It’s an age old question, something we’ve all been wondering for years – but don’t seem to have the correct answer to – and maybe, we never will.
So here it goes; what is the best base layer for snowboarding?
As far as materials go, you’ve got natural fibers like Merino wool, and you’ve got synthetic fibers, like Polyester. Let’s take some time to really break it down and take a look at both:
Merino Wool Base Layer
So, what is it that makes Merino wool so special you may ask?
Well, for starters it offers more breathability and better moisture management than any other fiber on the market. Merino wool fibers can retain up to 30% of their own weight in moisture and still feel completely dry. Both Merino wool and Polyester have the ability to wick away moisture, but only wool can disperse moisture while it is still in a vapor state, meaning it starts to disperse moisture before it has had a chance to reach the garment.
Due to the unique construction of its fiber, Merino Wool is naturally heating and cooling. Most people think that wool can only be worn in the winter or in cold weather, but that is absolutely false; wool can actually be worn year round. When sheep get warm they don’t have the ability to shed a layer, but the natural benefits of their wool allows them to self-regulate body temperature, ensuring comfort in all conditions. Wool base layers are designed to act as a second skin, offering you the same benefits (as being a sheep) when you’re wearing it.
Being that it is a natural fiber, and because of its ability to wick away moisture, odor-causing bacteria doesn’t have the damp environment it needs to grow; meaning you can wear your Merino wool garment more than once and remain odor free. Merino wool is also incredibly durable due to its unique construction and natural curl named the “fiber crimp” that offers elasticity and resilience. It can be manipulated in any direction and into any shape over 30,000 times or more – without damaging the fiber of the wool.
We all know wool gets a bad rap when it comes to comfort, getting called names like “itchy” and “uncomfortable”. This isn’t because its wool, it’s because the shape of the fibers that are used in a specific garment. The larger the fiber, the less flexible it is – resulting in a scratchy feel when it is pressed against the skin – making you itch. Merino wool, thanks to its smaller diameter and finer fibers allows it to bend and flex when resting on your skin so you can be itch free every time you wear it.
Polyester Base Layer
Now let’s discuss Polyester and some of its benefits.
This widely used fiber is relatively inexpensive and offers great performance. Much like its competitor, Polyester has the ability to efficiently wick away moisture while remaining breathable. Polyester fibers can also only absorb around 0.4% of their own weight in water allowing them to dry rapidly during strenuous activity. Many manufacturers actually manipulate Polyester fibers to mold them the way they want, increasing the performance properties.
Another positive of Polyester is that the durability of the fabric will often last the lifespan of the product. Polyester is constructed with engineered plastic so it can withstand to be washed over and over again, and is incredibly abrasion resistant. It can also be knit into thinner and lighter items than Merino wool, giving you more options in the way of weight.
Now that you’ve read some of the pros on both of these fabrics, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
The price of Polyester base layers is one to be admired, however if you care for your Merino wool base layers correctly, they won’t disappoint you and can often last a lifetime. Merino wool also takes first place for me because of its ability to insulate when damp. As we all know, snowboarding is a highly aerobic sport and you WILL sweat, Polyester base layers don’t have the ability to wick away vapors like Merino wool does and this can sometimes leave you feeling a bit clammy and cool after your shred session.
All Merino wool is odor-free which is great when you’re spending long days out on the slopes. Nothing is worse than popping into the lodge for a cold one and the minute you unzip your jacket, the smell of sweat starts billowing out of your jacket.
Personally, I think both Polyester and Merino wool have their respective places in the snowboard world. But if I had to choose one, it would be Merino wool – hands down. Being warm and comfortable out on the mountain is #1 for me, and nothing beats the warmth of a 100% Merino base layer.