Gear-Zone Guide to Comfort
Posted by Neil | May 27, 2011
“Comfort is defined as when we are neither shivering nor sweating. This occurs when a successful balance is achieved between the heat produced by the body and the heat it loses to the environment”
“Discomfort is the result of accelerated body heat loss, often through wet clothing. Outer garments must keep the inside insulating layers dry to prevent wet-conductive heat loss, and so must stop water getting in, and be breathable enough to prevent the accumulation of moisture from internal sources”
How to achieve the former – and never suffer the latter?
Wherever you are in the world, and whatever you’re doing, comfort is paramount.
From the reliability of a Pro Shell on the heights of Everest to the warmth of a cosy baselayer in the cavernous depths of Spain’s Pico de Europa, being comfortable is the most important consideration on any trip.
The obvious secret to staying warm is staying dry. Whether seeping in from the outside, or building up on the inside, rain and perspiration are comfort’s twin enemies.
The answer is in a fool-proof layering system, from the all-important baselayer to a jacket designed to combat the worst of the elements.
As we have been explaining in our regular Gear-Zone Outdoor Fabric Guides, the choice of garment depends on its intended use.
Defining your needs is the first step to guaranteed comfort. Keeping dry on a wet weekend walking holiday in Wales is very different to maintaining warmth if you’re aspiring to climb the North Face of the Eiger.
And highly-aerobic sports like cycling or running require something very different to what’s needed on a skiing trip to the wilds of Canada.
It’s all about warmth and breathability, water-resistance and windproofness.
We’ve looked at base layers and wicking T-Shirts, and discussed outer clothing in detail, but what about those all-important mid layers, which can be easily slipped on and off to control your temperature as weather conditions change?
Mid layers can be short or long sleeved T-Shirts, a Merino wool shirt, or even a cosy fleece, worn over a tightly-fitting or loose base layer. The insulating mid layer can be quickly removed and packed away in a rucksack during the heat of the day, ready to be retrieved at a moment’s notice when the mercury falls.
A base layer worn with a mid layer underneath a jacket can be warmer and lighter than one thick piece of clothing, as the air trapped in between serves as thermal insulation.
The prime purpose of a mid layer is to provide warmth; base layers help wick moisture away from the skin, and outer jackets provide water- and windproofing. The mid layer is just what it says…a middle layer between the two which acts as a thermostat for your temperature control.
Mid layers should be more loose-fitting than the traditional inner base layer, and can be made from a variety of different fabrics.
Wool mid layers provide good insulation even when damp, as they have the ability to absorb moisture and help keep it away from the base layer next to your skin.
Fleeces, provided they are not made from down, also have good insulation qualities and do not hold much moisture. Down has a very good warmth-to-weight ratio and can be very effective, but the downside is that it can be expensive, and quickly loses its insulating properties when wet. This is where polyester comes into its own.
Cotton, as we’ve explained earlier, should never
be worn as any kind of base or mid layer, as it holds moisture in, leaving you feeling clammy, uncomfortable and increasingly cold as perspiration starts to dry.
See Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face