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Best Cold Weather Baselayer(s)

Bergans' Akeleie (left) & Helly Hansen's Lifa Merino Seamless (right) - honours shared

Honours Shared: Two Great Baselayers from Norway

Preface

As always, we're looking at the Bergans of Norway Akeleie Half Zip and the Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Seamless Half Zip from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.

Choosing an outright winner has been impossible, so we have a tie.

Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Size(s) = Large, Colour(s) = Green Tea & Lime (Bergans) and Port Red (HH)
Kit Tests: Winter
Disclaimer: None required (items not provided by manufacturer)


Scramble Review

Contents

 

Introduction

Helly Hansen's (still excellent) Warm Freeze, as well as their top of the range Odin were great baselayers and the gap between the Akeleie and these two Hellys was small. Helly Hansen have subsequently released a number of Lifa Merino variants; the one we rate is the Lifa Merino Seamless Half Zip. Its introduction has made the choice between the Bergans Akeleie and the Helly Seamless extremely nuanced and much harder to call. We simply can't decide which is better (more on this in the summary), so we're going to be cowardly and pass this tricky little condundrum on to you.
 


Helly Hansen's Lifa Merino Seamless Half Zip

Helly Hansen's Lifa Merino Seamless Half Zip

 

Datasheet

Materials: Merino Wool / Polypropylene / Nylon 45% / 44% / 11%
Weight (Size Large) 190 g
Product Sizing Reference: 42" Chest = Large
Manufacturer RRP £80.00
Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £44.00

Available on SYSTEM


 

A Winter Baselayer for the Purist

A true baselayer should be fitted (reasonably body hugging), as you want to maximise the surface area against the skin (minimise fabric folds). This means that for the majority of bodies out there (mine included) they won't make the most flattering apparel. The HH Lifa Seamless bucks the (fashion / high street) trend of many outdoor brands (HH included) toward making sporty looking tops rather than highly functional baselayers. So, if you want to look good on the high street or in the pub we suggest you look elsewhere, if you want to feel good in the bitterly cold mountains, read on.

The Lifa Merino Seamless - close to perfectionHelly Hansen's polypropylene-merino masterpiece.


Material Mix: When Lifa Was Simpla

Not so long ago when life was a little less complicated, Helly Hansen made two Merino / synthetic hybrid winter baselayers (one a half-zip and the other a crew neck): the Warm Freeze and the Warm Ice Crew. Now there's a plethora of Lifa this and Lifa that. To make things a little simpler, when you see "Lifa" just substitute polypropylene, because that's all it is. However, readers of Scramble will know that for lightweight baselayers, polypropylene is probably the most effective material on the planet.

Everyone knows the superb properties of Merino wool; less well known are the "made-for-baselayer" properties of polypropylene. Polypropylene is warmer and lighter than wool and is extremely hydrophobic (fast wicking), it's also nearly as abrasion resistant as nylon when wet (see here for more details).

Note: Polypropylene is warmer than wool, and so heavier winter merino hybrid baselayers (~250g+) if using a sufficient amount of polypropylene can feel too hot when active (and thus may benefit from a polyester mix instead, as per the Bergans Akeleie below). Polypropylene is however ideally suited for lighter-weight form fitting winter baselayers like the HH Seamless.

The HH Seamless combines polypropylene with Merino wool, which has the following properties: breathable, moisture wicking and temperature regulating, resiliant and elastic (maintains shape over time), quick drying, insulating (and warm when wet), comfortable, odour-resistant and anti-bacterial.

This lighter, seamless member of the Lifa-Merino family has a more effective material mix. The polypropylene is 44% (not 43%), the Merino is 45% (not 57%) and this makes room for a little (11%) polyamide (nylon) which helps toughen things up a little (no bad thing in our opinion).

For a light winter baselayer, this is probably close to the ideal material mix. Compared to the standard Lifa Merinos, the Seamless Half Zip is lighter, has more stretch and rebound, dries quicker, is more comfortable and its performance is second to none.
 

Features & Performance


Features

In terms of its design the Helly is practically identical to the heavier Akeleie (below), with a sensibly sized collar, a good length zip (pictured #1 below) and cuffs (see #3) that pleasingly are not bound / elasticated (fitted baselayers have narrow sleeves anyway and tightly elasticated cuffs are more a nuisance than a feature especially when worn in conjunction with wrist gaiters, which are a great option for sub zero conditions).

The inner layer (see #1 below) is made of a silky smooth, fine polypropylene which rapidly moves moisture away from the skin. The zip is backed with a baffle to hold in the warmth and there are no raised seams to cause chafing.

The HH Seamless features a superfine lining, venting and simple cuffsA close-up look at some of the few features on offer.

The outer Merino based material is covered in strategically placed perforations (see #2 above) to allow for moisture transport and venting.

The Lifa Merino Seamless Half Zip is surprisingly warm for its weight, sufficiently stretchy (to be form fitting without losing recovery/elasticity) and yet tougher than many other similar items due to both the polypropylene and the added nylon.


Performance

The last winter kit test (2020) began during a severe storm which saw predominantly wet conditions and gale force winds, later giving way to a colder spell with clear days in the mountains. On the peaks it was very cold, and in the low lying areas almost spring-like. What was impressive about the HH Seamless was how dry I was able to keep it.

After changing out of my active-wear and into my sleepwear, I separate my clothing into two groups (the wet and the moist/dry). The wetter / smellier stuff (softshell outers, socks etc.) go into a Tower, inside my (reversed) sleeping bag's dry bag, and this makes up my pillow. The moist (but hopefully drier) next-to-skin layers go inside the sleeping bag and get the radiator treatment.

No matter the conditions, the HH Seamless (along with other polypropylene-based layers) was always dry enough in the morning to slide into without a grimace. In winter getting into wet clothing when its below freezing is not pleasant and anything that mitigates that feeling is a welcome feature. 

For the 2020 kit test I was trialing an alternative (and as light as we'd want to go) softshell jacket pairing for sub zero active use (we regard this softshell combo as one winter softshell jacket rather than an outer and a mid). On top of the HH Seamless, I had a Rab Momentum (which is basically a Rab Borealis without the hood and with venting on the back) and over that a Mountain Equipment Echo Hooded Jacket

Though temperatures never got that low (-5℃), windchill was a factor at times. The HH Seamless went unnoticed (as a good baselayer should); I never got overly hot, felt clammy, wet or uncomfortable in any way.

Increasingly relaxed with each additional layer (courtesy of the cold)

 

Any Negatives?

In terms of design, materials and performance, none. In terms of price, we think these winter baselayers are getting silly (re. full RRP). We've attempted to remedy this by providing them at the kind of price we'd be willing to pay. But this is reflected in the value score below.

 

Conclusion & Rating

A more pragmatic, ideal baselayer

There are differences between the Bergans and the Helly, but they are extremely marginal. The Bergans is slightly less form fitting (with a little less rebound), is heavier and my guess, a fraction warmer. The Helly is perhaps the more pragmatic, ideal baselayer in that it's lighter, more form fitting and wicks moisture more aggressively, yet provides comparable insulation. Both are luxuriously comfortable; the Helly will dry out quicker and would likely be a better option for saturated conditions.

One point worthy of consideration is for long durations treks. If you're carrying a spare baselayer, then two Hellys would be the better choice (saving 60g in pack weight).

What we've said below about the Akeleie is equally appropriate for the Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Seamless:

There's nothing revolutionary about [this baselayer, Helly Hansen] have just got everything right: from the choice of materials, to the fit, the zips, cuffs, collar and seams, all done to a high standard. There's simply nothing we would change.

The Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Seamless Half Zip combines the ideal mix of materials for a light winter baselayer, keeping you warm and dry and drying rapidly when wet. Durable, stretchy and extremely comfortable, the Helly Hansen Seamless Half Zip is Scramble's (joint) top pick in our Cold Weather Baselayer category.

 

Product Images

 

Rating (out of 10)

Function
 
10.0
Durability
 
9.0
Weight
 
9.0
RRP Value *
 
7.0
OVERALL RATING
 
8.8


* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.

 


Bergans of Norway's Akeleie Half Zip Baselayer

Bergans Akeleie Half Zip Baselayer


Datasheet

Materials: Outer (Merino Wool / Polyester) 80% / 20%
Materials: Inner Lining (Polyester) 100%
Weight (Size Large) 258g
Product Sizing Reference: 42" Chest = Large
Manufacturer RRP £70.00
Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £49.00

Available on SYSTEM


 

The Ideal Mid-Weight Winter Baselayer

"There are tons of good base layers on the market at the moment, but I’d look closely at the lighter weight Merino wool clothing and better still the Merino / polyester mix’s which don’t get as heavy when wet and dry fast (plus they still don’t stink!)." - Andy Kirkpatrick (mountaineer)

Sage advice.

Enter the Akeleie Half Zip by Bergans of Norway - a Merino / polyester hybrid baselayer that's as near perfect as we can imagine. 

Bergans Akeleie Half Zip Baselayer - front and back viewsA quite standard half-zip design

The Akeleie is part of Bergans of Norway's hybrid series of two-layer, woolen baselayers made from a combination of Merino wool and polyester.

The benefits of Merino wool are well known and I'll summarise them briefly:
breathable, moisture wicking and temperature regulating, resiliant and elastic (maintains shape over time), quick drying, insulating (and warm when wet), comfortable, odour-resistant and anti-bacterial.

There are probably more, but it's easy to see why Merino wool is such a great fit for baselayers (especially those designed for highly active pursuits in cold and wet conditions - you can read more about the wonders of Merino wool here).
 

Materials: A Two-Layer Hybrid

The inner layer is made of a very fine and soft, perforated hydrophobic polyester which helps move moisture away from the skin.

The Akeleie's polyester lining and flatlock seamsThe Akeleie's polyester lining and flatlock seams

The Bergans Akeleie's outer layer is a Merino / polyester mix (80% Merino).

Merino fibers can absorb and retain up to 30% of their own weight in moisture and still feel dry to the touch. This is a great feature but has a downside, in that a pure Merino layer when saturated can get quite heavy. By adding a synthetic weave to the wool, Bergans reduce the overall moisture absorption of the garment, which in turn further quickens its drying time.

The Bergans Akeleie unzipped: a look at the zip baffle and zip guardUnzipped, a look at the Akeleie's zip baffle and guard
 

Features & Performance


Testing Times

The Akeleie baselayer was thoroughly tested in our Winter Kit Test and was extremely impressive. Throughout the 7 days, precipitation (rain, hail, and snow, mostly rain) was almost constant, yet I was able to dry out the baselayer from beneath the insulated jacket after pitching, and then sleep in it to get it completely dry for the next day. I wore it pretty much constantly for the whole trip (except for a few nights and the final travel day). It remains comfortable when wet, doesn't feel clammy, and dries very quickly.


Standard Features

The baselayer has a good quality zip with a baffle to hold in the warm air and flatlock seams throughout to prevent chafing.

Bergans Akeleie zip guard and collarZooming in on the Bergans Akeleie zip, zip guard and collar


Seasonal? Yes ...

We use the Akeleie during the wintery sides of Spring and Autumn under a lightweight (non-thermal) softshell jacket and in Winter under the combination pictured below. So the baselayer regulates ones heat when active, while the softshells protect from the elements. This combination has been fine down to -10℃ (when active).

Winter Combo: Mountain Hardwear's Super Chockstone over Rab's Boreas HoodyThe Super Chockstone over Rab's Boreas Hoody
 

 

Any Negatives?

No ... and we like complaining about stuff, but seriously, none.

 

Conclusion & Rating

If it's not perfect, it's close

There's nothing revolutionary about the Akeleie half zip, they've just got everything right: from the choice of materials, to the fit, the zips, cuffs, collar and seams, all done to a high standard. There's simply nothing we would change.

The Bergans Akeleie Half Zip is a superbly designed, functionally styled, winter baselayer. A second skin that keeps you warm when you're wet, dries rapidly, and is luxuriously comfortable. This ideal balance of function, style and luxury make the Akeleie Half Zip Scramble's (joint) top pick in our Cold Weather Baselayer category.

Bergans Akeleie Half Zip Baselayer: Top of the class

 

Product Images

 

Rating (out of 10)

Function
 
10.0
Durability
 
9.0
Weight
 
8.5
RRP Value *
 
7.5
OVERALL RATING
 
8.8


* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.

 

 

Last Updated: 19/04/20



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