Anyone who spends enough time outside knows the importance of a good layering system. What you elect to use as your base, mid, and outer layers can easily make the difference between a fun day playing in the snow and a miserable trudge through sunless woods.
Layering is a complicated business, however. Base layers alone offer enough material and composition options to make your head spin. Personally, I have always been a big fan of natural fibers. Merino wool in particular has been a mainstay in my closet for years. It is warm, lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. With my biases firmly in place, I was excited to learn of a New Orleans-based company called TASC Performance who claimed to have improved on nature’s wonder material using viscose from bamboo, notorious for making soft materials even softer to the touch.
My two pieces of TASC Performance gear arrived in the mail in mid-October. I elected not only to test out the Bamboo+Merino Base Layer Level A Pant, I also picked up the Elevate Fleece Full Zip Hoodie made from bamboo cotton. Cotton in general is not a material I associate with outdoor sports, especially in the winter, but as the owner of several bamboo t-shirts that make weekly appearances in my clothing rotation I was interested to try a piece meant for everyday wear.
The Bamboo+Merino Base Layer Pant is available in 2 weights: A or B. Level A is the lighter of the two and a bit more suitable for the Pacific Northwestern climate I live in. Unfortunately, the winter of 2014 has been an unpredictable one for snow on the west coast so snowshoeing opportunities are in short supply. Instead I have worn these formidable long-johns on hikes up the local mountains and on soggy trail runs.
What I have been able to surmise about this base layer is that it is possibly the most comfortable natural-fiber piece I have ever worn. Merino wool is incredibly soft and smooth to begin with, but adding viscose from bamboo takes it to a whole new level.
The pants feel just like a piece made from regular old bamboo cotton but provide all the benefits of wool. I can personally vouch for the fact that the warmth to weight ratio is off the charts and the ability of the material to hold in heat remains intact in the wettest conditions imaginable.
Last week I wore the Level A pant under a pair of shorts on a 20K run through a steady downpour and sub-40 degree temperatures and never once thought about my legs. That to me is the mark of a good base layer: once it is on, you completely forget about that part of your body. In my books the Level A Base Layer Plant lives up to the name and is worthy of an A+ rating.
As for the Elevate Fleece Hoodie, it is a great piece in its own right but it is not something I would throw into my pack for days on the trail. Despite being labeled a fleece, the hoodie cannot overcome the handicap of being made from cotton. When cotton gets wet it actually pulls heat from the wearer. Not ideal for outdoor use in the winter. That being said, the Elevate is primarily designed to be an everyday wearing piece and in this respect it shines.
Since receiving my Elevate a few months ago, my other full-zip hoodies have been collecting dust. When I reach into the closet for a sweater for the day it is hard to justify grabbing anything other than the Elevate. Once again, the material is incredible. This piece is bar-none the softest, most comfortable sweater I have ever owned. I especially love the cuffs on the sleeves. Unlike most hoodies that provide a ring of ridged material around each wrist, the Elevate is smooth and soft. Whereas I forget when I am wearing a good base layer, I can barely stop talking to people about how much I love this sweater when I am wearing it.
That being said, the Elevate is not perfect. Some aspects have the feel of being rushed. One that stands out is the full-length zipper. While the chest pocket is built with a low-gauge, water-resistant zip that is perfectly smooth, the main body zip is a higher gauge and tends to stick. Even when it is free of snagging material it feels rough and a little choppy.
The fit of the Elevate is also a little unusual. As someone with long arms I am thrilled that the Elevate is built to accommodate my primate-like proportions. The arms, shoulders, and chest are perfect. Strangely though, the fit around my waist is disproportionately loose. Then again, this is a hoodie and one should expect a more relaxed fit. Neither of these issues has prevented the Elevate from becoming a piece I wear nearly every day.
In conclusion, if you are looking to try a new line of base or mid-layers this season, you couldn’t do much better than TASC Performance. For against-the-skin feel, I truly cannot think of a more comfortable, natural fiber line available today. If you are looking for gifts for the outdoorsy people on your list, TASC is also offering free shipping on all holiday orders through their website. To my mind, it’s a slam dunk.