Like building a solid house, you need good foundations from which to layer up the walls, the insulation and finally the protective roof. The choice of furnishings, wallpaper and rugs, well that's something else... ok this analogy might be stretching it a bit, but a good, effective base layer is the heart of all clothing layering systems, get this layer wrong and you could be in for a very uncomfortable day.
Base layers are broadly split into natural and synthetic and each have their benefits and drawbacks.
Merino goodness. Sheep don't grow on trees, but wool grows on sheep.
Rewinding slightly...With the advent of synthetic fibres we greeted first Helly Lifawear which made the North Sea that little bit more inviting, then Patagonia happened upon a company using an etched polyester fabric which turned a usually water hating fibre in to a water loving one; a fibre that actually wicked and more importantly one you could clean and care for, bonus. In the face of all this technological achievement, sheep carried on chewing, then when the knitting process became refined enough to create superfine Merino it started to make a come back as a fibre to be reckoned with.
What's so funky about Merino wool anyway? Wool's natural ability to move humidity away from the body keeps you comfortable when you are working hard and its ability to keep you warm when wet makes it ideal for fast changing Alpine conditions, particularly for next to the skin. So Merino is breathable, wicking, fast drying and famously odour resistant. Merino can be worn in the hot, in the cold, in the wet and in the dry. For all round comfort, especially over extended durations, merino is our baselayer of choice.
When it comes to natural layers here at Alpkit we are particularly pleased with our Kepler Merino base layers. For the vast majority we use a 160gsm, superfine (17.5 micron) merino wool and all our merino comes from non-mulesing farms.The Kepler range features a range of products; long sleeve, short sleeve, men's and women's, boxers, long johns and even the Kepler Velo top– a cycling inspired top that is also ideal for a range of activities, with a half front zip for extra venting and rear security pocket and a semi fitted cut.
Wool is great and sheep have been perfecting it for years, but not everyone gets on with natural fibres and there may be some occasions where a synthetic product may work best.The polyester fabrics use finer denier yarns which have a much higher wicking action to disperse any moisture and the lighter weights are great for keeping cool, somore suited to warm conditions or to activities where your work rate is high and your skin glistens (or pours) with little beads of sweat! Our Koulin range is made of a fast wicking hydrophobic polyester and features lightweight, high wicking products with zoned fabric for those fast moving activities. Synthetics are also generally faster drying and more durable/easier to care than Merino.
They are not exclusively for hot conditions and beef up the weight you'll get a synthetic that's good for keeping warm too. Enter the Laika, a heavier weight 260 gsm polyester/spandex mix for excellent moisture wicking combined with stretch and recovery. With a soft brushed back it is comfortable worn next to the skin when it’s properly cold. Imagine the cold, windy walk in to the Northern Corries with a heavy climbing pack – you’re hot because you’re working hard, but the wind is bitingly cold. With the Laika you’ve got a dense outer face which takes the edge off the windchill, a deep front zip if you need some extra venting, and thumb loops and a stand up collar to boost warmth if you need it.
In summary then synthetics are better for fast paced activities where you’re going to work up a sweat, merino tends to be better for steady paced, long duration activities. So if it's cold and you're out for days, merino is our fabric of choice to keep you warm and dry, if you're sport climbing in Spain or running a 10 k over Curbar, Koulin synthetic will keep you cool.
So that's the bases covered, from here you can layer up to give yourself the most flexible solutions for your planned adventures.