It is snowing outside, the type of itty-bitty flakes that make you question, make you squint and look at something dark to determine if there really is snow. The snow, the winter season in general makes me have hiking fever where I find myself aimlessly traveling over hiking pictures in an effort to one-up the next hike I have planned.
When I first got into hiking, I started in the middle of July — the hottest month in Virginia. I put my pack on and set off to the mountains at least two weekends every month. People thought I was mad — “It’s stifling, way too hot,” they said. “The humidity is so dense it is choking.” And they weren’t wrong — It was hot, so hot I sweated in places I didn’t know a person could sweat but in the end, I didn’t think that was a reason to stop hiking. Now that it is winter, I hear something similar — “It’s too cold,” people say. “But it’s icy up there.” And again, they aren’t wrong. But why is that a reason to not go?
What I’m getting around to is that if you decide to hike in the middle of the coldest months of the year, hike smart and that starts with what you wear. Dress in layers, making sure you put on an all-important base layer. I’ve had different ones throughout the years — ones that date back as far as when they were called “long underwear” and “long johns” to the now super trendy “base layer.” However, I can say with confidence, my all-time favorite is Smartwool’s Merino 250 Base Layer shirt and bottom.
- Most important: Super warm. I just got back from a hike where the frost was at least a good inch-thick on everything but I stayed toasty. I wore this base layer then leggings on the bottom and a wool sweater under a down vest on top. I’m always cold so for me to not be wearing my thickest winter coat outside and, instead, trusting my base layer — that says something.
- All shirt and bottoms are 100% merino wool. I’ve said it before, but merino wool is the best when it comes to hiking because it is soft, allows your skin to breathe, wicks away moisture, dries quickly, and prevents you feeling massive temperature changes. It’s also anti-microbial (read: no odor in armpits during strenuous hikes). Don’t be scared of wool: It isn’t overly hot and itchy. Try it!
- They are extremely soft, light, and comfortable. I find myself wearing it around the house often and if I’m cold, it is under my clothes no matter where I’m headed — my parents’ house, work, doesn’t matter. Plus, small details were not overlooked when they made the base layers — Take the bottom, for instance. It fits snugly against me and doesn’t bunch; the waistband is sturdy and wide compared to others with flimsy, thin elastic.
- Smartwool has a two-year warranty. That means you don’t have to rush out to put it to the test and if you’re unhappy awhile later, return it.
- Price: These are definitely an investment. Depending on if you want a fancy pattern, you’re looking at $100 for each top then bottom. Solids aren’t the much cheaper either at $95.
- They do not offer different lengths. My sister is tall — tall as in 5’11”-skinny-model tall — and she has trouble finding clothes because of her height. These do not go past her ankles as they should, and that’s a shame because she would love them.
Rating: out of Five Vistas
Tips when tracking down your own base layer
- There are different weights from ultralight to heavy so be sure to think about the temperatures you’re trekking off in.
- Get wool. Do not make the mistake of starting with cotton layers — Cotton does not wick away moisture so if and when you sweat, you’re going to stay wet.
- If you’re thinking about a warm winter base layer, get the shirt that goes all the way down to your wrist and the bottom to your ankles.
- Talking about the winter, get a snug fit. It shouldn’t be loose — The further from your body, the more area there is to heat. Saying that, don’t get it skin-tight either.