Totting up the Differences

Humber Lifeboat

It’s a minefield. What would YOU wear?

How do you know what jacket to put on? Well, normally, you probably look out of the window, maybe go to the door, check the weather forecast, examine your collection of pinecones and seaweed – something involving assessing the state of the weather anyway – then choose. And all that stuff only helps you choose because of your experience: you know how cold you tend to feel, and you know what you’re intending to get up to.

It’s unusual for clothing to be rated according to temperature, for pretty much the reason just given: you need experience to know how cold you’ll feel on any given day (and you need to know if you’ll be running, walking, climbing, standing around, doing star jumps or whatever), and obviously we don’t know any of that when we’re making a jacket.

So why do we use temperature ratings then?!

It’s to help you choose. You’ll find a Typical Operating Temperature (TOT) supplied for each of our garments, and the thing to remember is: we know it’s only a rough guide. It has to be, if you think about it. A figure in degrees is very precise, but human experience is anything but! The idea is that it’s a good starting point, something to help with your personal-experience-based choosing. Assuming you’re not being too energetic but you’re moving most of the time (think walking with the odd break), the TOT is the lowest temperature for which the jacket is likely to be appropriate. But if you know you don’t notice the cold that much, you’ll be fine at lower temperatures. If you’re standing around for ages, you’ll probably need a more extreme-sounding TOT than the thermometer would suggest. And so on.

Hispar Brew

Hmmm. We never factored “has mug of Bovril” into our TOT calculations. Worth a look…

It’s the same idea that you’re probably used to with sleeping bags, although admittedly in that case it’s a bit easier and more reliable: we can all be pretty certain that the activity you’ll be getting up to is sleeping. That means you just need to know whether you tend to feel the cold and – once again – adjust accordingly.

Recently, a chap called Simon Curson went off to Alaska to climb Denali: a staggeringly cold mountain. We’d normally suggest taking a Xero K Jacket (with a TOT of -40°C) and a sleeping bag like the Hispar 1000K or Diamir 1200K (-46°C or -48°C), but Simon took a Hispar K Jacket (-30°C) and a Hispar 800K sleeping bag (-33°C). He wasn’t just slumming it and making do though:

View from Glacier

How cold do you reckon it looks?

I was recently in Alaska climbing Denali and used your jacket and sleeping bag in some pretty rough arctic storms. Both performed brilliantly. The jacket was the main reason I enjoyed Denali and was able to function.
Thank you very much for your time and like I said I think your products are the bomb. They were getting a lot of attention at 14k camp from the American climbers. Some had heard of you and were talking in hushed tones about how good the kit was. Those who hadn’t heard were impressed when we did jacket swaps (although never for long!).

Simon’s an experienced climber, and part of his kit choice was based on getting things as light as possible. What he considers to be ‘too cold’ will be different from what’s too cold for someone else, so the right kit for him will be understandably different from the right kit for someone else too.

So that’s back to the beginning: if you’re choosing what to wear, you think about the weather, about what you’ll be doing, and – crucially – about how cold you’re happy to be. The TOTs are simply there because if you’ve never worn these jackets, you need some info about what they can do. That’s why we use temperatures: you need to decide on a jacket for the cold, so we use the international language of cold!

And finally, if you haven’t the experience to know whether to take TOTs at face value or adjust them a bit, that’s fine: we have! We’ve been field testing for decades – as well as talking to people like Simon (and people who feel quite the opposite way and really hate the cold) – so give us a shout or drop us a line and we’ll give you a hand.

You never know who you might find wandering around Stalybridge…

As documented in CNN’s “The Challenge: Everest”, in the spring of 2018, chap-with-fingers-in-many-adventurous-pies Ben Fogle and champion-track-cyclist-turned-jockey Victoria Pendleton set out for Everest. They met by chance a few years ago, became friends, and realised they both had lofty ambitions: the very loftiest, in fact. That maybe shouldn’t be all that surprising: it took ten hyphens just to describe who they are. More to the point, when you think of Ben or Victoria, you don’t tend to think “bone idle, never achieves anything…”

Vic Trousers

OK, maybe it does look a bit big, but that is two pairs of trousers…

As well the challenge to themselves, they also set out to raise money for the Red Cross, and to highlight environmental issues surrounding the huge number of annual visitors to what was once a wilderness, which meant they also wanted their trip to be as low-impact as possible.

Small scale, UK manufacturing seemed to fit that bill for them, so they came to see us before they went, to meet the folks, have a chat about kit (and see what we could do to fit Vic’s slender frame). Ben was concerned about getting too hot, and Vic about getting too cold, which may seem like opposite concerns, but really they’re different ways of looking at the same problem: how do you cater for all conditions? Layering is the obvious answer, of course, but is rather at odds with the standard-issue Everest setup of an all-in-one suit under a climbing harness.

So, as well their bags – Vic took a Hispar 1200K (the warmest bag on our list) and Ben took a Diamir 1200K – and a selection of other bits, they chose to take our Expedition Double Suits. You may know the idea, but it’s pretty niche so it’s fair enough if you don’t: because of the too hot/too cold problem, we make a lighter suit which you sort of ‘live in’ below about 7000m, then a two-piece outer which you put on and take off as necessary. Openings in the outer let your ropework poke through so you can just keep your harness on.

Ben Inner

No, I said pay attention, not stand to…oh, never mind…

Ben’s tendency to overheat meant he very nicely demonstrated our little invention to the world’s press, which was really rather good of him. In the summit photos, he’s clearly wearing the inner suit and the jacket. He told us “In short the suit was amazing and the envy of every other climber.”

It wasn’t plain sailing however. A series of exploding oxygen regulators above 8000m meant the expedition very nearly ended in failure – possibly even tragedy. The regs had a history of being totally reliable, so this must have seemed quite spectacularly unlucky (not to mention thoroughly terrifying). Numbers thinned as O2 kit was handed over by Sherpas and guides to allow progress to continue, and in the end a rather smaller party than originally intended made it to the summit.

It was smaller still, in fact, because before all this, Vic had had to pull out. Despite her truly world-class levels of fitness, her body struggled to adjust to the altitude, and her oxygen saturation dropped as low as 28%. The oxygen starvation has since triggered symptoms of depression upon returning home which, although not uncommon after suffering hypoxia, must seem really very cruel after such a disappointment.

So our commiserations and best wishes to Vic, of course, for all that happened, but kudos for the tremendous effort in spite of the body’s best attempts to rebel! And congratulations to Ben, on reaching the peak he’d dreamed of for so many years.