Which Baselayer is the Smelliest?

25 March 2013

When we owned the shop in Keswick we got a lot of people through the door who had spent a week on the fells without scraping out their arm pits or changing their under garments. I did a little survey and asked the whiffiest people what baselayers they were wearing – don’t cringe, I was subtle.

‘Hey, stink bomb is that a Helly Hansen baselayer you’re wearing or have you bathed in dog’s urine recently?’

The results of my survey were this – if you don’t wash for a week and wear the same clothes you’re going to stink no matter what you’re wearing. I hope you knew that already… But, and I only have my nostrils to back me up on this, cheap polyester baselayers are the worst – by far.
text Just to make this more scientific I did a little experiment at home. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been out on my bike on average three times a week (see my Strava cycling page to prove it) plus at least one decent walk at the weekend, I wore the same baselayer all week and left it at the bottom of my bag in the cupboard to simmer. The first week I wore a polypropylene baselayer, the second week polyester and the third merino wool. At the end of each week I chased my wife round the kitchen until I caught her and shoved the baselayer into her face. I like to do this anyway, so this was no different to any other week.
My wife graded them: 1 (Spring Meadow) to 10 (Dog’s Urine).

Here’s the results:

Polyester Baselayer – 9

Polypropylene Baselayer – 7

Merino Wool baselayer – 4
(you could hardly smell anything on this, so I think she was just being mean to get her own back).

Do I have any facts to back this experiment up? Maybe. Polypropylene doesn’t absorb sweat, its main skill is staying dry so the sweat is repelled by the fabric and hopefully evaporated away on the outer surface. Polyester baselayers are great at soaking up the sweat and getting it away from your body but they don’t dry out particularly fast, so the sweat festers for a while. Like polyester, Merino wool actively absorbs moisture and it does take a lot longer to dry than the polypropylene, but because it’s a natural fibre it seems to cope with the pong factor much better, in fact amazingly well.

Polyester has come off a little badly in all of this, but there are so many different fabrics that can combined with polyester to give it different properties that sometimes it’s difficult to know whether the material is polyester or not. Generally I use polypropylene and merino in Autumn/Winter/Spring and looser polyester t-shirts in the summer.

Obviously, none of this matters if you scrape your armpits out once in a while and wash your baselayers before they become sentient. This is just something you should think about if you’re going on a long hike, or you don’t know how to use your washing machine or you just like being smelly.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young
Here’s what I use:

Helly Hansen Ice Crew (Merino and Polypropylene) or Amazon
Helly Hansen Stripe Crew (Polypropylene) or Amazon
Montane Bionic LS Zip (Merino and Polyester)
Ice Breaker Sprint Crew – Merino
Craghoppers Base T (Polyester) or Amazon
Helly Hansen Cool T (Polyester and Polypropylene) or Amazon
X-Bionic Energizer (so many fabrics you wouldn’t believe) or Amazon

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