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Dressing For Cold Weather

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One would think that the weather in the United States suddenly changed from a temperate climate to a very cold climate. I get calls every day from people asking how they should dress for cold conditions.

In all cases they first tell me what they have worn and in what conditions. As a rule the temperature is rarely below 0 degrees. The clothing consists of polypro or polyester long underwear, fleece and some waterproof breathable garment.

The general public has been told several things that are inaccurate. First, we are not experiencing a global warming. If we were the articles of clothing noted above would be adequate. According to all of the scientific evidence I have read over the years, going back as far as 1976, earth is cooling. I recommend "The Cooling" by Lowell Ponte, published by Prentiss Hall.

Further, the general public has been told through advertising that material such as fleece, the most popular brand known as Polartec, is an exceptionally warm fabric. As a point of fact I just read an ad in the February Backpacker, back cover, that states how exceptional this fabric is. I quote: "With over 100 Climate Control Fabrics TM. Polartec keeps you warm when it's cold, cool when it's hot, dry when you sweat." Astounding. There are other products available from other mills that are exactly the same as Maulden Mills Polartec. You see ads of people climbing up mountains wearing fleece garments. This is an illusion. But it impresses the consumer and they buy fleece outerwear and get cold. How do I know? Like I said, they call and tell me. What is wrong with fleece? Nothing, if it is used for the proper garment. In my opinion, that would be a mid-layer garment, like a sweat shirt, or if the fabric were used for a lining in a light, weight jacket.

Many people who have purchased fleece outer garments have discovered that air moving rapidly (wind) penetrates the fabric quite easily. That was the reason laminated fleece came to be. You probably have heard of "Wind Stopper."

The general public has been shown advertisement after advertisement claiming that this material or that material that we (the garment manufacturer) use is the best there is. Of, course, the ads are paid for by the fabric suppliers, not the garment makers. Therefore, the garment makers use the fabric to get the advertising. I commented in an earlier newsletter that Patagonia stated in an early 1970s catalog of theirs that Gortex didn't work. For the past three or so years they have offered Gortex jackets. Why? Because at Patagonia they believed they were losing sales by not having Gortex. It is obviously more important for them to make sales, even if they have to compromise their integrity with respect to ability of their garments to function. How many firms use Polartec for the same reason? Plenty. Why?, Because of advertising. The end result is dissatisfied customers.

There have been other products used by manufacturers, and are still being used, because the suppliers spend many thousands of dollars on advertising. For example 3-M and their Thinsulate, Albany International and their Primaloft, Hoechst Celanese and their Polarguard 3-D, represent the myriad of waterproof breathables. In addition, there are the phase change materials.

All of these raw materials have failed in the field. But manufacturers continue to use them because of the advertising dollars.

Therefore, since I have ruled out all of the available products, what are you to buy that will work to keep you warm?

As I have stated in the past, start out with fishnet long underwear. Then look for a polyester fiberfill outer garment. In between wear whatever is necessary for the air temperature. If it is +15 degrees, and no wind, what you wear will be less than what you will wear when the temperature is +15 with a 25 mile per hour wind.

There is nothing magical about how to keep yourself warm in a cold environment.

Aside from the fishnets I produce, I have introduced for this winter the FRTSS Mountain Parka. The shell fabric is three ply Supplex and the lining is 70 denier nylon taffeta. Then, there are two liners that are available to zip into the parka. The lighter weight is insulated with Lamilite 6. If this garment is worn with the fishnets and a cotton, yes, cotton shirt under it, you will be comfortable when the temperature is 0 degrees. I`ve used the parka for three years during hunting season. I hunt at 12,500 feet (on average) above Gunnison, Colorado, each November. If you were to zip in the heavy-weight liner, Lamilite 12, you would be comfortable at -20 degrees.

If the wind is blowing, the Lamilite does not collapse to 1/4 its loft. It is very important that insulation not collapse. If it does, the loss of insulation is dramatic.

As for what is available that is close to Lamilite, there is plenty, but it will not have a label showing it was made by The North Face or Marmot companies. The garments are less expensive because the companies are using polyester fiberfill that, in most cases, is known in the fiberfill business as unbranded. This simply means it is generic. If the thickness of the sleeve will fill your hand it is an indication that the garment has adequate insulation for temperatures as low as 0 degrees. Twenty five years ago I could have listed 50 manufacturers, because I sold fiberfill to them, but today most outerwear is made outside of the U.S.

Therefore, go into any quality department store, for example Target, Sam's, and see what they have. If you rely specifically on the upscale backpacking shop be prepared to listen to a story, and if you buy much of what they say, be prepared to get cold.


As I mentioned above, I just received the February 1998 issue of Backpacker magazine. In it is a review of jackets considered to be waterproof and breathable, and a sleeping bag.

Aside from all the comments referencing the bells and whistles of the garments "tested," they all were waterproof and did dissipate perspiration vapor. And of course the Gor-Tex held a narrow edge.

In the past, I have pondered aloud, don't the writers of articles at Backpacker magazine ever read their Website titled "Geartalk?" Why is it that most of the posts about any of the waterproof breathables are either totally the opposite of what you read in the review or, at best, questioning if the stuff works.

The answer can be found on pages two and three of the magazine. It is a two--page, full-color ad. I suspect the ad cost to be maybe $25,000.00. The advertiser is Gore.

The second review is the Marmot Merlin model sleeping bag. The insulation is Polarguard 3-D. The writer is categorically misleading the reader of the article.

(1) I do not believe for one second that the bag will perform at a temperature of 18 degrees. This bag is rated to a low of 0 degrees. Its weight is 3 pounds 14 ounces. I have yet to see a bag lighter than 4 pounds perform constantly at 0 degrees, and that is what I make, a 4 pound 0 degree rated bag.

(2) A 3 denier fiber of equal weight to a 5 denier fiber will not be as lofty, and therefore will not retain as much heat. Look at the Polarguard or Polarguard HV bags. They are twice as thick.

(3) When polyester fiber is manufactured into a resin bonded batting, which is what all of the different Polarguards are, they lose loft. When resin bonded fiber comes out or off of the machinery that makes it, it has what is known as a "false loft." When the fiber is worked with in production and packaged, some of the loft is knocked out of it.

When it is used in a sleeping bag, the bag is stuffed in a stuff sack, and more loft is knocked out of the batting. This is a fact of life. Polarguard 3-D is no different than its predecessors. They have all demonstrated significant loss of loft very quickly. Note that the Polarguard HV (high void or hollow core) did not last as long as the solid Polarguard, as reported in the April 1997 Buyers Guide issue of Backpacker. The reason is it is not as strong.

The Polarguard 3-D is finer and also has a hollow core. Both attributes make it weaker than even the HV. Maybe the bag hasn't lost any of what it doesn't have to begin with, that is, loft.

(4) If the writer ever purchases a Wiggy bag, he will experience being warm even if the bag gets wet.

Again, there have not been positive comments posted to the Website about Polarguard 3-D bags.

The reviewers have praised Lite Loft, and Polarguard in the past. Where are those fiberfills today? Gone from the sleeping bag industry. Recently they praised the latest and greatest Primaloft. Thus far, all Primaloft bags have proven to be a disaster on a par with the other fiberfills.

If you turn to page 33 of the same issue you will find a full-page-ad for you guessed it-Marmot.

KNOWLEDGE: "Knowledge" is a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.
Ayn Rand, "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" (1979)

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