DUOFOLD VARITHERM ZIP MOCK
TEST SERIES BY KEN NORRIS
March 26, 2009
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kenjennorris at yahoo dot com
Redmond, Washington, USA
5' 5" (1.65 m)
170 lb (77.10 kg)
I have been hiking and backpacking for the past twelve years, going on the occasional overnighter or day hike. In the past year or so, I have begun night hiking and long day hikes (twenty miles [32 km] or more), with an emphasis on light pack weight and speed. These trips center on Washington's Central Cascades (terrain characterized by steep inclines and "moist" conditions) and the Oregon outback (areas classified as high desert).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: Duofold
Listed Weight: n/a
Measured Weight: zip mock -- 8.32 oz (236 g)
I love wool. A couple of years ago I switched from cotton "performance" socks to wool athletic socks. My reasons? Durability, comfort, and warmth. I found that wool stood up against the wear and tear of hiking. It breathes, not holding all of my sweat in. I was tired of being both wet and cold. Now I'm just wet. Technology has made wool a non-itchy alternative. The Duofold Varitherm zip mock may expand my adoration for wool: it is light. Duofold has blended polyester (84%), Merino wool (11%), and spandex (5%) into what they call "high-activity protection." This protection amounts to a single layer of material, excluding the collar and hem, which are composed of two layers. I'm particularly impressed by their concept of what high-activity folks would like - thumbholes to keep sleeves in place and a storm flap on the mock crew to keep air from entering. The stitching looks strong, especially around the thumbholes, a natural stress point for hiking with poles. The material, though made of spandex in part, acts more like cotton in terms of how it falls against the skin.
Duofold has labeled the packaging to suggest that the zip mock is suitable for snow sports, running, hiking, and cycling. I have no problem granting the first and third assertions: any base layer has it applications to snow sports and hiking. But the running designation must not refer to trail running. Branches and brush would easily snag the material. The same caveat applies to cycling: road riding - no problem; mountain biking - watch out for snags and scrapes.
TRYING IT OUT
Before putting on the mock crew, I expected it to fit like my spandex equivalents, compressing in addition to providing warmth. Such is not the case. To put it plainly, this is not the type of top to wear if you have saggy areas you would rather not expose to public scrutiny. I guess that's why it's called a base layer, not an outer layer. Speaking of layering, I've had difficulties finding an outer layer that goes well with the zip mock, comfortably fitting within the head hole. Of course, this would not be an issue when layering with garments that zip or button on the front.
I'm also concerned about the comfort level. As I mentioned earlier, my recent experiences with wool have not been itchy. But the zip mock is a bit itchy, though not unbearably so. The true test will be on those lengthy hikes when I'm a few hours into the excursion: will the itchiness go away or amplify? My hypothesis is that I will grow accustomed to the feel of the wool; I'm not used to wearing wool right next to my skin, except on my feet.
In testing the Varitherm zip mock, I will focus on three aspects: 1.Comfort 2. Functionality 3. The extras.
The biggest key with any base layer is comfort. I must be able to pile on the layers without the closest layer becoming a nuisance. If it is not true to size, it could constrict movement or bunch up under my other clothes. Sleeve length can lead to uncomfortable rubbing or difficulty using poles if they are too long. Repetitive movements over long distances at brisk speeds will bring the issue of comfort to the foreground.
In the case of my intended use, I rank functionality even higher than comfort. I can endure a base layer that does not fit just right if I can count on it to keep me warm. My activities demand that I layer, and the base layer of insulation must allow me to switch between layers without developing an immediate chill. When I'm trail running, I operate on the principle that fewer layers are better; I'm looking for a base layer that can double as my only layer during these winter runs.
Here are a few of the questions I'm asking as I test the zip mock:
a. Does it run true to size?
b. Does the stretch feel constricting?
c. Does it work well with a few layers piled on top of it?
a. Does it keep me warm regardless of the cold?
b. Does the material require physical exertion in order to keep me warm?
c. Does it lend itself to trail running or does the fabric snag on brush and branches?
3. The Extras:
a. Will I wish that all of my shirts had thumb loops?
b. Does the mock crew zipper become a nuisance over time?
In terms of the materials and construction, the zip mock appears well suited to cold outdoor activities, perhaps even outside the realm of base layers. I've experienced minimal itchiness. Only field tests will confirm or contradict this issue. The fit so far is perfect. I'll be curious to see if it remains so when hiking with a pack and poles or running cold, muddy trails.
This concludes my report. I would like to thank Duofold for the opportunity to test this product. Please come back in two months for the next report in the series.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
The unusually cold weather and extreme flooding in the Seattle area preempted my planned overnight trips, so I was limited to trail runs and peak bagging. My routine trail runs take place at about 500 feet (152 m) with rolling hills adding variety to the landscape. I run a loop that is approximately 5 miles (8 km) long on trails that drain well, though they alternate between spongy places and packed gravel. Most of the time I run for about forty minutes, though I did manage some one hour or more runs. Temperatures as low as 10 F (-12 C) froze the moisture usually present in the ground, making for some . . . interesting runs. Add in two feet (61 cm) of snow -- the rare dry variety at that -- and my runs quickly went from training times to adventures in and of themselves. Then the snow melted rather quickly, which flooded the trails. Yes, I still ran. Yes, I was wet. Yes, I still loved every minute of it.
I bagged three of the four peaks I attempted. Two of these successes were on the same peak -- Tiger Mountain. Around Seattle, Tiger Mountain is more of a training route than a "peak," so I'm using the term loosely. The loop I take is around 5.5 miles (8.86 km) long with an elevation gain of approximately 2000 feet (610 m). It takes forty-five minutes to gain the summit via a virtually straight line up a ridge and another forty-five minutes to wind down the "normal" trail. A light rain (Seattleites would consider it more of a mist) fell during both trips. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s F (4-7 C) for both ascents. The trails were sloppy, demanding strategic foot placement.
The third successful peak bagging occurred on Mailbox Peak (yes, there is a mailbox at the top). Most guide books rank it as the most difficult ascent in the central Cascades: 7 miles (11.27 km) round trip, 4000 feet (1219 m) of elevation gain. It took around 3.5 hours up and back. We trudged through snow, both on the ground (about 1/2 foot / 15 cm) and in the air. Temperatures hovered around 30 F (-1 C). The trail before the top was damp but not soggy.
Now to the failed peak bagging: Mount Washington. Two feet (61 cm) of snow on the ground in Redmond translated to over four feet (122 cm) on Mount Washington in the central Cascades. The trail starts at 1500 feet (457 m) above sea level, and the summit peaks out at 4300 feet (1311 m). Thankfully, some intrepid souls had blazed a wintry track up to around 2200 feet (671 m). At that point we donned our snowshoes, post-holing for another 600 feet (183 m) of elevation gain. This short gain took us nearly an hour, even with alternating trail blazers. Howling winds ripping through snow-laden trees convinced us that living to see tomorrow was more important than bagging a peak we could easily revisit in the late spring or summer. In all, we logged probably 5 miles (8 km) and 1500 feet (457 m) of elevation gain in just over three hours. Shame, thy name is Mount Washington.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
During my trail runs, I have worn the 390 zip mock as a partial outer layer (I wear it under performance short sleeve shirt, so it is only "exposed" to the elements from elbows to my hands). The spandex blend keeps the material exactly where I need it to be, even while running. During those runs when rain has fallen, I've learned not to worry about the zip mock growing heavy with water and failing to keep me warm. My body heat warms the material enough that they may begin wet, but at the conclusion of a run they are dry (assuming that the rain has stopped as well). The material is also made in such a way that I don't notice a lot of extra weight when it's wet. Though it doesn't have any built-in wind resistance, breezes have not chilled me during these runs.
Both summits of Tiger Mountain illustrated other aspects of this wonder wear. I started both hikes with my thumbs through the thumbholes, looking for a little extra warmth. This configuration did not impede my use of poles. They also worked well as a sweat wipe -- a quick brush with the back of my hand and the sweat was gone. As my heart rate increased, I simply removed my thumbs from the thumbholes and pulled the sleeves up to my elbows. They stay exactly where I put them (I assume the spandex in the material's blend is to thank for this easy positioning). They worked well with a day pack that employs a belt and a sternum strap -- I didn't feel like I had on too many layers under a contricting set of straps. Nor did I itch, even though I was doing my fair share of huffing, puffing, and sweating. When I got to the top, I cooled off quickly, something I'm not used to with my conventional attire of either fleece-lined spandex or hiking pants. And when I felt myself begin to get a bit too cold, I simply pulled the sleeves down and inserted my thumbs into the thumbholes.
On Mailbox Peak I made one potentially cruical packing error: I forgot gloves. I knew that the summit was over 4000 feet (1219 m) high, but I didn't think about the snow and wind chill inevitable at the top. On the ascent I rolled the zip mock's sleeves up and unzipped the mock for extra ventilation, creating an equilibrium between the need for heat on my core and dispensation on my extremities. When we reached the top my fingers grew stiff with the cold . . . until I remember to use the thumbholes. With this epiphany -- and the blood flow in my hands that comes from using poles -- I regained feeling in my fingers.
Conditions on Mount Washington prompted me to break with my previous uses: I wore the 390 zip mock as a base layer under a waterproof shell with snow gloves. I worried I had under dressed for the temperatures and amount of snow fall, but my constant movement allieved these fears. Even when we stopped to get our bearings (this excursion took place at night), I did not experience a chill. I know that the ability to insert part of the sleeve into my gloves (I had my thumbs in the thumbholes) helped to prevent any chill. It also prompted me to remove my gloves when I needed some finer finger movements without worrying about my hand instantly freezing up. A friend of mine on this trip had not opted for a base layer of any kind; he complained about being cold. Thanks to the zip mock, I was comfortable -- not too hot, not too cold.
The zip mock has proven more versatile than I first assumed. I've been thankful in turn for each feature -- for the thumbholes during our cold snap in early December when my hands were never cold, for the collar at the beginning of my cold runs, for the zipper at the end of these same runs (when I unzipped the collar for just a bit more ventilation), for the spandex portion of the blend when I've wanted to roll up my sleeves and know they'll stay put, for the wool portion of the blend when I've been cold and wet . . . yet warm.
This concludes my field report. I would like to thank Duofold for the opportunity to test this product. Please come back in two months for the next report in the series.
LONG-TERM TEST CONDITIONS & PERFORMANCE
The Duofold zip mock is my base layer of choice. In fact, I trust it as more than a base layer. Case in point: I routinely wear them under a short sleeved shirt, trusting their warmth to protect my arms. They are so dependable in this fashion that I summitted Mt. Ellinor (5944 ft / 1812 m) in the Olympic Mt. Range thus arrayed. They fit under a performance t-shirt, though the zip mock portion does demand I select a t-shirt with a wide head hole. I have come to prefer this arrangement because of its versatility. If I begin to overheat, I simply pull the sleeves up past my elbows -- they stay in place every time -- and unzip the zip mock. If I get cold, I pull the sleeves down, insert my thumbs through the thumbholes, and zip up. Having the sleeve covering much of my hand in no way impedes my movements or grows annoying. During the aforementioned trip up Mt. Ellinor, I depended upon an ice axe (there were times when a second tool would have been nice, so these were technical movements). Even though my thumbs were through the thumbholes and I was wearing gloves over my hands during this part of the ascent, I never noticed any detrimental effects.
|Mt. Washington seen from Mt. Ellinor.|
During this segment of the testing phase, I've branched out in my uses of the Duofold zip mock, using it in more mundane tasks outside because this winter in the Pacific Northwest has been unusually and consistently cold (often hovering around freezing for long stretches). The Duofold zip mock works well in these conditions as long as I maintain some movement. I realized just how important movement is during a stint cutting lumber for a project my wife had commissioned. I wore the zip mock as a base layer under a denim jacket. This arrangement did not hinder my movements or make me feel like the Micheline Man. But because I was standing still at the saw, only occasionally moving a board here or there, I grew cold over the space of a half hour. This one day revealed an important limitation to the Duofold zip mock: it works best during aerobic movements. On a separate occasion raking debris for a good six hours at the same temperatures with the same layering configuration, I found the zip mock the perfect fit to fight off the cold without overheating. Just a little bit of movement made all the difference.
Given the range of my experiences over the past few months, I've become a Duofold evangelist, praising the shirt for all that it can do. When people ask me what they're made of, they give me this look of disbelief, followed by some form of, "Are you sure they don't itch?" Yes, I'm sure -- the wool has zero drawbacks. They fit snugly but with little constriction, despite the spandex in the blend. They do not grow heavy when wet. They move my sweat away from my body. They keep me warm (as long as I'm moving in some way), and I can easily adjust them for increased ventilation. When worn as part of a layering system, I don't notice any bunching or impeding of movement. More often than not, when I'm wearing them, I forget that I have them on -- I'm that comfortable.
When I reach for a base layer, the Duofold Varitherm 390s are my first choice for hiking, mountaineering, and working outside (as long as I know my activities will involve constant movement). When I initially received them, I thought I might eventually use them in my more extreme activities, especially mountain biking. But the nature of the material has made me reconsider. Even one fall or snag from a branch at speed would probably rip them. They are afterall a base layer, not an outer layer (despite my unorthodox uses). As such, they show no signs of wearing out or stretching, so I'll keep wearing them.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
This concludes my test of the Duofold Varitherm 390 zip mock. I would like to thank Duofold and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to experience such a great product first hand.
Read more gear reviews by Ken Norris