Standards Watch: Standards Are Important (But Not Enough)

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Standards Watch: Standards Are Important (But Not Enough)

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    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Companion forum thread to: Standards Watch: Standards Are Important (But Not Enough)

    Rex Sanders illustrates how difficult it can be to make accurate product comparisons based on manufacturer-provided data.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Rex, Boy, reading this gave me sympathy pains. I agree. Even good standards make no sense when used by people intentionally out to “push the boundaries.” Thanks!

    Nicholas Couis
    BPL Member


    I have asked a similar question in the forums, my answer is using a Polartec Alpha hoody, the Macpac Nitro with the Patagonia Houdini Air, I would prefer a hoody of the Patagonia Airshed fabric. Far superior to the all in one active insulation hoodies.

    Stephen C


    I went through the exact same exercise as this. I was trying to find a way to cut two items of clothing down to one. (Save weight and room). Just couldn’t make it work.
    I tried the OR Ascendant Hoody, Pertex microlight stretch outer with Polartech Alpha direct insulation. Nice piece of clothing, pretty light, can worn over a base layer, under a puffy or a hardshell.
    But, I found that a fleece (Rab Alpha flash) made our of polartech Alpha direct paired with a Rab Borealis (light, very stretchy, good wind resistantance) was better suited for, well, everything. The combo of the Flash+Borealis comes out about 200g heavier but this combo is much more versatile. Also the combo is warmer due to more Alpha. I have found that for me, I use a wind shell more than anything else in my pack. With the Ascendant, I didn’t have the option of baselayer+wind shell. Actually found myself still packing a wind shell after trying the Ascendant.
    So I am ok with the small weigh penalty of the two pieces vs the active insulation of the Ascendant. Just way more versatile in my opinion. I still have the Ascendant, I use it ice climbing when the forecast is for wind and overcast. I love it for that.

    Brett Peugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    I use my OR Ascendant for around town, walking and when I know it is going to be damp, windy and cold. Otherwise I break it up to the Senchi Designs Alpha hoody and a Patagonia Houdini which pair really well and become a two piece Ascendant.

    Scott Chandler
    BPL Member


    Locale: Reno area

    Perhaps these garments aren’t aimed at lightweight or ultralight backpackers, but mountaineers or skiers. A single garment you could pull on at a belay stance, or just after you’ve reached a ridge and are removing skins. Standards would be nice, but we still don’t have a standard in cross country ski bindings, much less garments or sleeping bags. For us, layering will always be superior, but we also have the luxury of fine tuning our layers while we’re out there.

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains


    Thank you for the research and starting this discussion.
    Since you wrote this, OR has come out with the Helium Wind Hoodie wind jacket. You might want to update your table above using that instead of the overweight and thicker Ferrosi jacket.
    I personally am still debating whether I want to try an active insulation jacket or, as you have suggested, stick with my current more versatile fleece-plus-wind jacket system.
    One additional advantage of the fleece-plus-wind jacket system is you can bring a different weight fleece depending on conditions, cheaper than buying different active insulation jackets (if you can even find much range in insulation values for them).

    BPL Member


    “Active Insulation” used to be called “Softshell”

    Today, I think we can break down integrated (as compared to seperable layer) active insulation garments into three categories:

    1. Hydrophobic synthetic fill sandwiched between two highly air-permeable and (hopefully) highly breathable wind-resistant fabrics.

    2. Wind-resistant and (hopefully) highly breathable wind-resistant face fabric (nylon or polyester taffeta originally) with hydrophilic wicking fleece or wicking tricot attached at the seams. This is the “original softshell” concept and apart from convenience of having both layers in one garment was meant to provide decent protection against moisture, including rain. Early examples include Buffalo Systems, which were reputed to be effective protection against cold rain, provided you kept moving and generating heat.

    3. Wind-resistant and breathable face fabric (maybe stretch-woven, maybe highly air-permeable) sewn to non-wicking fleece-like inner layer. Arcteryx Proton FL is an example. This is a non-wicking softshell, a new category, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a step backward.


    Well, I guess you could say that the multi-layer analogs to the above are:

    2. Windshirt + wicking fleece/baselayer like R1 or capilene thermal weight.

    3. Windshirt + non-wicking fleece




    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Can stare at numbers for hours and still miss something obvious:

    For Montbell, you could pair the Tachyon wind shell with the U.L. Thermawrap active insulation and come in 4.8 ounces (135 grams) lighter than using their Climaplus fleece! A little crazy making.

    The Arc’teryx Proton LT hoody got BPL’s “Highly Recommended” award. See the review for Ryan and Andrew’s recommended use conditions. And they compared it directly to three other “active insulation” jackets. I recommend reading the whole review for more context.

    I was disappointed to not find a lightweight wind hoody from OR, glad they have one now. All clothing product lines change (too) frequently, glad you pointed out their new Helium Wind Hoodie.

    Interesting breakdown of categories. Helps some with selection, but marketing spin still makes it challenging.

    Especially in the almost complete absence of useful standardized quantitative measurements. Which would assist, but not solve all selection problems.

    And fleece + wind jacket still has one less layer than the integrated garments, with all that implies for flexibility and MVTR.

    Obviously, integrated garments under whatever name have a market. Too bad the industry makes their advantages and differences nearly impossible to understand.

    — Rex

    Michael B
    BPL Member


    Companies seem to make a gamble with their marketing; on one hand, a bunch of useful technical information may lead buyers with a tendency to prioritize such things to purchase their product. However, it may also lead some potential buyers away from buying the product, since that is what they will be focused on. I think marketing folks hope that by leaving a bit of vagueness in the description, they will attract a larger group of people to actually buy and try, knowing that of the folks who try the product and not find it satisfactory, are not likely to return it, more often than not. That is my guess.

    BPL Member


    Rex, it’s clear the consumer needs independent data: CFM, MVTR, R, dry time to add to the limited numbers supplied by manufacturers (weight, denier (a rough proxy for durability data)).



    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    For this article, the following image licensed from The Noun Project didn’t make the cut. Too bad :-)

    — Rex

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Rex, and others

    Opinions from a known and experienced cynic (me): there are two major rat-holes in so-called ‘outdoors’ gear: Jackets and shoes.

    In both cases the company marketing departments are really trying to convince the average street customer that they are buying something really upmarket and technical. The stuff does not have to be either of these really, but it has to look good, be affordable, and sound great.

    In short, we are talking about street fashion, especially with jackets of all sorts. The big mistake so many people make is in thinking that the stuff will really work as advertised.

    I think I should repeat some cartoons I have shown before as they illustrate what I am saying:

    You can’t really blame the companies: they are just trying to make a living by selling what is really fashion clothing but with a trendy outdoors appeal. (Well, you can blame them, but you will get nowhere.)

    By way of comparison: there are thousands of jackets of all sorts on the market, with all sorts of claims for protection from the weather, but all (ALL) of them either leak or build up condensation inside, or quickly fail in the field. On the other hand, there are very few ponchos on the market, even though they do work much better. But ponchos look daggy. Who would wear one on the street?


    Stephen Seeber
    BPL Member


    For those of you are do not speak Australian:

    Chris R
    BPL Member


    Similar to a dingleberry or clingon in origin

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