Guide's Picks: Choosing the Right Base Layers

For success in the outdoors, having a good base is one of the most important qualities to possess. Whether your focus is fitness, knowledge, or experience, you can’t expect to advance in your discipline or achieve big goals without having a solid foundation to build upon. Like everything else in the mountains, having the right base layer when it comes to dressing for the outdoors is also extremely important. Wearing the correct garments can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of your excursion and can influence the enjoyability of your day.

Guide: KEITH MOON

School: NORTH CONWAY

Specialty: ROCK CLIMBING, ICE CLIMBING, AND SKIING

To make sure everyone heading north to climb, ski, and hike with the EMS Climbing School in North Conway is layered appropriately, I spoke with EMS Climbing School manager Keith Moon to get his professional opinion on what he looks for, and how to match the right base layers with their most popular winter trips and classes.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Climbing Mount Washington?

One of the most popular trips the EMS Climbing School offers during the winter is a guided ascent of Mount Washington. While Mount Washington is famously known for having the world’s worst weather, many clients are surprised when Keith advises them to choose EMS’s lightweight base layer. Keith believes a good rule of thumb when picking out garments is, “The more you’re moving, the lighter the base layer,” and remarked that clients are often surprised how warm they can get on an ascent of Mount Washington, even on some of the coldest days of the year.

Whether taking the classic day trip up the Lion Head, climbing a gully in Huntington Ravine, or going on EMS’s popular overnight trip to the Mount Washington Observatory, clients can expect to move while carrying a pack, and that effort can generate a large amount of heat. In these situations, EMS lightweight base layers are perfect for providing just enough insulation while wicking moisture away to keep you cool, dry, and warm.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Dropping a backcountry line?

With backcountry skiing continuing to become more accessible and growing in popularity, American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) classes are filling faster than ever. Advanced and novice backcountry skiers alike enroll to learn more about snow, snow conditions, and traveling safely in ungroomed terrain. As the largest AIARE provider on the East Coast, the EMS Climbing School is very familiar with the conditions you’ll face during your course.

According to Keith, the sport’s stop-and-go nature and EMS’s AIARE classes are perfect for EMS’s do-everything mid-weight layer. During an AIARE class, you’ll find yourself working hard skinning and hiking up to ski-able terrain before stopping to assess snow conditions and waiting for your turn to ski a line. Shortly thereafter, you’ll be working hard again as you nab a classic backcountry descent. EMS mid-weight layers offer an excellent compromise of wicking and breathability with insulation, allowing you to remain warm without overheating.

Credit: Mark Meinrenken
Credit: Mark Meinrenken

Climbing a frozen waterfall?

While winter of ascents of Mount Washington and backcountry skiing are certainly fun, this is the EMS Climbing School, and in North Conway, they don’t let a little thing like winter put a damper on the fun. In fact, many of the EMS guides would argue this is the best time of year to climb! Whether it’s at Cathedral’s North End or on the iconic Frankenstein Cliff, the guides of the EMS Climbing School spend a good chunk of their winter guiding people up everything from the White Mountain’s largest ice falls to its smallest smears. Whether you’re tackling the moderate Trestle Slabs or the classic hard route Dracula, Keith says the EMS heavyweight base layer should be your garment of choice.

One of the main challenges of ice climbing is staying warm. Even though you will spend a fair amount of energy on the initial hike and the climbing itself can be physically demanding, a large portion of single-pitch ice climbing is spent waiting for others and belaying them while standing in what amounts to a freezer. According to Keith, the EMS heavyweight base layers provide just the right amount of warmth to keep you comfortable in this scenario, without overheating you on the approach—helping you stay warm, psyched, and sending!

The big takeaway from talking to Keith is that there is no one layer that does it all. Well-prepared outdoor people have several to choose from, allowing them to tailor their layering systems to both the conditions of the day and their activity of choice.

The other takeaway is that these are only suggestions and not rules. Finding the perfect combination is a constant quest that takes into consideration the garment’s breathability, wicking, dryness, and insulation while figuring in the sport, exertion level, weather, and conditions you can expect to face in the outdoors. What you can be sure of is that EMS base layers have got you covered, whether you’re climbing Mount Washington, skiing Tuckerman Ravine, or ice climbing at Frankenstein Cliff with the EMS Climbing School this winter.