Base Layers Explained
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A base layer is the first layer in what is known as the three-layer system (with the second layer usually being a fleece and the third outer layer being the exterior barrier that protects you against snow, wind, and rain). Base layers help regulate your body temperature by moving perspiration away from your skin, which will also help to keep your dry. Staying dry is the key to staying warm. Base layers come in many forms. Some are designed to contour to your body while others are loose fitting. Base layers usually come in three weights; light, mid, and heavy.
The weather conditions and your activity level should be taken into account when choosing the right base layer.
Base Layer Weights
Lightweight base layers are designed to fit tighter for the best in moisture management. They are best suited for mild to cool conditions and high activity levels.
Midweight layers can be worn as a warmer first layer or as a second layer that provides a combination of insulation and moisture wicking. Midweight layers are best suited for cool to cold conditions with medium levels of activity. Midweight layers can be combined with lightweight layers underneath or heavyweight layers on top to achieve the desired state of warmth.
Heavyweight layers are best for cold conditions. Heavyweight layers are designed to add insulation and are worn looser without as much focus on moisture management. These layers are thicker due to their higher loft insulation.
Today's base layers are constructed out of either Merino wool or synthetic fabrics. Rather than absorbing moisture, these fabrics wick moisture and perspiration away from the skin and disperse it on the outer surface where it evaporates. These fabrics efficiently draw moisture away from skin, dry quickly, and reduce the risk of dramatic swings in body temperature.
Synthetic layers are soft, easy to care for, and lightweight. They are also very abrasion-resistant, provide a great deal of stretch, and offer excellent moisture management. Synthetic materials also dry very quickly. The only thing is...they offer slightly slower temperature regulation than wool...and aren't as good for the environment. Synthetic layers can also start to stink if they aren't washed regularly.
Wool is soft to the skin and very lightweight. It offers excellent moisture management, outstanding temperature regulation, and superb odor resistance. However, wool fabrics dry slower than than synthetics and are potentially vulnerable to shrinkage if not washed properly.
Long sleeve base layers are generally used in colder conditions and under additional layers in order to maximize warmth.
Short sleeve base layers tend to be used in warm to cool conditions where moisture wicking is more important than heat retention.
Long leg base layers are generally used in colder conditions while three-quarter leg base layers are designed stay out of the snowboard boot for maximum comfort and zero bunching.
One-piece base layers are the ultimate in base layer protection. They eliminate the potential for any skin exposure and seal out any drafts, making them perfect for cold conditions. Some one-piece base layers even have a hood because 40% of your body heat can escape through your head.
All base layers are designed to perform whether worn alone or with other layers.