Paul Lewis – Peak Mountaineering – on Base Layers

Paul Lewis is a base layer mega fan. As the owner of Peak Mountaineering – a long established provider of high quality mountain training and outdoor adventures – he’s worn one or two base layers in his time. So we asked him for his top tips on why it’s all about the base.

Why wear a base layer?
We use different base layers throughout the year, but the common reason for this is a base layer’s wicking quality. When you exercise you’re producing moisture, all year round. We use much lighter layers for the summer than the winter, but it’s always about trying to wick that moisture away from the skin to outer layers. As soon as you stop exercising you don’t want to be damp or cold. The other reason, for the winter, is their insulation quality.

How important are base layers in your industry?
Base layers are a standard thing for us. We wear them all the time, all year round. We do a batch of overseas trips – so I have just come back from Myanmar and in January am heading out to Norway to go ice climbing. In the spring I’ll be in Nepal and Russia in the summer. It’s all very different environments with different requirements but the same principles apply. We always depend on base layers, just in different ways.

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So how do your base layers differ between the seasons?
My preference is to use synthetic base layers in the summer and more natural fibres in the winter – we rely on Merino wool a lot in the winter. The main reason for this is comfort. I personally find synthetic fabrics more comfortable in the summer – they tend to be more slippery so they feel nicer next to your skin in the heat. In the winter I go for a tighter fitting cosy wool, like Merino, for the cold.

You must have a lot of base layers!
Yes I do own quite a lot! I do favour certain brands though which we trust. We use a lot of Rab base layers. For summer, I also like the lightweight feel of Patagonia’s Capilene tops. And Mammut’s combination of Merino wool and synthetic fibres works well as they don’t wear out quickly – which is great when you’re always wearing a rucksack. We’ve also recently started buying Jottner’s yak wool base layers.

What’s the worst material you could use for a base layer?
Generally cotton is considered about the worst material for a base layer because it absorbs moisture but doesn’t transfer it, so it just sits there on your skin. In the winter this means you could get cold very quickly and in the summer it would just leave you damp and claggy. This could also lead to problems with chaffing – if you’re carrying a rucksack especially. Any time you have a damp fabric against your skin it’s pretty uncomfortable.

How should you look after your base layers?
We look after our base layers with Nikwax products. We would always recommend washing base layers with a specialist washing product like Nikwax. This summer I was introduced to BaseFresh and that’s what I have decided to use. Base layers can be quite vulnerable so you need to protect the fabric and look after them. But also, using products like Nikwax leaves your base layers clean as well as feeling and smelling fresh.

Why do you rate Nikwax so highly?
I really, 100 per cent, believe in Nikwax’s environmental ethos – that’s a massive thing for us because at Peak Mountaineering we also strongly believe in having responsible environmental values. We also love working with British companies.

But none of that stuff would be relevant if the products didn’t work well. Nikwax does, and the company is backed up by all that stuff. A lot of companies claim to have environmental values but it’s just marketing. I have read behind the lines with Nikwax and they’re clearly not just talking. That’s important to me.

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