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Reviews > Clothing > Underwear > MontBell Merino Mid-weight Base Layers > Test Report by Richard Lyon

MontBell Merino Wool Mid-Weight Base Layers – Men’s
Test Series by Richard Lyon

Initial Report December 11, 2009
Field Report March 13, 2010

Long Term Report May 9, 2010


PERSONAL DETAILS and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 63 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m), Weight: 205 lb (91 kg)
Chest 46 in (117 cm), waist 37 in (95 cm), torso 22.5 in (57 cm), sleeve length 36.5 in (93 cm), inseam 34 in (87 cm)
Email address: montana (dot) angler (at) gmail (dot) com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for 45 years and regularly in the Rockies since 1986.  I do at least one week-long trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do forced marches too.  Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still often include my favorite camp conveniences and always bring a floored tent.  I spend much winter backcountry time on telemark or touring skis.

INITIAL REPORT
December 11, 2009

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION and DETAILS

The Base Layers in the title is shorthand – there is really only one base layer, made up of two garments – a Super Merino Wool High Neck Shirt - Men’s and a Super Merino Wool Mid-Weight Tights – Men’s.  Both are made of 100% SUPER MERINO Wool (MontBell’s capitalization) and both reflect MontBell’s motto: Light and Fast.
 
Manufacturer: MontBell Co., Ltd.
Website: www.montbell.com  The pictures in this Initial Report come from this website.
Measurements, Shirt: Listed weight, size Medium: 7.4 oz (210 g); measured weight, size XL, 8.0 oz (227 g); torso length, measured down the center of the back, 34 in/87 cm; sleeve length, size XL, listed and measured, 36 in (91 cm).  According to sizing charts on MontBell’s United States website, the XL Shirt is intended for men with a chest of 44-47 in (102-112 cm) and a waist of 37-40 in (94-102 cm).
Measurements, Tights: Listed weight, size Medium: 6.3 oz (179 g); measured weight, size XL, 6.7 oz (190 g). Listed inseam, size XL, 34 in (87 cm), measured 34.1 in (87 cm).  MontBell’s chart projects the XL Tights to fit a waist from 37-40 inches (94-102 cm).
Sizes and colors: Each product is available in sizes S-XL and in black or navy.  I am testing the navy versions.  
Related product: The Tights but not the Shirt are available in a Woman’s version, in black only.

TRYING THEM ON

The ShirtThe Shirt is very nearly a perfect fit for me, with ample fabric below my waist.  The “High Neck” in its name comes from a two-inch (5 cm) zip-neck collar; the zipper extends another 7.5 inches (19 cm) down the chest.  I am especially pleased with the long torso and sleeves.  My acid test for a base layer shirt is whether it stays tucked in while hiking and skiing, and the long length gives this Shirt a good start.  The sleeves have a raglan cut, a very good thing for a base layer especially, as there’s no center seam to press into my shoulders when wearing a pack.  MontBell advertises “Slant-Tec” armholes and cuffs without providing an explanation of what this means.  The seams that connect the sleeve to the cuff do angle down to the cuff on the underside.  The cuffs do not have any elastic but are narrower at the wrist than at the seam.  All seams are sewn flat, with nary a loose thread to be seen.

The Tights fit fine at my ankles, which is not too surprising as their inseam matches mine.  The waist, though, is a bit loose, again not surprising as my waist is at the product’s thinner end of appropriate sizes.  Despite the claimed 100% wool content there appears to be some elastic in the waistband, and the Tights stayed in place on my trial walkabout around the house. The Tights also have flat seams.  Thankfully (many manufacturers omit this little detail) the Tights also have a fly sewn in front.

The TightsThe SUPER MERINO fabric is really soft against my skin, typical of almost every merino garment I’ve worn.  MontBell doesn’t give a fabric weight, stating only that all its SUPER MERINO garments use “a selective fine gauge 18.5 micron fiber,” but this SUPER MERINO is definitely thicker than any of the merino t-shirts that I use for summer hiking.  A jersey-type knit gives it a bit more bulk than my lighter-weight tees’ worsted look and feel.

CARE

MontBell isn’t too specific on its website about laundering these: “All of Montbell’s SUPER MERINO Wool garments can be washed in the home. (Please use mild detergent).”  A label on each garment is more helpful: machine wash in cold water, preferably delicate cycle, and air dry.

SUMMARY

I like ‘em – but then I’m a merino addict.  These base layer components fit well and are very comfortable out of the box.  They look to be a good weight for the colder temperatures I’ll face in the Rockies this winter.  My only initial concern is how well the Tights will hold up – literally – around my waist after field use and washing.

FIELD REPORT
March 13, 2010

I ended my Initial Report by saying that I liked these base layers out of the box.  After two months’ use I like them even more.  The MontBell Tights and Shirts have performed admirably under rigorous conditions.  Barring future sudden deterioration they have earned a place in my backcountry kit for as long as they last.

FIELD CONDITIONS

‘I’ve worn the base layers on three backcountry ski adventures and another seven days of in-bounds skiing, all in the vicinity of the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming.  Just after Christmas I did a three-day yurt trip on Baldy Knoll, just over the border from Victor, Idaho.  This trip involved a six-mile hike on skis with climbing skins to the yurt, with a 2500-foot (760 m) elevation gain, followed by three days of hiking to find powder snow to schuss through. We had fair weather until the ski/hike out, with temperatures ranging from 12 F (-11 C) at night to 25 F (-4 C) during the day.  The two MontBell garments were my base layer for the daily activities; I changed into clean merino long underwear upon returning to the yurt.  On uphill hikes I wore an insulated eVENT jacket over the base layers, adding a down sweater at rest stops and when downhill skiing.  At all times I wore uninsulated Gore-Tex ski pants over the MontBell Tights and  a pack on my back.

Deep snow at Grand TargheeMy next day in the backcountry was in late January, a day of snowcat skiing just outside the Grand Targhee ski area in Alta, Wyoming.  Temperatures were in the mid-20s F (-7 to -4 C) on an overcast day with very little wind.  Targhee’s cats offer clients 8-10 downhill runs, each 1200-2000 vertical feet (350-600 vertical meters), with the cat taking the skiers back up the hill for each run.  With no uphill hiking I wore two layers – down sweater and insulated ski jacket - over the Shirt and my uninsulated Gore-Tex pants over the Tights.  

The Targhee trip was one day in an eight-day visit to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming, primarily for a four-day clinic offered by the resort’s ski school.  Counting the clinic that meant seven days’ skiing on this mountain, with most of one day spent in the Rock Springs backcountry adjacent to the resort.  It snowed the first and last days of my vacation, with calm and sunny weather on the other days – great views of the Grand Teton and Gros Ventre mountains.  Temperatures were comparable to those at Targhee.   I wore the Tights every day and the Shirt on six days, washing both once at my hotel.  I wore the same layers over them except when boot-packing in the backcountry or up the ski area’s headwall, when I put the down sweater in my pack.

PERFORMANCE

Just in case it isn’t apparent from my description of the ski trips, let me emphasize that the base layers met with ample sweat and grime on these trips.  The clinic I attended is named the Steep & Deep and it involves four days taking a pre-opening tram to the top of Rendezvous Peak and skiing with our coach until the lifts closed at 4 pm.  The yurt trip was even more work; no ski lifts in the backcountry, where I had to earn my turns by hiking back up after every downhill run.

As is true with every piece of merino underwear I’ve worn, the Shirt and Tights never stunk no matter how much I did.  I really could have worn them in the yurt; my changing to clean base layers came more for psychological reasons and from force of habit than necessity.  Throughout my trips I felt mildly damp only immediately after a stiff uphill hike, and then only on my upper body.  In all instances both pieces dried out promptly after a rest period, as did the occasional extra layer I added. The base layers’ wicking performance was outstanding.

This lay to rest one of my initial concerns.  Even though somewhat cold prone I favor lightweight base layers, even in winter, when I expect aerobic activity.  In my experience mid- or expedition-weight underwear causes me to overheat and consequently to perspire more.  Any marginal insulating ability is offset by an unwelcome dampness and increased perspiration that can give me an immediate chill when the exercise stops.  That hasn’t happened with the MontBells.  I have kept warm without the clamminess, even with a down sweater.  I am impressed.

My second concern hasn’t materialized either.  In my Initial Report I noted that the Tights fit somewhat loosely.  They still do, but at no time have I had to hitch them up, even after the rapid legwork required in downhill telemark skiing.  I’m especially glad of this, for I like the extra few inches/centimeters' length that the XL size gives me.  Often I must sacrifice length to ensure a good fit at the waist, but not with the Tights.  The cuffs come all the way below the ankles on my lanky frame.  The Shirt has passed the acid test described in my Initial Report for any base layer upper body garment – it has stayed tucked inside the Tights at all times.

Skiing is tougher than backpacking on a base layer shirt.  Not only does it entail considerably more arm movement, in the backcountry my shirt risks abrasion from my avalanche beacon and its harness, which must be worn near the body to keep it warm and functioning.  Despite this I can detect no wear on the MontBell Shirt, and no loose stitching on either piece.  Each has held its shape after good use and three washings.  The elastic waistband on the Tights looks good as new.

Cleaning these garments is easy.  I toss them into my front-loading washer with other woolens, add non-detergent soap (such as Woolite or Atsko Sport-Wash), and run the machine on its cold-water cycle with an extra rinse.  As with other merino items I air-dry these pieces flat.  In the dry air of Texas and Wyoming each has dried completely within twenty-four hours.

High marks on all test criteria for the Shirt and Tights; I can’t think of anything I’d change.  

LONG TERM REPORT
May 10, 2010

FIELD CONDITIONS

Spring came late to North Texas, with temperatures rarely exceeding 60 F (16 C) until mid-March.  This meant several local day hikes while wearing the Base Layers, usually under lightweight synthetic hiking pants and a merino wool sweater, and when necessary an eVENT or Gore-Tex rain shell.  Many of these hikes were in rain or fog, a few in bright sunlight.  In the Rockies I made use of this combination, including the shell, on a fishing day in Paradise Valley, Montana in March, temperatures 40-50 F (4-10 C), and a blustery day hike in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, at temperatures from freezing to 40 F (4 C), with frequent snow flurries.  I wore the Shirt  as a base layer on several house-hunting days around Bozeman, Montana, in similar conditions.

Absarokas from Nelson'sI have also worn the Base Layers as backcountry pajamas on two Texas overnighters, with low temperatures about 45 F (7 C).  They were frontcountry pajamas too – a surprise late winter snowstorm in mid-March knocked out power at my home for 48 hours.  Temperatures outside hovered around freezing, inside wasn’t much warmer.  On these two nights I also wore a midweight merino sweater.

PERFORMANCE 

Two more months and still no cause for complaint.  After perhaps 25 days’ wear and five or six washings both pieces look and perform as if they were new.  Neither piece shows any pilling or other deterioration, and the elastic in the Tights has continued to keep them at my waist throughout.   I can’t detect any fading either.  I won’t say that they have softened, but they didn’t need to.  Like all quality merino wool base layers both are soft and comfortable against bare skin, and haven’t produced any chafing or rashes, under pack straps or suspenders or anywhere else.   


Two aspects of these garments stand out in addition to durability.  I really like the generous sizing at the extremities.  With long arms and legs I often have to choose between a too-loose fit or cold wrists and ankles, but not with the Base Layers.  These might have been tailor-made for me.  And their thermo-regulation has been terrific.  I haven’t gotten too hot when hiking in the sun, though I have not worn either piece when I expected temperatures to exceed 70 F (21 C).  They do rate the “midweight” moniker in their name; the Base Layers alone kept me warm in my Arc Ghost sleeping quilt at 45 F (7 C), and kept me from shivering on the windy ridges in Yellowstone. 

SUMMARY

I continue to give the MontBell Midweight Merino Zip-Neck Shirt and Tights very high marks on all counts: temperature regulation, durability, comfort, and wicking.  These will be backcountry mainstays for as long as they last, which the past four months suggest will be quite some time.  I like MontBell’s SUPER MERINO WOOL enough that I’m considering purchasing a lighter weight version in a tee shirt for summertime hiking.


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My Test Report ends here, with thanks to MontBell USA and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test these excellent base layers.





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Reviews > Clothing > Underwear > MontBell Merino Mid-weight Base Layers > Test Report by Richard Lyon



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