For Scottish winter climbing I've always used a sythetic fill, ME Fitzroy and it's served me well.
My jacket is trashed and I'm wondering if the hydro down has got to that magic place where it might just work on those wet cold belays. Or is it just a pile of wet feathers? Does the hydro chemical last after a few washes? I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has really put it through it's paces.
I haven't put one through it's paces but I'm a believer in synthetic for Scottish winter!
It uses a syntehtic/wool blend. I found it very warm and thankfully doesn't smell of sheep when wet!
In UK winter conditions over the last 6 winters I have used almost solely down jackets as belay jackets. This is mainly laziness, my Berghaus Ramche something-or-other https://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/clothing/down_insulation/lightweight_down_jackets-11139#Berghaus must be at least half the weight of my DAS - just checked 340 g versus 809 g. My other feeling is my climbing clothing has got better so my belay jacket doesn't need to be so warm. I'm not convinced hydrophobic down is all that important, particularly for day trips like UK winter climbing. Down doesn't simply collapse at the merest hint of moisture, and if you are winter climbing, it shouldn't be raining on you as that means the route isn't in! If you are obliged to be out in marginal weather, instructors, MRT, etc. then synthetic seems far more sensible. And if I know the weather is going to be wild but only just on freezing, I might take a synthetic jacket. But for the vast majority of winter days out I've found down jackets work for me well.
Of course any jacket will be rubbish if it's not designed for the job, so I mean a jacket with a good helmet compatible hood that I can pull on over my outer layer, whether it be bird based or oil based insulation.
Many years ago, me and my mate climbed Tower Ridge in less than ideal conditions and in the knowledge that a storm was on the way, but we would be off the mountain before it arrived.
Any my mate fell as he lowered himself in to Tower Gap and started hurtling down Glovers Chimney at speed, as a counter balance, I went off the ridge on the other side and ended up on a ledge 20 foot below the main ridge. It took us some time to sort ourselves out and we completed the ridge in the dark.
As the weather had started to turn, we decided that we would spend the night in the emergency shelter. We didn't have sleeping bags, but I had a down jacket and it was probably just above zero. However, I made a major error. Getting to the top of the route, I was keen to get out of the wind and get to the shelter. I stuffed the we rope in the top of my rucksack.
Getting in to the shelter after having to use an ice axe to break ice off the door, I found that my down jacket, a mid-90s ME Lightline, was completely sodden from the rope and retained none of its insulating properties. I had a cold night. We also had a fun time getting off the mountain in the morning.
Saw those a while back but wasn't sure if the weight to thermal ratio was as good as other options. Nice to see a company coming up with something different to the other 2 options.
In reply to TobyA:
It's that weight saving that's got me thinking. I'm wondering if the outer fabrics have improved to the point where the down is kept dry now. That said, many DWR coating do need reapplying as they wear off. I'd also have concern that if the jacket did get wet through then the following day could be a problem if my main belay jacket is drenched down, I can just about get my Fitzroy dry in the front of the van on the drive off. I wonder if hydrophobic dries quicker than standard down, I'm guessing it should do.
In reply to The New NickB:
And thats the worry with down if the temps do start rising. Last season we just caught a very brief eary morning on Red Tarn Face before the sun had come up. Light snow dropping below zero on frozen ground. By 11am the temps had gone up, the snow was now rain and the ground was thawing fast. Our belay jackets were very wet by the time we had done.
This question has been asked on here in the past but I'm wondering if the tech has improved in the last couple of years. Thanks for the replies so far.
How does it feel when it gets wet? I tried and rejected Merino thermals as I found they were clammy and took ages to dry so I got cold.
To the OP Mountain Equipment have an interesting article on their opinion of hydrophobic down.
Yes, I remember that popping up originally on here and I get it. Their point about sleeping bags I get and jackets to a degree but a bombshelter on a wet belay?
What do we want? A cheap, bombproof, breathable, waterproof, ultralight, down belay jacket.
When do we want it? NOW!
I also want to ride to the start of Tower ridge this Scottish winter on my winged, rainbow unicorn.
I haven't tried a hydrophobic down belay jacket so can't say for sure but I've been really wet plenty of times winter climbing and I'm not confident it would cope with that.
I'm tempted to say that I keep my down jacket in a waterproof bag* until I need it and younger-you should have done the same thing ;-) but I do totally accept that there are times when a synthetic jacket is better. Any time when you are out for more than one day (except maybe in deep dry cold situations) having synthetic insulation is often better. In a small tent in the British winter hills its often difficult to stop things getting damp.
Of course there is always the possibility of needing to spend a night out in whatever gear you have - but it's a compromise isn't it? You'd do better if caught out over night with a karrimat and a sleeping bag along with a bivvy bag, although most would only take a bivvy bag (or these days a bothy bag). I suppose all these things are a calculated risk. When I first started winter climbing no one had belay jackets really. People might carry a spare fleece to put on if really cold. I started using my North Face Nuptse in 95 as a belay jacket although I reckon it was another 5 years or so before you heard the term much. I bought my DAS in 2001 I think, it was the only specially designed one.
*In fact put any belay layer in a waterproof bag, down or synthetic!
I hear people saying that it's usually below zero winter climbing so you shouldn't get wet and down should work. The reality is that it's often around zero and I often find myself putting my belay jacket on over a damp or snow covered hardshell when I'm in a pretty sweaty state having lead a pitch.
I'd be interested to see how a modern hydrophobic down jacket would deal with that but not interested enough to buy one and try it!
Even in the Arctic mountains in winter I've had days in blizzards and storms where the sun puts the snow above melting point and all your kit gets wet. My belay jacket on the sled got a bit sodden but it was synthetic so drying it out was no biggie. Then a few days later it was nearing -30 and I was still warm. Synthetic ftw
Looks like I'm sticking with a tried and tested Fitzroy. The down would work much better on a reliable winter day but they seem to be in decline as the winters become more marginal. Thanks everyone for the input.
for me its not just the water that is the concern with down jackets and winter climbing. they feel much more delicate, and cost twice as much, as a standard synthetic. id spend the whole time worrying about looking after my jacket instead of it looking after me! all those sharp pointy things would trash a down jacket. i care less about a sythetic.
Yes, I was shit. Or human. I've learnt from it. It did tell me a lot about the insulating qualities of down. I've bought down and synthetic jackets since. In conditions around freezing, I've found the extra 100g or so related to a synthetic jacket worth it.
You really can't beat a fitzroy! No point trying as they just work for Scottish winter
My nikwax treated hydrophobic down jacket gets wet, the treatment only lasts so long. Even when new, it does get soggy. For winter belays in scotland synthetic always for me.
That's what I was after, thanks very much!
I have wondered about one of these. Mountain Equipment Kyros or Xeros jackets. They have a Gore infinium layer to protect the down. I still think synthetic is better for Scotland, especially as the extra layer increases the weight of the jacket.
Funny but that was exactly the jacket I was looking at. I came to the conclusion the 150 g saving wasn't so much and the jacket was probably more suited to Alpine conditions rather than wet climbing. If our winters were drier then that would be the jacket of choice.
Found it warm when wet which I guess is the main achievement!
Didn't get too wet and heavy which I think is helped by the fact its not that heavy to start with!
Its definitely warmer than you think it will be, stacked up to other synth jackets it looks a bit lacking with the insulation but whatever is in there works really well!!
Outer material is only half of the battle when used as a belay jacket in winter.
You arrive at the stance hot and sweaty and like as not covered in snow, to varying degrees......
Then you put the belay jacket on over this....
It hardly matters what the shell material is, the down gets wet from the inside. Maybe not much, but it's ten pitches .......or whatever.
In the 80's we just got cold on the stances, but as our house had no heating we were used to it
You cab solve the weight issue by not taking one, down or synthetic!
(I'm now officially nesh: I take a synthetic and seem to end up wearing most of the day!)
That's one of the interesting things about product development, where will it go? In another 10 years somebody will have cracked the warmth/weight ratio up a level and we'll all be posting about the good old days when we just threw on a syth belay jacket.
I've noticed things like heated gloves and now insoles for the boots are available. At what point will the gear be so good that the spirit of adventure is reduced to a tourist activity? Probably by the time rising temps mean we no longer have a winter.
I think we've quite a long way to go before a trip up the Caingorms etc in full winter glory is considered a tourist walk...
> You arrive at the stance hot and sweaty and like as not covered in snow, to varying degrees......
> Then you put the belay jacket on over this....
> It hardly matters what the shell material is, the down gets wet from the inside. Maybe not much, but it's ten pitches .......or whatever.
^this. But also, what does hydrophobing the down actually do? Does it stop the down from wicking up water penetrating the shell? Does it stop the down 'fronds' from sticking to each other when 'wet'? Or does it just make the down dry faster by stopping the water soaking into the structure of the down itself?
I’ve just bought a Rab Vailance jacket, it’s waterproof (pertex) but down filled apart from the sleeves and hood which are likely to get wetter so are synthetic.
Haven't really put it through it’s paces yet but feels good, from initial tests... Can imagine it would very welcome on cold, wet belays.
Comes with a stuff sack too, so stuffs up quite small.
Hydrophobic down is ok, better than normal down, but still nothing on good synthetic.
H-down will be ok for wet being damp from snow, drizzle, mist where your body heat can counter it, but actually soaked it becomes nothing, though does dry faster. Synthetic like Primaloft, even when drenched still has some form and function. Primoloft itself works like a breathable layer ie it's a sheet of stuff that water has to make an effort to penetrate (you can invert a glass of water onto it and it won't go through), but other types of synthetic insulation work differently as loose fill. Stuff like Thermoball and Thermoplume mimic about 650 down.
H-down lofts a bit better than regular down, but synthetic is catching up fast in both function and price. I reckon top line synthetic is now about 85% of the way to down on warmth but surpasses down hugely on function when wet, so for Scotland the better choice. Just don't go into it expecting it to be much cheaper.
There's hybrids about, BD is into that, where a layer of Primaloft faces baffled H-down. Works I think, but straight synthetic still is better for Scotland overall.
Note too there's several (ever changing) types of Primaloft. Check to see what you want as they differ a fair bit in function and price.
> Funny but that was exactly the jacket I was looking at. I came to the conclusion the 150 g saving wasn't so much and the jacket was probably more suited to Alpine conditions rather than wet climbing. If our winters were drier then that would be the jacket of choice.
Couldn't agree more.
I've got a couple of hydrophobic down jackets/gillets from Rab...
It helps, but it only delays the inevitable. So not a synthetic replacement at all, just prevents down collapse from sweating or drizzle, but nothing more. If it gets actually wet, its just like normal down.
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