Does base layer material matter if it's under wool?

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Oct 25, 2021
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I've tried merino t-shirts but I think they're overhyped for daily wear. People say that because wool is anti-microbial, it won't smell, but I've found that what affects odor most is not material but cut/fit. Although I'm slim, I've moved away from slim fit and t-shirts in general. On a daily basis I now wear regular fit 100% linen button-ups from Amazon (regrettably) because they're cheap, indestructible, look good, can have the sleeves rolled up or down, and it's really hard to get the baggy armpits to stink.

Obviously, in an outdoors/survival situation, warmth is a priority over smell. :p I'd like to start winter camping, and of course I've heard cotton kills. I assume linen kills too. But does it really matter, as long as you wear more insulating stuff on top? I've got an awesome Austrian army, boiled wool, Dachstein sweater/jumper (which is also wonderfully loose in the pits), and it would be nice if I could just wear my regular linen shirts underneath.
 
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Erbswurst

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You can do that without any doubt.
You just need to stay dry.
But that's a good idea anyway.
 

Robson Valley

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Stay dry. Wet in a deep Canadian winter will kill you from hypothermia/"exposure". Cotton is a solid carbohydrate fiber with a high bonding affinity for water molecules of perspiration or melted snow. That will stay, stuck to you, until you can find a place to dry out. Wool fiber is protein, oily, and hollow. Not so hydrophilic. Moisture can pass through.
To get straight wool I have to shop for industrial "oil patch" clothes. Expensive and meant for working outdoors all damn day at -30C.

One of the local boys got bogged down last winter. No more than 6-8m snow. The days are so short, they are always totally equipped to help themselves and others so they decided to make a night of it.
This is a "tree hole". It will kill you if you fall in and the snow avalanches in on top of you. As you can see they dug in from the side. Really quite roomy, don't you think?
 

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Herman30

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#1. People say that because wool is anti-microbial, it won't smell,

#2. of course I've heard cotton kills. I assume linen kills too. But does it really matter, as long as you wear more insulating stuff on top? I've got an awesome Austrian army, boiled wool, Dachstein sweater/jumper (which is also wonderfully loose in the pits), and it would be nice if I could just wear my regular linen shirts underneath.
#1. It smells slightly but does not stink.
I´ve been wearing same undershirt for a few months (for my own scientific test) and if one put the nose against the fabric there is a smell but not strong (by my standards anyway). No hard work and wearing the shirt a few hours/day. Shirt is Brynje merinowool mesh.

#2. Cotton is great as outer/windstopping layer in the wintertime assuming it is dry and cold winter. Not so good as underwear as cotton does not dry if it get wet from sweat.
 
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Broch

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Cotton does not wick so, if you're doing any activity, you sweat and get wet then stay wet and cold. You need a wicking layer next to the skin. There are a number of materials and they each have advantages and disadvantages. On the balance merino wool comes out on top.

Here's a summary of material performance:
 

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TLM

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Hmmm ... who made that table should have clarified that it means cheapest polyester and nylon. There is an awfully large palette of different properties under those names not to say the effect of fiber diameter that is surprisingly large. The natural materials are fairly well defined.

The only cotton base layer that I have found decent when it is wet is mesh, not nearly as bad as the other fabrics but still falls short of the other materials.
 

Broch

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That may be your opinion but it was published by independent research based on a wide range of materials and by no means the cheapest.

By all means put up objective data you have that compares directly but there is a load of rubbish preached by some of the manufacturers about their materials.

Subjective data is varied :)
 
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dwardo

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Tried many poly and nylon base layers over the years from many brands both cheap and expensive. I cannot comment on warmth as I don't rely on a base-layer alone to keep me warm so any experience will be circumstantial.

What I can say is I end up back in merino every time purely for the anti-bac and its associated smell. I can go days in the same base layer without stinking where as poly its hours and the next day sheeesh.. This means on multi-day trips you are either having to wash clothes and worse dry them or take multiple items. Or you go with wool..
 

Erbswurst

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Well, but I rather returned to thin cotton briefs and T-shirts. And my next layers have between 20 and 35 % polyester and the rest cotton.

Just woolen socks are superior in my opinion.

I don't know what you all are doing that causes you to find cotton so horrible.

-------------------------

Yes, Broch is right!
@TLM should write half a kilometre about polyester fleece and another one about padded clothing!
Perhaps in a seperate thread.
Winter is coming! You need something to do at home and we need good plastic clothing!

;)
 

Herman30

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I don't know what you all are doing that causes you to find cotton so horrible.
So you have never spent hours outside in the winter with sweat soaked cotton underwear?
Sweet jesus did I freeze one time in Lapland in winter, during army time. Had we not had the chance to get to warm tents I would probably suffered from hypothermia. Froze so much that I could not stop shaking

Like I said, I find cotton to be extremly well as outerlayer in winter when it´s cold and dry.
 

Billy-o

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Apr 19, 2018
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Poly baselayers with an antimicrobial treatment are easily available now. I haven't tried any of them and will likely stick to the merinos just because that is what I have got.

Bought a bunch in different weights and large and xl sizes for layering. It works well as a way of going about things
 
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TLM

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Deep sigh.

Polyester= a polymer that is linked by ester bonds
Nylon= trade mark lost by DuPont as the word was used as a generic name for polyamides that are polymers linked by amide bonds.

Usually something referred as polyester in textiles is PET.

Vectran is a polyester.
There are also natural polyesters.

Nylon is mostly used for PA6 or PA66 but could be any polyamide..

Kevlar and Nomex are polyamides, I have a fire resistant shirt made from Kermel that is a polyamide. Chemically wool and silk are proteins that also happen to have amide bonds, they are natural polyamides.
 

Great egret

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The point of a baselayer is that it's tight to your body so it insulates the best it can. It does that by having air trapped and wick moisture away. If you are going to layer that with cotton, the cotton will eventually get moist and block the merino from doing what it's supposed to do.
If it's freezing and you're doing something intense that will make you sweat, the moment you sit down and cool down is when you realise that you needed to wick moisture. You're body gets wet, cold and creates a salt layer from the sweat that will attract more moisture on your body.
 

C_Claycomb

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Going back to the OPs opening post and the question of personal pong, I have had odour problems with shirts of tight weave but loose fit cotton, polyester, lock knit polyester and mesh knit (for want of a better term) polyester, and polyester/merino blend. Different people will produce different levels of odour, and the soap and any deodorants used make a big difference. Anti-perspirants can be a great problem with garments that fit close up under the arm. They transfer to the fibres and make them harder to clean properly.

Not all US "merino" is created equal. When visiting a store in Jackson Wyoming I was sold a Duckworth genuine Montana merino t-shirt, 100% made in the USA. This is what the obvious advertising blurb says:
150 gsm - Not all T-shirts were created equal, and Duckworth's Vapor Tee is the proof. Made with single-origin Montana Merino Wool and our proprietary Vapor Wool fabric, the heathered-look Vapor Tee is lightweight, soft, cooling, antimicrobial (odor-free), moisture-wicking, ultra-fast-drying, and 100% American-made. It's high time you own a T-shirt performance-tested by the rugged mountains of Southwest Montana - how could another ever compare?
I was puzzled then when it developed an odour faster than I expected. Only then did I check the fine print to see what it was really made of. :censored:
38% Montana Merino Wool, 50% recycled Polyester, 12% Modal (bamboo pulp)

I was a fan of bamboo a few years ago, but that stuff is worse than cotton for grabbing moisture and refusing to dry.

While I have worn very light merino t-shirts for my trips and expeditions, I find it a much warmer fabric than cotton and it needs to be pretty darned cold out before I can wear it and not start sweating sooner than I do in other fabrics.
 

Billy-o

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Smartwool 150gsm is 87% wool, Icebreaker 150gsm is 83% wool

Smartwool 250gsm is 100% wool, Icebreaker 250gsm is 100% wool
 

TLM

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As far as I understand the smell is caused by bacteria breaking up long chain fatty acids secreted by skin to short chain ones that tend to smell bad. Those fibers that for some reason retain the bacteria even after normal wash are the smelly ones. Traditionally acetic acid has been one chemical that kills the bacteria without destroying the fibers. There is sometimes problems with colour retention.

As far as I know it is not really known why some natural fibers do not let the bacteria stay on the surface. It does make evolutionary sense though for fur bearing animals. Silver and copper are two metals that kill bacteria, some high end fabrics have had silver fibers embedded to fight the odour, I have no experience on those. Titanium oxide in certain form together with sun light also kills bacteria and degrades organic matter so some Ti cups are slightly self cleaning.

If some one invents a reasonably priced non smelly man made fiber he is going to make a fortune.
 

Billy-o

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Apr 19, 2018
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I haven't tried this on clothing, but have on shoes quite regularly in the past, and it is true that you may not much fancy the idea of this in any case:

Soak long term smelly shoes in warm water. Drain out excess water. Put the shoes in the microwave on high for two minutes. Suddenly the smell, which ordinary washing doesn't remove, is gone.

Be careful not to melt the glue in your shoes too much (though, if you do, you might take the opportunity to turn them into zero drops :))

Threw the microwave out a few weeks ago, so I haven't had a chance to try it on any clothing.
 

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