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Personal Equipment Guide - Base Layers

Personal Equipment Guide - Base Layers

Posted by Jeff Dusting on 31st Jul 2014

Layering Up: All you wanted to know about base layers

Over the coming weeks, we will provide a guide to the personal equipment sailors, intending to venture beyond bay sailing, should consider.   

The guide will include:

  • Part 1:  Clothing
    • 1a: base layers, 
    • 1b: outer layers
    • 1c: mid layers
  • Part 2: Lifejackets and tethers
  • Part 3: Footwear
  • Part 4: Accessories - gloves, headwear


Modern wet weather gear is designed to keep you dry and to vent any moisture that builds up inside ... and it does this well because these fabrics "breathe", but this is also the reason these garments don't keep you warm.

To stay warm you need to think about your layers - base and mid working with you outer layer.

In this post, we will look at some of the options available to you as base layers and evaluate them against our experience to provide a basis for our recommendations.

Option 1: T-Shirt and Jeans

Don't laugh, there are many people who apply the logic, "My jeans keep me warm enough, I'll put the wet weather gear on to keep me dry".

As we all know, the worst possible fabric for keeping warm in a wet environment is cotton - and we all know what jeans are made of.

Needless to say, in our experience, this is not a good option.   If you get cold, you will never get warm again. If you get wet you will never get dry.   Salt water and cotton makes for a very scratchy and rashy situation after a couple of days - please consider another option.

Option 2: Synthetic Thermals

A great deal of research has been done into the development of synthetic fibres in thermal wear ... and it does work.

In the context of long duration sailing (or hiking for that matter), the biggest challenge with synthetic thermals is their tendency to really stink ... after as little as 24 hours.   In cramped conditions on board a yacht, who wants that problem!

Option 3: Merino Wool Thermals

Many of us would remember wool as that scratch fabric that you avoided having against your skin at any cost. Not so the finely woven high grade merino wool used in the Icebreaker Marine range.

Icebreaker have mastered the development of this fabric to the point they make a very popular range of underwear also!   In summary, Icebreaker Merino has the advantages of:

  • Keeping You Dry: Icebreaker merino pulls moisture vapour to the surface of the fabric, where it evaporates before the vapour turns into sweat. It can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in moisture before you even start to feel wet.  This is particularly important in a sailing context, where you have long periods of cold, followed by short intense periods where you work up a sweat within your wet weather gear.
  • When You are Wet:  No matter how good your wet weather gear, you will get damp.  As Merino absorbs water it gives off heat and continues to provide the insulation layer between the tightly woven fibres to keep you warm.
  • Lightweight and Breathable.  Merino has an exceptionally high warmth-to-weight ratio. The fine, lightweight fibres give you all the warmth of a heavy sweater – without the bulk.   Synthetic fibres feel clammy because moisture vapour can escape only through holes in the fabric. But with Icebreaker merino, the fibre as well as the fabric breathes to prevent you overheating
  • Odour Resistance Icebreaker merino resists odour naturally, and can be worn for days — even weeks — without washing.

Want to know more about Merino Wool and why it works so well?   Check out the video below.

I guess by now you know what we recommend.   Since discovering Icebreaker a couple of years back, we have become avid fans, or even fanatics.   For those sailing in the south, we'd recommend you invest in a 260 series set of long johns and long sleeve thermal top ... or perhaps two so that you have something dry to get into.   For summer and sailing further north, the 200g range is probably a good choice.

"I loved my icebreaker, I had 1 set of icebreaker and 1 set of synthetic ... after 4 days, I couldn't stand the synthetic ones anymore and stayed in the icebreakers ... should have taken two", Melbourne to Vanuatu Crew-member

260g: Cold Conditions

200g: Cool Conditions

Mens Tech T LS - Icebreaker Bodyfit 260 Tech Top Long Sleeve Crewe
Bodyfit 200 Sprint Long Sleeve Crewe Black
Mens Leggings - Mens - Icebreaker

Bodyfit 260 Apex Leggings Black

Bodyfit 200 Oasis Leggings Black


Bodyfit 260 Tech Top Long Sleeve Crewe

Bodyfit 200 Pace Long Sleeve Crew

Bodyfit 260 Vertex Leggings Black Bodyfit 200 Pace Leggings Black

More About Merino Woll