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By The Numbers: What’s the Best Base Layer Fabric? Wool vs. Alpaca vs. Polyester


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable By The Numbers: What’s the Best Base Layer Fabric? Wool vs. Alpaca vs. Polyester

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  • #3763256
    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member

    @bryanb

    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Since the drying time of any base layer depends almost entirely on how much water it absorbed, I think it would be good to have a section in the article discussing how much water each fabric type absorbs.
    In my experience from saturating and weighing many different base layers I have owned, synthetic fabrics absorb a lot less water (as a % of their mass) than do wool. Like you Stephen, I prefer that my base layers not absorb a lot of my sweat, so I always choose the lightest weight synthetic base layers I can.

    #3763275
    Jeffrey J
    BPL Member

    @jeffjacobs

    I’m looking forward to your article on mesh. For all the discussions of fibers, fabric properties may be the more significant factor in warmth and moisture mitigation.

    #3764506
    Stephen Seeber
    BPL Member

    @crashedagain

    Hi Jeff:

    For all the discussions of fibers, fabric properties may be the more significant factor in warmth and moisture mitigation.

    Well put.  That is the key takeaway from this article.

    #3764754
    YoPrawn
    Spectator

    @johan-river

    Locale: Cascadia

    Sorry to go on a tangent here, but since MESH layers have been mentioned here, as in Brynje, I would like to add something VERY important that I find many people spreading as a bit of a myth.

    Synthetic mesh layers (brynje fishnet super thermo) are not some sort of magical layer for helping keep you safe in total submersion scenarios in cold weather. (at least in my testing)

    I’ve been spending the last couple weeks (years actually) testing fabrics and clothing in total submersion scenarios in cold water and how fast I can recover from them without any additional clothing or fire or anything. In my testing, the brynje polypro fishnet was absolutely NOT at all adequate for the task, and actually made the scenarios MUCH more dangerous due to the rapid cooling effect of the stored water in the mesh and the rapid evaporation from the skin in the holes. It also does not drain water any where close to as fast as my best material and must be removed to squeeze out remaining moisture, which is also tough. Even 100wt classic fleece blows away the mesh layer in a wet, cold, weather submersion scenario.

    I just wanted to mention this, as I have seen it said countless times how mesh base layers can be a safety feature for such scenarios, and in my real-world testing with both polypro and nylon mesh, this is not quite true when compared to other materials and fabrics that can be used as a base layer.

    I think for a mesh layer to help at all in total submersion, it would need to have truly hydrophobic mesh that can’t absorb any water at all. Woven mesh using hydrophobic yarn is not adequate. But, that would be quite uncomfortable to wear. LOL

    #3767460
    Paul D
    BPL Member

    @paulieva

    Love your articles and experimentation Stephen. Always, very informative.

    #3767474
    nunatak
    BPL Member

    @roamer

    Interesting stuff!

    Luckily personal base layer field testing is one of the easiest, most low tech things to do – the cost of acquiring a drawer full of different types is relatively low, it can be accomplished  on day hikes, the pros/cons are felt immediately.

    My 2 cents: material and fit choices are seasonally/environmentally dependent, and varies with activity.

    These days I wander locally year round and have just a few perfected setups.

    But in my climbing days I could be ice climbing above the arctic circle (cold all the time), summiting Himalayan peaks (huge temps swings) or hanging in the summer sun on the side of El Cap for a week (warm all the time). I needed to rethink everything before each trip.

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