining factor between heaven and hell.
So how does this magical piece of kit actually work? Well, the insulation layer fits into the layering system in a variety of ways: firstly it can be used as a warmer alternative to the mid layer fleece top or jacket, secondly you can chuck it over your existing set up when you’re needing an extra injection of warmth, and lastly it works nicely as a very cool bit of kit to be styling in around town at the end of the day. Whilst the latter feature is perhaps not of primary importance any Sportsiser knows that to have practical and functional kit that is also stylish, well cut and good looking is a winning combination.
So you’re sold? Great. Now you have to make a choice – there are two options: down or synthetic. Whilst down is extremely warm, light and compressible the downsides are that it is expensive and if it gets wet – well, that’s it. Insulation powers are nul and void and you’ll wait longer for it to dry than we have waited for a Wimbledon Champion.
Synthetic layers on the other hand are easier on the wallet, water resistant and are Usain Bolt-esque in their speediness when it comes to drying. Essentially down is great if you’re in very cold and dry conditions but if you’re likely to get wet playing in the mountains of the UK or out skiing, then a synthetic layer has to be the right option.