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Could the Aclima WoolNet Crew be the ultimate winter climbing baselayer?
Base layers are rarely the sexiest pieces of kit to review, you rarely see them especially in winter, never-the-less they are vital to your winter comfort. The role of a base layer is twofold; provide insulation and wick moisture away from the skin, different designs tend to prioritise one or other of these roles. So where do the Aclima WoolNet garments fit in? Firstly, as the name suggests the crew neck is a 120g merino wool garment so it is a light-ish weight warm layer. Traditionally wool doesn’t tend to transport moisture as effectively as synthetics however the WoolNet construction goes a long way to overcoming this. The mesh construction effectively creates pockets of air allowing amazing breathability and overcomes one of wool’s traditional draw backs, its tendency to hold onto moisture, making it much faster drying. However the traditional warmth of wool is maintained especially when static with mid layers helping trap insulating air in the mesh.
In use the Aclima WoolNet base layer proved versatile, warm and breathable. I used it for some steady Lakeland walks and runs, covered only by a windproof or light fleece and it kept me comfy all day. In the evening I eschewed the drying room to see how long it would take to dry and by morning it was fine, having just hung in the hut dorm. The other benefit of wool is its lack of odour, no ‘synthetic stink’ making it ideal for longer trips away when laundry facilities are a bit scarce. Care wise Aclima have made the WoolNet garments easy to look after with a ‘Total Easy Care (TEC)’ treatment to make them itch-free, and to reduce shrinking when washing, they can be washed at 40ºC without worry removing another issue some people have with wool. Come December I had the chance to use the WoolNet in typical Scottish mixed climbing conditions, cold, damp with activity levels that oscillate between static and full on sweating bullets as you scratch up on hooks and torques. This was definitely the WoolNet forte, the mesh construction enhanced breathability during exertion and together with the traditional properties of wool kept me warm when static at the belays – perfect!
Design-wise the WoolNet Crew Neck has elasticated side panels to improve the fit and solid shoulder panels to aid comfort when worn under a pack. Throughout the test period I found it to be an excellent base layer and it has become my ‘go-to’ piece for winter layering. There are some potential draw backs to the net construction however. You couldn’t use Woolnet as an outer layer for hot summer glacier crossings like some base layers with high SPF ratings (unless you lathered on the sunblock first!) and for some people the mesh construction is a little less socially acceptable when stripping down to base layers in the pub/hut/pizzeria after a hard days climbing. Personally I like the mesh – I reckon it could even do double duty for a night’s clubbing down the Leadmill and I was sadly disappointed that Kev wouldn’t take a ‘Mr December’ picture of me in the Clachaig after I stripped off my fleece…