Com­ing Out of Your Shell

Outer Edge - - Contents -

Here in Aus­tralia, the lay­er­ing mes­sage has fi­nally made it to ev­ery­one, but it’s still com­ing across a bit mixed and to be hon­est, that’s ok be­cause lay­er­ing choice is flex­i­ble.

What is still caus­ing some of the mixed mes­sag­ing is the terms used by out­doors peo­ple, brands and man­u­fac­tur­ers when ap­plied to the var­i­ous lay­ers. Edi­tor Charles has thrown us a cou­ple of ques­tions about one par­tic­u­lar layer and that is the Outer Layer.

De­fine to me the Outer Layer.

What! Are you try­ing to start a fight? ok, I’ll bite on this ques­tion. The outer layer is the outer layer of your lay­ered cloth­ing sys­tem, what­ever that gar­ment may be. Now some will be say­ing to them­selves, “Oh, that’s a hard-shell gar­ment.” and oth­ers will be say­ing it’s a hard-face soft-shell, some think it’s any form of shell jacket and so the ar­gu­ment will go. But lay­er­ing is flex­i­ble and you layer to suit the ex­pected con­di­tions. If you need that outer layer to be wa­ter­proof, it’s go­ing to be a wa­ter­proof gar­ment. If you need it to be wind proof, it can be only wind­proof but not wa­ter­proof, or it could be both. A lot of peo­ple talk about the outer layer be­ing a shell gar­ment as that is the one gar­ment you don’t nor­mally put un­der oth­ers but the re­al­ity is that your outer layer is the one that suits your need at that time and the choice is en­tirely up to you.

What makes up the Outer Layer?

In the tra­di­tional logic of lay­er­ing, peo­ple have al­ways cho­sen the outer layer as be­ing a Hard-shell gar­ment. The logic here is that this is a pro­tec­tive gar­ment to guard against wind and rain so it’s usu­ally a light ny­lon gar­ment with ei­ther a breath­able mem­brane or a polyurethane coat­ing. Now, there is a range of soft fab­rics, such as fleeces that have a Hard-face fin­ish to the outer face. This is ei­ther a very tight weave of the fab­ric or a chem­i­cal treat­ment such as Durable Wa­ter Re­pel­lent or a fi­bre im­preg­na­tion of some sort. Most of­ten it’s both but they never quite give you the same pro­tec­tion as a proper hard outer shell.

Does the Outer Layer Im­pact the Ef­fec­tive­ness of Lay­er­ing?

Very much so. If we go with the usual outer layer of a wa­ter/wind-proof ny­lon gar­ment, putting on this layer can af­fect the per­for­mance of all the other lay­ers that you might have on, even if that is just a t-shirt. Be­ing a gov­ern­ment en­tity, de­fence did a study on the ef­fects of all its cloth­ing and equip­ment lay­ers on the core tem­per­a­tures of users. The sur­prise is that un­der all the gear and cloth­ing lay­ers, core tem­per­a­tures had only mod­er­ate rises, well within tol­er­ances, that al­lowed users to keep work­ing for sev­eral hours be­fore heat-stress be­comes a prob­lem.

When a hard-shell layer was added, its ef­fect was to “seal” the user in caus­ing core tem­per­a­tures to rise much faster. The re­search found that users were now fa­tigu­ing faster and reach­ing dan­ger­ous core temps in as lit­tle as forty min­utes un­der the same con­di­tions. The im­pact of that hard shell layer is now quite sig­nif­i­cant and it would be wise to con­sider re­mov­ing a mid-layer be­fore putting on a hard-shell outer layer to negate the tem­per­a­ture rais­ing ef­fect, un­less that’s what you’re after. Now, the hard-face fab­rics we spoke about don’t have as strong an ef­fect on core tem­per­a­tures as they are not as ef­fec­tive in stop­ping wind and rain as the hard-shells and you would need a cou­ple more lay­ers of them for the same ef­fect. This kind of points to the hard-shell outer be­ing pretty ef­fi­cient for it’s size and pack­ing vol­ume.

What About the Qual­ity of the Gar­ment?

One thing all read­ers know is that bet­ter qual­ity gives bet­ter and longer last­ing per­for­mance and for the real ad­ven­tur­ers this is crit­i­cal. A sim­ple shell gar­ment with a polyurethane coat­ing will do the job and as­sist the lay­ers to work bet­ter un­der harsh con­di­tions. But a wa­ter­proof polyurethane coat­ing does not breath and all the mois­ture your body gen­er­ates will travel to the outer layer only to con­dense and be ab­sorbed and held in mid-lay­ers. When you stop gen­er­at­ing heat, that mois­ture is go­ing to sap the heat from you and if it’s below freez­ing, it can be the end of you.

Charles’s Antarc­tic ad­ven­ture is a case of this and he would have been very care­ful to bal­ance his body temp to re­duce the amount of mois­ture he puts out as sweat. To trans­port that mois­ture away from our body our lower lay­ers must be wick­ing and the outer layer vapour per­me­able. That means a mem­brane fab­ric or a fab­ric with some sort of ef­fec­tive treat­ment. In this cat­e­gory, you will find the best science has to of­fer in mem­branes and some fab­rics that have been de­scribed as noth­ing more than chem­i­cally treated show cur­tain.

So How am I Go­ing to Choose?

Since the pa­tent ex­piry on the orig­i­nal vapour per­me­able mem­brane tech­nol­ogy, a heap of brands and trade names have en­tered the mar­ket, in­clud­ing some al­ter­nate meth­ods of achiev­ing a wa­ter­proof but breath­able bar­rier. One of the hardest mar­ket seg­ments to nav­i­gate is the “Home” brands of gar­ments you now find. Since re­tail­ers de­cided to be­come man­u­fac­tur­ers as well, they have be­gun to of­fer their own brands along­side the well know man­u­fac­turer brands.

This works by go­ing to a man­u­fac­turer (al­most al­ways in Asia) and choos­ing the de­sign, fea­tures and per­for­mance of the gar­ment they wish to sell, then brand­ing and pro­mot­ing it in their stores. This means that the mem­brane type fab­ric they choose will be an off-the-shelf of­fer­ing from the fac­tory, to suit the cus­tomer. Now you need to un­der­stand that that cus­tomer is the re­tail chain, not you. That gar­ment has to con­tain fea­tures that make it saleable yet main­tain the sort of profit mar­gin that still gives the re­tailer 150% per­cent when they throw it on sale at half-price. Some brands have been “cre­ated” just for in­ter­net-only clear­ance sales sites! Know­ing that the outer gar­ment you are be­ing of­fered is made to a mar­ket­ing depart­ment price and plan, you would need to be cau­tious about the per­for­mance of what you’re buy­ing. Even the ma­jor brands we have trusted for years have dif­fer­ent lev­els of prod­uct qual­ity and per­for­mance, in or­der to com­pete with the house brands.

To be hon­est, when choos­ing your outer layer, you should start with how you want it to per­form. For a ca­sual walker, a light shell with a medi­ocre per­for­mance mem­brane will suf­fice but at the other end of the scale, a trail run­ner will need the most ca­pa­ble mem­brane they can get in or­der to pass the most mois­ture, with the light­est weight etc. Next will come Price. Good gear costs and there is no way around that. If you want ma­jor brand tech­nol­ogy, made by peo­ple who are paid proper liv­ing wages and who work in first world con­di­tions at fac­to­ries that con­sider the en­vi­ron­ment, then you are go­ing to have to pay a pre­mium. Even mak­ing to those rules in Asia costs nearly the same as in Europe. You’re last op­tion is Fea­tures. All the things like pock­ets, cuffs, colours etc. come last be­cause they are just use­less if you paid a for­tune for a gar­ment doesn’t per­form as re­quired. So, Outer Lay­ers, not so cut and dry but they play and im­por­tant role in the com­fort of your out­door ac­tiv­i­ties. Choose well.

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