One of the most essential pieces of outdoor apparel is the base layer. Hikers, campers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts know very well how important it is to have a great base layer. From keeping you warm during cold weather to wicking away sweat while hiking, base layers are without a doubt a must-have. Choosing the right base layer involves choosing the right base layer material. Base layers are manufactured using different materials, each of which has its own pros and cons. So in this base layer guide, we’ll take a look at some of them so you can make a more informed decision while shopping for base layers.
Polyester is one of the most widely used type of fabric for base layers, as well as mid-layers and occasionally for super lightweight pants. Base layers made from polyester are also some of the most affordable ones around, although the price range may vary from one manufacturer to another.
Despite being a lightweight fabric, polyester is pretty durable. Polyester fabrics are known for their excellent moisture-wicking abilities in addition to drying very fast. For these reasons, polyester is usually the preferred material for different types of sportswear.
Polyester is available in different variants as some manufacturers tend to manipulate the products to enhance improve them. For instance, some manufacturers add anti-microbial properties to their fabrics, while others utilize hydrophilic yarns that spread moisture on the surface for quick evaporation.
One thing about polyester base layers is that it has poor odor-resistance compared to other types of fabrics used in manufacturing base layers. This is why polyester base layers are best used for day hiking trips and not for multi-day excursions. If you’re set on using polyester base layers for a multi-day hiking and backpacking trip, be sure to bring a couple of them so you have something to change into. Still, you will smell the stench when you keep used polyester base layers in your backpacking backpack, so that’s something worth noting if you’re kind of sensitive to such things.
Nylon is another synthetic material that is used in making base layers. However, base layers made from nylon are becoming rare because of their poor performance about breathability. That said, nylon is more commonly used nowadays in making camping tents, camping hammocks, bags, and other outdoor gear.
Although nylon has poor breathability, it is quite similar to polyester in other aspects. It has good moisture-wicking abilities and absorbs very little water. It also dries quickly. If there is one thing that makes nylon a great base layer material, that would be its durability. It is extremely durable compared to other materials used in making base layers.
Because of its poor breathability, manufacturers often design their products in such a way that it incorporates ventilation panels, especially along with the armpits and other crucial areas. These panels are made from thinner and more breathable materials like polyester. Note also that nylon is not stretchable, which is why manufacturers blend this material with other stretchy fabrics like Spandex and others.
That said, if you have nylon base layers, be sure to use them only when hiking or camping during warm weather where you don’t need to wear outer layers like softshell jackets.
Another popular material for base layers is Merino wool. Unlike polyester, Merino wool is natural as it is taken from sheep. Because of its many benefits, Merino wool is used in a variety of clothing items including hiking socks.
One thing that makes Merino wool an excellent base layer material is its superb temperature regulation. Most people think that base layers made of Merino wool are only good for cold weather. So when talking about Merino wool, base layers for skiing are what usually comes to mind. However, Merino wool is actually perfect for both warm and cold weather situations as it helps to maintain your natural body temperature regardless of the weather outside.
Base layers made from Merino wool are also very comfortable. They are very soft, especially if they use ultrafine Merino wool. Merino wool comes in six types, the softest being ultrafine Merino wool and the least soft being strong Merino wool. Ultrafine, superfine, and extra-fine Merino wool is what manufacturers generally use in making base layers.
The problem with Merino wool is that it doesn’t dry quickly unlike polyester fabrics. However, Merino wool is still capable of keeping you warm even when it is wet. Also, Merino wool has better odor-resistance properties and will smell less than polyester fabrics. That said, choose base layers made from Merino wool if you’re looking for something to use during long multi-day hiking trips or for something to keep you warm during cold-weather adventures.
So manufacturers who still use cotton often do so by blending it with polyester. With the addition of cotton, the base layer becomes much softer to the touch, and therefore more comfortable to wear. Also, cotton has better odor-resistance properties, which is why base layers made from cotton and polyester blends smell less than base layers made from polyester alone.
Silk is not as popular as other materials used in making base layers, simply because not many people are aware of its many benefits. And if they do know what an excellent base layer material silk is, they are often intimidated by the price because it can be rather expensive.
Silk is one of the best materials for base layers because it has good water absorption and locks the moisture inside the fabric and away from the skin. It won’t leave you feeling clammy and wet, unlike cotton. It is also very compact and takes up less space inside backpacks. Quick-drying and excellent moisture-wicking abilities make silk base layers one of the best around, and if you have the budget for it you may want to consider getting yourself some.
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Hopefully, this base layer guide has helped you decide which base layer material is best for your wants and needs. Just don’t forget to consider the moisture-wicking abilities and in what type of weather you’ll be using them. By keeping these in mind you’re more likely to end up buying the right base layer that will keep you warm or cool (as the case may be) during your outdoor adventures.