How has mountaineering clothing evolved over the past 100 years?

We’re Hugo and Ross or better known as the Turner Twins. We’re brothers whose curiosity has set us on an unconventional path in life that searches for answers by attempting new quests which combine pioneering medical research and unique studies of historic expeditions.
Our adventure passion was ignited when Hugo was involved in a freak diving accident- sustaining a broken neck, aged 17. Three hospitals, a neck reconstruction and many months of recovery later, Hugo was back walking again. In the mix of emotions that followed this near catastrophic accident came an overwhelming drive to challenge ourselves in the world’s harshest environments.
In July we set out to climb Europe’s highest mountain – Mt Elbrus standing at 5,642m (18,510ft). We were being studied by King’s College London’s Department of Twin Research and GlaxoSmithKline’s Human Performance Lab, to better understand our physiological and psychological make up to help advance medical knowledge and understanding. There were several areas of medical research which were being studied; cortisol levels (associated with stress), blood glucose and cognition (how our brains function under extreme stress).
We were also testing and comparing the clothing which mountaineers wore 100 years ago against today’s modern mountaineering equivalent and in particular Berghaus Extrem kit. Being twins means we can directly compare the different kit and clothing and, along with the science, attempt to find out how much harder it was to be a mountaineer 100 years ago.
Initial testing took place in a temperature controlled chamber at GSK’s, HPL at -20C with wind, which was certainly a shock to the system.
Hugo- “I was first in [the chamber] and wore the traditional clothing (made with the same material and to the same specification as Mallory in 1924). I had leather boots, tweed/ felt plus 10’s and a woolly jumper oh, and not forgetting a good pair of wool mittens but I was still yet to take delivery of my Barrington Ayre made Gabardine outer layer. We both had 20 minutes in the chamber with temperature readings taken all over our body as well as within… (don’t ask)! My temperature stayed perfectly stable as I started climbing (walking is more accurate) on a gradual slope on the treadmill, although I could argue that it did get ‘warm’ while working at a high intensity so if I were to walk for several hours I would need to hydrate.”
Ross- “I then jumped in with my Berghaus Extrem kit which worked perfectly in this extremely cold chamber. Getting your layering system correct is absolutely pivotal in making an expedition successful. Unfortunately I didn’t get my clothing absolutely right on the legs so my legs did get chilly. Berghaus have designed the clothing system with layering in mind and I didn’t put the outer shell over my trousers. As a results the wind got through just enough which resulted in my leg temperature dropping (not by much) but enough to really feel cold. Lesson learnt but that’s what our expeditions are all about – learning something new and getting our clothing system right. That said the lightweight, well designed jackets and tops which I used performed well beyond what I expected. They pack down to nothing, weigh nothing and we learnt that they’re much better at keeping you warm when layered than a single, larger layer. Knowing this, I knew that if I sorted the layering properly, the kit would be world class on Mt Elbrus which turned out to be the case.”
The first few days on Elbrus were absolutely mind blowing – we climbed through lush pastures, moorland, arid pastures, rocky ‘lunar’ type landscapes and snow fields. It truly was an incredible mountain.
Both the Berghaus kit and traditional clothing performed well past our expectations – due to its breathability, ventilation, easy to use and wear and when operating in on the mountain. A disadvantage of the old clothing was minor and incredibly specific but it was an important nonetheless. We had a strong wind blowing into our faces hitting us on the right cheek which blew directly into the jacket as the buttons where on the right breast – allowing the cold wind into the jacket. It wasn’t too much of a problem due to the relatively warm temperatures of -15C which isn’t enough to freeze your face. Disaster avoided.
Ross- “ The Extrem clothing was absolutely perfect due to the Ulvetanna Hybrid Hydrodown jacket design allowing me to work hard yet allowed for maximum breathability, vital in environments like this so you don’t over heat (important to avoid dehydration). The down in the Extrem jacket has been design to wick moisture away from the body whilst keeping its thermal properties, and with the rucksack keeping my back warm it was easy to regulate my temperature if I started sweating as I’d open my jacket at the front. The higher I ascended up the mountain meant that I needed a little extra warmth by wearing my lightweight Gore-Tex jacket to keep the biting 30mph wind from penetrating the down clothing. My trouser system – now sorted – provided the quality and performance expected and delivered by the jackets. A truly awesome combination of clothing working well to provide maximum performance.”
Having used new technology and clothing on the Greenland icecap last year and now having used the traditional clothing and kit on Elbrus really does put into perspective what challenges mountaineers went through 100 years ago. It was great to have also summited Mt Elbrus exactly the same day as the first successful summit some 186 years before us which created a strange but very real ‘connection’ to the pioneers back in the day.
On the summit 5,642m (18,510ft)