8 Things to know about performance layers

From Merino wool base layers to breathable underwear: don’t head outdoors without reading these tips


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With over a decade’s experience creating functional wool layers for alpine, river, road and trail sports, not to mention participating in them, David Michell has the insider scoop on what it takes to be ready to head into the great outdoors.

The art of layering

“Anyone who’s anyone in the outdoor game knows what an amazing fabric Merino is,” says David Michell. His family’s background in wool spans five generations, and his love of the outdoors takes him on jungle treks, cycling, running and skiing – in any kind of weather. The founder of Adelaide-based I/O Merino has built a business on believing that performance isn’t just about how the fabric performs technically, but how you feel wearing it.

“It’s nice to be able to use our Australian wool to create a world class end product,” says Michell, who has spent a great deal of time developing layers that capitalise on the unique benefits of wool while providing a high level of comfort. “Creating our own garments is definitely challenging, but when I see photos come in from across the globe with people jumping out of planes, summiting mountains, riding vintage Russian motorcycles across frozen Siberian lakes, and who knows what else, all wearing our gear, that’s certainly a nice feeling.”

The most obvious rookie mistake? Trying to wear too many bulky layers. “So many people don’t trust the Merino and think one or two fine garments aren’t going to work so overload. I only wear two lightweight layers under my shell when I’m skiing in Niseko (Japan) and it’s -20 degrees Celsius!”

Here, Michell shares more hard-won tips to layering up.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, not many people who are out being active want to carry any more weight than necessary. So lightweight Merino layers generally allow them to be warmer with comparatively less bulk. That’s less weight to carry and more freedom of movement – both important things when you’re being active, whether that be skiing, trekking, running, cycling, whatever…Wool also allows moisture to be pulled (wicked) away so avoids clammy and cold next to skin feel.

    It’s amazing how many people put a lot of thought and effort into choosing high quality layers, then undermine their whole layering system by wearing regular underwear. If you think of it like a foundation layer, the last thing you want to do is compromise the performance of your base layer, by having undies underneath that aren’t going to breathe or deliver any real warmth. It’s actually pretty crazy that people overlook this and how important it is considering it sits against your skin.

    A base layer is the first thing you put on when getting dressed. If heading out (in winter) you want to stay warm so it’s a T-shirt (long or short sleeve), tank, knickers, boxers or tights. If you have a good base layer, you’re off to a good start…Along with a few other brands, we’ve made some good leaps forward in turning base layers into something functional and fashionable – base layers we could stand around having a drink in after skiing, without feeling and looking out of place.

    Your mid layers are simply an extension of your base layers. They’re usually needed in cooler environments and generally speaking are thicker fabrics than base layers which skew thin. They’re often slightly looser fitting as well. They offer all the same benefits of base layers – the moisture wicking, temperature regulation, odour resistance etc – but in a thicker, warmer garment. In our range, these are usually long sleeve tops, vests, and hoodies…And again, the lightweight nature of Merino comes in handy here if you don’t want to end up like the Michelin Man!

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    With outer layers, look for softness, styling, consistency of knit – something that delivers the final level of warmth you need without adding the weight or inflexibility that comes with thicker layers of comparable warmth.

    I know a lot of our team use these things when they’re out on their adventures – the latest skis, GPS watches, that sort of thing. But for me, the ultimate accessory would be well worn and loved gear that actually works. No point having brand new gear of the wrong type and standing with people that do those wild things every day.

    My ‘go to’ garment is the Vital Rib long sleeve. I wore it running the North Face 100 (100km trail running race in The Blue Mountains near Sydney), I wore it during an 800 km quad bike crossing of the Simpson Desert, and I wore it last month cycling from San Francisco to L.A. I wear it skiing every year and when the weather turns cold here I wear it to the gym during the week. The ribbed fabric is unique to us and delivers an amazing amount of warmth and comfort in a super thin and lightweight garment.

    Our fabrics are all easy care. I throw mine into the washer and dryer on cooler setting as really smashing the fibre with heat isn’t ideal. Even better, the natural odour resistance means you don’t even have to wash your gear as often and it doesn’t get much easier than that!

For more on the perfect performance layers head to www.iomerino.com

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