Without a wicking base, you’ll always be one layer short of an useful layering system. Even the most technical clothing in the world works better with an effective next-to-skin layer to move liquid away from your skin – it’s the first and most important component of any moisture management system.
What you wear next to your skin has a big impact on your day. If it makes you feel anything other than comfortable you’re never going to perform at your best. To achieve comfort, you need something that will fit well, feel good on skin and move as you move, as well as wicking all moisture quickly through and out to your next layer for evaporation. With all those demands, it pays to invest in the right foundation to your layering system.
Performance is a many-faceted beast. Fast wicking is key, particularly if you’ll be working hard, but equally important is the fit – not only does fit impact on wicking but you don’t want to be held back from vital big moves by your undergarments! And perfect fit and excellent wicking are useless if you’re itching or there’s a seam in just the wrong place. It’s good news then that there is a wide range of designs, fabrics and fits available, giving you freedom to find the combo that’s best for you.
As far as natural baselayer fabrics go, merino wool is hard to beat, especially for longer trips: smooth, warm, wicking and naturally smell-resistant, it’s delightful to wear (assuming you don’t have a wool sensitivity) and works a treat for low- to medium-intensity activity. Bamboo runs it to the line though; with its soft stretch and great durability on top of the equally effective wicking it’s another option for warmer conditions.
If you’re after something for high energy pursuits though, synthetic has to be the choice purely on the strength of moisture management. You have to select from masses of fabrics, wicking technologies, shapes and more, but it’s all quick-drying and lightweight with much better wicking ability than natural fibres. Be aware though that synthetic baselayers are generally more prone to a build-up of stinky bacteria – look out for anti-odour treatments like Polygiene to keep your layers fresh.
In really cold weather, you might opt for a high-wicking fleece base for extra warmth – Polartec Power Dry and Power Stretch being obvious choices. Usually with a smooth face and sometimes featuring a grid pattern for plenty of breathability, the low pile is excellent for moving moisture as well as making the inside soft and snug on skin, while a knit face spreads out moisture and slides easily under layers. Some even come with hoods and other features for versatility so you can wear them alone in less cold conditions.
There are even options to give you the best of both worlds: hybrid fabrics like Rab’s MeCo and ME’s Matrix combine merino wool with synthetic fibres to maximise wicking and reduce drying time, so you can enjoy best comfort and great wicking performance when active. They’re particularly useful for multi-day trips when the antibacterial action comes into its own.
As for fit, close is the key word whenever moisture needs moving. How close depends on the fabric and your preference – any quality baselayer will be designed for complete freedom of movement whether you’re wanting a relaxed fit for multi-day trekking or an active fit for high-paced action. All our baselayers are carefully designed to keep seams away from shoulder straps, harnesses etc too, plus they’re made as flat and comfortable as possible.
Then it’s just a question of features. A zip neck might be good for a variable route when venting quickly could be very useful. Or you might favour a crew for best layering. The warmer baselayers tend to offer more in the way of features so they can be worn alone, but if you just want the wicking ability then simple is the way to go.
For any activity at any level, if you’re heading outdoors you’ll need an effective base layer to maintain your dry comfort throughout your day. We stock a wide range of next-to-skin layers to suit all temperatures, levels of activity and preferences, so whatever you’re getting up to, you’ll find what you need in our baselayers and thermals section.