Fashion always seems to go in full circles, and this is no more truer than with thermal underwear. For centuries wool had been the winter underwear of choice but this changed with the invention of man made yarns in the 1940s and 50s. New materials made from these raw materials lead to the spread of the synthetic base layer towards the end of the 20th century. However, over the past decade the market has seen a resurgence of performance woollen underwear, with synthetic base layers being much maligned, albeit by woollen vested interests.
Before people start to dispose of their ‘plastic’ underwear and adopt a more ‘environmentally friendly’ woollen clothing system, they should really consider the following points:
Wool can be itchy. There is no getting away from it. If people have sensitive skin then it doesn’t matter how soft the wool actually is, it is going to irritate the wearer. Sometimes this can be psychosomatic, but that is no comfort if you are on top of a mountain scratching away.
Synthetic fabrics on the other hand have a very soft handle, especially polyamide, that rarely irritates the skin. The long smooth fibre profile glides over the skin rather than scour it. This smoothness also helps other items of clothing to glide over a synthetic base layer, helping to prevent rubbing and chafing.
Being a natural product, wool will degrade over time. This was fashionably demonstrated by HRH Prince Charles who buried an old woollen jumper. Although this composting ability is seen as a major advantage it does have the disadvantage in that the longevity of a woollen base layer is short. You will be lucky if one set lasts you a season if used regularly.
In comparison, a synthetic base layer will not degrade, well not in your lifetime anyway. Viewed mainly as a negative to the environmental lobby, this is in fact a positive – a thermal base layer for your lifetime. Most people only change their synthetic base layer if a) they loose it b) they boil wash it and shrink it c) change body shape that means the fit is no longer good d) fancy a different colour.
Better Moisture Management
Wool acts a bit like a sponge, soaking up moisture when in contact with it. Defenders of this process will state that it doesn’t feel wet, it’s just absorbed internally. OK, this is true for about 25% absorption, but if you fall in a body of water you are going to have a very heavy base layer. Just feel the weight of a washed jumper before the spin cycle.
With a synthetic base layer basically being made form plastic, water absorption within the yarn is very low, and is in fact 0% in polypropylene base layers, effectively making them waterproof. The construction of the garment will dictate how much water is actually held (rather than absorbed) but this is often marginal. With these base layers, and especially polyamides, you can impregnate hydrophilic treatments in to the yarn itself to further aid moisture movement.
Most people will have probably shrunk a woollen jumper at some point in their life. Its a natural reaction by the wool fibres to heat, water and mechanical action to want to revert back to their original curly shape. Think of straightened frizzy hair after getting rained on. Some woollen base layer can be washed on a cool cycle with no spin, but most recommend hand washing and line drying, which is ideal in the summer, but a pain in the bum in the winter when you are going to use them the most.
Don’t get me wrong, synthetic base layers will shrink at high wash temperatures, but put them on a washing machine spin cycle at 30-40oC and you will have no issues. Due to their low water absorption, they will also dry much quicker.
More Environmentally Friendly
If you interviewed most outdoor enthusiasts, the vast majority would probably believe that woollen base layers are more environmentally friendly than synthetic versions. You can understand why. It’s a natural product that rots down and absorbed back in to the earth. But scratch a little further and all is not as it would seem. Wool is not something you just sheer off the back of a sheep and wear. There are a lot of energy intensive processes involved to get a finished product that is relatively soft and user friendly. So if you are having to buy one woollen base layer a year, over your lifetime that is a lot of energy and resources used.
In contrast, a synthetic base layer may not be biodegradable but it will last a long time and is a lot more robust. You may only ever need one thermal set in your lifetime if you are lucky enough to stay the same shape. Once you have finished with, it can also be recycled in to the next base layer for someone else lifetime.
For just coming off a sheeps back, the cost of a finished wool product is very expensive, mainly due to the amount of processes involved. A new set every year is going to be cost prohibitive to a lot of people, especially with the added risk of laundry damage and natural wear and tear.
A good quality synthetic base layer of comparable weight and style will probably be around 15-25% cheaper. Once you start to multiply the cost by the lifetime of the garment, you are getting a lot more bang for your buck with a synthetic base layer.
When Wool Should Be Used
There are certain situations where we would advise woollen base layers to be used. If any person has the possibility of contact with fire such as in the aviation industry or the emergency services, then woollen base layers are ideal, as the fabric chars rather than burns. There are also industrial applications, such as welding, where sparks or high temperatures may be around the wearer.
At first glance of the question, Can you wear two base layers? You immediately think yes you can but why would you want to? Most outdoors people are well versed in the principles of the layering system – base layer, insulating mid layer, protective outer layer – so why would you ignore this and just wear two base layers. The problem is that in certain situations this layering system can be impractical.
BASE LAYERS FOR AEROBIC EXERCISE
If you are going to take part in a high intensity aerobic exercise in winter such as rowing, it is unfeasible to wear lots of different clothing layers. For a start you are going to get warm very quickly as well as producing a lot of perspiration. You are also going to need full range of movement which will be hampered with a traditional layering system. Plus there is also the problem of storing all these different clothes when removed.
What a lot of professional rowing teams practice in winter is wearing two thermal base layers at the start of a days training programme. Without being restrictive, these thermal layers will keep you warm whilst also managing perspiration more efficiently. Once the warm up is complete, one of the base layers is removed and easily stored in the bottom of the boat. At the cool down, the discarded base layer can be worn again to reduce rapid cooling.
Even in the coolness of early summer mornings a two layer base layer system is often used. Next to the skin will be worn a summer base layer to manage perspiration, with a thermal base layer as a second layer to provide extra warmth during the warm up.
BASE LAYERS FOR SPRING AND AUTUMN WEATHER
Out of the winter season, the need for a full thermal layering system is usually unnecessary. With the temperatures very rarely reaching freezing, you should be able to get away with just wearing your base layer. However, some early mornings and evenings may see temperatures drop low enough to require wearing extra layers for a boost in warmth. You could pack a thermal mid layer on the off chance, but it is a lot of unnecessary weight to carry.
Instead, ensure you are carrying a second base layer – you should be carrying a spare set anyway if you are heading away from civilisation. They can easily be worn over your first base layer and are light enough to be stored in a small rucksack.
BASE LAYERS FOR EXTREME COLD ENVIRONMENTS
When it comes to very cold weather, such as found in the polar regions or the Himalayas, mountaineers and explorers will often wear more than one base layer as part of their layering system. The main reason for this is you can trap more air between thin layers than wearing bulky insulating layers. And trapping air is essential if you want to keep warm because air is the insulator, not the fabric. It is not uncommon for mountaineers to wear two or even three base layers beneath their insulating mid layer.
SO CAN YOU WEAR TWO BASE LAYERS?
Instead of being a bit of a wacky question there are certain situations where wearing two base layers can actually be desirable. It is a lightweight alternative to heavier insulating mid layers and also offers greater flexibility in less demanding weather conditions. So the question shouldn’t be can you wear two base layers? but have you tried wearing two base layers?
The two most common questions we get asked are how tight should base layers be? and what is the difference between base layers and compression layers? We will deal with the latter question in the next few weeks , but this post will hopefully enlighten you on the correct way to wear base layers.
ARE BASE LAYERS SUPPOSED TO BE TIGHT?
The simple answer is it depends on your definition of tight. To me, tight means restrictive and uncomfortable, which is obviously a hindrance and a distraction when performing an outdoor activity. It has entered the vocabulary of performance clothing as the dividing line between base layers and compression layers has become blurred by marketeers. We try and avoid using ‘tight’ altogether when talking to our customers, preferring a more softer wording such as ‘snug’.
WHY NOT WEAR BAGGY BASE LAYERS?
This is the other extreme. You may think you look cool with your bum hanging out your base layer leggings (obviously a matter of opinion) but they won’t keep you warm. Badly fitting thermals will lead to all sorts of problems such as heat loss, vastly reduced wicking rates (transportation of moisture), and possible skin sores from rubbing of excess material.
HOW SHOULD BASE LAYERS FIT?
Base layers need to be close fitting to prevent warm air trapped between your clothing from being wafted out during movement. A close fitting base layer will also be much more efficient at moisture management due to a higher fabric surface area being in close contact with your skin.
When trying on a base layer you need to understand that the fabric has been designed to be stretchy so it will naturally adjust to most body shapes. What you should be looking for is the correct length in the arms (finishing just over the wrist) and the length of the body resting on the top of your bottom.
A good way to check if the base layer is too tight is to see if you can pinch any of the fabric and pull it away from your body. If this is difficult to do then you more than likely have a size too small. Another area to check is under the armpits. If you cannot get the full rolling movement of your arms and shoulders then you need to try the next size up.
SO HOW TIGHT SHOULD BASE LAYERS BE?
In answer to the original question, base layers should be snug fitting but not restrictive. Warm air needs to be trapped between fabric layers without the possibility of it being wafted out if you are to stay warm – the air is the insulator. At the same time, you don’t want the base layer to be so skin tight that it restricts movement or even blood flow.
So my final piece of advice is if it feels too tight then it probably is.
Whether you’re off to climb a mountain with your mates or taking the family on a camping trip, you’re going to need the right kit for your summer adventure. Thankfully, we have you covered with everything from sleeping bags to socks…
After a long day of exploring, you can head back to the tent and get a great night’s sleep thanks to our luxurious Synthetic Sleeping Bags.
Lightweight and exceptionally breathable, they’re made from fabric that’s both water repellent and windproof, with a luxurious down-like feel.
Additional comfort comes from a head-hugging hood, jumbo neck baffles and a ‘profiling’ construction technique which eliminates cold spots, to keep you exceptionally warm during the night. Win!
Speaking of warmth, it may be summer, but when you’re sleeping outside or trekking up a mountain, it’s important to have a toasty base layer to keep you from getting chilly.
Thanks to their snug fit offering plenty of stretch, they act like a second skin to trap in heat, while a hydrophilic treatment in the fabric works to keep perspiration at bay.
What’s more, the range is fit for any activity, from hiking and running to rowing and skiing. Which is great news if you’re planning an epic summer of activities!
As we all know, the British summer has a habit of being annoyingly unpredictable. To ensure you’re prepared for all weather, pick up one of our windproof softshell jackets.
Made from the most advanced wind-resistant fabric, they act as a barrier against the wind to stop it from penetrating through to your under-layers.
The insulating, soft-fleece inner allows you to stay warm even on the coldest day, while the close, comfortable fit offers ample stretch, so it’s never restrictive during activity.
With a compact, lightweight feel, you can pop it in your backpack at the start of the day, so you’ll never be caught out if the weather takes a turn for the worse!
If you’re heading out into nature, whether that be for a hike, a cycle or just a leisurely wander through the woods, you’re going to need a great pair of socks!
While it’s easy to throw on your regular, every day socks for a trek or a run, they’re not going to give you the same level of comfort and protection as a pair that are tailormade for the job.
From walking socks that offer padding and insulation, to ski socks that come with cushioned shin and ankle guards; when it comes to activity, the right pair of socks can make a world of difference.
Now we have your clothing covered, let’s move on to those essential expedition accessories.
A good, sturdy rucksack is a must-have for the likes of hiking and camping trips.
Our lightweight range is designed to take the grunt work out of lugging around your kit.
Ultra-lightweight yet sturdy, it’s great for anyone who’s wanting to beat their personal best in a mountain marathon or adventure race. If you’re not racing, it’s also spot on to use as a simple hiking bag.
With adjustable, padded shoulder straps, stain resistant fabric, water resistant pockets and a built-in emergency whistle, it’s compact, secure and incredibly stylish for the ultimate adventure accessory.
And while we’re on the subject of bags… if you’re adventuring with the family this summer, don’t forget to check out our range of children’s rucksacks. They have all the same practicalities of the adult range, but with colourful, fun designs that are sure to keep the kids happy!
To satisfy your hunger after a long day of adventure, it’s nice to gather round the campfire for a good, hearty meal.
With our impressive range of cooking pots, you can do just that.
Made with anodised aluminium and titanium alloys, they’re lightweight and easy-to-use, with a strong resistance to scratches and dents.
To keep your food from sticking, they have a Teflon coating and ceramic finish, which also makes it easy to wash and clean them regularly.
If that isn’t enough, the lids are made from BPA-free Tritan plastic and grip-friendly silicon, which doubles up as a colander, so there’s no need to pack any weighty serving dishes.
If you’re short on utensils, we have you covered for those too, from stainless steel cutlery sets to camping plates and bowls.
It’s safe to say that with all this fancy cooking gear, you can kiss goodbye to those cans of cold beans!
If you’re going off the grid this summer, you’re going to need a reliable map and compass on hand to navigate your trip.
Even in this day and age, not everywhere has GPS, so from a safety point of view, it’s always a great idea to do things the old-fashioned way!
Our compass range is compact and easy to carry, with most offering slots for lanyards, so you can just pop one around your neck.
To keep your maps dry, try our waterproof map bags. Made from resilient triple polymer film, they’re available in three different sizes, each one offering a press-to-lock seal to secure your map in even the most extreme weather.
To top it off, they’re also touch screen compatible so you can use them for your phones too. …You know, just in case you can get GPS along the way!
For fishing, climbing and camping, there’s nothing more efficient than the Multimate Multitool.
Made from top quality stainless steel with rubber handle grips, it comes packed with features including sprung pliers, wire strippers, screwdrivers, a knife, bottle opener, can opener, awl, saw and rope cutter. Talk about multi-talented!
What’s more, there’s even a handy key ring attachment so you can hook it to your belt or rucksack for quick and easy access.
Developed with the input of paramedics and search and rescue doctors, they’re fully equipped to cover a wide range of injuries sustained from hiking, running, mountaineering and skiing. And as they’re small enough to fit in your pocket or bag, there’s really no excuse not to have one on hand.
As the Scouts say, always be prepared!
Feeling ready for adventure? Us too!
To pick up your essential expedition kit, check out the full range.
Staying warm is incredibly important. Whether you are skiing in the Alps, enjoying the outdoors or just getting through the winter months, staying warm is essential.The key to warmth starts with a good base layer. But with all the different types available, it’s hard to understand what is right for you. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to choosing your perfect base layer.
What are base layers?
Base layers are the foundation layer of clothing, designed to provide temperature regulation. They should move moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry as you sweat and cool down while you rest. It’s important to understand that base layers are not insulation. They help regulate your temperature, but the clothes you layer on top will keep you warm.
Choosing the right base layer
When choosing the right base layer for you, there are many different factors to consider.
Material Firstly, base layers can be made from different materials. The typical materials you can choose from are:
Cotton: Cotton is affordable, but is a bad base layer material. It can add a bit of warmth, but only if it’s heavy and thick. Cotton will also soak up any sweat or moisture, making it cold, clammy and uncomfortable to wear.
Silk: Feeling great on your skin, silk is great for layering under your clothes. Silk also works great when you need to squeeze into pieces of form-fitting clothing, such as shoes or a helmet. Unfortunately, silk is not great at regulating temperatures. In warm conditions, silk can be too hot or uncomfortable to wear.
Synthetic: There is a big range of synthetic materials used in base layers. In general, synthetic materials are breathable, dry incredibly fast and can add warmth. Most synthetics are not resistant to bacteria and can build odours.
Merino wool:This type of wool is very soft, great at regulating your temperature and resists odour. Coming from the New Zealand Merino sheep, this wool is a pricey option for some.
Your base layer needs to be comfortable, but tight-fitting. Having a tight-fitting base layer traps air next to the skin, helping insulate and regulate your body temperature. It’s also a great idea for the shirts to be long enough to tuck into your trousers. This will avoid any cold spells while bending over, and help retain the trapped layer of air. Generally, most base layers are made to be tight-fitting. So, stick to your normal clothes size when ordering your base layer.
Style Base layers can come in different styles, with short- and long-sleeve variations. The perfect style depends on your activity, climate and personal preferences. Generally, if you are exposed to colder conditions, long-sleeved based layers will be right for you. On the other hand, more active or warmer conditions will prefer shorter sleeves.
Choosing your perfect base layer depends ultimately on your unique needs, activity and weather conditions. Need more information on choosing your base layer? Our experts can help you choose your perfect option based on your unique requirements.
Ready to choose your perfect base layer? Browse our selection today:
As the name implies, synthetic base layers are those that are manufactured from any man-made fibres. These will usually be fabrics knitted from yarns of polyamide, polyester or polypropylene, and sometimes a combination of two or more. Sometimes a bit of acrylic is also used but these are usually on cheap products that probably will not make it past a few washes anyway. If you have a base layer that is a blended yarn of both natural and man made fibres then you need to take extra care and follow the care label precisely.
Follow The Manufacturers Instructions
Care labels on base layers are there for a reason, to be followed. They are not rough guidelines for you to interpret how you wish. They provide instructions for the maximum levels of certain processes such as wash temperature, and processes that shouldn’t be used, such as ironing and dry cleaning. Below are three scans of care labels for different synthetic base layer fabrics. As you can see they all look similar but the washing instructions and care instructions are slightly different:
A big no no when it comes to synthetic base layers. The harsh chemicals used in the cleaning process will strip out any treatments on the yarn such as softeners and hydrophilics, and the drying process can lead to shrinking and melt spots.
Detergents And Fabric Softeners
Using detergents are a bit of a grey area as it depends on the yarn content of your synthetic base layers:
Polyamide base layers, such as Sub Zero Factor 1, have a hydrophilic chemical treatment pressure injected directly in to the yarn during the dyeing and finishing process. It is not everlasting but it takes a very long time for the treatment to be washed out, even when using fabric detergents.
Polypropylene base layers very rarely have any treatments applied to them due to the yarns properties so washing machine detergents can be happily used on them.
Polyester base layers often have softeners and hydrophilic treatments applied to the outside of the yarn. These are easily stripped out by washing detergents so you may need to treat them every few washes with a dedicated base layer treatment wash.
Fabric softeners on the other hand shouldn’t be used on any synthetic base layers. They coat the fibres with a waxy finish that affects their moisture transportation capabilities. If you should use a fabric softener by mistake, then just rewash the base layer with a normal detergent.
It is always a good idea to separate light colours from dark colours in any wash if you want your whites to stay bright. Some clothing colours will leach in a wash leading to colouration of lighter garments if mixed together, especially base layers manufactured from polyamide yarn. Polypropylene base layers are usually resilient as they do not absorb any moisture, so can be mixed with different colours. If you are in any doubt, then use a colour absorbing sheet in your wash.
If you are intending to mix garment styles in a single wash then be aware of the possible consequences. Any jacket or trousers with either a zip or Velcro fastenings could potentially damage your base layer during the washing process. The hooked harsh face of Velcro can be especially damaging as it catches the base layers fine filaments and can lead to pulls and ladders. It is always a good idea to wash Velcro and zip containing clothing separately.
Most dedicated synthetic base layer washes and general detergents will work perfectly well on a low temperature setting such as 30ºC. Even if the care label states a higher wash temperature tolerance, it is not a requirement to get synthetic base layers clean these days.
Some people advocate washing synthetic base layers by hand in cold water, but this is time consuming and unnecessary for most garments. If in doubt, check the neck label.
The beauty of synthetic base layers is that they absorb very little moisture. If the wash has been put on a spin cycle then the base layers are going to dry very quickly on the clothesline in decent weather. If you need to hang the washing up inside the house, then please avoid hanging the base layers directly on radiators. Use a collapsible clothes horse to hang your base layers on and position near to the radiator. In our house we do this but place the horse near to our wood burner without any problems.
Using a tumble dryer to dry synthetic base layers is best avoided as they can be unpredictable and untrustworthy. Most base layers that shrink in tumble dryers are not down to the heat, but the length of time they are left in the dryer. If you do need a base layer quickly out of the wash, then set the tumble dryer to the coolest setting, remove any collected lint from the collection screen, and keep an eye on it. It is better to underestimate the time and keep on adding small increments after checking the dryness. Shrinking your synthetic base layers in a tumble dryer is not reversible.
Again, ironing synthetic base layers is best avoided. It is very easy to use the wrong temperature setting when ironing a pile of clothes, and an iron on a high setting will glaze some synthetic fabrics and will melt others. If you hang them up tidily for drying and then fold them neatly when dry then creases will be avoided. In any case, who is going to see your base layers when you are outside anyway.
Word Of Warning
If you do wash and launder your synthetic base layers incorrectly and not according to the instructions, and something does happen to them such as a shrinkage or a deformity, the manufacturers will know it is your fault. Fabrics are so stable these days and manufactured in such high quantities that one bad item out of a batch of thousands is going to stick out like a sore thumb. The best tactic is to stick your hands up and admit you made a mistake, and if the manufacturer is half decent, they may give you discount off a new set or exchange the base layer in exchange for some PR material.