So, further to my blog on foul weather gear, I mentioned that I would follow up with a base layer gear review.

First we need to establish our wish list:

  • warm
  • breathable
  • low stink factor (since I’ll be wearing them a few times over the trip)
  • wicking
  • proper fit

Let’s look at the main fabrics used. The following information was retrieved from

Synthetic Fabrics

One of the most common synthetic fabrics used for base layers is polyester. However, you may also find a combination of nylon, rayon or polypropelene. Synthetics have a bit of a spandex feel which give you a nice snug fit.

  • Super dry: Synthetics excel at wicking and dissipating sweat, so they give you the driest feel of any type of fabric.
  • Durable: No base layer is invincible; if you’re looking for your most durable option, though, then synthetics are your best bet.
  • Odor retention: Some synthetics add a finish that inhibits the buildup of odor-causing bacteria, which helps. If you’ll be going multiple days between washes, it helps to have some tolerance for stinkiness.

5/5 wicking             4/5 durability            3/5 odor- resistant

Merino Wool 

Merino wool is soft and has ultrafine fibers and is nothing like older wool clothing and blankets. Wool can also be blended with other fabrics, like spandex to enhance fit and flexibility. Merino wool has the following characteristics:

  • Wicks well: Some moisture in wool is retained in its core, which won’t chill you, but wool will not feel quite as dry as a synthetic fabric. It will also take longer to dry when it gets wet.
  • Breathable: That moisture in the core of its fibers releases when temps heat up, which can offer a little bit of cooling in warm weather.
  • Moderately durable: Wear it under other layers and enjoy a long and happy life together; as a standalone top under heavy pack straps, it won’t last as long because the constant rubbing can wear through the fabric. You can also opt for a base layer that blends synthetic and wool for increased durability.
  • Odor free: Even if you don’t believe wool fanatics who report endless days of sweaty wear without a discouraging whiff, it’s absolutely true that wool is highly resistant (and naturally resistant) to odor-causing bacteria.

4/5 wicking            3/5 durability             5/5 odor-resistant


Silk is an ideal fabric for low-key activities like an easygoing fall hike or an evening concert outdoors. Silk has the following characteristics:

  • Moderate wicking: If you don’t push your heart rate out of your target zone, you should be fine; some silk underwear has an added finish to improve wicking.
  • Suppleness: Invariably available as a lightweight option, silk slips easily under other layers; the flipside is that it’s not especially durable.
  • Odor retention: Silk is not naturally odor resistant, so it needs to be laundered every time your wear it.

2/5 wicking              2/5 durability               2/5 odor-resistant

Based on the above information, for my purposes I will be looking at Merino Wool or a Synthetic blend base layer.  Base layers are generally classified as follows:

  • Lightweight: Moderate to cool temps.
  • Midweight: Cold temps.
  • Heavyweight: Below-freezing temps.

It is also a great idea to wear several layers and adjust as needed. Most sailors wear a heavyweight or midweight base followed by a fleece. Then your foul weather gear. One of the principal goals is to remain dry. If you get wet from rain, spray or sweat, it will not take long for you to get cold.

What are the options?

Here are some options that I will be looking into:



Smartwool seems to be a base layer crowd pleaser and there are many options for the weight (heavy to light). This newer wool fabric is soft, wicks well and is odor-resistant. A typical warm base layer shirt will be about $110 while a pair of warm pants will be about $100. I tend to prefer a crew neck shirt as opposed to a zip up, but you can definitely get a full zip up to your chin. Smartwool seems to age well and should last you for several seasons.

Under Armour

The Under Armour HeatGear line is a midweight line and there are several different base layer styles of tops and pants. Their HeatGear line is synthetic (92% polyester & 8% elastane for fit) so it will last and maintain it’s shape. However, even with their anti-odor technology, you will be ripe after a few wears.  Their UA Base line is for aggressive cold and is their heavyweight line. It is also a synthetic blend of 95% polyester & 5% elastane. Prices vary depending on styles.

Helly Hansen

HH has a few options for base layers. The HH Lifa Merino line is their heavyweight base layer option. Their lightweight option is their HH Lifa Active line. HH has been creating base layers for athletes for quite some time now so their Lifa technology is on point. For my trip, I envision having a good lightweight and heavyweight option for layering and different weather conditions I may encounter.

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)

I enjoy MEC products so I decided to include them in this base layer review. MEC offers a Merino wool base layer line which would be your heavyweight option for warmth. They also offer a few different synthetic options ranging from lightweight to medium weight. Again, it will depend on style, fit, comfort and what you need the gear to do for you.


I hope this base layer review has helped you navigate the various base layer fabrics and options available to you. The best way to determine what is right for you is to try on several different options to look for best fit and determine what you need for your specific activity (sailing, skiing, hiking, etc.).

Fair winds,

Captain Penny


Evenson, Laura. How to Choose Base Layers. Retrieved from:

Page photo credit: Photo retrieved from


  1. Excellent comparison of different options and useful for my EBC treck 😉 thanks!

  2. I’ve tested the HH Lifa Merino base layer while sailing in 1-8° C temp plus skiing and snowshoeing. It’s kept me warm, dry and stinky-free. I’ve tried other brands and giving this one a solid 👍.

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