A heavy duty base layer that might be too full-on as underwear in moderate conditions, but which works wonders on extreme or cold adventures, the Helly Hansen Lifa Merino can be worn as a hyper-comfortable, high-performance single layer at any time.
Great value for performance level
Hood for extra protection
Too warm for some conditions
No thumb hooks
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The Helly Hansen Lifa Merino comes from the respected Norwegian brand synonymous with hard-wearing gear made for surviving the extremes of ocean and mountain environments. They pretty much pioneered the concept of technical, high-performing base layers, and they remain industry leaders when it comes to making good stuff that will keep you alive in challenging conditions. The double-layer Lifa Merino epitomizes this.
‘Lifa’ is the brand’s own high-performing polypropylene yarn, which is used in almost equal measure here with merino wool. Both fabrics excel at doing all the things you want a base layer to do – they wick moisture away from the body and have excellent thermal qualities even when wet – but each also brings its own tricks to the party. The merino boasts natural antibacterial and anti-odour properties, while the Lifa is more hard-wearing and helps keep the garment in shape.
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Unusually for a base layer, this top has a hood, which people will either love or hate. (Plot spoiler, we loved it.) Looked at as a base layer, it is very substantial, and a long way from the lightest piece of underwear we’ve tried out. But it could easily be worn as a midlayer, or indeed a top layer, or single layer; it all depends on the environment and conditions you’re playing in.
• RRP: $120 (US) / £90 (UK)
• Gender availability: Male/female
• Materials: merino wool and Lifa (polypropylene yarn)
• Weight (male large): 330g / 11.6oz
• Sizes: S–XXL
• Colors: Black / Navy blue / Lavender
• Compatibility: Winter hill hiking, skiing and alpine adventures
In the field
We loved this top, and ended up wearing it around the house for days on end, as well as donning it for long hikes and cold-weather bike rides. The part-merino material and flat seams make this a luxuriously comfortable garment when worn next to skin.
This is a proper serious piece of underwear – too hot for activities like trail running – and if you’re doing any serious hill hiking you’ll most likely end up stripping off any outer layers before too long. In extreme or cold conditions, however, such as on mountainsides and high peaks, this is the best base layer you could wish for.
The inclusion of a hood only accentuates this high-performance level. While the cut of the hood is more functional than flattering in any sort of fashion sense, your ears will thank you for wearing it when the cold winds start to blow, and it fits under climbing or bike helmets with ease.
Writer, editor and enthusiast of anything involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing adventure stories. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon (opens in new tab) and Dorset (opens in new tab), and once wrote a whole book about Toilets (opens in new tab) for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades here (opens in new tab).
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