Getting the Right Kit: Baselayers
Most items of clothing are made of cotton. This is great if you want something casual with a great looking logo on the front but when you start doing exercise you realise that cotton is not your friend. Why is this? Cotton holds water, this means that it will soak up your sweat and hold it against your skin. This means your body cannot cool down as effectively as your body gets confused by excess moisture on the skin, but also it makes your skin clammy, making it easier to rub against your rucksack or boots. This means that cotton should really be avoided across all expedition clothing. The first layer of clothing we will look at are baselayers. As the name suggests these are the closest layer of clothing to the skin. The main features you want in these are that they are breathable and move moisture away from the skin. There are many different ways this can be done, with the two main materials used being merino wool and specially designed synthetics.
Merino Wool – merino wool is designed to keep sheep warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. To do this is has hollow fibers running through it that wick the moisture away from the skin. It is often more durable and also has odour reducing properties. This means that you can use one for the duration of an expedition rather than changing it every day! Merino wool is often very soft, and so doesn’t itch like conventional wool, though you still need to be aware if you have an allergy. Unfortunately, as it’s a natural material, merino wool baselayers are often more expensive, especially if you want the best quality merino wool.
Synthetic baselayers vary in materials, however they work on the same principles overall. They are designed to manage moisture by drawing the sweat away from your body by the shape of the small holes between the fibers. Unlike merino, these don’t have inbuilt odour reducing properties, however some are treated with an additional compound that can help (such as silver!)
Styles of baselayer. You can get baselayers for all kinds of activities and it is worth taking a look around to find the ones you prefer. Personally I like to have a zip at the neck and long sleeves with thumb loops. This means that I can use it year round, rolling up the sleeves and zipping down the neck if I’m getting too warm in summer – though it’s still warmer than a t-shirt so on the warmest days it is still too much. Remember though: You can’t roll down the sleeves on a t-shirt!
Sometimes it can be worth getting a couple of different styles so that you are covered for a variety of different conditions, and having a spare baselayer in your bag means you can change it out when you feel at your lowest on an expedition.
Once you’ve picked your baselayers then it’s worth looking after them. We’ll have another guide up shortly that will look at how best to do this.