Are high end hunting base layers like Sitka, First Lite, Smartwool, and Icebreaker worth paying big money for? What makes expensive base layers better? These are big questions that deserve honest answers from someone who is not selling base layers. So, on this podcast episode I tackle these questions to provide the pros, cons, and recommendations on how to realistically budget for base layers.
There are several significant performance areas that base layers compete in.
- Warmth – This is how warm a particular layer can keep you. Different thicknesses of material can achieve almost any desired warmth level from something paper thin to something as thick as a parka. Yes, some materials are warmer than others but you can achieve almost any warmth level you want with enough material.
- Warmth When Wet – This is how warm a layer stays even when soaking wet. Many cheap warm layers begin to suck the heat out of you when they get wet, their materials are not insulating once moisture hits them. A good layer keeps you warm even when it gets wet.
- Thermal Regulation – This is a layer’s ability to keep you warm when it’s cold but not overheat when it’s hot. Certain materials like merino wool do a great job with this, while certain cheap synthetic base layers become your enemy as temperatures fluctuate throughout a hunt.
- Drying Speed – This is how fast a layer dries. People often talk about moisture wicking which is one half hype and one half highly complex science. I lump that into how fast a layer can dry and keep you dry. This makes a huge difference when it comes to keeping you warm and comfortable through changing conditions.
- Comfort Of Material – This is how the fabric feels on your skin, how it breathes, stretches, and causes or protects from chaffing and other issues. Comfort matters a lot, so long as other areas are in good shape.
- Cut & Fit – This has to do with how the garment is designed, is made to move, walk, climb, run, etc. If the layer is cut and fit for hunting, it will give you full range of motion, not bind up around your joints. And it will be tight enough for good articulation but loose enough for comfort and warmth.
- Odor Control – This is how well or how long a base layer can resist stinking. Some fabrics are naturally odor resistant, like wool, and others are treated in a variety of ways to make them odor resistant. Cheap base layers will more quickly develop perma-stink, an unfortunate condition where the layer pretty much always smells bad within a few minutes of putting it on and warming it up to body temperature.
- Durability – No base layers last forever, but they should last for a while at least. This has to do with how they resist wearing out from use, as well as snags, washing, and other gear rubbing against them. Thicker layers tend to last longer but there are numerous technologies being used now to improve durability across fabric types. A good set of base layers should last many hunting seasons.
Listen to the full podcast episode to hear about how expensive base layers are better and if they are worth paying high prices for.