Because you know I’m all about that base, ‘bout that base, base-layer.
That was horribly cheesy, but for real, let’s talk about baselayers.
Even when it’s warm out and I see people skiing in hoodies (or late spring when guys are shirtless in board shorts or women are in bikinis), I still wear a baselayer, top and bottom. I have no idea how those people do it and don’t utterly freeze on the ski lift, but I prefer to be comfortable. When you’re choosing to freeze on a lift or sweat on the downhill, keep these things in mind.
Outside Temperature and Activity
The outside temperature and activity you’re participating in is largely going to determine the weight of the baselayer you choose.
What I mean by weight is the supposed insulating properties specified by the manufacturer. They are typically heavy, medium, and light. So if you’re going to sit on a bucket ice fishing in 10-degree weather, you’re definitely going to want heavy. But if you’re doing something active like cross-country skiing, you may want medium or light depending on how warm or cold it is outside.
It largely comes down to how hot you run normally. If you’re a freeze-baby, you might want to err on the side of heavy, regardless of temperature. Likewise, if you’re one of the crazies that just wears a hoodie, you might always want light.
Cut and Length
Nowadays, baselayers are coming in full length, ¾ length, and shorts for the bottoms and long-sleeved, t-shirt, or cut-off for the tops.
Once again, consider your body’s normal operating temp, activity, and outside temp while choosing the cut. I only own full-lengthed everything, but there are definitely days when I wish I had short-sleeved and/or ¾ length baselayers.
Synthetic, Wool, or Cotton
Cotton, I know right?! I only listed cotton because there are still some lower quality “long underwear” available at general farm supply stores and because there ARE some newer cotton-hybrid fabrics that are performing well. I don’t have any experience with it, but maybe you want to give it a try. They’re typically more affordable than wool.
Speaking of wool (and wool-blends), we’re not going to solve the great debate of Wool vs. Synthetic here, but here are some reasons why you may want to choose it:
- Keeps its insulating properties even when wet
- Naturally anti-microbial (it doesn’t stink, even when you do)
One of the main reasons for steering away from wool, at least in my case, is price. Wool, Merino wool being the king of wools these days, is very expensive. Expect upwards of $85 at a minimum for just one top or one bottom.
So then maybe synthetic is right for you. It’s cheaper, it wicks moisture from your skin and dries faster, and it typically keeps you just as warm as wool. But the downfall?
In my mind, the biggest downfall to synthetics is the stank. Even after just one sweaty outing, the permastench begins to set in and even washing it seems to do little to help. If you try packing light by only bringing one pair for multiple days, you might end up questioning if they’re even worth saving.
What’s Right for You
In the end, it comes down to what’s right for you.
If you plan on wearing your baselayers multiple times between washes (or perhaps you’re a ski bum that lives in a van), the extra money for wool might be the best choice. Or maybe you are a super legit ski bum and don’t have the extra money. In that case, synthetic is a good choice.
But I think more important than money or stench to being happy with your decision is knowing your usual body temperature and match it to the weight of the baselayer for the activity you do most. If you end up buying stuff too light and freezing, or too heavy and constantly sweating, it won’t matter what material or what cut it is.