In any situation, if an issue arises, it's always best to get to the root of the problem. This is certainly true when it comes to layering your cold-weather clothing for hiking, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, and other wintertime sports, with the proper base layer setting the stage for the rest of your garments..
Layering Theory 101
The best way to protect yourself from the elements is to wear three separate layers—a base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer. Each has a unique purpose, and if worn properly, all layers work together to wick sweat away from your body, hold in heat, and keep out wind and rain
How a Base Layer Should Fit
No matter what seasonal activities you'll be doing, remember that your base layer is your lightest layer. You'll be putting at least two more articles of clothing over your base, so keeping it lightweight, snug, and stretchy will help you maintain agility and flexibility even when you're fully layered. The most important factor to consider when choosing a base layer is how well it wicks moisture away from your skin. This is the main purpose of your base layer, and if it fails to keep you dry, your comfort and warmth could be compromised.
What Does It Mean to Wick?
Wicking is the buzzword to remember when selecting a base layer. All bases should be made of a wicking material, which, thanks to capillary action moves moisture away from the skin and through the fabric’s outer surface. Wicking materials have more surface area, and in turn allow moisture to evaporate more quickly, making you feel warmer and more comfortable.
Along those lines, your base layer should always be quick drying. Stay away from cotton as a base layer, because it absorbs heavy amounts of moisture and holds it for a long time. Although traditional wool has decent wicking abilities, it's itchy, and can even begin to smell if it holds moisture for too long.
Synthetic vs. Wool
There are several kinds of long underwear base layers, but the most popular today are typically made of either synthetic fabrics or merino wool. Synthetics include polyester and other microfiber-based materials that have great wicking properties and are lighter weight than wool. EMS® Techwick base layers have quickly become one of the most popular synthetic materials, and have even won over skeptical gearheads who were once set in their woolly ways. Techwick has outstanding wicking properties, keeps in heat without restricting freedom of movement, and sits softly on your skin to eliminate chafing.
Merino wool has also risen to prominence as one of the best base layer materials. Companies have turned this natural fiber into a comfortable material that provides warmth without overheating you. Merino garments, such as those made by SmartWool and Icebreaker, are ideal for staying warm while running, hiking, skiing, climbing, or cycling. A huge benefit of merino-based cold-weather gear is its uncanny ability to keep odors from seeping into other layers.
Both synthetics and merino wool are excellent choices as base layers, so your decision ultimately based on personal preference.
A warm, dry day of winter activities starts at the core. By wearing the proper base layer, you can be sure that you won't succumb to the cold, wind, or snow, and you'll have a great day outside on the slopes, trails, ridges, or anywhere else the outdoors may take you.
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