Choosing the best winter base layer

While it may not be as exciting as the purchase of a new jacket or pair of skis, comfort in the mountains starts with choosing a quality winter base layer. The best source of heat is your own body, therefore the most effective winter base layer is able to keep that heat next to the skin.

However, it isn’t as easy as choosing the warmest garment. Every person’s body  produces different amounts of heat and perspiration and has differing tolerances for the cold, or conversely, overheating.
The two most popular fabrics for base layers are synthetics (polyester, polypropylene) and merino wool, both which have their respective pros and cons.
Words and photos by Vince Shuley

Merino wool

+ excellent insulation value for its weight
+ natural anti bacterial properties allows repeated wear without the stink
+ retains insulation properties when wet
+ good breathability for its warmth
– fine wool fibres are more susceptible to rupture
– dries slower than synthetics
– expensive

Synthetics

+ superior sweat wicking properties keeps your skin dry
+ when the garment does get wet, it dries quickly
+ more affordable than merino
+ durable fabric can better withstand abrasion and general wear and tear
– garments generate odour after repeated wear
– garments can begin to feel clammy after extended periods of wear
– warmth to weight ratio lower than merino, thicker garments needed in the cold
With this in mind, we’ve selected some garments from our trusted brands Icebreaker and Arcteryx for the following types of winter outdoor folk.
 Does your winter layering resemble that of the Michelin Man?

The Cold Body

Whether brought up in a tropical climate, born with slower circulatory system or simply someone who really hates being cold, the Cold Body will generally over compensate with their layering. Start with the Icebreaker Tech Top LS Half Zip, which can closed snugly to make sure no precious heat escapes. Pair with the Icebreaker Vertex Leggings and you’ll have 260 g/m2 weight merino from your neck to your ankles, the best defense against cold days on the mountain.
Resort skiing can build up heat, especially when in the air.

The Resort Rider

The first chair of the day might be a little cool, but after some fast back-to-back laps on the ski runs, your jacket is partially unzipped and vents are wide open. You want to the assurance of warmth when  standing on a windy ridge, but want adequate breathability when zipping through the moguls, Choose a 200g/m2 weight merino top like the Icebreaker Oasis LS  Crewe , alternatively the Arcteryx Phase SV Crewe if you want to avoid sweat buildup. For the bottoms, the Icebreaker Zone Legless has strategically placed mesh panels for enhanced breathability.
Spend more time skiing uphill than downhill? opt for superior breathability and moisture management

The Aerobic Addict

Not one to settle for mechanized assistance, the Aerobic Addict will climb mountains under their own power whether by trail running, ski touring or cycling. Moisture management is of utmost importance as wet garments can lead to frigid breaks when stopping for food and hydration. Lighter weight synthetics are the best bet here, such as as the Arcteryx Phase AR Zip Neck LS and Phase AR Bottoms.  The lighter merino layers like the Icebreaker Zone LS Crewe will also work if you’re exercising in colder conditions.
Of course there’s many factors that can play into one’s overall comfort in the mountains. Wind, level of exertion and as well as choice of mid and outer layers will affect the outcome, but it all starts with choosing the best winter base layer for your needs.
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