Wool vs. Synthetic Base Layers

A great day skiing, snowshoeing, or hunting all begins with the proper layering for warmth and moisture control. The right base layer material is essential for maximum comfort for a day in the elements. Most people have given up on cotton base layers and long underwear in favor of synthetics which wick moisture away from your body and dry much quicker than cotton. In recent years, wool base layers have gained popularity. So let's examine the difference between wool and synthetics in search of the ideal base layer.

Wool vs. Synthetic

Merino Wool Base Layers

When you hear about wool do you think itchy and bulky sweaters? We aren't talking about traditional wool. Most base layers are made of Merino Wool which is very soft, breathable and is very warm for such minimal weight. Merino sheep are raised in high mountainous regions of Australia and New Zealand. The wool is strong, naturally elastic and extremely soft against your skin. Merino wool does not have the itchy feel of other wools, is odor absorbent and provides high levels of UV protection. Some top brands for merino wool base layers include Ibex, Icebreaker and SmartWool.

Benefits of Wool

* A high level of heat retention will keep you warm in cool weather
* Tiny pockets of air allow for excellent breathability in warm weather
* Absorbs over 30% of its weight in moisture before it feels wet
* Hollow fibers pull the moisture away from your skin
* Naturally resistant to static, mold, mildew and fire
* Naturally antibacterial so it can be worn for long periods without holding an odor
* A truly natural, renewable and sustainable material

Synthetic Base Layers

Synthetic base layers are made from polyester or polyester blends and include Polypropylene and Capilene. Synthetic fabrics can be as comfortable as cotton against the skin but they are designed to wick moisture away from your skin and dry much quicker. Popular brands for polyester base layers include Wickers and Mountain Hardwear.

Benefits of Synthetic Fabrics

* Excellent moisture wicking properties
* Dries quicker than wool
* Easy Care
* Lighter weight
* Less expensive than wool

For more information on base layers and layering be sure to check out the Sierra Trading Post Buying Guide.
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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