We have a complicated relationship with long underwear. On one hand, it keeps us warm and dry enough to play outside all winter. But on the other, its constant proximity to our nether regions makes it a little less than easy on the nose.
And frankly, we were getting a little tired of incinerating our base layers after every winter hike. So we called up Steve Lee of Hot Chillys and got some expert advice on keeping our long johns warm, dry, and smelling sweet all summer long
1. Choose your base wisely
Starting with the right product is your best defense against noxious-smelling long underwear. But in the great debate between synthetic and natural, where should your allegiance lie?
Lee stands behind synthetic fiber, as long as (here’s the catch) the yarn has been treated with a hydrophobic coating to make it repel moisture. Wool is great, says Lee, but nothing beats the wicking power of a fabric specifically engineered to defeat the damp.
2. Keep it tight
Saggy underwear doesn’t just look gross—it doesn’t work as well. In the wicking game, Lee says, it’s all about body fit: your base layer should hug your skin.
Your only heat source in the outdoors is body heat, so the job of your long underwear is to capitalize on that. It’s better equipped to trap heat and wick moisture away when it’s close to your body.
3. Layer up
But never with cotton. As Lee says, “It’s rotten.” When you throw an absorptive layer into the mix, it holds onto the moisture that’s desperately trying to wick away from your skin.
In the same vein, when you seal your outfit with a waterproof shell, you’re sealing in the juices like a basted Thanksgiving turkey. If you’re sweating and you’re wearing a waterproof outer later, don’t just rip it off to cool down—you’ll freeze fast. First, unzip the vents and let your base layer dry out before you strip down.
4. Myth-bust the antimicrobial
A lot of performance long underwear is treated with antimicrobial solutions meant to bust smell-causing bacteria at the scene of the crime.
But antimicrobials are not a 100 percent solution. While they can certainly reduce the likelihood of bacteria thriving, you have to meet them halfway. Do your part by sliding into your base layer with clean, sweet-smelling skin.
5. Treat it well
The care instructions on your base layers are purposely simple and easy to follow. So follow them. As Lee explains, your best path to success is usually to throw them in the machine shortly after wearing, then tumble dry on low (yes, even wool).
Never use fabric softener, which can coat the yarn and inhibit it’s high-tech moisture management ability. And don’t dry clean—the chemicals dry cleaners use have the same compromising effect.