Buying a Base Layer - some things to think about.
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19 November 2005
When you pack for your next venture into the hills which piece of your kit is top of the list? Your waterproof? Your boots? Your map? What about your base layer? - A decent base layer is the key to staying cool, dry and above all comfortable while you tackle whatever mother nature decides to throw at you. Recent industry research has established that amongst a sample of Lake District hill-walkers, only 16% of those interviewed were wearing a wicking baselayer, with the remaining 84% relying on cotton tee-shirts or non-breathable shirts or jumpers.. When you are active in the outdoors you are going to get hot. The body deals with this increase in temperature by producing sweat, the evaporation of which produces a very efficient cooling effect. So far so good, however in reality this moisture cannot evaporate quickly enough and what actually happens is that your body ends up covered in sweat. The problems start when you slow down or stop, the excess of moisture collected on the skin continues to cool the body even though you no longer require it. This can be dangerous. We all know how easy it is to get caught out in the outdoors, and to borrow a phrase from Ray Mears, 'in a potential survival situation' a drop of only 4 degrees C in your body's core temperature can, in some circumstances, result in the onset of hypothermia. The clothing that outdoor activists wear next to the skin must allow this excess moisture to move away from the body and allow it to be dissipated to the air. This is the process referred to as 'wicking' and is what your baselayer should do well. For this reason cotton tee-shirts just don't cut it in the outdoors as they hold moisture and cling to the skin leaving you feeling cold and clammy. Without a good baselayer your investment in that expensive and highly technical jacket is something of a waste of money: it will certainly keep the elements at bay, but the moisture your body produces will leave you feeling uncomfortable and chilled from within. Modern baselayer clothing is made from technical synthetic fabrics which will not readily absorb moisture and are designed to transport water outwards and spread it across the surface of the fabric to speedily facilitate evaporation. The exception to the use of synthetic fabrics is the recent uptake by some manufacturers of Merino wool which is highly breathable and able to wick moisture away from the body faster than synthetic fabrics. Most modern base layers also incorporate a treatment which will inhibit the growth of bacteria which cause odour - a huge bonus when taking that well earned post-walk pint in a crowded pub
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