Clothing layering system: The base layer

Layering your clothing the right way allows you to carry a minimum amount of clothing items for a maximum number of situations. The key is to use versatile pieces that can, as the name suggests, be layered in different ways to keep you comfortable in all weather scenarios. The simplicity and versatility is key to the bushcraft spirit, and the focus will be on robust and time-tested garments and not be on the latest space age fabrics.

In the clothing layering system, a base layer is one that is against the skin. An effective base layer is warm, breathable, and will wick moisture away from the skins surface that way increasing comfort and help in regulating body temperature. In bushcraft we value traveling light and try to maximise different uses for an item. Therefore we want our base layer not only to be effective when part of our layering system in the cold, we also want it to be one we can strip down to when it warms up or we are exerting ourselves. So we need a base layer that ticks all the boxes in replacing the typical "t shirt" function when we are out 'shrafting.

So to summarise, it needs the following qualities:

  • As a base layer in the cold: Warm, breathable, wicks moisture, comfortable
  • As a "t shirt" function: Comfortable fit, earth tone colour ideally, relatively robust, not sensitive to flames and sparks.

What ticks all these categories? Wool. It can fulfill all these requirements and more. Wool also has natural anti odour properties and so wont smell as much as polyprop thermals which get clogged with your bodies oils and can get pretty smelly. Synthetics also get holes from sparks and will shrivel into a scalding sticky mass if they get too close to flames.

What type of wool? Merino is nice as far as softness goes although is not quite as robust as heavier blends. Ideally needs to be fairly finespun (like merino) or else it can be really itchy, which bothers some people like me but not others. The type of wool, the cut (tighter thermal or looser t shirt) as well as short or long sleeved is up to you to and the environment/season.

Here are some examples, all 100% wool in earth tones:

If money is no option, many New Zealand outdoor-wear stores such as icebreaker have suitable quality merino garments but they can be very expensive. One way you could get your hands on a couple is to ask an older generation such as your father or grandad (in their day wool was the only thermal) and chances are they have a few in the back of the drawers they never use. That was how I got the wool thermal above centre. The other option is a second hand clothing place like savemart they have tons of clothes that are great for bushcraft for very very cheap. Clothing is going to get roughed up anyway so you might as well buy it second hand for a great price and no have to worry about it. Bushcraft isn't about having the latest seamless merino blend its about being resourceful so you really don't have to spend a lot of money.

Happy 'shrafting!

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