Mountaineers frequently refer to cotton as the “death cloth.”
That’s because, unlike wool or synthetics, cotton will hold onto moisture, which is great for kitchen rags but dangerous when it comes to wintertime clothing. Sweat absorbed by cotton can actually freeze given extreme enough conditions. Even assuming that you’re not deep in the backcountry or high on the Himalayas, any moisture that stays close to the skin can have a cooling effect and make it difficult to maintain body heat.
That’s why wool or synthetics generally are the better choice when heading out to play in winter. Whether it’s a jacket, gloves or a base layer, the key to any synthetic garment is breathability and moisture wicking — or drawing moisture away from the body. And when it comes to staying warm, it all starts with the layer closest to the skin. So this week we’re getting down to the basics, with baselayers from Columbia, The North Face and Pearl Izumi — three solid choices to keep you both warm and dry out on the slopes.
Columbia’s Omni-Heat reflective baselayers
With Columbia Sportwear baselayers, it’s all about the proprietary Omni-Heat and Omnni-Wick technology. The company advertises that its Omni-Heat line will keep you 20 percent warmer than other similar apparel because of the unique design. The premise behind Omni-Heat is similar to that of the foil blankets runners receive after a marathon. The foil is designed to reflect heat back at the runner’s body. The same is true of Columbia’s Omni-Heat line. But instead of having a jacket or baselayer completely lined with foil, Columbia’s gear has little metallic circles imprinted on the material.
The metallic circles reflect body heat back at you to keep you warm while allowing moisture to escape through the surrounding fabric. The baselayers also contain Omni-Wick technology designed to draw perspiration away from the body so it will evaporate faster. Whether the technology does, in fact, keep you 20 percent warmer may be up for debate, but after testing both tops and bottoms we were pretty impressed by their performance. Looking at Omni-Heat metallic circles, comfort was an initial concern, but after putting them on, they felt no different than any other material.
After a whole day spent charging the slopes and working up a sweat, I found that I was dry at the end of the day. Even sitting on a chairlift on a 4 degree day, my body temperature stayed nice and warm with only a midlayer jacket and outer shell in addition to the Columbia base.
Retail: $55-60 (top and tights sold separately)
The North Face’s FlashDry baselayers
Similar to Columbia’s Omni-Wick is The North Face’s FlashDry technology, which the company uses in its baselayers and a variety of other apparel. FlashDry wicks moisture from the body to help you stay warm and dry. It’s also designed to dry quickly after getting wet. Simplifying the science behind it, The North Face says it treats the material with a microporous additive that creates more surface-area fiber and helps the wicking process by spreading out moisture for faster evaporation. Again, the baselayers met with positive results when taken to the slopes. I stayed both warm and dry regardless of whether I was charging the hill and working up a sweat or just sitting on the chair heading for Round 2. The North Face’s zip-up long-sleeve top also looks less like a baselayer and more like a top you might wear off the slopes.
Retail: $50 (top and tights sold separately)
Pearl Izumi Transfer LS Base top
Pearl Izumi is generally associated with biking and running, but its Transfer LS Base top provides a versatility that also makes it a solid option for winter sports. This top also has a high level of breathability and performed well with moisture transfer, allowing us to stay dry on the hill.
What’s unique about the Transfer top is the windproof fabric in the chest area. Clearly designed for biking and running, the shirt does an excellent job keeping wind from penetrating where you want it least.
Even with the windproof front, the Transfer LS Base top is lightweight and nonrestrictive. Its tuckable-length drop-tail back is a nice touch to keep the top from riding up.