Craft ProCool Mesh Base Layer
Was Cadel Evans' Tour de France saved by a base layer? Seriously. You saw how the back and shoulder of his jersey was eaten away on the stage to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Ouch. Undershirts are generally believed to allow jerseys to slide and rip over the torso without roughing up skin. That could have been skin, as his hip and shoulder demonstrated. Evans probably thinks the same way, because subsequent days, his competition went sans under shirt, while he kept his on. On the flip side, did the extra 50g or so over all the climbs of the Tour over three weeks cost him some time?
We've been thinking about Evans' crash because it's hot outside and we've been testing out the Craft ProCool Mesh Base Layer. An under shirt on a hot day; our grandfather would be proud. We haven't needed a baselayer for insulation in weeks. The last time we thought we needed it for was during an early summer mountainous 92-mile road race where it was in the mid-60s and threatening rain.
Our thinking was that if the rain showed up, the base layer would leave us warmer then without (had a wind vest in our pocket as well). If it didn't, we could always unzip for the ascents and zip for the descents. As it was, the humidity remained high, but the rain never came. We were a bit warmer than we would have preferred, but hardly suffocating in our own sweat. On this test, the Craft passed with flying colors.
We weren't surprised -- we've long been Craft fans. Our ProZero Sleeveless Crew is an essential base layer on those mid-50s days when we expect to be riding hard. Match up with a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, a vest in the pocket, and we're ready for just about anything. We reviewed the Craft WindStopper Crew earlier and pull that out for wet days. And we've got their ProZero Winter long sleeve tops as well.
But a summer baselayer for hot days is something we've never been partial to. We're of the mind that a baselayer helps on hot days in dry climates as it slows the evaporation of sweat off the skin enough to get more cooling out of the layer. Humid hot days, like the summer days we usually ride in, are another story. There, we want to wear as little as possible so the sweat can evaporate a little more easily.
Tempering our desire to dress lean is the crash factor. Nobody, not even us, wants to lose skin. Losing it on the torso is among the worst places. It's hard to bandage your back, chest, ribs, etc. It makes sleeping difficult. This is where a good summer base layer can come in handy. Wear the thinnest base layer under a jersey or skinsuit and you have two ounces of crash protection that can be worth several pounds of cure. A good summer baselayer will barely feel like it is being worn on the hottest of days, and adds a few degrees of warmth under winter base layers on the coldest.
For us, the modern era of light, warm-weather base layers began when Pearl Izumi finally nailed the material in their Ultrasensor Mesh base layer. Took them a few tries, but they finally did it. We still use our original; it must be almost a decade old. It seemed like there were many copycat designs that sprung up shortly thereafter, DeFeet and SockGuy just to name two.
The technology for summer base layers hasn't moved forward too much since then. But Craft has taken it where it needs to go. This ProCool Mesh base layer is a marked improvement. It is lighter by 3g, but the bigger issue is how it improves everywhere else. The Craft material is meshier (there seem to be more and bigger holes), which should allow better ventilation and evaporation. The material is stretchier, with 9% Lycra vs. 0%. This means the top can and should fit like a second skin, which is better for transferring moisture.
The Craft is also cut better, with smarter seams. The seams on the Craft are flat-lock so they won't chafe the skin. Better still, they're cut so the seams won't be noticed when hunkered down on the bars. The seam isn't a straight line down the side, but curves from the front of the armpits to the back of the hips.
We decided to test out a Medium, when our usual inclination is going with a Small. Our thinking had been that if the top wasn't particularly stretchy, the Medium would be easier to pull over out shoulders. Turned out the Small would have been better, as the Lycra content is more than enough for generous stretch.
Despite our reservations about wearing a base layer on hot, humid summer days, we rode in the Craft on many a hot, humid day. It seemed like a great opportunity to revisit assumptions. We never felt uncomfortably warm, nor did the Craft top ever feel totally soaked with sweat. Other than our riding cohorts noticing we were wearing it, we would pretty much forget we had it on until we stopped and then it did feel warmer because the wind produced by riding was gone and thus wasn't helping with sweat evaporation. We also did our usual stench test; several rides without washing. We have noticed that some of our cheapest undershirts get the dreaded stank on the first ride. This, along with the other premium base layers, can go several rides without needing to be laundered.
After many a sweaty mile, we're back to pondering Evans and his under shirt. For the way we like to ride, the Craft ProCool Mesh Base Layer is perfect for those days when we can't decide whether or not we need something under a summer short sleeve jersey. If you're the type who prefers to have a base layer on at all times, this seems like the lightest, best wicking choice we've encountered thus far.