The Science of Layering: How Walter White Would Dress for Ice Climbing

We were a little late to the “Breaking Bad” party. Nothing a little binge-watch on Netflix can’t take care of. Aside from the secret shame of how much screen time we’ve put in this January, we’re jacked up on science now – thanks to everyone’s favorite anti-hero.

Aside from the haz-mat suit and pleated slacks, Mr. White won’t go down for his sartorial persuasions. We’re happy he wasn’t sporting Ibex during his reign of trafficking terror. Alas, we’d wager that he’d have plenty of opinions on the science of staying warm. And we like to think he’d be a strong proponent of Merino wool… for science’s sake.

In elementary physics terms, heat (aka heat energy) is simply energy that flows from a warmer object to a cooler object. Specific heat, according to Google is “… the heat required to raise the temperature of the unit mass of a given substance by a given amount.“

Drilling down to make Mr. White proud, that’s: Heat energy (q) = Mass (m) times Specific Heat © times Change in Temperature (ΔT).

Translating that to dressing for outdoor sports, your warmth will be determined by how much you weigh, the level of your exertion and the temperature change derived from both activity and clothing choices.

Take ice climbing for example.

  • If you’re belaying, the primary variable to impact your warmth is the clothes you wear – because the other variables will remain fairly static.
  • If you’re a strong climber, your level of exertion may be lower than that of a beginner (i.e. less efficient) climber, thereby warranting more layers. However, many avid climbers are quite thin, which may offset some of the efficiencies in their movements.
  • Wool is an excellent choice for the stop/start nature of ice climbing because it will keep you warm even if you’re soaked with sweat or dripping water.

What to do?

  1. Acknowledge the large variance in exertion level and have a high insulating piece on-the-ready to wear when you belay. Try: the Wool Aire Hoody in men’s and women’s versions.
  2. If you’re a literal lightweight – lithe, like so many climbers – opt for a heftier base layer that won’t compromise movement. Try: Woolies 220 Crew Stripe. We like a crew neck for ice climbing because too many neck layers can tend to pinch.
  3. In terms of mid-layers, focus on freedom and range of movement. Find a layer that adds insulation, but doesn’t bind your arms or shoulders in any way.
  4. Accessories are key. Don’t forget a Skull Cap under your climbing helmet and the killer new wool gloves from Ibex. Go ahead, sweat. The Point 62 Gloves will still keep your fingers warm and agile.

Now… is everyone really over “Breaking Bad” or can we please spend the approach talking about what happens to sweet, tortured Jesse.