5 February 2019
Whether you’re climbing high mountains, cycling to work on a chilly day, going for a hike, or enjoying a romp in the snow, staying warm starts with wearing the right base layers. Here’s why you need to choose yours wisely.
The foundation of layering
Your base layer is the foundation of the all-important three-part layering system. Just like building a house without a proper foundation, wearing outdoor gear without a decent base layer is a recipe for disaster.
While your outer layer keeps out wind and water, and your middle layer provides insulation, your base layer is there to provide temperature regulation and moisture management. Without the correct type of base layer, your insulating and weatherproof layers won’t be able to do their jobs properly.
Outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, cycling and skiing all produce dramatic swings in body temperature. Wearing a good base layer creates a microclimate next to your skin. Just the right amount of body warmth is trapped to create a comfortable, consistent temperature. So, your base layer helps regulate your body temperature as you heat up during activity and then cool down during rest.
The most important job of a base layer is to move moisture away from your skin as quickly as possible. When clothing remains wet for an extended period, your body begins to lose serious amounts of heat due to evaporation and conduction through the damp fabric. That’s why a base layer needs to have excellent wicking abilities.
When moisture from your skin comes into contact with your base layer, the wicking process moves moisture away from your skin to the outside of your base layer. Wicking then spreads the moisture across a larger surface area allowing it to evaporate faster.
High quality synthetic base layers like the K-Way Thermalator Elite range are very good at moisture wicking, so even if you get them soaked, they'll dry faster than anything else. Cotton is the worst possible choice for a base layer, as it soaks up sweat and moisture and can become dangerously cold and damp.
In order to fulfil their dual functions of temperature control and moisture management, base layers need to fit close to the skin. However, they also need to be comfortable and not constrictive. A good base layer should be snug, stretchy, and lightweight enough for you to wear it all day without even noticing it’s there. Seamless or flat-seamed base layers can also reduce the chance of chafing.
Base layer vests and shirts
Base layer tops come as sleeveless vests, short-sleeved shirts or long-sleeved spencers. When choosing your base layer, consider the temperature, the level of activity you expect to take part in, and what you’ll be wearing on top of your base layer. For winter use, long sleeved base layers are generally best, as they keep you warmer and more thoroughly protected.
Base layer tights and long johns
Base layer tights, also known as long johns, are wonderfully versatile. They’re ideal for snow sports and winter hiking, or even worn under your normal clothes on really cold days. Wear them as pyjamas when you’re camping, or underneath shorts when you’re running or cycling, to provide warmth without additional weight.
However you use your base layers, you’re sure to find them an essential item of clothing. Choose a quality set of base layers, and you’ll be amazed at how much warmth and comfort this lightweight layer of fabric can add to your adventures.