The TGR editorial team tested Smartwool’s new athlete collection in the Jackson Hole backcountry. Here’s what they found out about the gear. Max Ritter photo.
Base layers are by far the most underrated part of our ski kits. I understand the desire to have the most breathable, waterproof, ultralight, and indestructible ski jacket and pants, but it won’t do you much good if you’re frozen from all the sweat you’ve accumulated from high-output touring. Staying warm and dry starts with your base layers, and it helps if they’re made of merino wool. Just look at nature for proof! Sheep are resilient little creatures able to withstand all kinds of harsh environments because of their wooly coats. Unlike synthetic fabrics, which require your body to heat up and evaporate any accumulating precipitation, Merino wool transports sweat away from your skin while it’s still a vapor and expels it through its porous fibers. We could really get into the science to prove it’s not magic, but I’m sure you’re getting the idea.
Smartwool knows a thing or two about Merino wool, having worked with the material since 1994. Back then Smartwool founders simply wanted a pair of socks that would keep their feet warm so they could ski bell to bell. When they discovered Merino wool’s moisture-wicking, thermoregulating, sustainable, and odor-neutralizing properties, they were hooked. Now they’re making not just ski socks with it, but everything from base layers, fleece pullovers, and underwear.
Fellow gear editor Max Ritter and I put this year’s line of base layers, socks, and beanies to the test in the Jackson Hole backcountry. We specifically tested Smartwool’s athlete collection, designed in collaboration with Bryan Iguchi and Mary Rand. Given that both athletes love to get after it in the mountains, we had a feeling that these garments could handle Wyoming’s harsh winter conditions. Smartwool’s base layers come in three different weights: ultralightweight, lightweight, and midweight. We tested the midweight Merino 250, which is the most ideal option for chilly high-alpine environments.
Merino 250 Base Layer Pattern Crew
The mountainous pattern on the men’s base layer was designed by snowboarder Bryan Iguchi. Katie Lozancich photo.
Katie: For how lightweight this top is, I’m impressed by its warmth. It’s not bulky, and the fit is flattering. It’s also incredibly soft! Simply pair it with a breathable mid-layer—like Smartwool’s Smartloft 60 Jacket—and it’s all you need to stay comfortable while moving along the skin track. I love that I don’t have to wash it after every use since Merino absorbs smelly odors. Given its stylish silhouette and fun pattern, this top will be more than a backcountry ski layer, but also a cozy top for the office and running errands.
Max: Smartwool has always been atop the list when it comes to my preference for base layers, and the Merino 250 really hits the nail on the head for comfort and warmth. It's soft and fuzzy, and just the right amount of warmth for high-output human-powered days, but not too hot to where I'll overheat. Plus, the subdued but stylish print is something I'd be happy to wear to any socially-distanced apres session this winter without feeling like a walking billboard!
Merino 250 Base Layer Pattern Bottom
Smartwool’s base layers keep you dry and warm on the way up, so you can focus on having fun during the way down. Katie Lozancich photos.
Katie: The fewer layers I have to wear while ski touring the better. I love that I can wear the Merino 250 bottoms with just my bibs and be warm enough for the day. Like the top, these leggings are extremely soft, lightweight, and warm. As someone with more athletic quads and glutes, I’ve had trouble with women’s outdoor pants fitting properly. The Smartwool leggings, however, doesn’t have that issue. While they are snug, you don’t lose any range of motion, and they also don’t ride down as you walk. One other fun aspect of the leggings is the patterns. When worn with the corresponding top it looks like you’re wearing a full onesie, which is a throwback to the days we wore onesies skiing.
Max: Long johns are something that should be kept simple, and Smartwool's Merino 250 bottoms do exactly that. They're a no-frills approach to keeping your legs warm, but the fact that they're made of Merino wool allows me to wear them multiple days in a row - essential for any multi-day trips or even the occasional overnight! Why? They don't smell bad after five minutes of sweating in them!
Women's Smartloft 60 Jacket
The Smartloft 60 is everything you’d want from a midweight touring jacket. Max Ritter photo.
Katie: The Smartloft Jacket has become one of my favorite midweight touring jackets. It’s cool that the front of the jacket is made with a panel of insulation, whereas the arms and back are Merino wool. It feels similar to wearing an insulated vest because the jacket keeps my core warm while the Merino wool keeps my arm and back from overheating. I hate having to swap layers while I’m touring, so I like that this jacket seems to be able to adapt to both the weather conditions and your output while skinning. The insulation is also treated with DWR, which helps keep the fabric dry if the snow is wet and heavy.
PhD® Snow Light Elite Print Socks
Out of everything in the collection, Smartwool’s comfortable and warm socks were our favorite. Max Ritter photo.
Max/Katie: Once you try a proper pair of ski socks like the Smartwool PhD Snow Light you’ll never want to go back. Smartwool has been crafting the perfect ski sock for almost three decades. With a performance-oriented fit and built-in flex zone right at the ankle joint, these socks are meant for long days in your ski and snowboard boots. The toe area is virtually seamless, meaning that there won’t be an annoying seam rubbing up against your toes while you walk. They’re also designed through a Indestructawool™ process, which is a fancy term for thoughtful construction applied to high wear zones like the heel and ball of the foot. So, don’t expect these socks to get any holes or wear out quickly. Lastly, and arguably the most important feature of the Ph.D. Snow Light is their warmth. And since they’re made with Merino, your feet won’t overheat and turn your ski boot into a furnace on warmer spring days.
Smartwool Logo Beanie
The beanie is great for touring, skiing, and for everyday outfits around town. Max Ritter photo.
Katie: I’m pretty picky about beanies while I’m touring because nothing is more annoying than your noggin overheating. Smartwool’s beanies are extremely breathable and do a great job of keeping your head at a reasonable temperature. Beyond the backcountry, this cozy hat is great for everyday wear. It’s got a nice relaxed fit and is super soft.
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