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Reviews > Clothing > Underwear > MontBell Merino Mid-weight Base Layers > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs
MontBell Merino Wool Mid-Weight Baselayers - Men's
Test Series by Andy Henrichs
May 15, 2010
The top features what MontBell calls "Slant-Tec armholes" and "Stant-Tec cuffs." The armholes, based on my educated guess simply mean that the top is constructed with a raglan sleeve. This means that there is no seam on top of the shoulder. Instead, the sleeve and upper shoulder fabric extend all the way to the neck. This relocates and seams to the front and rear of the shoulder, which theoretically reduces irritation when worn under pack straps. The "Slant-Tec cuffs" employ similar features. The cuffs are shorter on the palmer surface and longer on the dorsal surface. This moves seams further away from the wrists, potentially minimizing any irritation from jacket cuffs or gloves.
I was a bit surprised by the sizing of the garments. Based on previous experiences with MontBell clothing, I was under the assumption that their clothing ran small. Instead, I found that the sizing chart provided on their website was quite accurate. I would prefer to have the baselayer pants sized slightly smaller, but they still fit well. Neither the pants nor top is excessively roomy or baggy. Instead, they contour well without being restrictive.
While I haven't had the chance to use these garments in the field, I am excited to do so. The fit seems favorable, although they seem a little thin for winter use. The packaging claims that MontBell has been able to produce a garment with "scales" still in place on the fiber. These scales are claimed to expand when humidity increases, which in turn creates a drier feel and traps warmth more efficiently. I have several aerobic outings planned and intend to fully test this claim.
I have worn both the MontBell top and bottom base layers many times during the Field Report Phase. I have worn them on a three-day backcountry skiing-oriented hut trip in Western Colorado, two resort skiing days, and five backcountry skiing day trips. The hut trip was in the mountains west of Aspen, Colorado and was located at an elevation of approximately 11,600 ft (3,500 m). The ski in and out was approximately 7 mi (11 km). This route consisted of a long, steady climb to a ridge, followed by a rolling traverse across a few ridges to reach the valley the hut is located in. Once at the hut, we used our second day for a ski tour. This tour was approximately 6 mi (10 km) and consisted of several shorter descents with a couple of long, steep climbs through deep snow to reach the summit of a nearby ridge. We had beautiful weather on the trip, with mostly sunny skies, low wind, and temperatures ranging from 0 F (-18 C) to 25 F (-4 C).
Two of my backcountry skiing days were off of Wolf Creek Pass in southern Colorado. Elevations ranged from 10,000 ft (3,000 m) to over 11,500 ft (3,500 m). We again had a beautiful couple of days with sunny skies, temperatures around 32 F (0 C) and no wind. Our route involved ascending a steep but steady climb to a large knob before a long, winding descent through the trees. We took the same route both days.
Two other backcountry ski days were near an area a few miles from Berthoud Pass, Colorado. Both of these days were overcast with only light winds. Temperatures ranged from 10 F (-12 C) to 20 F (-7 C) and our route climbed from 10,000 ft (3,000 m) to 11,200 ft (3,400 m). My last backcountry ski day was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. The route climbed from 9,200 ft (2,800 m) to 10,900 ft (3,300 m). It was a very cloudy day with strong winds and moderate snow. Temperatures did not climb above 15 F (-9 C).
I have been very happy with the MontBell Super Merino Wool Mid-Weight High Neck Shirt and Tights so far. I was a little skeptical that they would be warm enough based on the thinner material. I'm happy to report that they have done a great job of regulating my temperature. I have not yet overheated when exerting myself while wearing these baselayers. If I do begin to get warm, unzipping the top goes a long way towards maintaining a comfortable body temperature. My legs are normally furnaces once I start moving, and I think the thinner material of these tights are perfect for me. My legs get warm while working hard, but it is never an uncomfortable warmth. On some of the very coldest days, I have wished for a bit more material in the tops, but this is easily rectified by adding a midlayer, which I carry normally. I have not had the opportunity to spend a night out with these baselayers. Based on my experiences so far, I have found that this top is not always warm enough for me if I'm inactive in cold weather for some time. As such, I would probably be inclined to bring a second, warmer baselayer top along to wear while in camp.
Both the top and tights wick sweat away quite well. Many of my outings during this test period consisted of stretches of significant exertion which resulted in a lot of sweat. The baselayers wicked the sweat away from my skin quickly and also dried quickly. I think the thinner nature of the fabric helps with the quick evaporation. As usual, my back stayed more wet under my pack but I never felt uncomfortably chilled because of it.
I am a little less happy with the fit. The baselayers, and specifically the tights, are simply a little too baggy for my taste. I like my baselayers to be more form-fitting to prevent any rubbing and to minimize air between the baselayers and my skin. The tights are rather loose-fitting throughout, but the top is a more reasonable fit. When looking at the sizing charts, I was right on the border between a medium and large. As stated in my Initial Report, I had the preconception that MontBell clothing fits tighter than some other brands. As such, I sized up and ordered the large. In hindsight, I believe that I would have been happier with the medium tights.
I have been happy with the odor control of these garments. Despite being worn for three straight days on my hut trip, the smell was kept to a minimum. After an easy washing, any trace of smelliness was gone. Washing was quite easy. I washed them on cold and hung them to dry. There was no shrinking (although I am tempted to try to shrink the tights) and no excessive fuzzing of the surface.
Both the tights and tops have been quite durable so far. There are no spots that are wearing thin, no pulls or snags, and no excessive fuzzing.
My second trip was a much-needed escape to the deserts of Utah. I went on a two-day backpacking trip into a remote canyon in Canyonlands National Park, followed by two days camping and day hiking from my car. Other than a few small rain showers, the weather was beautiful with blue skies and moderate winds. Temperatures during the backpacking ranged from a chilly 15 F (-9 C) at night to a blissful 60 F (16 C) during the day. Temperatures over the next two days continued to climb, reaching highs of nearly 80 F (27 C) both days. During this trip, I wore the MontBell tights every night and wore the top almost constantly. Once the temperatures climbed over 60 F (16 C), I opted for a short sleeve shirt to prevent overheating.
My final trip was a dayhike to the summit of a nearby 8,600 ft (2,600 m) peak. Temperatures hovered just below 50 F (10 C) for most of the outing. As a result, I wore only the MontBell top; it was simply too warm for a baselayer tight under my pants. The wind alternated between a steady breeze and almost no wind for the entire day. I was fortunate enough to miss the passing rain, although clouds remained for the entire day.
Field Observations and Summary
These baselayers continued to work well for me during the Long Term Report phase. I have found that even though the top is thinner than baselayer shirts I have used in the past, they have proven to be versatile enough for a variety of uses. As long as I am active, I have found it to provide a good balance of warmth and breathability in temperatures ranging from 0 F (-18 C) to 60 F (16 C). Once the temperature drops below that range, I would prefer a thicker baselayer to trap in more warmth. Once temperatures get to 60 F (16 C), I am sweating even with the sleeves pulled up and the front zipper unzipped. With the baselayer tights, they had a comfort range of at least 0 F (-18 C) to 35 F (2 C). I did not have a chance to use them in temperatures below 0 F (-18 C), but based on their performance I would not hesitate to do so. I feel that the temperature range for the baselayer tights is narrower because my legs are a furnace once I get moving. I produce an extreme amount of heat and generally prefer to not wear baselayer bottoms when hiking.
As I mentioned in the Field Conditions section, the temperatures I encountered were fairly high at times. As a result, I sweat quite a bit in these baselayers. I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly they dried. Within 10 minutes of removing my pack, they back of my shirt had dried and no longer felt clammy. Despite six days of use and only one washing during the Long Term Report phase, the baselayers don't stink. They picked up a minimal amount of odor after a long, strenuous day, but this disappeared after a simple washing.
Three of the six days that I used the baselayers during this phase involved a good amount of bushwhacking. I was scrambling over sandstone boulders, slipping through willows and tamarisk, and forcing my way through assorted undergrowth. Despite all of this abuse, the top shows no unusual signs of wear or tear. I have found this to be extremely impressive.
My opinion on the fit remains the same. I am now happy with the fit of the top, but I wish I would have sized the tights one size smaller. The larger size isn't a significant problem, but I would size down the next time I am between sizes on the MontBell size charts. I continue to think about trying to shrink the tights in the dryer but don't want to cost myself a very versatile garment.
I will continue to use these baselayers for much of the year. They will be my go-to layering pieces when I know I will be active in cold to moderate weather. The proven durability has me very optimistic about the life of these garments.
Thank you to MontBell and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me the opportunity to test these baselayers.
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Reviews > Clothing > Underwear > MontBell Merino Mid-weight Base Layers > Test Report by Andrew Henrichs
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