Episode #011: Your Pocket Sailing Instructor Podcast: Base Layers! How to layer up for the occasion…

Following along on last week’s episode about foul weather gear, this week I am diving into base layers! These layers complement your external gear. Their job is to help manage your body heat and keep sweating to a minimum. Nice and dry = warmth!

Listen to Episode #011: Base Layers! How to layer up for the occasion…

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What are the typical types of base layer fabrics?

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. It 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

Base Layer Classifications

Base layers are generally classified at lightweight, midweight and heavyweight. Depending on the type of sailing I am doing, I will select the appropriate weight. The colder the temperatures, the heavier the weight. But, do remember what you will be doing on the boat. If you are doing an overnight cruising passage, wear a heavy gage. If you are racing and grinding, a lighter weight may be best.

Where to buy base layers?

I am a very tactile person and so I really like being able to try things on and feel them. I am not a huge synthetic fibre fan and tend to lean towards wool, but if it feels right, I go for it! Another one of my quirks is I hate seams! They create pressure points sometimes (as base layers are usually a bit more snug fitting), so I will also have a look and where, how many and how thick the seams are. Seems funny, I know, but after years of trying different base layers it’s just what I like!

So, when it comes to purchasing base layers there are MANY options. Sports stores, outdoor recreational stores, heck even grocery stores have clothing sections now! My go-to brands seem to be Smartwool, Helly Hansen, Under Armour and most MEC.

Good luck!

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