Gear Review: Polarmax Base Layers

When it comes to staying comfortable out on the trail, my objective is likely a little different than many people’s. I need to play it cool, rather than keep it warm, and I had some success during a recent trial of some Polarmax products.

As we all know, snowshoeing (and Nordic skiing) is, to be blunt, hard work. That’s particularly the case if, like me, you tend to be on the solitary side and spend a lot of time breaking your own trail. That means it doesn’t take a lot to get me, shall we say, all hot and bothered on an outing. No, not that kind of hot and bothered, the kind that leaves you dangerously sweaty… oh never mind.

Instead, let’s just say it doesn’t take much for me to start overheating. I have very little problem staying warm, at least if I’m moving around at all, and tend to wear minimal clothing for the conditions.

One of life’s least pleasant sensations is that trickle of sweat running down your back on a cold, cold day when you’re an hour or more away from a change into dry clothes. As has been well documented, that kind of sweating is also dangerous. To be blunt, wet clothing, even if it’s not cotton, can be a literal killjoy.

So the paradox of base layers is to find something that will keep you warm, but not too warm, and dry or dry-ish, when you inevitably become too warm.

For years, I’ve relied on a variety of clothing, mainly Columbia Sports, because I like their products, sizing and prices, and Misty Mountain, for many of the same reasons, and, hey, it’s a Canadian company and I’m Canadian. You have to show a little patriotic favouritism sometimes.

My current favourite is Misty Mountain’s technical line, which bills itself as an all-weather and all-season product. For the most part it does live up to that billing. It’s comfortable, easy to maintain and fits well.

Misty Mountain also makes a heavier, Polar Fleece version as well, that’s just too warm for most activities beyond, say, ice-fishing.

I’ve also tried a variety of other things, including dry-fit clothing from various sources, such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas, all of which work to at least some degree.

So I was intrigued to try some Polarmax gear on my continuing quest to find that elusive base layer that never gets sweat-soaked. I was pleasantly surprised at the results of trying two lines of long underwear plus a “watch-cap” toque.

The first set I tried out was the Polarmax mid-weight gear. It’s the most similar to the Columbia and Misty Mountain gear I’ve been using.

The performance between the three lines was quite comparable. Once they were on, other than the fit, I found myself hard-pressed to notice any difference in feel and performance.

The mid-weight shirt was a little short in the body for my taste. I’m very long in the torso, and found the shirt to be a little than generous. The pants were fine.

Other than that, the performance was very, very similar. Even when wet with sweat, the Polarmax felt identical to the other lines; and still kept me warm and comfortable.

I even tried using the mid-weight gear while working out on a long treadmill session, and it functioned perfectly there as well.

I was even more impressed with the heavyweight base layer set I tried next. It’s an entirely different material, with a spandex-like feel and a compression styling. My first thought, especially for the pants, was “there’s no way that’s going to fit me.”

I was more than impressed when they slid on like a second skin, and the shirt “fit like a glove as well.”

The material felt a little odd to me at first, but I quickly grew accustomed to it.

As with the mid-weight gear, I tried the heavy-weight on the trail and on the treadmill, and it performed even more impressively. It easily doubled up as an awesome workout outfit, and it outperformed its Polarmax cousin – and the Misty Mountain and Columbia stuff – for staying dry. It’s now become my favourite base layer, and I might have to spring for a second set. It’ll certainly do until someone comes up with a material that absolutely rejects sweat!

The toque was even more impressive. Every winter I search for something that will stay dry and that isn’t too warm. I also have problems with finding a touque that stays in place properly.

The performance of the cap is amazing, and is utterly ideal material for snowshoeing and other active winter sports. The only problem I had was it riding up, and that was solved by wearing sunglasses over top.

It also looks stylish, and it even received the spousal thumb’s up, which doesn’t happen all that often.

Polarmax has done well with this line, and at a reasonable price as well. For more information on Polarmax, visit


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