By Calum Munro. With the first snow dump of the winter upon us the backcountry skier’s mind turns to the season ahead each according to their own ability, ambition, or in my case age, views the season ahead differently.
In my case a prerequisite to enjoying the season is keeping warm and at the heart of that is the choice of thermal base layer. It could be argued that my longevity in the sport and indeed on the planet is founded on my constant quest for thermal balance – the foundation of skiing nirvana. I can genuinely claim that my initial skiing outfit was based on my father’s cast off white wool long johns and vest under wool breaches, tartan wool shirt, a Shetland wool sweater and a cotton anorak! As the decades have rolled on I have experimented with every new development and sought comfort in knitted polypropylene (smelly helly), Modal (a definite no! no! for sweaty sports), Merino (wool coming round again…) and almost every mix and combination of material in my “combinations” know to inventive outdoor marketing people. Each iteration claiming to be THE solution to the challenge.
Last year despairing of yet another sweaty/cold/sweaty/cold… season I read the advice of Andy Kirkpatrck on the subject of winter warmth. He recommended a base layer outfit by Brynje of Norway topped with a thin merino or fleece shirt. (Brynje is suppled through www.nordicoutdoor.co.uk) Basically it is a polypropylene mesh – a sophisticated string vest! Brynje supplied the mesh thermals that Tenzing and Hillary wore on Everest in 1953 and their products are a firm favourite with Nordic explorers and “Special Forces” across Europe. It comes in two version – plain polypropylene and a polyprop/merino mix. The colour options are Navy or Black. I have gone with the plain polyprop. The down side of the kit is – as stated by one military reviewer – “ …great kit but don’t let your mates see you wearing it!” As the picture attached shows it has a certain burlesque ambiance… The Polyprop/merino mix version is highly recommended by the great backwoodsman Ray Mears and I suppose in a survival situation the mesh structure would be good for catching fish.
Last season and so far this I have been using a high zip neck shirt with short johns (supposedly knee length but they come half way down my calf -Norwegians obviously have very long inside leg measurements) topped with a thin fleece shirt under a Paramo salopettes and smock set and find it comfortable and efficient with little wick back onto the skin when at rest. I have a slight reservation about the string vest like structure on my shoulders under the straps of a heavy sack but I haven’t experienced a problem so far. However I notice that the military versions of the Brynje gear have plain material shoulders instead of mesh. Aclima of Norway do a similar range of both polyprop and merino/polyprop but they have protected shoulders on all their shirts and protected knees on their long johns. Their kit is available in Scotland through Nordic Outdoor of Edinburgh – www.nordicoutdoor.co.uk
On an associated, if delicate topic – Helly Hansen, Brynje and Aclima all produce wicking wind protection briefs/trunks/shorts for gentlemen who appreciate their assets. This may seem like a luxury bit of kit but the zip in trousers/salopettes is a true weak spot in most designs… Those of us who are mature enough to remember the Sarejavo Winter Olympics may recall the excruciating tales of damage done to male skiers through a combination of faulty kit design and very low temperatures that came from the event.
If you appreciate warmth in the winter mountains and can get past the slightly off putting look and the Rab C Nesbit associations this style of kit could be for you.
The Club Secretary is always exhorting us to “get our juices flowing” well this kit helps get them flowing but more importantly keeps those juices flowing away from the skin so that we stay dry and warm.