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  1. #1
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    Vapor Barrier vs. Wicking

    Did a search, not much discussed, except I see Spats is a vapor barrier proponent.

    Spats, anyone else using this approach, what are your thoughts?

    Do you feel sweaty all the time?
    Is it a pain adjusting the amount of insulation all the time?
    Is this only useful in very cold weather?
    Do you do this even skinning, or other high output work?
    Have the clothing companies been making us cold all these years with "wicking" away valuable moisure? Is the man keeping us down?

    Some background reading:
    http://www.fieldandstream.com/fields...396707,00.html
    http://rbhdesigns.com/
    http://www.warmlite.com/vb.htm
    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-...793/index.html
    More words?

  2. #2
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    Darn, I thought this was going to be a conversation about construction!

  3. #3
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    a few years ago, i bought some golite moisture barrier socks, used them mountaineering. They are nice the first day of a multiday trip when you put on your boots day 2 and they are dry. Although, you should be putting your boots (leather) or liners in your sleeping bag so they dry (sort of) overnight. Your feet do get a slimy feeling, i wouldn't recommend them skinning. I haven't used them since that first season i owned them, meaning they didn't impress me that much, or enough to use again, but this has made me think about using them again this year...

  4. #4
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    vapor barrier is more of an extreme cold thing... unless you like wrapping yourself in saran wrap and exercising
    Quote Originally Posted by blurred
    skiing is hiking all day so that you can ski on shitty gear for 5 minutes.

  5. #5
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    Are you specifically asking about just socks?

    I have a Wild Things nylon wind shirt that is very thin and very light. Not waterproof or even water resistant, but it is not breathable at all. If it is really cold out, I put it on over my layers and under my shell. It acts as a vapor and heat barrier and makes my set up really warm. If I get working too hard then it gets a little clammy in there and I just take it back off.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Summit View Post
    unless you like wrapping yourself in saran wrap and exercising
    Define "exercising"
    More words?

  7. #7
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    I think VB clothing is only really useful while active when it is so cold that you're going to have to put on insulation that won't really breathe (i.e heavy, thick down with less breathable shell materials). However, I believe they can serve well while winter camping, specifically while sleeping. A sleeping bag will progressively lose loft over a multiple day trip due to moisture from the user wetting the insulation.

    In terms of active motions like skinning, wear as little as you need to stay comfortable. When it's not windy/snowing and the sun is mildly peaking through, I can usually skin in just a base layer. If you need to block wind, check out the various lightweight windbreakers (Patagonia Houdini, Marmot Ion, etc.) as just a wind blocking layer. Also, when you stop moving, try not to immediately put on your heavy down coat, as it can trap moisture and not let your active layers dry out.

    I think for 75-80% of conditions, it's better to use a system of garments that breathe as a whole and let moisture out, rather than trying to trap it in with VB clothing. Fabrics are getting so good now when it comes to breathability that it makes more sense to go that route.
    Last edited by kellen; 10-27-2006 at 01:14 PM.
    "If I could have any K2 skis this year I'd go with the Volkl Gotamas." - Monique

  8. #8
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    The whole point is not to sweat. If you're sweating, you have too much insulation on, and you need to vent more or remove layers, regardless of what kind of clothes you are wearing.

    Wicking clothes don't stop you from sweating, they just make you forget you are sweating. It's the reason polypro gets stinky so fast. With a VB on, you notice sweat right away, and deal with it instead of letting the sweat build up in your insulation layers.

    I don't like VB right next to the skin, because it's clammy. The Windstopper fleece has enough of a lining not to feel slimy, but still performs the same function, and has insulation value too.

    The effective VB in the Windstopper fleece makes it much warmer than a regular fleece of similar weight. Using my system of T-shirt/Windstopper fleece/hardshell, plus removable earmuffs on my helmet, I'm good for chairlift skiing from about 5 degrees and stormy to above freezing...basically the entire range of a Sierra ski season. In the spring I skip the Windstopper pants, and I ditch the Windstopper jacket when it really warms up late season.

    It's nice to never have to decide what to wear in the morning -- the same gear goes on every day.

    The key is that both my fleece pants and my shell pants have side zips, and both my fleece top and my shell jacket have pit zips. This means I can vent as little or as much as I want. Usually I zip everything up for the run, and if it's warm, I vent on the chairlift. If I'm skinning, I just throw the fleece jacket in the pack and vent the legs as needed.

    A bonus is that I'm not as stinky at the end of the ski day, because I haven't sweated constantly.

    I realize this goes counter to every advertising campaign and every advice column in every outdoor magazine -- but I've done it for years, and it's always worked well for me.

  9. #9
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    Thanks man. Sounds like a modified vapor barrier approach - slightly breathable layer with venting, vs. the purist approach relied on by extreme conditions mountaineers. Makes sense for active sports in the cold, instead of just builting up a ton of heat and then sweating into your insulation.

    I wonder if this is why Marmot DriClimes are so surprisingly warm as an insulating layer - I've worn mine running, and it gets steamy fast. Probably about as breathable as a windbloc fleece.
    More words?

  10. #10
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    'Modified' is definitely the key. Different physiology's produce different levels of heat. So a layering system that works for one person won't for another. The key is to experiment until you get yours right.

    Personally, I think there is no such thing as staying dry in the hills. We always sweat. You have to find a balance between venting that moisture and retaining enough warmth to keep the machine functioning. So I think no matter what layering system you use every layer should always have a breathable quality. If you're cold slot more layers in, if you're hot take em off. And as spats has - you'll discover a system that's easy and will work in most temp ranges.

    - I'm a firm believer in begining everything with a blank canvas!

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arnold Pants View Post
    Thanks man. Sounds like a modified vapor barrier approach - slightly breathable layer with venting, vs. the purist approach relied on by extreme conditions mountaineers.
    I think you're right. Windstopper breathes a lot better than hardshells because it doesn't have DWR-coated nylon laminated to it. So I get the insulation benefits of VB, but with less condensation. It retains enough air to let me know I'm sweating and should vent, but over time it does actually let some moisture escape, unlike a pure VB.

    I didn't get up one day and say "I'm going to come up with a new system." What happened is that I had regular fleece for years, and was annoyed that I could never wear it without a shell because the wind just whistled straight through. I bought the Windbloc so it would be useful as an everyday jacket -- and it is.

    Then, once I started wearing it as a mid-layer while skiing, I found that it had excellent warmth-to-weight, venting gave me a wide temperature range, and I didn't have to wear long underwear (the "base layer") anymore. I could just throw it on over boxers and a T-shirt, which I have plenty of, and not have to worry about putting on stinky Capilene day after day, washing my Capilene every night, or having to buy three or four sets of it ($$$). It was a convenience, and the many other benefits became apparent only gradually.
    Last edited by Spats; 10-28-2006 at 05:37 PM.

  12. #12
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    I don't have it in front of me, but those you interested in all this might want to skim "Extreme Alpinism" by Mark Twight. In the section on clothing he goes through a pretty lengthy discussion about breathability/sweating/VBL layers/etc... From the book it is apparent that he is anal about losing too much water, which makes sense as any water you lose when climbing has to be gained by melting snow (=more fuel and time lost). Anyways, I forget what conclusion he draws; but I think it comes down to: "sometimes a VBL approach is appropriate, other times it's not."

    I think for many winter outdoor activities (BC skiing or climbing) you can go with a light-weight, highly breathable, wind-blocking system for the high-energy times (the goal is to be cool enough not to sweat), and then throw on a large insulating layer for the "stop/rest" times. This way you avoid adding/removing layers under your shell throughout the day, and really, you don't need a waterproof jacket for snow.
    This approach is probably not perfect for lift assisted skiing though, where you go from high-energy to sitting still very quickly and many times throughout the day. Let's face it, the cool kids in the lift line aren't throwing on a DAS Parka when they get in line.

    I have used VBL socks for winter climbing and hiking. They seem to keep my socks drier, but not bone dry. They have some distinct disavantages though.
    - They are very slippery. If put over your liner sock, and under your insulation socks you will not get blisters. If there's any available room though, your foot will slide around.
    - Holy good jesus, your feet will stink. I cannot exagerate the reak of death that will waft from your feet at the end of the day.
    - You will be prone to trench-foot. Because your feet have spent the day in a warm and wet environment bad shit can happen to them. At the end of the day you will need to wash and dry your feet well. This is very important when in the BC. Luckily, rubbing your feet down with snow is not as unpleasant or crazy as it sounds.
    My dog did not bite your dog, your dog bit first, and I don't have a dog.

  13. #13
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    Twight's theory, in a nutshell, is to wear very little while moving, to the point of being chilled, and then putting on a big puffy jacket as soon as you stop. He advises wearing breathable layers so moisture can escape, but you should limit your moisture output by wearing less.

    In the PNW I could never quite make that work, because even if I stripped to bare skin, I still sweat like a pig if there's no wind. I would never wear Saran wrap because of this.

    Oh, and Stephenson's Warmlite is a bunch of freaks. Serious nutjobs.

    Heh, good point on lift skiing, too. In the handful of inbounds days I've had in the last few years, I hated getting overheated while skiing and then freezing my balls off on the lift.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sphinx View Post
    Oh, and Stephenson's Warmlite is a bunch of freaks. Serious nutjobs.
    Comeon, we need more catalogs like theirs! Naked people modeling outdoor gear - so progressive.

    I sweat too much (even with no layers ) for VBLs to work for me. Vents like pitzips don't help much. Because of me, and Windstopper stuff taking forever to dry, I stick with wicking stuff.
    Elvis has left the building

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by cj001f View Post
    Comeon, we need more catalogs like theirs! Naked people modeling outdoor gear - so progressive.
    Figures that you like looking at photos of naked dudes.








  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sphinx View Post
    Figures that you like looking at photos of naked dudes.
    Perhaps you haven't seen their sleeping bag advertisement...

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sphinx View Post
    Oh, and Stephenson's Warmlite is a bunch of freaks. Serious nutjobs.
    Freaks? They are just nudists and are pretty up front about it.

    Over at the Backpacking Light Magazine forums, their company and gear are very well regarded, especially thheir Down Air Matresses.
    Quote Originally Posted by blurred
    skiing is hiking all day so that you can ski on shitty gear for 5 minutes.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spats View Post
    The whole point is not to sweat. If you're sweating, you have too much insulation on, and you need to vent more or remove layers, regardless of what kind of clothes you are wearing.
    But no matter what, if you are excersizing at all, you are going to sweat. Especially activities like skiing that involve strenous excersize, then rest/semi rest (hiking/sking or sking/riding on a lift).

    I've never tried any vapor barrier stuff, but the thought of it seems strange.
    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ________________
    "We don't need predator control, we need whiner control. Anyone who complains that "the gummint oughta do sumpin" about the wolves and coyotes should be darted, caged, and released in a more suitable habitat for them, like the middle of Manhattan." - Spats

    "I'm constantly doing things I can't do. Thats how I get to do them." - Pablo Picasso

  19. #19
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    While I certainly believe Spats' approach works for him, it would never work for me. On Saturday I was attempting to hike up Mt. Maude. At 8,000 feet it was below freezing and there were 40 MPH steady state winds blowing with much higher gusts (almost blew me off my feet a couple times). I was wearing nothing but a pair of poly longjohns, nylon shorts, a summer weight capilene long sleeved shirt, and a bandana for a sweat band because I was sweating so much it was running into my eyes. My hands were cold, but the rest of me was really hot. Any time I start exercising my core temp goes way up and I have to get out of everything but a thin wicking layer or I feel like I'm going to burn up.

    Pretty much the only difference between that getup above and what I wear skiing is that I add a gore tex shell/pants and maybe a fleece jacket and a thin pair of sweats if it's down to about 20 degrees. The chair rides might get cold, but no biggie, I'll warm right back up once skiing/hiking. Any clothing that doesn't breathe would have me soggy/clammy in no time and it's harder for me to stay warm when the moisture starts building up.
    ...Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain...

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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by leroy jenkins View Post
    I've never tried any vapor barrier stuff, but the thought of it seems strange.
    Many of the people who hate on it have never tried it. The people who say "it's too hot"...well, then, you wore too many clothes! Isn't it cool that you can get the same warmth out of much less weight?

    Here's a good explanation of why VB works:

    "The skin, as a highly sensitive organ, likes the air temperature on it to be about 75F, ranging from 72F in the hands and feet area to approximately 78F in the head and upper torso area. So what the body (your skin) wants is a quarter inch layer of moist air protecting it at all times. Moist does not mean wet - moist, comfortable skin feels dry to us, truly dry skin will quickly chap, crack, and soon bleed. Disrupt the protective (comfort) layer and the body goes wild trying to restore it.

    If you heat up the comfort layer, the sweat glands open up and start pumping out water vapor to cool the body back to that optimal comfort zone. If you cool down the comfort layer, the sweat glands shut down and the body starts to shiver, again, trying to regain that optimal comfort zone. A VB works because it utilizes, rather than ignores, the body's continual water vapor and heat production activity.

    Here is a practical example of disrupting the skins comfort layer - on a 68F day you can comfortably walk to the store in a long sleeved shirt, but try jumping into a 68F swimming pool - it'll feel like ice water. On the 68F day your body can easily maintain a 75F comfort layer, but in the water it cannot; the sudden 7F drop on the bare skin is a shock.

    As outrageous as a VB sounds, informed consideration of our bodies behavior shows it to be perfectly logical. World War II ski troops afflicted with trench foot and frostbite from continuously wet, cold feet had their dilemma miraculously solved by the use of VB socks, which also solved the frozen foot problem during the Korean war. A properly used VB will increase body warmth by 20F.

    The concept of a VB contradicts all our good sense about staying dry and comfortable, and the system takes some tinkering and getting use to in the field. As the temperature gets milder, the system's efficiency makes overheating rather easy. The basic field use concept is that a VB requires ventilation, if not removal, in weather that's warming up, or when physical exertion raises the skin temperature near the sweat level. So, don't JOG to the top of Whitney with a VB on!"

    Re: trenchfoot...Trenchfoot is caused by cold, not just by wetness. You can hike with warm wet feet all day and not get trenchfoot. (I've hiked down the Paria River, which is several days of crossing the river about 40 times a day, and your feet are wet basically the entire hike.) VB keeps your feet warm, and it keeps your socks and shoes from getting soaked by your sweat, so you can sleep with warm, dry feet. It's easy to dry out VB socks overnight because they don't absorb any water, but as any hiker knows, thick wool socks will not dry overnight.

    This school REQUIRES VB socks on their winter trips:
    http://www.winterschool.org/faqs.html#9

  21. #21
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    Ok, so now I want to try the stuff. Is there specially made shirts and socks, or should I just go out and buy some rubber tubing ?
    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ________________
    "We don't need predator control, we need whiner control. Anyone who complains that "the gummint oughta do sumpin" about the wolves and coyotes should be darted, caged, and released in a more suitable habitat for them, like the middle of Manhattan." - Spats

    "I'm constantly doing things I can't do. Thats how I get to do them." - Pablo Picasso

  22. #22
    Squatch Guest
    me too. I'm generally a furnace, but my hands and feet get really cold.

  23. #23
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    Chainsaw: The reason you are always hot is because you can't vent long underwear -- it has no zips. So your skin is always hot (see above article) and will always sweat. I run very hot, too, and I always hated long underwear because it made me sweat all the time. I finally found a system that lets me not wear it.

    As far as your ski wear...holy crap! Polypro underwear, sweats *and* a fleece, and a hardshell? At 20 degrees? The reason you're cold on the chair is because you sweat so much while skiing that your insulation is wet and chills you when you need it. You are a prime candidate for VB.

    warmlite.com sells VB shirts for 30 bucks. They double as rain gear if you seal the seams. A VB shirt, fleece, and hardshell should be all you need.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spats View Post
    Re: trenchfoot...Trenchfoot is caused by cold, not just by wetness.
    ...
    so you can sleep with warm, dry feet. It's easy to dry out VB socks overnight because they don't absorb any water, but as any hiker knows, thick wool socks will not dry overnight.
    Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I always thought even warm wet feet for over 24 hrs was bad news. The key is sleeping with dry feet.
    I did a NOLS course back in the day, and there were kids who got some sort of foot rot from never drying out their feet. We were wearing plastic boots and two layers of wool socks for summer in cascades - warmth was not a problem. But if you slept in the socks you wore during the day and never dried out your feet, bad shit happened.
    Which is a good argument for VBL. I've used them winter camping and it's easier to dry out a 'plastic bag' and liner sock than several wool socks.
    My dog did not bite your dog, your dog bit first, and I don't have a dog.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will View Post
    Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I always thought even warm wet feet for over 24 hrs was bad news.
    You're right -- you'll eventually get all sorts of nasty crap growing on your feet if they stay wet and dirty too long.

    That's not trenchfoot, though. Trenchfoot basically means your feet are cold enough for long enough that blood circulation stops and the flesh dies. This can happen above freezing if your feet are wet.

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