Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Monday, February 10, 2014

Base Layer Clothing Selections

Fall is in and people are searching for information about selecting the right baselayer clothing for backcountry travel.  I wrote this post last January and it's getting a lot of hits again.  Time to repost.

Do you know what your options are when purchasing a new base layer for your next winter back country trip?


In late November my local newspaper, the Bend Bulletin (Bend, Oregon) published a supplementary insert called the High Desert Pulse.  On page 28 there was a superb article by Elise Gross titled “Cover Your Bases.”


A base layer is the garment worn closest to the skin.  In the past, most outdoorsmen thought of a base layer as a simple set of “long johns.”  The days of cotton long johns are fading.  Cotton clothing retains moisture and in winter provides no insulation when wet. 




 Ms. Gross provided a fine discussion of the options of the various base layer choices available to the hiker.

She states:

“.. Your activity level and the temperature should be taken into account when choosing a base layer.”

“Fabric type should also be considered.  Base layers are made of a variety of fabrics with unique properties.”

The following is a brief synopsis of what is available.

·         Wool - Merino wool is at the top of my list.  Merino is soft and doesn’t irritate the skin.  Smart Wool is my favorite.  Wool works well in mild to cold temps.  Wool wicks sweat away from the skin.  It dries relatively quickly.  Wool is antibacterial so it doesn’t start to smell over time as silk and poly does.  It’s expensive.

·         Silk – Silk that has been modified to improve wicking is a fine choice (untreated silk absorbs and retains moisture).  Silk works well during periods of heavy physical exertion.  Though it can get too warm, silk works well in cold climates.  Silk takes longer to dry than wool or polyester.  Silk can get stinky so launder after use.


·         Synthetics – These are popular big sellers and big advertisers in outdoor magazines (e.g., Under Amour).  Synthetics are fine in moderate temperatures.  Wet material close to the skin may be chilly until dry.  Moisture wicking is excellent; that’s the big plus.  Synthetics dry faster than any other base layer material.  Synthetics can get stinky so launder after each use.  

All products mentioned are light and take up little space.
Consider carrying an extra top to keep the hiker dry and warm. 

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