Get Warm, Stay Warm

The base layer market has changed drastically in the last five years, especially with the boom in the merino wool market. But really…which base layers should you buy this season?
Base layers were once the stuff of nightmares. Thick tights and a penchant for stinkiness – thermals were possibly the least attractive members of the clothing family.

Not anymore.

Last year I wrote a review of Mons Royale, Icebreaker, H&M, Decathlon, Heat Holders and SubZero base layers and it proved pretty popular. My findings then still stand but here I’ll give a more in depth look at the base layer options and the best places to buy them from.

Winter’s coming folks!

Rock your base layers.

Main Contenders in the UK base layer market

Icebreaker

You can spot an Icebreaker base layer a mile off. You don’t even need to keep an eye out for their refreshingly minimal branding, you can just see Icebreaker merino.

The company has been around for a long time but it seems to be getting more popular every year and I’m not really surprised. They essentially spearheaded the move into merino wool in the UK and produce t-shirt designs that just keep getting better and better.

I love that they keep their branding tiny unlike North Face’s massive logo scrawled over almost all of their clothing so huge that you sort of feel like a walking advert. Icebreaker don’t do that and their clothes speak for themselves.

I’ve owned a variety of Icebreaker base layers over the years, almost always picking them up in the sale wherever I can find them. They’re warm, they wick sweat immediately and are incredibly quick drying. They genuinely use the most comfortable merino and I’ve worn Icebreaker skiing, running, hiking and sailing.

Pros:

– Ultra comfortable

– Never smell, quick drying, keep you surprisingly warm

– Some of the best designs on the market

Cons:

– Pretty darn pricey

– The merino needs looking after, don’t put on a high spin cycle

– Once you buy Icebreaker, you might never go back

 

Want to buy Icebreaker on sale? Check out Alpine Trek for the latest deals – it’s one of my favourite places to buy Icebreaker!

Mons Royale

Pleasingly, Mons Royale have made an appearance at Go Outdoors which makes them a lot easier to find than they used to be. Mons Royale are a New Zealand brand of merino base layers who go for big block colours and a youthful look.

Mons Royale go for big branding a lot of the time, which I’m not a huge fan of but they do at least make it a part of the overall design and not just a huge slapped on logo.

They usually have a better range of colours than most brands if you’re looking for loud designs. They don’t stick to the age-old obsession with pink and purple for women and red and black for men. 

Like Icebreaker, Mons Royale merino can usually be spotted from a distance. They only use very high quality merino and at the end of the day, that’s what you’re paying for.  If you’re going off on a ski holiday and want to look rad while drinking glüwein in the mountain top cafes, Mons Royale should be your base layer of choice. 

Pros:

– Youthful design

– Very comfortable, high quality merino

– Make base layers a whole fashion of their own

Cons:

– Prices comparable with Icebreaker

– The merino needs looking after, don’t put on a high spin cycle

– Big logos (although a subjective con!)

 

Check out the Mons Royale brand video below and prepared to be booking a ski holiday the moment it’s finished….

Rab

Rab has been a big name in outdoor clothing and gear for years but they’re not that well known for their base layers. Unlike Icebreaker and Mons Royale, Rab don’t use pure merino in their baselayers and instead have a range of synthetic baselayers as well as a merino blend range.

Whilst merino is the king of base layer fabrics, Rab actually provide a really interesting explanation of their fabrics and choices and why they blend merino and synthetic fibres. Read up on Rab’s baselayer guide here

Rab’s base layer range is small but covers all the bases. The designs are anything to shout about and are definitely not approaching the coolness levels of Icebreaker and Mons Royale designs. But we are talking about base layers and plenty of people don’t want funky designs. 

While I’m a fan of Rab in general, personally I’d choose a brand with more interesting designs if I’m going to paying these prices. But that’s just me. Rab do make excellent base layers if you’re just after warm, wicking underthings. 

Pros:

– Small but solid range

– Own mix of treated synthetic and high quality merino fabric

– No big logos

Cons:

– No cool designs

– The merino needs looking after, don’t put on a high spin cycle

Rab produce some wicked cool videos so if you’re stuck inside and need some whimsy, check out the video below!

AlpKit

Just like Rab, AlpKit have a small base layer range that covers all the bases without any loud designs. Their colours are muted and would appeal to anyone and they even make merino base layers specifically for cyclists which is pretty novel.

I love AlpKit because their ethos is affordability without compromising quality or charging buyers for the brand. As a result, AlpKit’s base layers are more affordable than the brands above and from my experience, they also have pretty kick ass customer service. 

AlpKit also provide an excellent article on synthetic vs merino fabrics which might help clear up any quandary you have choosing between the two or a mixture. 

Pros:

– Affordable and high quality

– Merino and synthetic

– A very cool British brand that’s growing every year

Cons:

– Subtle designs that won’t make you want to show them off

 

AlpKit started small. Really small. But every year they add new things to their repertoire including an adventure festival and lots of short videos that’ll get you planning an outdoor adventure. 

BAM 

Bamboo clothing has been creeping onto the market in recent years thanks to being a more sustainable material that grows extremely quickly. Interestingly though, bamboo has tons more going for it. Like merino, it’s great at wicking sweat, doesn’t smell half as much as synthetics and is a rapid drying material. So really, it’s a natural base layer.

I’ve yet to try out any BAM clothing but it definitely looks promising from what other outdoor adventurer’s have said about its qualities. BAM have a reasonable selection of baselayers, some of which could certainly be pulled off as regular tops. Plus, BAM are not adverse to the odd thumb-loop which, if you ask me, is still the gold-standard of any long-sleeve base layer. 

Bamboo is a cheaper material than merino and prices are reflected at the retail end too. Bamboo is more resilient than merino which means fewer holes appearing after you wear it throughout the winter season and you won’t see the laddering damage that seems to occur in ultra-fine merino after a frightening short amount of time.  

If you’re torn between merino and bamboo then no sweat – BAM makes merino with bamboo base layers!

Pros:

– Affordable and very soft

– As sustainable as merino and more so than cotton

– A growing area of sustainable clothing

Cons:

– Not quite as a stink-repellant as merino, but still good

 

Best Places to Buy Your Base Layers this Year!

One of my favourite places to buy outdoor clothing online
[UK] outdoor clothing – Alpine Trek often has fantastic deals and sales with the biggest brands including Icebreaker and Mons Royale.
Surfdome has a good range of base layers and delivery is free above £30 and super fast.
A great shop for all kinds of base layers. Ellis Brigham shops are dotted around the country, often found in mountaineering spots as well as large city centres.
With brands like Rab, Mountain Equipment and Patagonia, Joe Browns sells lots of base layers and often has great sales on.
Go Outdoors is getting pretty good these days, especially with their price match promise. They sell a wide selection of brands from Rab down to their budget base layers.
Cotswold Outdoors tends to err on the side of the most expensive brands and it’s the domain of Arcteryx, Patagonia and Icebreaker. Going into a store makes you want to bankrupt yourself fairly quickly. But they can have great sales and are both online and nationwide. They also offer price matching now, which brings their prices down to the lowest online!
Snow and Rock is another great shop for the biggest and best brands in outdoor gear including base layers.

Got a favourite base layer?

Let me know in the comments!