Saturday, 12 February 2011
Buffalo. I'd heard of it, sure. Was it something that interested me - not at all. It just didn't sit with what I had traditionally considered the optimum way to clothe oneself in an outdoor setting - the timeless layering system. The same chap that recommended Páramo to me, equally vociferously extolled the virtues of Buffalo and it was then Dave Hanlon who unwittingly led me onto it. As he reviewed his Montane Extreme mitts, he mentioned Buffalo mitts in passing. Recognising the name, and wanting something even warmer than my Mountain Equipment Windchill Grip gloves for really cold nights, I took a look at Buffalo mitts. They seemed perfect - legendary, lightweight and warm even when wet. Then I had a little trek around the website and happened upon the Special 6. I can already hear Mrs M's sharp intake of breath followed by a demonstrable shake of the head. Nevertheless, the Special 6 is part of the DP system. This is what Buffalo say about it:
"Depending upon the usage, two types of Pertex are used as stated: Pertex 5 which is windproof to 35-40mph (56-64kph) and resists rainfall to the rate of 1/2 inch per hour (12.7mm per hour). Pertex 6 is windproof to 45-50mph (72-80kph) and resists rainfall to the same rate of 1/2 inch per hour (12.7 mm per hour). Apart from windproof performance, Pertex 6 is more abrasion resistant and is therefore used in clothing for activities where resistance to abrasion is a major concern, such as climbing. All Pertex fabrics are highly breathable, independent tests prove Pertex to be more highly breathable than any other similar fabric available.
None of the Buffalo products are intended to be waterproof, they are proofed to repel water as stated above, but they will all keep the wearer warm even when the garment is wet, as long as the wearer keeps active or if stationary just exercise every 10 minutes to keep their body temperature from dropping. All the lined overhead garments work most efficiently when worn next to the skin. In this way the pile fabric wicks moisture away from the skin more rapidly, where it is then dispersed by the Pertex to the external surface to evaporate and keep the body dry and free from chilling.
This is the fundamental principal of the Pertex/Pile system: to keep moisture away from the skin, because in cold conditions if perspiration is not allowed to escape it is retained and rapidly cools causing chilling.
Although the Mountain Shirt and other Pertex/Pile overhead garments are intended as a base layer to replace various other layers of clothing, it is recognised that in certain circumstances an under layer is sometimes needed, but if this is the case then that layer must be of a material that is able to disperse moisture away from the skin, it is extremely dangerous to wear an under layer of cotton as cotton retains moisture and very rapidly chills the body in even moderately cool temperatures, causing hypothermia.
In terms of all Buffalo overhead garments intended to be worn next to the skin, the side zips are an essential feature, not only allowing access, but to adjust for ventilation, enabling the user to regulate their body temperature. Active usage may require the zips to be lowered to ventilate and keep the body cool, but once at rest the zips should be closed to retain the body heat and keep the wearer warm whilst inactive.
The DP System is so effective at transmitting moisture that the best way of drying it is to wear it."
Hold on a moment. Wear one layer? And nothing else? In winter?! That seems crazy and totally against everything we've been taught. Yet this is clothing developed by and for the British Armed Forces. That's some pedigree. I am a lover of all things Pertex so the fact that the outer shell was Pertex got me thinking - it'll be damned breathable at least. Add some judicious venting and, as it's next to the skin, you won't overheat. Pile traps warm air almost as effectively as down (albeit in a different way) so the inner lining also seem logical. I resolved to manhandle an example in Cotswolds when I went to pick up a pair of mitts. I did more than manhandle and I walked out with mitts and a Special 6, not quite sure how this latter would fit in with the rest of my kit.
But Buffalo is tremendously durable and the security of knowing its strengths are not obviated by wet/frozen weather is something to be aware of. The British Antarctic Survey teams often use it because it can withstand frozen weather as a fabric without degrading and because it is so warm, durable and versatile. AMI instructors love it because it can be a base layer, mid layer or even go over the top of Páramo for a cold walk out of the mountains. It has a place in winter and I am very impressed by it.
The Special 6
The Special 6 is a smock. The outer is Pertex 6 (see above) and the inner lining the thick pile synonymous with Buffalo. The fit is snug, and the smock is pulled on once both zips either side of the torso are fully unzipped. Adjustments can be made via several velcro straps across these zips. A kangaroo pocket covers the midriff with a thick pile insulating front and a robust, honeycomb weave across the torso. There is a further adjustment strap within this pocket to tighten the fit of the smock across the torso.
The cuffs are adjustable as is the neck, which is also vented by a 1/3rd zip. The smock has a long, deep hem which is not adjustable and have curved edges rather like a shirt. There is a single, chest pocket across the width of the front of the smock. The Pertex 6 is reasonably water resistant but will wet out, as most pertex does, eventually. On the basis of the suggestion that Buffalo clothing remains warm even when wet, and dries best when being worn next to the skin, this should matter little. I had the opporutnity to test this theory with the mitts which, during our ascent of Haystacks, were soaked time and time again to the point where I would literally wring them out. Not once were my fingers cold. It was very odd. I'll invest in some Extremities Tuff Bags to reduce the amount of wringing required and that, as they say, is that.
I put the Special 6 on below my Aspira Salopettes - this would be an extremely warm set-up and conditions would have to be right for it, but it does work. Alternatively, with a merino base layer, it could go atop the Salopettes. One of my companions used it all weekend, only donning an eVent shell once the precipitation became a deluge. He fell in love with it - he slept in it, ascended and descended in it and refused to take it off. In the Cairngorms, he ascended Jacob's Ladder in it, vented at the sides, and then sat atop the ridge with nothing else. When belaying, he needed no extra layer. When it rained, he reluctantly put on a shell. It is his winter layer and I mean that - he will doubtless use nothing else.
Good stuff, Buffalo. It has a place for me - I'm just not sure what its limitations are yet.