Saturday, February 5, 2011

Under Armour Base Layer 2.0 Review

 Under Armour Base Layer 2.0

It’s February and freezing.  How do you stay warm?  Well I have been a fan of Under Armour for a couple of years (using their workout and compression shorts), I knew they had a line of cold gear but for some reason I never tried it.  Flashback, New Year’s Eve 2010:  wife to me “why does it sound like a freight train is coming down the street?”  The reason is simple; it is a freaking tornado that is destroying half the neighborhood, needless to say that I’ll never disregard the tornado sirens again.  Back to the original question of saying warm in a central Missouri winter.  Good cold weather gear is a must because when a tornado hits your house in the middle of winter and you can only take one bag of stuff, it better be filled with the right stuff.

It just so happened that my wife has a sort of 6th sense of tactical coolness and can always buy me something really cool that I never knew I needed, until the very second that I see it and can’t believe how I ever lived without it.  Under Armour Base Layer 2.0 is just such a product.  In fact I was so pleased with the way it performed I went out and bought one more pair for myself,  the significant other and the two kids I don’t even have yet (always good to be prepared).

If you are impressed, just wait until I get to the “Why” I love the base layer line, how I tested it and the test results.

For gear to be good, and I mean really good ($69 each good to be exact) it must perform the same whether I’m walking the dogs in a snow storm because my house doesn’t have a fence or sitting on some hill waiting for who knows what in Helmond Providence, southwest Afghanistan.
First, devise a plan because everything good comes from a plan.  Richard Burns said it best, “The best laid plans of mice and me...”  I gave myself a time line of 30 days, 01 January 2011 to 31 February 2011.  This just happened to be the month I had set aside to prepare my Pre-Ranger Course that starts in February (15-20 Second Lieutenants take the first step in earning a Ranger Tab) and my house was leveled by a tornado and I don’t have anything else to wear.  If only the weather would cooperate, of course this is central Missouri where the temperature changes hourly. (Temperature highs of 60 degrees and lows of 1 degree, the monthly weather report found here).

The testing conditions are as follows:  Three areas would be used, sitting around for two to four hours (both day and night), 2-4 mile day/night hikes, and 6-12 mile morning ruck marches.   My uniform of choice would be two fold, for the mornings and sunny days a regular Army issued ACU top and bottom.  For the evenings and days with snow or rain fall, the regular Army issued wet weather top and bottoms were used.  The two uniforms were never used in conjunction with each other.

The “no movement” portion of the test involved me sitting on a metal bleacher at the local dog park for an hour of play time, no matter how cold it was outside (the hotel room was way too cramped for three people and two large dogs, even the dogs were getting cabin fever).  The “no movement” phase also included 2-3 hours at a time inspecting the various patrol bases’ my group of Lieutenants would soon come to know as “home sweet home.”

The light walking phase (your basic day/night hike) consisted of myself, Aussie and Sugar (Black and Yellow Lab) walking the paths that I will use for the patrolling phase of my Pre-Ranger Course.  Walks were conducted on and off trails, with minimal gear (small back pack with various essentials) walking an average of three to four miles per hour for no more than three hours, while taking short 15-30 minute breaks every couple of miles (using GPS to mark future ambush sites). 

Forced movement meant, a 6-12 mile ruck march with 30-60lb ruck sack at a 15 minute per mile pace on a paved surface (walking for 1 ½ -3 hours with a heavy backpack at a pace of four miles per hour).  All ruck marches were conducted early morning (0500-0800) while it was chilly, to say the least.

First things first, the 2.0 is not designed to be worn during a ruck march with the goal of walking as fast as you can (sometimes running) to meet a certain time and distance standard, nor should you consider wearing it for such a task.  Your body will heat up faster and you will sweat more; a much better choice would be a lighter base layer that has more wicking properties and is much thinner.  Carrying the 2.0 in your ruck sack to change into after the ruck march is a fantastic idea, and would make your lounging around at either your patrol base or base camp a more pleasant experience.  I however set out to push the limits of the garment and must report my findings.  During each of my eight ruck marches I sweat profusely, especially during the nine and 12 milers, my perspiration rate was extremely high with all areas in contact with the ruck sack soaked (specifically the shoulders, middle back, lower back and hips area).  Staying warm while moving was not a problem, the real test came after I stopped to cool down and stretch.  The 2.0 did a pretty good job of wicking away as much moisture as it could but it stayed damp throughout the ruck march and cool down.  It did however keep me warmer that I thought it would, I would not say I was comfortable but I was not freezing and was not showing any early signs of hypothermia.  After 30 minutes of cooling down and stretching I did put a fresh pair of ACUs on, the 2.0 was still damp but the fresh top layer made things a lot better, I could have stayed outside all day working and been fine.

Sitting for long periods of time with little to no movement when temperatures are in the low teens can become the longest and most miserable experience of your life.  For example, sitting on a hilltop in Afghanistan, laying in an orchard near Baghdad during the rainy season, or sitting on a metal bench at a dog park wondering why I haven’t been placed in a new house yet.   All three have one thing in common; they become much worse when it is cold.  The 2.0 kept me warm on all outings with little movement, however I could have been warmer wearing the 3.0, but the 2.0 did an adequate job.  If the temperature drops below 20 degrees or the wind gusts start to pick up, you will be comfortable but you will want to add a layer.  For winter nights with low temperatures and gusting wind you will be much better off wearing the 3.0, which is exactly why I bought a pair of the 3.0 too.

In my opinion the 2.0 made its money as a base layer during the light walking phase (your basic day hike or hike to your base camp) when temperatures were between 20 and 50 degrees.  I believe it is best suited for all day wear in an environment like a base camp doing the various tasks needed for position improvements (collecting fire wood, building your hooch and exploring the area).  During my movements with a light day pack the 2.0 did an amazing job wicking away the moisture from my skin, especially after hiking up a couple steep hills.  I stopped to check the area for a good ambush site, my heart rated slowed, my body started to cool down and the 2.0 wicked away the moisture and my body stayed toasty warm.  If you are moving around while it’s cold outside, the 2.0 is your best option. Upon finishing the walks and arriving back home I removed the top layer and stayed extremely comfortable lounging around playing video games.  The key to making the 2.0 perform at its peak, is performing some sort of movement, walking the dog, working on a roof, or a little run’n’gun when temperatures are in the low to mid 30’s.  

The 2.0 is a phenomenal product, it looks great, and it feels great.  The retail price of $69 each is a little step but in my opinion it is worth every penny; my only suggestions to improve the product would include making it in the USA and adding more colors.  The 2.0 will give you the best of both worlds, thick enough to retain body heat and thin enough to wick away sweat and keep your body warm and dry all day long.  I ordered an XXL top and XL bottom, my measurements are 6’3 208lbs, Chest 54in Waist 33in (I ordered the larger bottom because my thighs, the L was way too tight on my thighs).


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