In this interactive article series, gear guru and mountain funny man Andy Kirkpatrick will answer your questions on gear. From the basic to the bizarre, if you need to know something then just Ask Andy!
Forum Thread for posting questions: Premier Post
Read Doctor Gear Part 1 - Bivy Bags vs. Bothy Bags
Question for Andy:
Hi Andy, here's a question for you;
Mammut Basejump pants over a pair of Power-stretch tights, warm enough for Mont Blanc in September?
By Liz J on the 14th Jul 2008
Almost! If you have that system, and carry an extra pair of over trousers as a 'storm layer', then I think you will be well prepared.
Getting a good alpine climbing leg-wear system isn't too hard these days, what with the vast selection of tough trousers, thermal leggings and lightweight over-trousers.
The basic needs of an alpine climber are:
Low-weight for any leg wear that won't be worn 100% of the time. (This is vital as any thing that's heavy or bulky will probably get left behind.)
Be tough enough for the rigours of alpine climbing. (This means long days in a high UV environment, rough rock, crampons plus wetting and drying.)
Fit well. (Alpine climbing, be it on snow, rock, or mixed, requires that you be able to move fluidly and easily. Having a clothing system that doesn't hinder you, either whilst climbing rock or striding over a crevasse. Having a pair of over trousers that restrict movement will cause use of valuable energy each time you move, and worse still will cause you to lose focus on what really matters i.e. climbing.)
Keep you warm and comfortable. (Your leg-wear should provide enough insulation for moving in the coldest temperatures, plus some standing around. It is not bivvy gear, and wearing too much insulation on your legs will cause you to roast, sapping both morale and energy.)
Keep off the sun. (This is probably as important as keeping you warm.)
It needs to be modular and adaptable. (Having a pair of over trousers that require you to remove your boots in order to put them on isn't going to work if a storm hits you as you crest the summit of Les Courtes. Ideally all your layers should fit together in a system that is adaptable to the situation you find yourself in.)
An Ideal alpine leg wear system:
The first item that I would have in an alpine leg wear system would be a pair of quality lightweight running shorts. These serve several purposes; primarily they give you a cool layer for walk-ins (don't forget the sun cream), and something to wear when drying off gear in huts or bivouacs. They also give some added wind proofing to the nether regions and they dry quickly.
Power-stretch is the ideal insulation layer for alpine climbing, as it is totally non-restrictive, light, warm when wet or damp, and it dries quickly. R1 style fleece also works very well, being lighter, but not quite as close fitting, meaning it loses some warmth when wet.
This is your primary layer, and is worn almost all of the time, providing a tough, breathable, wind and weather resistant layer. Stretch woven fabrics work best (Scholle and its copies), and it's vital to get a good fit, with decent pockets, double fly (put some cord on the zips so you can find them with cold fingers), and reinforced crampon patches. Lighter colours will feel cooler, but take longer to dry in the sun.
No matter how good your pants are, they will get wet and allow cooling of the legs if the weather gets really bad, meaning it's vital that you carry a pair of storm pants in reserve. These will protect you from rain and snow (worn over your shorts, or just your power-stretch as well as over everything), and give some added warmth (testing by the British Army showed that wearing a second pair of trousers significantly improved a soldier's heat retention). The ideal leg wear would be a simple pair of Gore Packlite trousers, with either full length side zips, or half zips. These should be rolled up tight and stowed in your sack until you need them.
Having spent two years in the wilderness writing his first book, Psychovertical (published by Hutchinson in September), Andy is returning to climbing gear writing here at UKClimbing.com with Doctor Gear, an irregular surgery for all gear and strange technique questions. If you would like to book an appointment, then please submit any questions to the associated Premier Post (please note Andy will not treat your questions confidentially in any way!).
Andy Kirkpatrick is sponsored by Berghaus and Lyon Equipment.