New fabric mixes the best of merino wool and cocona fabrics for base layer performance.
Merino wool's great stuff - it doesn't smell, it's really comfortable against the skin in hot or cold conditions and it's produced naturally by fluffy merino sheep. It's not scratchy like other wool, because the individual fibres are much finer, giving it a soft feel.
But it's not all good. Don't believe people who tell you merino wool wicks well. In reality, it's great at absorbing moisture within its structure and holding it comfortably away from your skin, but doesn't move it fast. So eventually it gets soggy and it takes a relatively long time to dry out.
Enter Cocona, a fibre made from carbonised coconut husks rather than sheep - carbonised sheep are called lamb chops - which is similarly natural, but is to wicking what Usain Bolt is to 100-metre sprinting. In other words it moves moisture like a demon and dries nice and fast.
And wouldn't the bastard off-spring of the two be great? Merino comfort and Cocona wicking? And lo, it's happened, there's a new baselayer fabric in the game called Merino Cocona made from 65% wool and 35% Cocona, it's been taken on board by two British companies and you can, should you wish to, buy it pretty much now.
One From Sprayway...
Sprayway has the new fabric for this spring 2011 in a casual tee-shirt shape with neat pattern on called the Rhapsody Tee. The fabric's quite fine, very comfortable against the skin and looks likes it'll be good for general travel and knocking about it use. Because it's not technically, erm, 'technical', seams are not flat-locked for pack-friendliness. We've got one here and we'll let you know how it does. The fabric has a UPF rating of 50 as well, so should be spot on for our blazingly hot summer. Whoops...
Two From Rab...
But come September, you'll have more options as Rab is going to be using the same fabric for a new baselayer range. They have a tee-shirt too, but it's a closer, more technical fit than the Sprayway one, but there's also a long-sleeved, zip-neck version with a collar, which we reckon is the most versatile configuration for a baselayer and looks promising. Both the Rab tops feature flat-locked seams throughout and are designed so there are no seams on top of the shoulders for pack compatibility.
And what you're wondering, is how well does the new fabric work? We took the Rab version running the other day and initial impressions are positive. First, it's dead comfortable in a thin merino sort of way, which is nice, but it also seems to deal with sweat a lot more effectively and despite producing a fair bit of it, we stayed pretty comfortable.
A day of being sat on the bathroom floor didn't seem to generate any nasty smells either and, when we washed the top, it dried much faster than we'd expect from a pure merino garment. A bi-component polyester will wick better if you're a complete tech head, but there's not that much in it and the Me.Co - as Rab terms it - is arguably a nicer, more comfortable fabric to wear unless you're really sweaty.
More impressions shortly. Details of Sprayway stuff at www.sprayway.com and Rab things at www.rab.uk.com.
Bear in mind that although we have two Rab test tops now, the production version won't be available till September 2011, though the Sprayway Rhapsody Tee is available now for