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Reviews > Clothing > Accessories > Alpacas of Montana Helmet Liner > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

ALPACAS OF MONTANA
EXTREME WARMTH HELMET LINER WITH NECK GUARD
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
April 11, 2014

PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

Male, 67 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (89 kg)
Hat size US 7 5/8 (24 in/61 cm circumference)
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA

I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences. I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Winter adventures are often on telemark, touring, or randondče skis.

THE PRODUCT

Alpacas of Montana is a local company that offers socks, scarves, sweaters, blankets, and other alpaca-containing products. You can even buy a live alpaca. According to its website, this business sells only at its farm and a few retail stores here in Montana.

roughneck-frontroughneck - back

The Extreme Warmth Helmet Liner, formerly called the RoughNecks’ Windstopper, is a combination neck gaiter-balaclava. As its former moniker suggests, it was made originally for roughnecks, a colloquial nickname for oilfield workers. Alpacas of Montana modestly states that it’s “by far the most unique, warmest, versatile hard hat liner on the market today.” Never having been an oilfield worker myself, my use has been limited to downhill and cross-country skiing, hiking, ski touring, and outdoor chores many days this winter, in addition to backpacking. It’s also a terrific addition to my winter backcountry sleep system.

Manufacturer: Alpacas of Montana, Inc, www.alpacasofmontana.com
Length, hem to crown, measured, size Large: 18.5 in (47 cm)
Weight, measured: 7.75 oz (220 g)
Color: Safety yellow shell, black fleece outer crown
Materials: Felted alpaca shell, PolarTec Class 1 Fire Retardant Polar Fleece reinforced crown
Size: Large [for heads from 23-25 in/58-63 cm in circumference, roughly US hat sizes 7 Ľ-7 7/8] Also available in Medium. There’s a sizing chart on the manufacturer’s website.
Temperature guarantee: -20 F (-29 C) on the website; -30 F (-35 C) on the product tag. Either sounds good to me.
MSRP: $135 US; available without the gaiter, $120 US
Country of origin:  USA – “Born, Shorn and Worn in Bozeman, Montana”

The Liner has a single feature, a drawstring with a toggle at the back of the neck. What’s unusual is the use of 100% alpaca for the shell. This costly fiber, more often seen in fashion magazines than hard-core outdoor gear, is soft and warm – according to its manufacturer, “warmer than wool (performing much like polar bear fiber), durable, breathable and water repellant. Alpaca fleece traps in heat and wicks away moisture, guaranteeing comfort all day in any type of weather.” After many winter days in the Liner, I warmly (pun intended) endorse these claims.

FIELD CONDITIONS

Backpacking use has been as an accessory on several hut trips this winter, either weekend overnighters in the nearby Gallatin National Forest or longer trips in the Teton Range or Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.  Temperatures ranged from 25 to -15 F (-4 to -27 C). Weather varied from bluebird sunny to snow and gusty winds, though the winds were usually muted by staying below tree line.

Twice (at -20 F/-28 C and -10 F/-24 C; both in the wind and snow) I’ve worn the Liner under my ski helmet. More frequent use has been in my sleeping bag or quilt or on a day hike or outdoor chores in place of a wool hat. While backpacking overnights have all been in huts or yurts, it’s still been cold. Indoor temperatures have been as low as -10 F/-24 C – definitely cold enough to require a warm head covering.

On local outdoor activities it’s gone below -30 F (-36 C), though the most miserable was a four-day spell when the temperature never rose above -20 F (-29 C) and it was always windy (or at least always windy when I walked my dog).

OBSERVATIONS

The Liner has its own place in the hall tree next to my front door, so that I can grab it for insertion into my resort pack, touring pack, or backpack, or simply to wear it instead of a hat for outdoor chores.  I rate it a very versatile product – handy to have in a variety of situations and indispensable in some. As discussed below, however, its very warmth can limit its use in less than extreme conditions.

Insulation. This is the warmest balaclava or gaiter I’ve ever worn, by a comfortable margin. By itself or under the hood of a parka it kept my head and neck toasty in all frigid weather this winter, including some in which after an hour’s hike my toes were cold in heavy socks and fleece-lined boots. On milder days, say 0 F/-18 C, the Liner was all I needed to keep my head warm, though I might wear a baseball cap underneath for a better fit and as a sun visor. That combination suited me perfectly on several ski tours and day hikes. When ascending the baseball cap alone was enough to keep heat in, and I’d simply pull on the Liner when we stopped for a rest break or crossed an exposed ridgeline.  

Even on brutal days on which I wore the Liner under a ski helmet, though, the Liner was too much insulation, causing excessive sweating. (I should note though that my ski helmet, unlike a hardhat, has its own foam insulation.) I’ve had a similar experience in the teens and twenties F (-11 to -3 C) when wearing the Liner under a hood when exercising only lightly.  And that’s why I treat this great source of warmth as an accessory, comparable to a windshirt or rain pants. By this I mean it’s ready to hand when conditions demand it but not worn all day long except when the weather is really bad.  

Fit and Design.  As a sleepwear headpiece the Liner is terrific. The fit is somewhat loose, but not so loose that I awaken in a claustrophobia fit with it twisted in front of my face. And is it ever soft and warm! I’ve had the toggle cinched down about halfway most of this winter; as it warms up I’m going to see if with it fully loosened it will not move laterally as I toss and turn.

Roughneck+hat frontRoughneck hat sideAs a hat or hat booster the Liner fits the crown of my head reasonably snugly but at the sides of my head and my neck there’s considerable air space. This no doubt is a result of its ability to stretch over the brim of a hardhat, as pictured on Alpacas of Montana’s website. (A hardhat is an item I seldom wear in winter, but I did try this out. In this application neck coverage is lost but the hardhat stays reliably atop my head even when it’s windy – a very handy application.) Because the Liner is so warm the extra room on the sides actually helps ventilation at reasonable temperatures, but side-to-side slippage when I turn my head occasionally impairs vision. When I don’t want the ventilation (i. e., when it’s really cold) I can tighten the cord to hold it in place. After some practice I can now do that without having to remove the Liner or my mittens. But a handy baseball cap stops the movement and adds a visor, so that’s my preferred assist.
 
The long length of the gaiter comes well below the collar of any of the jackets or parkas I’ve used this winter.

Comfort. The fabric is definitely what makes this product special for me. It’s soft, soft, soft, and not in any way abrasive. Alpacas of Montana employs a dense weave or very effective felting process in the alpaca that enhances the sensation of coziness. The PolarTec fleece, which is thicker than the alpaca portion, is also non-abrasive. Though the Liner, fleece part especially, has been exposed to an inordinate amount of perspiration for wintertime, neither fabric has taken on an unpleasant odor or sweat stain.

Care. I’ve washed the Liner twice this winter, each time by hand with wool-specific soap. I then air-dried it, once flat and once draped over a shower bar. Drying takes about a day in my basement. After each bath the Liner emerged like new, with no pilling.

WHAT I LIKE

Alpaca fabric – soft and warm

Insulating ability – the Liner surely deserves the “Extreme Warmth” in its name

Simple design – not much to go wrong

Versatile – useful for my sleep system as well as ordinary gaiter use

WHAT I DON’T

Expensive – but hey, it’s alpaca.



 



 




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