Smartwool NTS Base Layer — WildSnow Girl Review

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Skinning in nothing but Smartwool, 20 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny.

Skinning in nothing but Smartwool, 20 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny.

Tall girls rejoice, Smartwool’s baselayer is made for you. A cold snap and a string of sunny days in Colorado provided the perfect testing grounds for Smartwool’s Merino Wool Baselayer.

As a 6-foot tall woman made up mostly of limbs, it’s difficult to find baselayers that provide the length (arm, leg, and most importantly but often underappreciated, torso) that I need. Smartwool’s size large Zip T top provided the perfect proportions — long but not too long in the sleeves and long enough in the torso to tuck in and stay there. The large NTS Light bottoms were long enough for ski boot purposes and the ankle opening had enough stretch for runner’s calves.

Smartwool’s ZQ Merino ensured that I stayed dry and smelled sweet.  I was even assured that my merino came from happy sheep in New Zealand.

Smartwool’s ZQ Merino ensured that I stayed dry and smelled sweet. I was even assured that my merino came from happy sheep in New Zealand.

The fit of the size large top and bottoms was loose but comfortable. At first, I thought I should have gone with a medium but I didn’t experience any chafing during uphills that would necessitate a size adjustment. This could be in part because of Smartwool’s articulated seam and paneling design. The pants have cross-stretch knit panels around the hips and calves, no seams over the knees, and a gusset where it counts. The top has similarly strategically placed panels and seams to ensure a close, comfortable fit. That I don’t have any complaints after multiple days of hiking should speak to Smartwool’s design—in this case, silence is the greatest praise.

In addition to the fit, the company more than earned its name in the smell test. I wore this ensemble for six days straight without washing, five of those as a sweaty sea-leveler hiking above 8,000 feet. If anything, my baselayer smelled great (even better than I did at the end of some days). It wasn’t until day six that I detected a slight twinge, but I think it would have taken twice that time before other people in the car could smell me.

Smartwool offers three weights in its NTS baselayer system. The NTS Light 195, which Smartwool advertises as a single layer for cool/cold weather and a baselayer for cold weather, was perfect for 5-25 degree Farenheit weather. The top alone worked for sunny Colorado uphilling at 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit or as a next-to-skin baselayer under a shell or insulated jacket on cooler days and downhill stretches.

Taking a break from the uphill.  Proof that Smartwool also worked wonders in activities I am remarkably awkward at.

Taking a break from the uphill. Proof that Smartwool also worked wonders in activities I am remarkably awkward at.

The only feature I had trouble with was the zipper. On the Women’s NTS Light 195 Zip T, the zipper reaches to the bottom of the sternum, which was great for warmer days when I needed all the air circulation I could get. The zipper mechanism, however, continues about two inches below the bottom of the opening. Despite Smartwool’s efforts to cover the sharp edges of the zipper with fabric, I did have some irritation. The zipper is also a bit hard to work down past the collar seams, even with a bit of muscle.

All in all, Smartwool’s NTS line offers a much-welcomed design and fit in women’s baselayers.

Shop for Smartwool’s women’s line at our friends Backcountry.com

(WildSnow.com guest blogger Jess Portmess is just months away from finishing law school. Having grown up in New York and Vermont, she’ll soon be chasing snow covered peaks, endless trails, and a legal career in the West.)

Comments

16 Responses to “Smartwool NTS Base Layer — WildSnow Girl Review”

  1. Scott Allen January 30th, 2013 10:09 am

    I’ve been a Smartwool fan for years, however I just switched to Craft base layers for rando racing. I was reluctant to leave wool for poly, but for massive moisture management (sweat!) during a 3-4 hour high intensity crank, I am a new believer in this nordic brand of Craft. Also quite reasonably priced.

    Something to experiment with in your own pursuits, but I have now found that a Craft poly next to skin with a second layer of wool over it, keeps me drier and thus warmer.

    For lower and shorter aerobic juants, smart wool is just fine and my whole family is swaddled in wool all winter long.

  2. Jess January 30th, 2013 11:39 am

    Scott — thanks for the recommendation. Craft’s Storm Tights are my go-to pants for running in seriously cold weather, but I’ve not tried their base layers. Do you have any complaints about how Craft’s poly manages odors? I also have some reservations about how I feel just hanging out in (wet) wool after I’ve been sweating for a long time and I sometimes opt for poly for that reason.

  3. Scott Allen January 30th, 2013 11:59 am

    Jess:
    The odor has not been an issue (but I haven’t used on a multi day hut trip for example) I do wash them every few workouts.

    While wet wool keeps you warmer than wet poly, I find that wet clingy wool next to my skin, makes me feel damp and chilly nonetheless. I find that with the Craft products, they wick better and even begin to dry from my own body temps (say during downhills, or during breaks with a shell over them much better than wool does. After a race or workout, I find they will dry on my back by putting a down layer over them. As I mentioned I do wear smartwool as the next layer and so moisture wicks out to that.
    The Craft Gund is a nordic ski product with windstopper in the crotch.

  4. Sarah January 30th, 2013 4:50 pm

    Wool is better for temperature management, synthetics are better for moisture management.

  5. Patrick January 30th, 2013 7:05 pm

    I can wear poly long-johns. My legs don’t sweat much and when I need to, I ventilate “where it counts” below my waist. In less than 20 days of BC skiing, I wore out Merino long-johns, in the “where it counts” area of the upper legs.
    However, on my torso, I wear merino wool. For about 3 decades, I’ve heard the annual poly-industry mantra: “this year’s poly does not stink”. Whenever I’ve worn poly on my upper body, I am a walking testimony that poly stinks. Sometimes it stinks even before I get out of the hut and start to climb.
    Granted, I tend to be warm, even with Canadian winters. Thus, I don’t usually chill when I sweat my wool layer.
    And I acknowledge, perhaps if there were an emergency (e.g., a BC med-evacuation, with a lot of waiting), it’s possible I’d chill even after putting on my safety parka.

  6. XXX_er January 30th, 2013 10:26 pm

    If you look in any BC hut where skiers are wearing merino IME everybody has layers that are full of holes becuz while merino doesn’t stink it also doesn’t wear near as well as plastic so if I will be near a washing machine I use plastic, I do find merino is nice for around town

    lately during high output I been doing softshell next-to-skin … no base layer

  7. Climb14er January 31st, 2013 8:19 am

    Smartwool is fine! However, after wearing Ibex, Smartwool, Icebreaker and Scandinavian merino wools for many years… Icebreaker 260 Tech zip in the winter is more comfortable, better fitting, reduces the stink and last much longer than any Smartwool I’ve ever used.

  8. RandoSwede January 31st, 2013 9:03 am

    Ditto on the durability concerns… mostly concerned that I don’t see your beacon in the first photo.

  9. Jess January 31st, 2013 10:31 am

    Durability is certainly a concern, particularly when you’re spending upwards of $70 on each component of your wool baselayer. I definitely recognize you’re always going to have to balance your baselayer priorities based on activity and comfort level. I also maintain some degree of skepticism with both the wool (because of comfort, cost, and hype) and the “plastic”/poly (because of stink and lingering distrust of non-natural fibers) approaches.

    RandoSwede, if you look very closely at the first photo you can just make out the outline of my beacon in my right pants pocket. Safety first!

  10. Mike B January 31st, 2013 10:32 am

    RandoSwede, if you look at the photo closely, there’s something the size and shape of a beacon in her right pocket.

  11. RandoSwede January 31st, 2013 10:52 am

    I didn’t see that but glad it’s there!

  12. Boll January 31st, 2013 2:42 pm

    RandoSwede. Time for a new nickname for you man.

  13. Sarah January 31st, 2013 2:48 pm

    It’s not the shirt that smells my friend.

  14. Patrick January 31st, 2013 7:49 pm

    Sarah — so true, good point.
    But when I take off the stinko plastic shirt, and hang it up, there are then 2 sources of hut-stink: 1) myself – but I’ll be washing in the sauna, and maybe rolling in the snow for good measure, and 2) the shirt hanging over over there near somebody’s bunk. Perhaps I’ll use the stinky layer again and again on this trip. Ya sure, I could wash the plastic shirt each night, but my priorities at the end of the ski-day may be to prep the meal, rehydrate, or dance.
    I’m not a guy who wants an underwear quiver of 7 shirts, one for each day of the week.

  15. Scott Nelson February 1st, 2013 3:55 pm

    I’ve always liked Smartwool, whether it is their socks, baselayers, or whatever. But, as others have said, it doesn’t last long. Holes in my socks, holes in unmentionable places on my baselayer pants, etc. Other brands seem to last much longer. I’ve recently been trying out an Arc Teryx base/mid layer top, and it has become my favorite. Doesn’t stink after multiple days without washing (or maybe I’m just immune to that stintch…), breathes well for high aerobic stuff and fairly warm, and not wool, its a polyester, polypro mix. And just like Smartwool, it costs a lot.

  16. XXX_er February 1st, 2013 10:26 pm

    MEC, Icebreaker, Smart wool and some others, I got 5 brands of merino and they all get holes easyier than plastic … IME one brand does not stand out over the others as better or worse

    When I actualy do wear base layers the best thing I found is to use a super light merino T-shit which is also the cheapest and then whatever layer you wear on top of that won’t stink

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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