Gear Highlight is a series of posts counting down to our Hardangervidda ski crossing in January 2019. Each post we will present a different category of gear we will be bringing on our trip. See all Gear Highlight posts.
Following the layer principle, this time we are going to talk about our outer layers. There are two types of layers to add above the mid-layers: windproof shells, and warmth layers. The shells protect us from the elements and help to stop wind and snow, basically like a rain jacket. They are usually lightweight and don’t add any insulation themselves. While we are on the move, we will usually not wear any additional layers, but once we stop, we need to at least add a down jacket to prevent us from cooling down too fast. The head and hands are our body parts requiring the most additional protection from the elements. Our head, because you lose a lot of heat if you don’t cover it, and of course because our eyes, mouth, and nose sit there. And our hands, because they are exposed to the wind and snow a lot and thus freeze most easily.
I am a sucker for Norwegian outdoor gear, as you may have noticed if you’ve read the previous Gear Highlight Articles. One of my favourite companies is Amundsen Sports. Their clothing doesn’t only look awesome, it is also super functional. I am wearing their Explorer Anorak, Peak Knickerbockers, and Gaiters. Altogether that setup provides more pockets and loops to attach gear than I could ever need. Since you want to avoid sweating while skiing, an important thing to look for when buying the outer shell is venting capability. The anorak has zips running down almost the whole length of the arms and sides and the knickerbockers have large zips on the outer thighs.
Vintage Bergans Gore Tex jacket (Lauren)
Most of my outer layers have been bought second hand on eBay. I’ve been able to afford some really high quality kit this way, only sacrificing a little of the fashion element!
My jacket is a men’s one, bought for the extra length in the body. Too many women’s jackets stop at the waist, which often leaves a draughty gap. This jacket is light and tough, with good venting and plenty of pockets. It also has a 2 way zip so I can open the bottom a little to fit my harness rope under the back hem. I’ve also taken a vintage fox fur and trimmed the hood for a little increased protection from wind chill.
Vintage Bergans Dermizax skiing trousers (Lauren)
These are new to me and replace a pair of cheap Decathlon skiing trousers, which were good except for how low cut they were – draughty kidneys are no fun!
These are very high waisted, and come with braces to help keep them up, although I may remove these so I can go to the toilet without undressing entirely! The also have full length sips along the legs for venting.
As soon as you stop moving, that’s the time to break out your down jacket. You will freeze quickly when going from being active to just sitting around in the cold. The down jacket is worn on top of your outer shell, so be sure to buy a size that’s big enough. I have decided to go with down jackets by UK manufacturer PHD. They have the best weight to warmth ratio of any company by far and have an exceptional track record, being used on tons of high-altitude mountaineering expeditions. Useful things to look for are big pockets and hoods that can be tightened easily.
Vintage Bergans down jacket (Lauren)
Again, a high quality 750 fill jacket I bought on eBay. This packs down really small into one of the pockets and although it’s heavier than a lot of newer down jackets, it’s brilliant at low temperatures.
Once we are out of our ski boots, we need something to keep our toes toasty warm. Enter the Western Mountaineering down booties. These are down slippers with a high waterproof gaiter and soles. You can leave them on in the tent or even when going outside to follow the call of nature, or do more fun things. Even during a prolonged night-photography session outside in the snow, I did not get cold feet. Down slippers from other manufacturers I’ve seen have a problem with forming clumps of ice and snow on the outside, possible because too much heat escapes that thaws the snow slightly, but Western Mountaineering somehow got around that problem. I’m not sure how they did it, but I am very happy they did. It is a very noticeable improvement of comfort.
A thick wool cap. It’s for not freezing. Nothing more to say, really. You could probably go with any wool cap here, but I decided to go with Devold again, since I like all their gear.
Thick fleece cap (Lauren)
This is a very simple cap for when it gets colder. I’ll wear this with my buff to keep draughts off my neck,and can put my Nordic Heater cap over it when I stop, or take it off and put it in a pocket easily to keep my layers very flexible.
Fjällräven Nordic Heater Polar Hat
Same as with the down jacket, this polar hat is worn when stopping for a break or in the tent. It is lined with fur and has flaps to protect the side of the face, so it is a lot warmer than the wool hat.
A simple merino buff I wear for a bit of extra warmth for my neck. I can pull it up to cover the mouth and nose in a pinch, although that is not its primary purpose.
Lightweight wool covers for my face, neck and ears. I get very hot quickly when I move, so I just want something light to keep the worst of the wind chill off my face. These work well, even when they get damp from my breath or a little sweat, and the neck warmer is super versatile as a mask, scarf, hat and headband.
A face mask to wear when the weather is getting bad and it is getting extremely cold. It has a filter that will filter the air you breathe and help protect your lungs and airways from the damaging effects of cold, dry air. It’s helpful for people with respiratory conditions or simply for athletes, like us, to keep up their performance.
Ski Goggles are essential to protect your face from headwind and incoming snow. I got photochromic lenses that adjust to the brightness of the environment.
If it is a sunny day for skiing, you might not need goggles, but sunglasses become essential to avoid snow-blindness. Again, we’d recommend getting photochromic glasses that adjust to the brightness automatically. If you look for sunglasses suitable for glacier climbing, you should be on the safe side.
Fingers and toes are probably the parts of your body most commonly affected by cold injuries. Having an excellent glove and mitt system is essential to protect you from those. I chose the Heat Company HEAT Layer System, which was initially developed for military use, but has been adopted by many photographers. It consists of three elements, the liners, the mitts, and overmitts. Keeping them separate makes it easy to dry the liners and mitts, should they get wet for some reason, which is very useful for our expedition purposes. My liners are merino wool, very thin, but they dry super fast. The mitts can be opened to allow handling of electronics or more delicate zips. Should the weather get worse, the massive overmitts provide additional protection from wind, and create another pocket of air to warm your hands. All three components have loops to attach to each other and to your arms, so you can’t lose them.
Hestra XC Over Mitts / Heat Company Merino Liners / Wool Mitts
Without adequate gloves and mitts, you are basically done with your expedition. We are each carrying a spare set in case our main set gets damaged, wet, or lost. I have the same Heat Company liners, thick felted wool mitts, and overmitts from Hestra for that. I’ve sewn loops to connect them and loops for my arms onto them as well.
Can’t have enough gloves. I carry those along as well, in case I need separate fingers. Useful for pitching or taking down the tent, since there is a lot of snow involved and using only my liners would soak them pretty quickly.
These are nice flexible, lightweight gloves which are great for when it’s not too cold or windy. I’ll wear these under the Hestra over mitts if it gets windy, and inside a pair of felted wool mitts when the temperature drops.
The next gear highlight will deal with our skiing and pulk equipment.
Keen hiker and ÖAV trekking and hiking guide, in love with Nansen. Owner of the most walk-averse rescue dog ever. Ice cream lover, kit junkie, runner and mad software genius.