I’m not sure exactly when humble “long underwear” became “next-to-skin technical base layers.” But somewhere over the past decade designers in the outdoors industry switched up the nomenclature and cut words like “skivvies” and “long johns” out of the conversation.
It was an apt decision, however, and not just a marketing ploy. Indeed, the tight-fitting tops and tights outdoors people wear against their skin have seen serious innovation in recent years. Here are three new and impressive base-layer tops I have been testing against my skin on hikes and runs as of late.
GoLite DriMove BL-2 Longsleeve Zip — It may sound improbable, but this top employs a fabric that has volcanic minerals embedded in its threads. Called Cocona Minerale, the natural lava rock ingredient is touted to increase wicking, protect from UV sunrays, and add odor control.
In my tests, the Longsleeve Zip worked alone as a top for hiking and trail running on cool days, breathing well for hours at a time outside. The fabric, which has a heavy, textured weave, dries relatively fast once soaked with sweat.
Layered under a fleece top and a shell jacket, the Longsleeve Zip has functioned for me as a foundational piece to aid in comfort, warmth and breathability. Its fabric is slightly thicker than the Helly Hansen and Mammut tops reviewed below, making it warmer but not detracting from its wicking ability.
Bonus: Because Minerale is embedded in the fabric, it won’t wash off or wear out like other treatments might. $55, www.golite.com
Helly Hansen One — Mother Nature and engineering labs both had a hand in the creation of the Helly Hansen HH One base layers, which are touted to embody characteristics heretofore found only on polar bears. The company cites its fabric as having hollow fibers that mimic bear fur and help retain heat as well as move moisture when you sweat.
For me, the Stripe Crew Graphic top, which employs a thin sheen of polypropylene for its face fabric, proved to be breathable but still warm enough to be worn alone on a cool autumn hike. Or the top can be a part of a cold-weather kit when worn under an insulating top and a jacket. It is a skin-tight top and comes in several funky styles, including a camouflage motif.
According to the company, the modified “bear fur” technology maintains optimum body temperature for “all-day comfort.” Indeed, in my tests across a spectrum of temperatures, the Stripe Crew proved versatile and did not disappoint. $45, www.hellyhansen.com
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