People talk about baselayers, especially people who enjoy walking and cycling. But do you know what a baselayer is? And do you have a clue as to how the system of baselayering works – and how it will help you? There is no need to be embarrassed if you don’t, because few people actually know the ins and outs of baselayering thing and even less know how it works. (Lots of people just talk about baselayers without really understanding them!) So we thought you might like the lowdown on baselayers.
Tell me, what is a baselayer?
In the most general sense, a baselayer is a layer of clothing. It could be a t-shirt, long-sleeved top, or leggings. Most baselayers are worn next to the skin or close to the skin, as in a system of wearing one baselayer over another. To work effectively, baselayers should fit snugly on your body.
Is that it? Is that all I need to know about baselayers?
No. There is a lot more to know about baselayers. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes – and colours. They can also be called Technical T-shirts or Tees, thermal layers, Helly Hansens (this is an adopted brand name for some baselayers), and Icebreakers (as before).
A top: Short-sleeved or long-sleeved, with a full zip, half zip, quarter zip or plain crew neck.
Leggings: Long, three-quarter or shorts
Vests and pants: I.e. underwear.
How do I wear a baselayer?
For best effect, a baselayer should be worn against your skin. It acts like an extra layer of skin on your body and because it is made of a modern – and, some say, magical! – material it will keep you warm or cool. Essentially, a baselayer moderates your body temperature to keep it cooler when you’re in hot conditions and warm when you’re in cold temperatures. So that’s why it’s time to sort your baselayers out for autumn/winter. The more baselayers you wear, the more heat will be trapped between each layer, and as the layering system theory goes, the warmer you’ll stay. But a baselayer has another advantage: It allows sweat to evaporate through the material. This is known as a breathable or wick-away fabric. And this means that you’ll stay warm AND dry. See, we said that baselayer fabrics are magical!
If baselayers are magical what are they made of?
Most fabrics are either man-made 100% polyester, a polyester/elastane mix, polypropylene or natural Merino wool.
But what about cotton?
While a cotton fabric layer might keep you warm for a while, as soon as you start to sweat it will hold on to the water vapour. This means the t-shirt will eventually become wet – and so will your skin. And then you’ll start to feel damp and pretty miserable, especially when you stop for a break or lunch during a walk or cycle in the countryside.
How to walk and wear your baselayers
Guide to wearing baselayers
Depending on the weather conditions, you might want to start with one or two baselayers, topped in autumn or winter with a light fleece layer and a waterproof jacket. As you warm up while walking – or cycling – you can take off a baselayer. But if you then stop, or walk higher, and find the air temperature drops, you can pop the baselayer back on. This system is so much better than one thick layer because it gives you more choice – and one thicker layer is much more likely to cause you to sweat and end up damp.
What about baselayers in the summer?
A t-shirt or lightweight long-sleeved baselayer is a great asset in summer, too. This is when you’re much more likely to sweat and a good baselayer will allow your sweat to effectively wick away so that your skin remains cool and dry. Added to this, many baselayers have good defence against the sun’s harmful rays, so you’ll be safe from sunburn, too.
Should I wear my baselayer tight or baggy?
For best effect, a baselayer should fit snugly. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be skin-tight but snug is good. There are baselayers to suit male physiques and more tailored baselayers for women. If you feel self-conscious, buy a tightfitting baselayer and add a looser fit baselayer over the top.
What activities are baselayers good for?
Whatever your chosen outdoors pursuits you’ll use a baselayer or two or three. They are great for walking, hiking, cycling, running, skiing, horse riding, playing football and pretty much any form of exercise, except swimming.
Haven’t I heard of the Smelly Helly?
Ha, ha! Yes, Helly Hansen baselayers and others made from polyester mixes can become a bit whiffy. This is usually because the sweat from your body evaporates and penetrates the fabric of the baselayer. While most of this sweat heads into the outside air, some will naturally dry on the fabric. And dried sweat can be a bit smelly. But a wash on a 40-degrees cycle should eliminate the odour, and most people really like the look and feel of Helly Hansen tops so they put up with this slight inconvenience because they know that they will stay warm and dry while walking or being active in the outdoors. This blog is not suggesting that Helly Hansen baselayers are any worse than others made from similar materials. The only fabric that avoids the odour danger is natural fabrics, such as Merino wool, but these baselayers can be a lot more expensive.
Keep a baselayer spare
Every walking or cycling backpack should have a spare baselayer stuffed inside a pocket. Baselayers do not take up much space and they can really help to keep you warm in fast-cooling conditions or an emergency. In fact, many walkers will carry a couple of extra baselayers.
* If you have any other questions about baselayers, don't be afraid to ask!