Base Layers

Base layers are more than just underwear. Sometimes called “performance underwear,” base layers are designed to wick moisture away from your body. That keeps you cooler in summer and warmer in winter, not to mention the extra comfort at any time of year.

The first thing to think about is fiber.

  • Wool was a favorite for socks, undershirts, and underwear for centuries because it absorbs a lot of water without feeling damp or getting cold. Wool also has natural antibacterial properties that help with odor. Wool can be tough to launder, it can shrink, and some people are sensitive to it.
  • Cotton is a more recent popular option because it allows quick evaporation, but it’s not good for temperature control and it tends to collect odors. Cotton also shrinks.
  • Silk and fur have terrific insulating properties, but these luxurious fibers aren’t practical for sports, so their advantages have often been overlooked.
  • Synthetics may be petroleum-based, they can really hold odors and stains, and they often do a bad job of allowing moisture to evaporate. Some have an unpleasant feel to them, too. They are usually very easy to launder, they can be very light in weight, and they can be less expensive.

Companies like Terramar use cutting edge technology to create fiber mixtures that do the job even better. Silk, wool, and microfibers are combined in the perfect ratios with fibers like spandex that help the fabrics keep their shapes.

The result is underwear that does a seriously good job of keeping you comfortable in all kinds of weather, and which also moves with you.

Think about the cut, too.

If you’re going for warmth, long underwear that covers your legs or arms (or both) is the ideal.This is also a good choice if you are concerned about sun exposure or insects (especially parasites like ticks).

Beyond that, cut is quite personal. Think about things like the sanitary arrangements — i.e., are you going to be squatting in the woods? If so, you don’t want to have to undress every time, so consider that when you choose one or two-piece base layers. Are you likely to be sweating manfully? If so, choosing light weight base layers so you can carry an extra will let you rinse out your skivvies and let them dry overnight.

Climbing requires more freedom of movement than moderate hiking, so take your activities into account as well.

When you find the brand and model that’s perfect for you, buy several. You’ll be glad you did.

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