Don’t be Baseless

Picture of Beth in a plum and gray Icebreaker base layer

Winter isn’t for hibernation

by Beth Poliquin

Long underwear, long johns, base layers; no matter what you call them, you’ve got options for staying warm this winter. So how do you choose? Let’s talk about the differences between wool and polyester, and traditional and active layers.

Some of the best merino wool is made by Icebreaker. Well known all around the world, Icebreaker works with family-run sheep farms on the south island of New Zealand. It’s a pretty cool story worth reading about on their website. These sheep spend their winters in the rugged and cold Southern Alps and summers down in the warm valleys. If these sheep can stay comfortable in that much variability, maybe there’s something to this wool thing. That’s why people have been using it for so long. What makes modern merino wool garments different is how soft they are. Merino fibers are very fine, which eliminates those poky fiber ends that make traditional wool so itchy.

Wool is warm, breathable, and available in different weights. My favorite thing about wool is how it feels and smells fresh even after several wearings. Washing less can help your investment last longer. Our wool brands recommend machine washing with cold water as hand washing can leave soap residue which can make the fabric less breathable. I do recommend laying flat to dry. You shouldn’t have to worry about your wool shrinking, but it can wear out quicker if it’s put in a dryer. This makes wool an excellent “next-to-skin” layer. It’s not just for base layers, but also great for traditional underwear. We’ve got underwear and undershirts, and in my opinion, every woman needs a merino cami!

Synthetic layers have several benefits. The first is that they cost much less than wool, making them an easy purchase. Terramar not only has great pants and tops for adults, but kids can stay toasty too. Polyester can feel very soft on your skin and sometimes is even made from recycled plastic, like water bottles. Synthetic base layers dry quicker than wool because the smooth fibers spread moisture out so it can evaporate efficiently. The major downside to those smooth fibers is how easily bacteria can grow on them. This is why workout clothes can start to smell even after washing. This usually means these items have a shorter lifetime and need to be replaced sooner. Just like our wool layers, these are available in different weights, for different amounts of insulation. The warmest ones are a blend of wool and polyester to get some of the benefits of each. Terramar recommends machine washing in cold water and while allowing for tumble drying on low, recognize that line drying helps protect all clothing.

Those of us who live and play up north know that the best part of winter involves activity. Winter isn’t for hibernation – it’s too long for that! So we get out and ski and skate and snowshoe. In order to get the warm antimicrobial benefits of wool for activewear, we carry Icebreaker BodyFit Zone and BJØRN DÆHLIE Training Wool. These lines have panels with even more breathability in areas that generate more heat and sweat more. This lets the wool dry quicker there so you’ll stay warm even after you stop moving. The mesh panels that don’t look like much are are surprisingly good insulation, making these a must-have for winter outdoor athletes.

When in doubt, we’re happy to help you figure out what will work best for you.

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