Hi! I'm trying to decide on a jacket to use as an insulating midlayer for backpacking this winter. I want one that's warm while sedentary, but really breathable while doing aerobic activity. Im not sure what to go with: fleece, soft shell, or down? The Arcteryx Hercules jacket seems to be promising because of the high loft fleece interior and superior breathability, although I'm concerned it might not be warm enough. The mercury usually dips into the low teens here in late winter. Any advice? Matt Birmingh, AL
Sure, I have advice. Thats why Im here, isnt it? And my advice is...rethink your clothing setup. Anything that will keep you warm when you are sitting around is going to be too much when you are working, and I dont care much if its 0 degrees F.
The Monkey Man
Take the Arc'teryx Hercules Hoody, which aside from being wildly expensive ($350) is also very functional. Its a very warm soft shell piece, a midweight fleece lining over a wind- and water-resistant shell. It actually would be fairly warm when youre quiet, and breathes well enough to be halfway comfortable when you are hiking. But its much better suited for activities such as winter mountaineering or backcountry skiingin other words, stop-and-go activities in foul weather. Put it on when youre, say, hiking uphill on a chilly day, and youre gonna overheat in a few hundred yards.
You really need to think in layers, and add and subtract them during the day. Lets say its 30 degrees at noon, with maybe some light snow or fog. You start with a Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt ($39), a superlight, fast-drying synthetic base layer. Over that goes a midweight wool long-sleeve shirt like Icebreakers Altitude Zip ($120), whose neck design lets you ventilate easily by zipping up or zipping down. And that is your basic hiking setup. When you stop for a break, you toss on a wind shell. In camp, you add a fleece layer like Mountain Hardwears Monkey Man ($150) and throw a shell over that, and you are set.
Temps in the teens? Then what you need is a down sweater for those cold evenings. MontBells U.L. Down Inner Jacket ($150) is just the ticket, a fantastically warm piece that weighs a mere eight ounces. Put that over your other layers, add a shell, and you are a warm fellow.