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    Default Base Layers

    Anyone have a preference when it comes to wool or synthetic long sleeved base layers? I have the same UA cold-gear compression top for 10 years and it's not quite as warm as it once was. It's also not the lightest piece of clothing that I own either.

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    I like the merino wool from http://www.icebreaker.com/ a lot.
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    Merino wool (smartwool, terramar etc) is so much more comfortable, lighter, smells better and I think does better when damp. It's also so much more expensive and wears out almost comically fast if you treat it rough. I buy it whenever I come across it on clearance.
    Last edited by Sarcasm the elf; 10-11-2015 at 19:17.
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    The Merino is nice for cooler dry weather, i much prefer synthetic for warmer of wetter weather though.

    When wet Merino takes an absolute age to dry, on a wet week hiking it's unlikely it'll dry out if it gets wet the first day.
    It's also a fallacy that it offers any warmth when wetted out.
    If it's slightly damp it will retain some warmth, but then so will most other baselayers

    By far the worst situation i've used Merino wool in is warmer conditions, it doesn't wick sweat at all.
    If your back sweats then your back stays wet.

    With synthetic baselayers they breath better and dry out a LOT quicker.
    Even if they wet out from rain, you can remove the garment, wring it out and it will be dry enough to retain a lot more warmth.

    My Merino and wool clothing has all been regulated for the house or working on cars/bikes, for low exertion dry activities it's great, for hiking i don't really understand why it has such a following as in my experience it's a terrible terrible choice

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    W O O L! I'm phasing out all my synthetics for wool. It's more comfy, doesn't smell (harbor bacteria), great warmth and breathability, ---- I just cannot say enough about Wool.

    I love Icebreaker (pricey), Stoic from Backcountry is great too and you can find it on sale (BTW i gave a friend a Stoic top and she wears it constantly for cold trail running), also worth noting is the LLBEAN "Cresta" Wool line of products. I have 3 of these in light and medium and they are super comfy and perform well and more cost affective.

    I disagree - I believe that wool (Good Quality Wool) does wick sweat well.

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    Just got off a wet, somewhat chilly trail in NC and I used the Smartwool NTS 250 Merino wool long sleeve shirt and top and bottom. I used a sleeping bag rated to 45 degrees and was somewhat concerned that I might need a little more for warmth so I purchased the Smartwool 250 base layer that's just a bit thicker than their summer stuff.

    Worked like a charm, and I wore them the next day as I hiked out in solid rain. They weren't cheap, but they worked great.

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    Powerdry grid type synthetic. Lightest, warmest for weight, holds least water when wet.

    I only use long sleeve base layers when needed for warmth, and that pretty much happens in camp below 40, maybe hiking below freezing. Maybe as sleep gear when need to get out of soaked clothing in cold weather, but If possible I will wear clothes till they dry first.

    Others use them all the time.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 10-11-2015 at 20:17.

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    The lightest possible merino wool. This is usually 150-wt (grams per sq meter, I think), and you can get it from Icebreaker, Ibex, Smartwool, etc. We own layers from all three companies. Except in the summer, I like to have a short and long sleeve top, and a short and long bottom, and mix and match as needed. They don't stink, they feel great, warm when it's cold and cool when it's warm.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyFishNut View Post
    I disagree - I believe that wool (Good Quality Wool) does wick sweat well.
    This is very easy to test


    Grab some clothing made from various materials, say cotton, synthetic and wool.
    Now grab yourself a pipette dropper a coffee mug and a elastic band

    Place each material over the mug, make sure you don't stretch it but try and keep it crease free, now secure it with the elastic band.

    Put a drop or 2 of water from the pipette on the material and see what it does.

    With the synthetic the water will spread out very quickly.
    This means the water is moving over a a larger surface area, good for wicking


    You'll find with wools the drop won't spread much further than were you place it.
    This is very bad as it means that the the water/sweat is not spreading itself over a larger surface area so it's not wicking well at all.

    Now imagine this material used in say socks or even worse underpants.
    It means you'll sweat and that sweat will stay at it's point of origin, which is the opposite of what we want.

    With something like coolmax that sweat will spread, this gives the drier parts of your body a good chance at drying the garment out using the heat created by your body.

    As i say i like wool for low activity levels, i could be swayed to using it again in cold dry conditions.
    But when it's wet it's a terrible material to use.

    Wet wool smells pretty terrible as well

    We had a 6 day trip earlier in the year, i was wearing a 260wt Icebreaker baselayer as it was forecast to drop to around 3c
    It rained the first day, we had to bug out to a hotel the 3rd night as the weather turned even worse, but even with my Merino top being on the radiator in the hotel room for 7 hours during the night it was still wet through.

    The trip got worse and worse as the top just wouldn't dry out.
    I started getting chaffing, my skin started pruning up like a raisin, and the top weight a ton.


    Each to their own and we are members from many different areas with different weather and terrain so there is no 1 solution for all.
    But no matter where i am in the world i will NOT use wool as a baselayer again for any hiking trip.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by cbr6fs View Post


    As i say i like wool for low activity levels, i could be swayed to using it again in cold dry conditions.
    But when it's wet it's a terrible material to use.

    Wet wool smells pretty terrible as well

    We had a 6 day trip earlier in the year, i was wearing a 260wt Icebreaker baselayer as it was forecast to drop to around 3c
    It rained the first day, we had to bug out to a hotel the 3rd night as the weather turned even worse, but even with my Merino top being on the radiator in the hotel room for 7 hours during the night it was still wet through.

    The trip got worse and worse as the top just wouldn't dry out.
    I started getting chaffing, my skin started pruning up like a raisin, and the top weight a ton.


    Each to their own and we are members from many different areas with different weather and terrain so there is no 1 solution for all.
    But no matter where i am in the world i will NOT use wool as a baselayer again for any hiking trip.
    Merino wool as a baselayer and midlayer gets alot of positive consensus from hundreds of outdoor adventurers and backpackers. Your experience differs but then I have to ask, why did you get your 260wt Icebreakers wet to begin with? I wear Icebreaker zipnecks (260/320wts)all thru winter in the Southeast mountains of TN and VA and NC and have never gotten them wet, just like I've never gotten my down clothing or down bag wet.

    To do so shows a bit of inexperience with careful layering. Why didn't you immediately strip down to a t-shirt covered by an excellent rain jacket?? And then keep moving to generate heat? It couldn't have been that cold if it was raining and not snowing---as you say, around 37F. We get long winter rainstorms in exactly the same conditions. PcolaDawg agrees and his merino worked great.

    In my opinion the saddest part of your experience was having to bail out to a hotel.

    And once the temps really dip to 10F or 0F or below, then merino layers really shine and can be worn either alone or under a rain shell while backpacking as it's too cold for much heat to generate and produce sweat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarcasm the elf View Post
    Merino wool (smartwool, terramar etc) is so much more comfortable, lighter, smells better and I think does better when damp. It's also so much more expensive and wears out almost comically fast if you treat it rough. I buy it whenever I come across it on clearance.
    +1 on all of the above. I'm sitting here tonight sewing jagger holes in my smartwool shirt.
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    BPL did a study a few yrs back comparing wool and synthetic ls baselayers. Sythetic was actually better performing in moisture wicking and drying, but not significantly enough to give it the a nod compared to wools anti bacterial anti stink and comfort properties. In a nutshell, they both work.

    Actually, polypropylene is probably the best performing of all. But it stretches out, degrades over time, pills horribly, and gets destroyed in clothes dryers, which is why it went out of vogue some years back.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    why did you get your 260wt Icebreakers wet to begin with?
    I second this.

    I have noticed that, even in downpours under close-to-freezing temperatures, my wool layers stayed dry. As soon as water hit them, my body heat would dry it right out. In fact, I hike more times than not under rain with wool and with no rain jacket/pants (and stay much dryer).

    Note, however, that I have not had the same positive experience layering two wool items (say, long sleeve shirt + short sleeve shirt). This would often cause for the outermost item to either (1) get soaked in sweat, or (2) get wet under the rain, but not have enough body hear to keep it dry.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RangerZ View Post
    +1 on all of the above. I'm sitting here tonight sewing jagger holes in my smartwool shirt.
    Yes, we like our beloved merinos. I have a couple small knee holes on my IB merino leggings and they are covered by a fabric bandaid as I'm too lazy to sew on a patch.


    The biggest problem I have with my IB zipneck tops are the thumbholes wearing out first. Hence a field repair. I encourage all winter backpackers to get tops with thumbholes---they act like mini gloves and don't let your sleeves slide down your arms when you're reading on your pad at night.



    Cold temps in Icebreakers. Two zipnecks sandwiched together---a 260wt large under a 320wt extra large. Also wearing a snug Icebreaker merino balaclava which tucks down into the neck and can be fully enclosed with the neck zippers.

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    I've had great experience wearing 150wt wool baselayer and a synthetic mid or outer layer. Almost perfect comfort with a wide range of temps.

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    Heres the highly informative BPL article from a few yrs back where they made half-n-half hybrid garments and did direct comparisons.

    https://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi...l#.Vhso9flViko

    to paraphrase the results for those too busy to read the arcticle:.

    -Wool resists odors significantly better than any synthetics
    - Wool is more comfortable when wet
    - wool takes 50% longer to dry than synthetics (science, sorry wool fans)
    - wool absorbs about 25% more water than synthetics (science, sorry wool fans)
    - synthetics wick moisture faster over a larger area, this helps dry faster but also makes colder in windy conditions
    - synthetics are lighter for similar warmth
    - synthetics are cheaper

    A lot of testers simply prefer wool in conditions for comfort and anti-smell. Period. Synthetics outperform.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 10-11-2015 at 23:44.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    Merino wool as a baselayer and midlayer gets alot of positive consensus from hundreds of outdoor adventurers and backpackers. Your experience differs but then I have to ask, why did you get your 260wt Icebreakers wet to begin with? I wear Icebreaker zipnecks (260/320wts)all thru winter in the Southeast mountains of TN and VA and NC and have never gotten them wet, just like I've never gotten my down clothing or down bag wet.

    To do so shows a bit of inexperience with careful layering. Why didn't you immediately strip down to a t-shirt covered by an excellent rain jacket?? And then keep moving to generate heat? It couldn't have been that cold if it was raining and not snowing---as you say, around 37F. We get long winter rainstorms in exactly the same conditions. PcolaDawg agrees and his merino worked great.

    In my opinion the saddest part of your experience was having to bail out to a hotel.

    And once the temps really dip to 10F or 0F or below, then merino layers really shine and can be worn either alone or under a rain shell while backpacking as it's too cold for much heat to generate and produce sweat.
    Tipi i find you post very "odd"

    I've stated my opinion, given the reasoning and experiences behind it, given details of a simple test for members to try out at home, yet you come back at me saying i must be inexperienced

    Even worse is you don't know me, you don't know where my trip was, you don't know my hiking experience and you don't know how bad the weather was on this trip and even if you did it doesn't change the fact that a simple experiment will show that Merino does not wick well, or my opinion it's not a good choice for high level activities or wet weather.


    I can understand if someone disagrees with me, as you say thousands of hikers swear by Merino wool, but to try and belittle my opinion by calling me inexperienced when you don't know any details is a pretty poor show.

    This trip was in the UK, we had constant heavy heavy rain all day, it didn't slow down or let up even for 1 min during our 13 hour hike that day, even worse was (depending on the weather service you use) between 70mph and 90mph winds, the wind was that powerful we saw several waterfalls literally just stopped by the wind blowing the water back up.

    The 260 was my baselayer, i had dry clothes and a dry mid layer but my experience told me to keep them dry rather than soak them through getting them out my rucksack and putting them on.
    We were on the tops of the hills so zero shelter, the rain fell literally as though you were stood in a shower, from the second my dry layer would have been exposed to the second i had my rain jacket on it would have been soaked through, so there was little point swapping a wet layer for what would have been another wetter layer of clothing.
    Again in my experience.

    We did keep moving, but after 13 hours of hiking and what was effectively 13 hours of star jumps (dropping to the floor every few mins to stop the wind taking us off our feet) fatigue started to kick in, we couldn't even cook or boil water as the wind either blew away wind stop or blew out the flame


    I've been hiking all over the world for over 30 years, if it rains hard all day (not unusual in the UK) then it doesn't matter what experience levels you have or the clothing you chose you WILL get wet, no if's but's or maybe's

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    Quote Originally Posted by cbr6fs View Post
    The 260 was my baselayer, i had dry clothes and a dry mid layer but my experience told me to keep them dry rather than soak them through getting them out my rucksack and putting them on.

    We were on the tops of the hills so zero shelter, the rain fell literally as though you were stood in a shower, from the second my dry layer would have been exposed to the second i had my rain jacket on it would have been soaked through, so there was little point swapping a wet layer for what would have been another wetter layer of clothing.
    Again in my experience.

    We did keep moving, but after 13 hours of hiking and what was effectively 13 hours of star jumps (dropping to the floor every few mins to stop the wind taking us off our feet) fatigue started to kick in, we couldn't even cook or boil water as the wind either blew away wind stop or blew out the flame


    I've been hiking all over the world for over 30 years, if it rains hard all day (not unusual in the UK) then it doesn't matter what experience levels you have or the clothing you chose you WILL get wet, no if's but's or maybe's
    Okay, I understand you had a 260 on as a baselayer and you had dry clothes in your pack. Obviously your 260 layer is soaked at this point, but you keep it on and you hike in terrible conditions. Got that part.

    You say you didn't want to take out a dry layer from your pack and put it on and cover it with your rain jacket because it would've gotten soaked in a second or two. Understandable. No point in getting a second dry layer wet when the first is already soaked.

    Question I have is---Did you have your rain jacket over your soaked 260??? This would've been a no-brainer and I'm sure you did. Did you stop and quickly remove your soaked 260 and wring it out thoroughly and then put it back on and add the rain jacket? I have done this in a butt cold rain and it helps to stay warmer and to generate more heat. In terrible winds you can squat down with your friend blocking you and do this chore.

    The reason I mentioned an inexperience in layering is because in your first post there was NO MENTION OF A RAIN JACKET. A good rain jacket is always part of the equation when your merino or fleece baselayer is soaked. So I assumed you were not wearing a rain shell.

    And finally, you say it was very windy and cold with a nonstop deluge rainstorm and you couldn't even cook or boil water. In that scenario why didn't you find a spot and set up camp and call it a day? I would have. I carry a four season tent just for this purpose---to endure hell storms and stay dry and warm and use all 16 pegs with tent guylines to get thru the wind.

    I was in a storm recently on Whiggs Meadow at 5,000 feet on an open bald in a January hellstorm with terrible winds and nonstop deluge rain---it was so bad I had to put big rocks over my tent pegs to keep them in the ground. I think it's important to know when to call it a day and set up camp, even if you haven't reached your destination.

    The destination is the least important goal of the day.

    I wasn't ragging on your personal experience, just questioning why you would say "wool when it is wet is a terrible material to use." Would you have said the same thing about a fleece baselayer in your 13 hour cold UK rainstorm, notwithstanding your personal test of the products before the trip?

    But we look at things differently. I allow my baselayers to get wet in the conditions you describe, and as mentioned I always cover these wet layers with my Arcteryx rain jacket, thereby staying soaked but WARM. What are my baselayers for this job? A long sleeve midweight silk turtleneck under my merino wool Icebreaker t-shirt---covered of course by my Arcteryx rain jacket.

    But I can agree that fleece stays warmer when wet and is lighter when wet and may even be warmer overall than merino. I think MuddyWaters is right and so I am rethinking my use of merino for my late October trip and may return to my fleece midlayers instead of IB merinos.


    Here I am in Bald River wilderness at 5F using my Arcteryx Delta fleece jacket over my IB merino tops. Maybe I can ditch the Icebreakers and just go with this jacket instead??? Gonna try it out.

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    Even in very cold weather I don't like the heavier wool layers (260, 290, 320). I still wear the 150 weight, and put a mid layer fleece over it when needed for hiking (like my Capilene 4 zip neck). I think the heavier wool layers are too heavy for the warmth, and take too long to dry, plus I tend to sweat like a pig even in very cold conditions so I really don't like heavy base layers.

    Of course this is different when I am not hiking -- for more stationary pursuits like winter birding, the heavier base layers work well.
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    And btw, I should have said "you had a problem with layering" instead of using the potent and flammable "inexperience" word. Bad choice on my part.

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