Project Ukraine: Base Layer Reviews

This week I spent awhile trying on scads of base layers at Cabelas & REI, as well as countless hours researching online. Here are the fruits of my labor–one pair purchased, and a bunch of commentary for anyone else facing The Long Underwear Conundrum! I’ve ranked them below 1-5 in order of my preference. (The photo above is me as a ninja in my new Smartwool balaclava (one size fits all, $25 @ REI).)

1) Patagonia Capilene ($45-49 @ REI) 
  • 2, lightweight leggings, XS3, midweight leggings, XS
  • pros: quite warm, feels very moisture-wicky, extremely low-rise (only ones that looked decent with my jeans)
  • cons: while the waistband is fairly flat (not gathered), it’s not quite as attractive or comfortable as that on the Smartwool (see below)–but it wins out by virtue of the low-rise and the good price
  • bottom line: these don’t feel too bulky under jeans and are actually true low-rise, the only thing that would improve them would be a waistband more along the style/comfort of the Smartwool pair (but for $20-30 cheaper, I can’t complain!). These were my purchase today.
  • crewneck top, XS, blue, pro/cons: comfortable, but I’m not much for crewneck style or this color.
  • 1/2 zipper top, XS, black, pros: good fit, comfortable, good price–I’m considering this as a later purchase.
2) Nike Filament Running Tights, XS ($50 @ REI)
  • pros: good fit, very warm, brushed interior, lots of features (see below)
  • cons: not as low-rise as most of my everyday pants, slightly long (but not unworkable), maybe too thick for everyday wear (they are runner tights after all)
  • lots of features (ankle zippers, zipper back pocket, drawstring waist, wide flat waistband, semi-low-rise)
  • bottom line: If I was a runner, I’d buy them in a heartbeat. They may be good under snowboarding pants… I might get them later for this purpose.

3) Smartwool, XS ($70-80 @ REI)

  • microweight leggings, XSmediumweight leggings, XS
  • pros: some of the most comfortable pants (especially midweight), good length/fit
  • cons: not low enough rise for my everyday pants (they look ok when folded over once, but this makes them not worth the higher price to me)
  • bottom line: I’d rate these higher if they weren’t at least $20-30 more than the others and/or if they were lower rise.
  • microweight top, XS (black and lavender), cons: not nearly as comfortable as the leggings, oddly sort of scratchy (though a nice fit)
4 & 5) REI brand base layers
  • (5, bottom left) REI Airflyte tights, XS, cons: waaay too long (need a petite to be even close), possibly a bit thick for everyday use
  • REI polarfleece top, XS, cons: this was huge on me (baggy and too long in arms), plus not very soft, unpleasant synthetic feel to fabric
  • (4, top right) REI boy’s base layer bottoms, S ($25), pros: fit pretty well, super-cheap (might buy a pair as a backup); cons: elastic waist not terribly ugly but not hugely flattering

Fitting room tested, but not photographed:

Cabelas MTP silk leggings, S ($30-50)

  • pros: silky texture, multiple color options including black, white
  • cons: doesn’t come in XS (too large, too long), gathered/loose style, thin elastic waistband, very “grandma” style

Cabelas MTP regular polar-weight leggings, S ($40)

  • pros: um… not really any
  • cons: doesn’t come in XS (too large, too long), gathered/loose style, thin elastic waistband, uncomfortable, very “grandma” style

Under Armour Evo Cold Gear tight, S ($50-60)

  • pros: very warm, brushed fleecy interior
  • cons: doesn’t come in XS (so too long, waistband slightly loose), super-thick (a running tight, not good as base layer), expensive at $70-80

Not available for fitting room trials:

These were some of my earlier considerations. I decided the Athleta were too expensive, particularly when the “petite” inseam measurements differed with different types. Plus, all of these are running tights, which I determined from trying similar tights are too thick for everyday base layer under jeans. I thought I’d list them in an effort to be completist about my research. 

  • Athleta Windwarrior Tight ($98)
  • comes in petite (24″ inseam) XS & XXS, midrise, ankle zips, rear zip pocket, front wind panels
  • Athleta Protillo Tight ($74)
  • comes in petite (28.5″ inseam) XS & XXS, midrise, ankle zips, rear zip pocket
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2 thoughts on “Project Ukraine: Base Layer Reviews

  1. Adriana Hoyle says:

    Hi Starr,
    Having made an international move myself recently (we moved to Australia back in May), I wanted to offer you one bit of advice that this post of yours has brought to my mind…Don’t count on being able to find what you want/need in your new area right away, and if there’s something you think you’re going to need to use frequently, take plenty with you. I knew it would be winter here when we came over, but I thought, “Yeah, whatever, this is the Sunburned Country, and we’re moving to the Gold Coast. A few light layers is all I will need.” Uumm, wasn’t counting on the fact that I’d be staying on top of a mountain during the coldest part of winter. Also, people hang their clothes out instead of using dryers, so there’s a longer turnaround time for laundry here, especially in bad weather. I froze!! And I couldn’t find the kind of clothes I needed because I didn’t know where to shop and I have the same kind of sizing issues you do (plus stuff is dang expensive here and I hated to spend money on something that wasn’t ‘just right’). Shopping for something specific that you need right away in a new country is a bit daunting. All I could think of were my perfectly-suited-to-me long underwear, slowly sailing over the Atlantic in our shipping container. And I’ve traveled a fair bit in my time, I thought I was packing appropriately (I did have a few warm things, just not enough), but this was my big fail. Anyway, all that to say that if you don’t like to be cold and you think you’re going to be wanting to wear something like this a lot, take more than one pair. I love your blog, and you make an adorable ninja (you know, if you were thinking of changing professions:)!
    Adriana

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Adriana!!! That’s super-helpful. Yeah, clothing and snowboarding equipment tends to be more expensive in Ukraine because so much of it is imported–and when I was there visiting, I discovered it’s even HARDER to find my size there because mos of the women are so danged tall that they don’t carry XS or shoes even remotely small enough.

      One thing that should help is that while we leave in November, we’ll be back to visit DFW in late December, so I should only have 6 weeks of being miserable without whatever I forget to bring… but still, you’ve inspired me to order 3 more pairs of leggings right now! 🙂

      Glad you enjoy the blog, and it’s excellent to know that I have a great potential career in ninjahood ahead of me–perhaps that’s what I’ll do when the PhD is done and I’m back to job-hunting! 🙂 Btw, I would LOVE to hear more about your adjustment to life in Australia–I’m seeking expat experiences & help! 🙂

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