Cotton can leave you cold and clammy and should generally be avoided. Polyester wicks moisture well but is prone to getting smelly unless it has an anti-microbial solution. Polypropylene is renowned for its fast-wicking properties, but needs to be close-fitting to work well. Merino wool can be super-soft and naturally anti-microbial, but it’s generally more expensive. Hybrid fabrics are a mix of wool and synthetic materials, which aim to give the best of both worlds: soft, odour-resistant, fast-wicking and quick-drying. Take your pick!
Zip necks, crew necks, short or long sleeved – the best choice is down to the individual. We prefer long-sleeved zip necks as they allow some flexibility for ventilation, warmth and sun protection. Dark colours will absorb heat from the sun, while white or light colours will help reflect heat but may be more transparent.
Try it on. If it’s uncomfortable or restricts freedom of movement, don’t buy it. Check that the collar, cuffs and wrist areas aren’t too tight or too baggy. Also, make sure the top is long enough and doesn’t ride up when you bend forward or raise your arms, exposing your lower back and waist. Most base layers are cut with dynamic movement in mind to prevent this from happening.
Check that the garment won’t irritate your skin. Some fabrics are softer than others, while some labels and seams
can chafe, prickle and itch. If you’re buying a top with a zipped neck, check it’s comfortable – in cold weather a metal zip can feel icy cold against your skin. Some tops come with storm flaps or chin guards, which will add protection against draughts and zips. Flat-locked seams are less bulky and less likely to rub, while off-set seams (such as those used by Patagonia) are designed to avoid sitting under rucksack straps. Look out for scratchy labels, too; heat transfers that print information directly onto the garment side-step the problem. Most manufacturers use these in the back of the neck but then add an additional label in the side seam. Beware!