I have been looking for a while to buy a parka, insulation pants and a sleeping bag to be used in -20C (for my slowly approaching trip to Aconcagua, later hopefully for Denali).
Having done quite a bit of research online and read dozens of reviews, it seems to me like the most often recommended / best pieces of gear are:
-> parka (down): First Ascent Peak XV Down Jacket
-> pants (full-zip, primaloft): Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants, or Patagonia DAS Pants
-> sleeping bag (800 fill): Mountain Hardwear -20 Wraith
The problem is... it seems to be close to impossible to source these items in London/Europe!
Thus, the question is - do you happen to know where I could buy these items somewhere in Europe? Alternatively, do you know some equally good alternatives available in the UK?
Thank you very much for your help - it will be much appreciated!
If you know for sure what size/style you need then just ask a shop which stocks the brand and ask if they can special order it in for you. They'll contact the UK suppliers (not sure if this will include Europe as well) and if they don't have stock then you'll have to buy from abroad. Buying MHW and Patagonia from America shouldn't be too much of a problem but expect to pay a lot.
As for alternatives I can't speak from experience but i can offer suggestions.
I presume you want a sleeping bag with a waterproof outer in which case the Marmot Col MemBrain might be worth a look, it's a bit cheaper and lighter than the Wraith. Other things that spring to mind are the Mammut Altitude EXP and PHD custom built bags.
Similarly PHD might be a good option for a waterproof down jacket, although maybe not as tough as the First Ascent.
For the jacket and pants, almost nowhere in UK/EU will have them in stock. But both can be bought online very easily. There are only a small number of EB First Ascent stores in the US, with a full range, so most buy online. If you need to work out your size in Patagonia, go into the London shop and try on some of their alpine pants to get an idea of how they fit you.
The Peak XV jacket is very good value (on sale at the moment), but it is just a basic big down jacket, nothing special. Mountain Equipment Annapurna or similar from Rab, PHD are also OK. PHD have a sale on right now.
Regarding the jacket:
My decision on Peak XV was heavily guided by the Cold Thistle blog reviews (coldthistle.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/belay-jacketsthe-heavy-weights.html). I just honestly don't know good alternatives and the reviews/fora/material/etc. available on the Internet are usually heavily US-biased.
Annapurna seems quite a bit colder. John Griffith (http://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/review.php?id=3994) was quite happy with PHD Hispar on Denali, though he did not summit. I know that XV Peak has been used successfully on Aconcagua and Denali. I have no idea about PHD Hispar, though - admittedly, it is significantly lighter (700g vs 1kg). Another alternative would be Marmot 8000M, but that just seems like overkill.
What would you do? Would you go for PHD Hispar 800 (interestingly, made out of 900 down)? 500GBP seems like a bit of gamble, absent any concrete reviews/comparisons/recommendations... I guess the alternative would be to import Peak XV (paying around 100USD for shipping) and risking totally bad fit/sizing problems.
As regards Pants:
I am afraid that Photon Pants will be too cold. Patagonia does not intend to make DAS Pants available in Europe until March - I have confirmed that the local distributors are not allowed to import it. You would think that checking the size for Patagonia pants and ordering myself would be easy. Interestingly, I have 28'' Rock Craft pants bought in the US and 30'' Alpine Guide pants bought in the UK, both with exactly the same waist size... oh well! I might just guess one way or the other and hope.
As regards the sleeping bag:
That is probably the easiest to order from the US (thought still very expensive) as the size does not matter. Great advice on Marmot Col MemBrain, though! Is there anyone by any chance who has any clue how Wraith and Col MemBrain compare? A quick look on the specifications seems to suggest that Col MemBrain is lighter (1.77kg vs 1.99kg) and has slightly higher fill weight (1.07kg vs 1.02kg) with the same down (800). Has any of you used either?
The Rab Photons are 100gsm primaloft eco compared to the DAS with 100gsm primaloft one, so they're not exactly miles off spec. That's only a few % temp difference at best, no?
PHD do optional taped waterproof outers for some of their sleeping bags (xero, hispar, custom). They'll also do untaped outers of the same fabric for their custom down jackets... the Svalbard looks nice, but I doubt you'll find any reviews of it yet.
I guess you've been looking at US sites as all the gear is US brands and some are not available in Europe, but I think there are plenty of European alternatives - things that may well have not been reviewed by US sites because they're not available there.
Do people wear the insulated trousers to summit on those mountains? Or just for camp wear? At -20 here I would possibly wear my old Buffalo salopettes, but some goretex troos, micro fleece and wool longjohns are normally fine at that temperature too, it's your top half that really needs the warmth.
There's no right answer and everyone seems to operate at a different temperature. For sleeping, my solution has been to go for a layering approach using an ME Snowline SL sleeping bag. On the one or two nights it gets down to -20 or lower, I'll wear a duvet or extra clothes (all of them if needed) and at 1315g the weight saving is significant.
The same layering approach has been applied to jackets and this has the added benefit that it gives me options to re-use the gear for alpine/scottish winter rather than having one nice big super warm and toasty duvet that I can only use for going to 7000m or going to the pub and nothing in between.
Two things worth remembering:
1) If it's -20 at 6,900m, it's probably only going to be -5 or so at 5,000m and you will need something that you can use and adapt as you move up the mountain.
2) Don't forget to eat well so the body has energy to burn that the insulation can keep in. No amount of insulation will warm up a cold body if that body isn't generating heat.
For me the biggest problems are gloves/mitts - thick enough to stay warm but enough dexterity to work jumars, fig 8's etc. Still haven't solved that one.
> Do people wear the insulated trousers to summit on those mountains? ... it's your top half that really needs the warmth.
They do, sometimes. Depends. Obviously Denali is cold enough sometimes, especially in May, though on a nice still sunny day in late June sometimes people just wear a shell or less. They are popular as camp wear, for sure.
I used to think legs didn't matter but both times I've been to the summit of Aconcagua I've put on Compressor pants part way up and the difference is significant - not just on your legs but around your groin etc which helps keep your core warm. Admittedly I was climbing in the night and it was around -20C at 6300m at 4am - a midday climb might be different. Plenty of people summit without them, but then people are also wearing waterproof hard-shells in a place where it rarely rains. Having synth insulated pants enables you to wear lighter softshell pants lower on the mountain, which are much more appropriate.
Dude, you're freaking out on internet gear specs! I think you need to handle some of this stuff to get an idea and you should also have an idea from other lower climbs you've done elsewhere. Jon Griffiths' margins of comfort will be somewhat different from yours, I'm guessing, though the Hispar bags are very good if you can afford them.
EU/UK has plenty of option to the products you're talking about, many of them better. The new Rab Jannu parka is probably fine for your uses, or the Millet Expert down jacket is also very good.
Basically any 800 fill sleeping bag rated -25C or lower will be OK. Don't worry about waterproof shells or taped seams etc. Marmot have always made good down bags and they're good value, though nowadays neither the lightest nor the best.
Note that Denali 14K and 17K regularly go lower than -20C. We had the rangers measure -41C at 14K in 3rd week of May some years back. Aconcagua is much warmer lower down but early on summit day in the wind it can be like -25C or so.
> Do people wear the insulated trousers to summit on those mountains? Or just for camp wear? At -20 here I would possibly wear my old Buffalo salopettes, but some goretex troos, micro fleece and wool longjohns are normally fine at that temperature too, it's your top half that really needs the warmth.
FWIW I wore some ME synthetic trousers when I summited the West Buttress on Denali. I didnīt take them on the Cassin as they were too heavy/bulky and I wasnīt brave enough to take them instead of a sleeping bag.
To the OP:
Iīd echo Damo's post that you should stop freaking out about online gear specs. (And I freak out a lot about what gear to take on trips and gear in general.)
I would also take the spray on Cold Thistle with a pinch of salt. I'm not sure how much current expirence Dane has of very cold mountains, like Denali. There is a lot of good info on that site however.
I've used a PHD Hispar 500 sleeping bag extensively. Itīs very good, but probably isn't the be all and end all. The new ME bags are very good quality as are the top end Rab bags.
Thank you so much for the responses - they have been most helpful. You are great!
It's easy to say that I shouldn't be going crazy about the gear! On the other hand, I am about to spend lots of money on gear which might make or break my trips - so I guess I just want to be sure I am spending my money wisely and not making stupid choices. It is difficult to judge in a store whether a given parka will be sufficient on the top of a mountain....
I must have misread the information about RAB Photons - given that they are 100gsm, I will definitely go for them and save myself some hassle.
As regards the bag, having read various reviews, I guess I will go for RAB Expedition 1000 (415GBP), as lighter and cheaper than Col MemBrain (550GBP).
Tom - great article! I appreciate your advice about not going overboard with the parka, though with some people taking the 8000M down jacket, one does think that the weather might be quite crazy on the summiting day.
I will be wearing my Arc' Phase SV (baselayer). Pata R1, Arc' Atom LT and a hardshell (likely Pata Super Alpine), with the down to go over it. Rab Neutrino Endurance looks great but it is half the weight of e.g. Peak XV. Are you sure it will be sufficient for the whole duration of summitting of Aconcagua or Denali? (given what I mentioned about my other intended garments)? I am a walking bag of bones with no natural insulation layer, so I do tend to usually get cold.
> Tom - great article! I appreciate your advice about not going overboard with the parka, though with some people taking the 8000M down jacket, one does think that the weather might be quite crazy on the summiting day.
The people who take 8000m gear are normally guided teams who carry way too much stuff and move far too slowly. Focus on getting yourself and your partner really really fit so you can summit from 14k camp in a day with light packs.
I wore a similar amount of clothing to you and was absolutely fine with my ME Vega jacket. (It is a really superb piece of kit, one of the only bits of gear I own which, in my view, can`t be improved.) If I was going in early May
> I will be wearing my Arc' Phase SV (baselayer). Pata R1, Arc' Atom LT and a hardshell (likely Pata Super Alpine), with the down to go over it. Rab Neutrino Endurance looks great but it is half the weight of e.g. Peak XV. Are you sure it will be sufficient for the whole duration of summitting of Aconcagua or Denali? (given what I mentioned about my other intended garments)? I am a walking bag of bones with no natural insulation layer, so I do tend to usually get cold.
I wouldn`t bother with a hardshell at all. It won`t be raining up high. Maybe a super lightweight simple one like a Marmot Precip for low down on the mountain and the walk in. A hooded windshirt weights a 100g and is fine for Denali.