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Perhaps more than any other piece of kit, the insulating layer is both the most critical and the most confounding. Isn't a baselayer just a baselayer? I decided to take one for the team and test three different products in this category to discern important differences in a basic baselayer. While the Ridge Inversion Heavyweight, the Marmot Kestrel, and the Smartwool Merino One-Piece all fall under the ski baselayer category, they're not all the same. Read on to discover what sets baselayers apart.
I'm 5’ 9” and weigh 180lbs, putting me in the medium category of the Kestrel, which I found true to size. This was the lightest of the three pieces and the only synthetic one of the bunch. It was also the most comfortable next to skin and the fabric had a nice stretchiness to it. The Kestrel comes with standard design features like flat seams and thumb loops. I wore this layer on a brisk hike on a 65-degree, sunny day and thought it transported moisture quickly and effectively to the outside of the fabric. In the direct sun it felt a little warm, and if you decided to wear it touring or trail running in mild temperatures, it would probably be a bit too heavy. That said, it makes an ideal baselayer for winter sports or low-exertion activities in cooler environments.
I tested the Ridge in a size L and it fit roomier and longer than the Kestrel. The hem length was ample, leaving enough material to tuck into the pants to seal the body from cold temperatures. This is definitely a heavy-weight layering piece, one that just barely counts as a baselayer since it could pull double duty as a sweater or hoody layer. The Ridge Inversion is made from Merino wool, which normally a soft material felt a little itchy directly next to the skin given its hefty weight. As such, layering it with a superlight base layer or a tee shirt may be the way to go. Like the Kestrel, this layer features thumb loops that are cleverly concealed with an overlapping flap. If you're looking for a heavier baselayer than traditional long underwear, the Ridge Inversion is a good option.
Smartwool Merino One-Piece
The Smartwool piece is made of head-to-toe Merino with a Napoleon pocket on the chest, a non-adjustable hood that will fit under a helmet, and thumb loops. It sports a zippered waist to allow for full access when nature calls, and the men’s version offers a fly. The legs are full-length and have two seams around the calf area which may cause discomfort during skiing or touring, and we have some concern about the waist-line zipper when wearing a pack with a hip-belt. The overall fit and finish are superb, and it is definitely quite warm. Like the Ridge, and other Merino styles, I advise wearing a thin base layer beneath this Smartwool One-Piece if your skin is sensitive to rougher fabrics.