Belay jackets are an essential piece of mountaineering gear.  I picked up the idea from Mark Twight’s excellent book Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High.  It works so well that I use it anytime I’m traveling in cold conditions.

Climbing involves one of two states; climbing or belaying, or to put it another way, motion or stillness.  When moving, you work up a sweat.  When you stop moving, you can easily be chilled as the sweat evaporates due to the high efficiency synthetic fabrics most of us use these days.  This necessitates a big warm jacket that can be used over the top of all the existing clothing to help dry the sweat and prevent chilling.

Of course, such a jacket must, by the very nature of its use, be made with synthetic insulation.  Down will not work when used this way.  It will get wet from your sweat.  It will get wet from snow and ice coated gloves that you stuff in the pockets to dry.  Lots of people will be upset by this because synthetics are not as lightweight as down.  I’m a huge fan of going light, but assessments must be made about the suitability of materials for the conditions.

Backpacking, snowshoeing, skiing, etc are all similar activities.  You will move, and work hard, creating sweat.  Then, you stop for rest breaks, for lunch, etc.  During these times it helps to have a warm jacket that can also dry out your wet layers.

In very cold conditions, a pair of synthetic insulated belay pants will be necessary as well.  These items should be carried stuffed in readily accessible locations in your pack.

My choices are the Patagonia DAS parka for the belay jacket and the Patagonia Micro Puff pants for the belay pants.  The fit of both of these is generous without being overly baggy.  It is easy to fit them over all of your other layers while still being able to move.  They withstand the repeated stuffing and general hard use that they get from climbing.  In very cold conditions, I often integrate these pieces into my sleep system to get some extra warmth.

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One Response to “Belay jacket – concept and use in the less than vertical world”

  1. Barry Thomas says:

    Chris:
    I have a DAS Parka and various fleece layers which I have successfully layered for comfort down to around zero degrees; however, I have plans on climbs in the Himalayas and Alaska where temperatures can often hit the -20 to -40 range and I would like to know if you think synthetic layering is still viable in such low temperatures? All of the gear lists that I have reviewed for expeditions to these areas require down suits or heavy down “expedition” parka/pant combinations. I could be wrong, but I assume the temperatures are so low at very high altitudes in these environments that sweat caused wetting-out of the down garments is not a problem like it would be at lower altitudes or in very wet and “somewhat” less cold environments such as Patagonia where you have a great deal of climbing experience.

    Regards,
    Barry

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