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The Buffalo Mountain Shirt

by Howard Turner
27 March 2013 17 Comments

Like taking on the outdoors? Well this is the best piece of kit you've probably never heard of..

 

From the age of 6 I was brought up in a Mountain School in the Lake District, where my father worked for 30 years.  For 25 of those years he was a member of the Mountain Rescue, prior to this he’s been in the army reserves. He had seen the best and worst of what UK & European mountain weather could bring – from Sca Fell to Mont Blanc. In all that time, having used almost all types of mountain clothing, he only ever raved about two pieces of kit (and I mean really raved about them) and the one he went on about the most was the Buffalo Mountain Shirt.

The first thing you need to know about this piece of kit, so beloved of Climbers, Mountaineers and HM Special Forces is that it’s not a shirt, it’s what we’d call a “smock”.  It’s suitable for most winter conditions and thanks to the way it works is ideal for UK walking and climbing from October to March. Out of this time it’s going to be too hot to wear. It’s not bulky, it weighs about the same as a heavy Gortex waterproof and the technology it uses is not developed in a corporate lab, it’s borrowed from the Inuits.

Buffalo was founded by mountaineer Hamish Hamilton in the late 1970s after he had been disappointed with the performance of the mountain equipment and clothing he had been using in the Scottish Highlands. There is something very British about his invention of Pertex, the fabric he developed in conjunction with Perseverance Mills in Padiham, Lancashire. One of the stories involves him staring at the way ink moved across the fabric of a typewriter ribbon – the distribution of moisture was key to the success of this material.

The Mountain Shirt works best when it is worn next to bare skin – the Double P System developed by Buffalo repels moisture from the outside, whilst eliminating it on the inside, wicking moisture away from the wearer to the outer shell where it is dispersed and quickly evaporates.

 

Wearing one layer can feel very weird when you are used to lots and lots of layers, but you soon get used to it and realise it will not betray the trust you have bestowed upon it. If anything, once moving you will be too warm, but you can regulate your heat extremely effectively with a series of zips.

It’s the most imitated item Buffalo have ever produced, but it’s never really been equalled – they are not interested in being this season’s “must have”, the shirt has not changed much since it’s initial design.

There are lots of stories on Buffalo’s website from people who have worn the shirt and found themselves in a spot of bother on  a freezing mountain. My favourite ones concern people wearing Buffalo clothing who have fallen  into freezing water, got up and (after moving around) suffered no real adverse effects – in fact after 20 minutes they have been nearly dry.

When I think about the money I see wasted on expensive Goretex “big name” jackets that are depressingly not up to the job, I can’t help but love my Mountain Shirt. This simple item costs around £100, is only ever manufactured in Sheffield and  has been confidently doing the business for serious mountain people for over 30 years.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Dave Dick 3:06 am, 21-Dec-2012

yo dis dat bullshit nobody cares bout

lerouge 1:57 pm, 21-Dec-2012

Except me Dave. I want one of those.

Craig 6:36 pm, 21-Dec-2012

The single best piece of outdoor kit i have ever purchased, but I disagree about the next to skin bit. Dragged me through a Canadian winter at -14c easily, needed an under layer though. I like Canada, nice people. And whats with the rodeo? I thought that was Texas?

Johnny L 8:51 pm, 23-Dec-2012

Any chance of a link to the website Howard? I'm intrigued.

coldisthesea 9:29 pm, 23-Dec-2012

Does the trick when you're doing heavy outdoor winter work- that's the only time I'll wear mine next to the skin. On long winter walks, even with the tail pull-cords scrunched up, it tends to get a bit drafty around the kidneys. However, with a Merino undershirt, you're bombproof. Wore it in the pouring rain too. Water resistant, but not waterproof, still, kept me warm. Love mine. Does what it says it does on the tin.

Howard 8:45 am, 24-Dec-2012

www.buffalosystems.co.uk they are not paying me or giving me any freebies for this, it's pure love of the shirt and the company. And British manufacturing.

Howard 11:50 am, 24-Dec-2012

I agree about the drafty round the kidneys bit - I tend to pair it with high waisted sallopettes which helps with this. Agree when paired with the Merino it's bombproof. Nothing is completely waterproof but it's the way it manages the moisture that is it's most amazing quality I think.

coldisthesea 2:04 am, 30-Dec-2012

Ah, Salopettes- didn't think of those... However, I'm going to go back a little on what I said, and emphasize that your article is right- the best way to wear Buffalo kit is directly against the skin. If a Merino baselayer is too thick, it may retain sweat, the pile won't wick the moisture away and you'll feel a chill. (I don't recommend Under Armour either.) Wearing it next to the skin does take a leap of faith, but it works. As you pointed out, this is a very unique system. (I have an "Active Shirt" by the way.)

Howard 11:15 am, 30-Dec-2012

I did the annual North Sea charity dip on Christmas Day, thought I'd give it a whirl in the shirt. You can't do more than ten minutes in the North Sea this time of year & I only had trunks down below, so I just went in, dived under a big wave, head fully under, couple of strokes then out. I ran back to the car (half mile?) and it was uncomfortable but warm (like when you piss yourself). If I'd taken it off, shook off the extra water then put it back on I think I would have been fine for the rest of the day - my "core" was warm - along with a hat, the most important part of winter survival IMO.

coldisthesea 12:32 am, 2-Jan-2013

The North Sea on Christmas...You're a better man than I, Gunga Din!

hillbilly 4:46 pm, 27-Mar-2013

The shirt and the ht sallopettes are my must haves for winter climbing , the way they deal with moisture from outside and inside are unbeatable. You can get both for the price of a north farce jacket and it works better.

hillbilly 4:59 pm, 27-Mar-2013

Jesus Howard your heart must pump antifreeze...

Tom 6:00 pm, 28-Mar-2013

Absolutely brilliant piece of kit iv been in blizzards in my dads used it all the time until he burnt a hole in the front of it whilst grinding in it! must buy a new one!

despina 6:22 pm, 28-Mar-2013

@ Dave Dick No need to bother with first names, honestly. I will be investing in one of these. Anyone cycle in one?

Howard 10:26 pm, 28-Mar-2013

Almost impossible to cycle in - I've tried despite my late father telling me not to. Too much heat generated.

Neill 3:04 pm, 1-Oct-2013

I've had a few of these. I was introduced to them in the Army. Afterwards, I worked in Kazakhstan, where in the winter its around -38 and with the wind chill you can get down to -50 I wore mine with a thermal t shirt underneath.

Gary 11:03 pm, 17-Feb-2014

I've had my buffalo shirt since 1995 and it's still the dogs on a wet winter MTB ride. Disagree with comments about heat while cycling, it's just about all I've ever worn mine for... Never with a base, just manage ventilation with zips. I can quite believe a base would help for temps more extreme than the UK.

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