Premium baselayers: what you get

For the last three years my one-sized solution to any temps above really cold has been the original version of the Sitka LW Core hoody.  With ~100 grams/meter 100% poly bicomponent (grid inner) and a trim, simple fit it is the shirt I spent close to decade waiting for.  A decade ago baselayer fabric wasn’t this light, and the number of properly featured hoodies in appropriately light fabric was limited to one, the BPL Beartooth, in 150 grams/meter merino.  Heavier pieces like the Ibex Indie and Patagonia R1 never worked for me, and I tried several synthetic compression/workout hoodies from the likes of Under Armour, but excessive spandex content and cheap, poorly breathable and stinky poly made them very poor performers.

Fortunately, the logic of light baselayer hoodies has become so widespread that a number of good options exist, which allows us to have a discussion based on price point.

The current Sitka hoody is a bit different, with a deep front zip, larger chest pocket, more colors (still no non-black solid option) and a different fabric with a small amount of spandex.  It also costs $119, when (I think) the original cost $99.  I’m not a fan of any of the changes Sitka made, and either price strikes me as somewhere between excessive and ridiculous.  I’ve enjoyed this shirt, and given how directly they influence performance think good baselayers are an ideal place to use your money, but what exactly do you get compared to less expensive options?

Last month I picked up a TNF Reactor hoody from the local shop, at half off the $40 MSRP.  Made from an unsophisticated jersey knit and with a heavier 130 grams/meter fabric (which would have been the lightest such fabric available a decade ago), the Reactor seems targeted towards a wide audience.

The fit of the two is very similar.  I like the TNF thumb loops over the thumb cords on the Sitka, as they provide more warmth.  It isn’t possible to make thumb loops long enough to be truly comfortable without also making the sleeves annoying long.  The Reactor perfectly splits the difference here, and on my average arms they’re useable for mediate periods without being noticeable when not in use.  I’ve been impressed with how close the fabrics are, functionally.  Being 1/3 thicker and with a structure which doesn’t mechanically enhance wicking would suggest that the Reactor would give up more performance than it in fact does.  The Reactor does stink faster, and the fabric doesn’t feel quite as soft against the skin as the Sitka.

The real shortcoming of the Reactor is the fit of the hood, which is much baggier.  As the top photo shows, the Sitka provides good coverage without interfering with peripheral vision, or feeling tight.  This can be addressed with fairly simple sewing, but absent that capacity limits the Reacters utility, and in the wind is pretty annoying.  TNF also lined the hood, and while the lining fabric itself seems fine, the double layer of fabric significantly increases drying time.  Again, this is a reasonably simple mod, but really shouldn’t be necessary.

Thankfully baselayer hoodies are enough in fashion that almost everyone makes one.  The OR Echo is a standout, with sub 100 grams/meter fabric and a $65 MSRP.  Is something like the Sitka hoody worth the premium over these options?  It might be for bowhunting, but if you don’t need camo the case seems far harder to make.

9 responses to “Premium baselayers: what you get”

  1. collinswannabesite Avatar

    I have Lightweight hoody from Give’r that I like. It has Tencel, and it has dried suprisingly fast for me. Fabric weight I thought would be too much, but it’s cooler than the weight would indicate. Although above 70 I probably wouldn’t on…I could do it, just wouldn’t be great. Price is decent on it too.

  2. I have the previous version Core hoody and it is a really nice (light) weight, dries fast and breathes well. Equally as good, but lacking a hood are the OR Echo and Patagonia Lightweight Capilene base layers.

    All the above can usually be found (with a little looking and sometimes a little patience) well below retail.

    If I’m going to be out for multiple days, I like Patagonia Merino 1 base layers (merino/capilene), but may be discontinued???

  3. I end up using the OR echo hoody far more then the Sitka, mostly because of the non-camo, but also I feel it is perhaps a bit cooler as well. The sleeves are comically short, even for someone that has come to accept a life of short sleeves, and the fit is pretty boxy and un-nuanced. Worst of all it smells far more quickly and far more offensively then the sitka, but for the price I can accept frequent washings and shorter lifespan.

    The patagonia sunshade fits far better for us tall skinny guys, but of course the fabric is far thicker and warmer. The Montbell hoody has some appealing features, but the worst fit of the bunch with a massively baggy torso and tight, short sleeves.

    1. Sad to here about the Echo hoody fit. You’d think OR would have sorted that by now, but every upper body piece I’ve owned had at least one annoying and inexplicable fit idiosyncracy.

      1. The Echo Hoody’s fit is just above what I would consider poor. The hood rides too far up my forehead, and I agree with Lucas on the short sleeve length.

  4. collinswannabesite Avatar

    You have any thoughts on carrying a separate baselayers for sleeping? Seems like a nice idea to feel fresher and keep sleeping bag cleaner, but am unsure what weight would be appropriate. I’m assuming lighter since the sleeping bag should be appropriate for the temp regardless of baselayer?

    1. It does look good. I want to see it in person to assess hood fit. Most sun hoodys are too baggy in this regard, you end up with issues with wind and peripheral vision.

  5. […] significantly, I continue to recommend that newcomers building a technical wardrobe sink money into quality baselayers, not so much because the performance gain over cheaper ones is massive, but because the gain/$ […]

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