Wild Stripes are a new brand based in the UK bringing us polypropylene base layers manufactured in New Zealand.
It’s always great to see someone starting out a new venture these days, and as is becoming increasingly important to you and I, it seems that ethical and environmentalissues are part of the plan. NZ production and a return-to-manufacturer scheme for your old kit as the polypropylene is fully recyclable are two points of discussion.
The base layers (a range of long sleeve tops and leggings of different designs) are made by Soma in New Zealand, a long-standing textiles company, and when I told folk that I was testing these, anyone that had been to NZ immediately knew what I was talking about, apparently the stripes are legendary. Indeed Claire who founded Wild Stripes saw them when on her Kiwi adventures and just had to bring them back home.
That stuff is more than a space-filling anecdote though, it means that the base layers are more than a novelty. So while the colours might have caught my eye, the provenance reassured me, because when it comes down to it, the crux of the matter is: Is the kit any good? I’ve tested a top and bottom set over the past few weeks to find out.
The design is dead simple. The top is a long-sleeve crew-neck with neat cuffs and hem, the neck is a good fit, not too tight with plenty of stretch to pull it over my melon head and the seams are all soft enough without flat-lock stitching.
The leggings are plain as well, nice wide elastic waistband (concealed within the fabric) and plain cuffs and no fly. The fly thing I suspected would be an issue, but the incredible amount of stretch the fabric has meant any complications at short notice were avoided.
The stretch means a close fit without restriction too, indeed this is a very easy fabric to wear, not just for the stretch but for the softness, it’s lovely against the skin. I’ve been trying to compare it to something else and I can’t, it’s got a nice open weave a bit like some of the older merino base layers I’ve got, it certainly doesn’t compare to ant synthetics I’ve got. In fact, it doesn’t even resemble what I have from the most familiar proponent of polypro; Helly Hansen.
In that area, the Smelly Helly memory sticks a toe in the air, but times have changed and so has the fabric apparently, I’m not having a problem with the Wild Stripes. After sleeping in it, it smells like me, but it’s still fine after a couple of days, certainly right in line with other recent much improved synthetic fabrics I’ve tested. I do wonder if the fabric weave is contributing to this, allowing some of the nasty to evaporate along with your sweat? Certainly washing takes the fabric back to zero again, no accumulation of smells to reheat and enjoy next time out.
It’ll never beat merino’s stink destruction reliability on a longer trip, no synthetic will, but alternatives and choice are the fuel of enthusiasm and progress.
The biggest shock was moisture management. The Cul Mor trip was warm with a cool breeze, I was sweating all the way but kept on a windshirt to keep an equilibrium of sorts. When I got to camp I saw that I was wringing wet, the windshirt on the outside was dark with sweat all over. I pulled off the shirt to put on my insulation and to my amazement I was bone dry underneath, even the skin under the stripes was dry. The polypro just fires sweat out, and by its nature absorbs none at all. I also noticed that at rest/photies stops my sweaty back didn’t feel clammy at all when I started back up, no shivers or chills despite the cold wind and wet back, even my pack was soaked where it was resting on my back. Outstanding performance.
I carried the leggings to wear at camp, at 170g (the top is 184g, both size large) for some comfort on a cool night was no problem, and in a light sleeping bag the top and bottom were just right for a little extra insulation as the temperature dipped towards zero. Great fabric to sleep in too, it’s totally neutral, it does its thing in complete anonymity.
The fit is good. It’s fitted, but the fabric stretch doesn’t punish your lack of time in the gym, the body is nicely long and the arms a decent length too, ending around my watch. An extra inch there wouldn’t upset me too much if there were to be any revisions for the next batch.
I must admit to have been taken by surprised at the Wild Stripes kit. I really expected to be stinky and clammy within minutes, but it’s a joy to wear and it’ll be in the go-to pile from now on.
Oh aye, the stripes. I love them, colour is cheerful and brings me joy. Therefore more colour is more joy. There is a plain black option for the joyless of course.