I don't think its a matter of past versus future. It's about doing your own research and ignoring marketing hype. In some situations wool is just better, even if down still works. In other situations down is just better even if fleece and wool still work. Marketing however, is always about making money. People should base their decisions on their own science and experience, not on marketing. Too much clothing and gear today looks like its for mountaineering, rather than other forms of adventuring which call for different solutions, and I would guess that most of it isn't that great even for mountaineering.
Cotton I don't care for, but it has its place if you are going to spend a lot of time near a wood stove as it is easier to launder. I will include a single pair of fleece boxers for this reason also, away from woodstoves. Generally I like to mix fleece with wool, plus light skin and shell layers. Wool is better for keeping on, especially as a sweater. Fleece is better for layers added and removed, but also might be better in snow as pants. It's hard to find good wool pants these days, loosely rather than tightly woven, so my main layers in winter is a hand knit wool sweater and 200wt fleece pants. Both wool and fleece have the advantage over down in that you only need to add or remove a light shell to make them alot warmer or alot cooler. Wool is the best material for absorbing and recovering heat from body moisture, but you have to be able to dry it out. If you don't have too much wool you can keep it dry just in the way you use it, so its sometimes absorbing and recovering heat from body moisture to keep the body warm, and sometimes drying out and keeping the body cool at the same time, from one part of the day or from one level of activity to the next. For hiking and camping amongst trees where wood for fire is available you might as well have a clothing system that can take better advantage of that without being too dependant on it. If sustained temperatures below 0degF are possible, even remotely possible, you need to consider incorporating some down into your clothing system. However, some folks might find a way to use down clothing effectively at 20 to 30F, and others might find a way to go without down clothing even at -20 to -30F. Depends on many factors. People need stuff that works best for the 90% of conditions they expect, but will also work for the other 10%, whether extreme wet or extreme cold or extreme windy or some nast combination of all three. People need to develop and test their own clothing systems. Most stuff that people wear today, even for climbing Mount Everest in my opinion, is based far too much on marketing and brand names, and not enough on personal research and experience. We should all endeavour to be better scientists and adventurers, not consumers.
It is interesting to note that even back in 1946 when Paul Siple wrote his paper, and I would guess even 50-100 years before his time, if not for thousands of year, there was always alot of heated and highly opinionated discussion about what the best cold weather clothing systems were even amongst experts. This is nothing new. What is new, perhaps, is post-modern consumerism. Then again, perhaps not.
Excellent points JAK. I don't know why, but I am more comfortable in wider temperature range in wool versus other fabrics. My guess is wool does a better job than synthetics of moving body pirspiration away from skin to outside layers. But that's just a guess.
Looser knit wool pants - LL Bean and Woolrich may have what you're looking for. Bean has a good wool selection in their hunting section as opposed to the generic outdoor section. That said, you'll have a hard time finding this stuff in stores.
I think you're right about the marketing mode of "make everybody look like a mountaineer." That becomes a sexy backdrop to sell against with beautiful landscapes and rugged, outdoorsy types. The marketing also conveys the "if it works on everest it has to work in Fargo" message. Years ago the North Face really pioneered this style of marketing by sponsoring high profile expeditions and then featuring the expeditions in their catalogs.
These are thin cotton garments used for camouflage purposes, very large and baggy to be used over the normal uniform. Not the most practical for winter camping. The price is right, pants and jacket for less than 15 bucks.
http://www.klattermusen.se Check out the jacket "Rimfaxe". A cotton winter jacket from a company that has sponsored quite a few North Pole expeditions.
I use Gore Tex when I expect wet weather, but my favourite for cold conditions is a cotton anorak made by a company called "Kavu" I like cotton shell in subfreezing temp because it is quiet and ventilates well.
I know I (well, my better half and I) sewed mine from a pattern as at least a "hint". however now searching "anorak" in sewing patterns comes up only with stylish chick fashions instead of anything practical, however I'm sure a note to some of our resident sewing gurus with that link above might find a similar pattern. an anorack is not that hard to sew.
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
JAK, check out the threads on Wintertrekking for Anoraks, High Tech v. Traditional and Pake's Anorak Modifications in the forums and the article on Winter Clothing Outerwear.
All I know about cotton anoraks, I learned there recently. Never seen one in person.
The basic advantages, according to the guys who have them are that they are durable, breathe well and are fireproof.
But, as with any other cotton garment, once it gets above freezing, they are not good because they may get wet and then you have the usual problems of wet cotton. They are using them in below zero C weather.
I don't think a sheet would work. Look at the anoraks on www.empirecanvasworks.com Those are made out of 6.3 oz. cotton of some kind. Some of the guys on wintertrekking wear surplus CF or Swedish Army clothes because they can find them cheap.
Edited by TomD (12/16/0812:21 PM)
Don't get me started, you know how I get.
Durable, doesnt' cook when you're next to a fire, quiet in the bush, breathes well in subzero to let the sweat out, yet when relatively thick acts as a pretty good windblock, deflects snow off the lower layers and you can just beat it out in camp and it sublimates dry quite nice in dry subzero cold.
Not so hot once it's above zero (C).
Mines made of a red heavy denim-like cotton, more like canvas than denim. A bedsheet would probably suck, I want mine to deflect bush and the like - not shred.
My personal preference is more towards cotton duck/denim/canvas for such a thing. However unlike the traditionalists I think you can do fine with a more modern *breathable* nylon (not goretex) for a similar application if you aren't worried about burning it near a fire, or the noise it makes on brush. All this really is is a light breathable (in subzero temps) garmet to deflect wind, snow, brush, and spindrift from fuzzy warm breathable as heck base layers (with me, multiple layers of merino, cashmere, and fleece but anything appropriate like that can do). the key thing is to cut the wind and deflect snow but stay very breathable and easy on easy off so you can exert yourself and adjust so you're not getting wet.
Note this is for, well, running around in the bush, in very cold weather, where the snow doesn't stick to everything because it's wet. it isn't for digging snow caves. it isn't for wet deep snow. it's for weather like you get in alberta in the deep winter, (or sweden or finland) - then this works well.
Interesting. I've read about how they used to fireproof canvas, with alum I think, whatever that is. Then it would be used as the pack cover to wrap everything up in, and also as a reflective backdrop for a lean-to type shelter. I might do so experimenting first with a wool blanket and cotton sheet just to see how it works, then try different weights and weaves.