Monday, January 18, 2010

Next to skin

I mentioned last week that I had a little something from Smartwool I was dying to try out. That little something was a set of their mid-weight next-to-skin (or NTS) baselayer.

I have a high-quality baselayer for skiing already—anyone who has watched skiing on TV would recognize the brand. It’s made of synthetic fiber, and it works quite well as far as wicking moisture and insulating when wet are concerned. There’s just one problem: it stinks to high heaven with the slightest bit of sweat. If it’s not laundered within hours of use, the stink may not come out in one washing. In the past I’ve pulled it out of the clean clothes and wondered how something could make it through Tide and Clorox 2 and still smell like that.

My hope was that the Smartwool baselayer would suffer the sweaty rigors of backcountry skiing a bit better. I wore it on a 4.5 hour tour in Little Cottonwood on Saturday, and I was super comfortable all day.

It’s 100% merino wool, and I’m curious as to how Smartwool spins it’s yarn to be soft and comfortable with no itchiness as well as elastic enough to be form-fitting without binding. It also breathes amazingly well—much better than the synthetic stuff I’ve used previously—while still being at least as warm. At the end of a long tour, I’m accustomed to my baselayer being a bit soggy, but that was not the case on Saturday. Who knew spinning wool into yarn could be taken to such a high level?

When I got home, I took it off and threw it in the dirty clothes.

Then on Sunday morning, I did the unthinkable. As I went in my closet to get dressed before taking the kids skiing*, I decided to put my new baselayer to a real test—two days of use with no washing. I picked it up out of the dirty clothes and gave it a sniff. It wasn’t stinky. It didn’t feel crusty, either, so I pulled it on. The kids and I skied all day, and I was just as comfortable as I was the day before. I got home, and it still didn’t feel soggy, so I just changed into some shorts but wore the top while I watched the second half of the Chargers-Jets game (did anyone see that result coming? Wow!). It still didn’t stink.

*My Mormon friends, neighbors, and relatives may be alarmed** at this confession of defiling the Sabbath by skiing. Allow me to explain. Yesterday was our semi-annual stake conference. In Mormondom, stake conference is when your local congregation (or ward) meets together with all the other local congregations pertaining to the next higher level of organization, called a “stake.” In Boise, I quite liked stake conference, as those putting it on were intelligent and articulate and had a good sense of how to choose relevant, engaging topics.

Let’s just say it’s not the same here. Last time we went, I was just about to hack my wrists open with my carkeys when my neighbor seated a few rows in front of me—let’s call her “Kim”—whispered something to her husband—let’s call him “Doug”—and they and their three children packed up and left about 3/4 through the meeting. We were hot on their heels. And I knew that neither JunkieBoy nor I could ever survive such an ordeal again.

**Indeed, I know at least one relative was alarmed, because Rachel got a text last night asking if I got more out of skiing than I would have from church. Which begs the question of how said relative even found out since we didn’t tell her. News of heretical behavior travels fast, I guess.

I’m guessing I could get away with yet another day if push came to shove, but I’m going to do laundry tonight anyway. And though I don’t intend to wear the same baselayer on consecutive days in the future, it’s nice to know I could. In fact, if I were doing a hut trip or mountaineering expedition, having such an option would be invaluable.

My one complaint is that the cuff on the bottoms was just barely stretchy enough to get over my calves. But I sort of have big calves. Smartwool has apparently also considered this, as they have a version that only comes down to boot top instead of all the way to the ankles. I will probably cut mine off and re-hem them at that length.

Overall I’m quite pleased with my new clothing and will have a hard time wearing anything else in the future. I expect the top will work equally well when it gets repurposed for cold-weather cycling come spring. Smartwool has been sending me stuff for over a year now, yet somehow it always exceeds my already high expectations.


  1. "asking if I got more out of skiing than I would have from church"

    um. duh.

  2. I grew up in a non-LDS home in Utah. Every time someone would mention "Stake Conference" I thought they meant "Steak Conference". As in a place you go with others to consume copious amount of steak. Honestly I think the promise of steak at church converted me. My mom was a vegetarian for many years and there was no steak at home.

  3. "asking if I got more out of skiing than I would have from church"

    Oh man. I always say that if I were LDS I couldn't live in Utah. Too easy to get busted. I imagine it's sort of like living on a block in which all the houses are occupied by your coworkers. Man you could never take a phony sick day!

  4. Alex, I actually considered the whole getting busted thing, and the fact that I posted it on the Internet notwithstanding, I considered whether I'd get "caught" as I pulled into my garage. Fortunately, the only neighbor who can see into my garage and could have busted me unloading my skis was himself skiing on Sunday.

  5. Try adding about one cup of white vinegar to the wash load of synthetics; it helps reduce the stink factor. I use it on all my cycling clothes and ski base layers.

  6. With 5 kids under 9 years old. I get more out of a dentist appointment than I do church.

    I told my wife that that Sunday we spent touring (as part of our Avy class) was the most relaxing Sunday I can remember.

    I don't really consider Church as a source of intellectual stimulation, or even original thought anymore. (Church itself, not THE Church) Sunday School and Sacrament meetings are too often overrun with recycled myths or cliche "faith-building" stories.

    Which I suppose is inevitable when you have members of the congregation, as opposed to paid ministers, teach every week. (G.C. is another story. I enjoy that quite a lot)

    Which reminds me. I'm speaking on Sunday. Should I go ahead and quote Martha Beck?

    (Also, I love everything I have from Smartwool. I only wish I had more $$ to spend on more wool. Oh, and one more thing: John Muir once filled several pages on the finer points of wild versus domestic wool: It's a good read

  7. Does it count that I was listening to the scriptures on CD while I was driving up the canyon? The Church of the Blue Dome may have a new convert. I'm looking to go down into the "Powders" of baptism this next week.

  8. Jonnie J: whatever you need to make it work for you. We'll be baptizing up a storm this week what with all this powder. Finally!

  9. I am sold on the non-stink aspect of wool. I have a ratty Smart Wool top that I routinely wear to commute for weeks at a time with no stink. Period. Often my commute is in the 20s on the way in, then 50s and sunny on the way back so I can really cook/sweat the thing up on the way home.

    I have wool from Icebreaker, Smart Wool, Ibex and recently Patagonia. I would put Smart Wool at the bottom of the "quality built" level with the others about tied at "a little better built."

    Icebreaker seems slightly itchier than the others.

    All in all, though, wool is wool. It is a bit clammier, itchier and does not seem to dry as fast as synthetics and I think if I were stuck someplace where I didn't care how I smelled and performance was the only factor, I would stay with synthetics.

    In the real world, I am quite satisfied with wool baselayers.

    Yo Griz...I can relate to the kid thing. We get a lot out of church, but we pay our clergy:) I admire the volunteer aspect of LDS churches, but there is something to be said for professional clergy as well.