With winter raging on (well it was until now) the CGR UK team test a range of wool baselayers from Smartwool to see how ‘smart’ they really are…
Midweight NTS Zip T by Dave Sarkar
I have used Smartwool socks on my Stubai Glacier Tour in the summer and swear by them, so I was very keen to see if the Midweight NTS 1/4 Zip T matched their performance…
Rating (out of 5)
Value For Money: *****
I could quite happily live in this top, it feels like cotton against the skin and I have worn it every day (not for the entire day mind) for 10 days now and I still can’t get it to smell of anything other than my deodorant.
The top is a quarter zip, 250g/m2 , long sleeved, superfine merino wool t-shirt and I found it a very versatile baselayer, better for me than a crew neck as I could zip the collar up when stationary and vent it when on the move. I wore it running, snowshoeing, rock climbing and as a pproper baselayer for winter climbing and it performed very well in all those activities.
The Midweight NTS features set-in sleeves and shoulder panels that eliminated shoulder seams and flatlock stitching which eased the chafing, especially when I was carrying a pack loaded with winter kit. When the top was damp with sweat, it dried out very quickly and then felt fine to climb in. Ideally though, I found it best if I walked in with a different top on, and then changed into this before climbing. Supreme comfort and snugness was what I covered myself in, when layered up with fleece and soft-shell top I never noticed I had it on, especially in the pub at the end of the day. I’ve worn some tops that smell so badly I can’t even talk to myself, let alone offer to buy a lady a drink and recall tales of bravery!
Strangely I’m a medium in all clothing, except baselayers where I’m a large. Advice from Smartwool was that they sized their products on the large size so I got a medium, this fitted very well and although athletic wasn’t too tight a fit. More advice on the box stated that they are made slightly longer to allow for some shrinkage in the wash, but I didn’t really notice any shrinkage if I washed it on a wool wash cycle with Stergene or other gentle soap.
On the plus side I really loved the sleeves which were easy to roll up above the elbows aiding venting and for psyching up! This did mean that the sleeve cuffs felt a little baggy and loose around the wrists, but that didn’t detract from the performance, they would also feel a little short for people with a positive ape index. Another down side was the small zip pull, I would have liked to have seen it slightly bigger to make it easier to use with gloves on.
A great midweight top with all performance of a synthetic baselayer and non of the stink! It’s super snug and feels great against the skin, I loved the sleeves which were easy to roll up when the going got tough. They need to be a little longer though if you’re tall (then again, it’s a small price to pay for being able to cruise all those reachy boulder problems!).
Lightweight NTS Zip T by Kevin Avery
Smartwool describe the Lightweight NTS range as being great for those who run a little hot…
Rating (out of 5)
Value For Money: *****
I’ve used my Lightweight NTS zip top for a little over 2 months now for activities including running, ice/mixed climbing, ski touring, bouldering and walking in the hills. I really like it’s versatility as a layering piece and it has quickly become the staple part of my layering system. I found it comfortable worn next to the skin with no chafing, itching or uncomfortable seams. It is cut long enough so that it doesn’t ride up when tucked into my legwear (it’s amazing how many companies get this wrong!) and the sleeves are also long enough so they don’t turn half-mast when my arms are above my head! I tested a size small and this is my usual size in most brands. I have found very limited shrinkage after washing the top…just follow the manufacturer’s instructions, no boil washing!
The zipper on the front provides ventilation on warmer days or when you are exerting yourself on walk-ins or during long periods “skinning” up hill. This is also useful for aerobic activities such as running and I’m sure it will be invaluable in the warmer summer months. When stationary you can zip it up to the neck, providing warm snugness. I have found the Lightweight NTS to be adequate on its own for strenuous walk-ins or runs when the wind has been absent, but I’d add a lightweight windproof such as Marmot’s Ion top on windier days. I’d then remove the windproof for climbing, add a mid-weight top such as a Patagonia R1 then a shell layer over the top. Under my other layers, the Lightweight NTS felt so comfortable I could easily have forgotten I was wearing it! Surely a good sign? I agree with the criticism of the zipper tab on mid-weight top though and would like to see a more glove friendly zipper tab on the Lightweight top as well.
In terms of breathability I have found the NTS to wick moisture at a satisfactory rate during all of my winter pursuits. I still get the customary damp back when carrying a pack on grueling walk ins but nothing is going to stop this other than perhaps getting your mate to carry both packs! I will be interested to see how it fairs during the warmer months though as in the past I have found wool products to be best in the colder months but then gone back to synthetic layers in summer when I have found them to offer superior moisture transportation. Smartwool disagree with this so we’ll have to wait and see! When damp with sweat though, it certainly dries quickly enough.
On the subject of odor, I wore this top for an 8 day period in the Alps over new year and I never noticed any lingering bad smells…I’m sure my climbing and skiing partners would have brought it to my attention too! Oh, and there was no ten metre cordon around me in the pub later either, before you ask!
All in all I’ve found the Lightweight NTS T to be a comfortable and warm base layer. I like the cut, length of body and sleeves, warmth to weight it offers and the breathability. I’d like to see a more glove friendly zipper tab but other than that, it’s a great piece of kit.