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Base Layers

    Photo: Photograph by Nigel Cox

Wool vs. Synthetic: A shortcut guide to the base-layer smackdown

Merino Wool
Warmer when wet
Fights body odor better
More eco-friendly resource
Looks better with jeans

Synthetic
Wicks moisture away faster
Dries more quickly
Better warmth-to-weight ratio
Costs less

From left:

Mountain Hardwear Extend Midweight Zip T
Synthetic base layers have plenty of advantages over wool (see above), but odor control isn't among them. The best stink defense we've found is Visa Endurance, used on the eXtend line and others. The yarns release silver ions that prevent the spread of funk-causing bacteria. $55; www.mountainhardwear.com

Sugoi Wired
Base layers, like everything else, are getting the iPod treatment. The midweight synthetic Wired comes with an integrated digital audio pocket on the sleeve. Anything heavier than an iPod Mini will slosh around, but then you probably shouldn't be out running with your 40-gig player, should you? $70; www.sugoi.com

Helly Hansen Freeze Zip Turtle
This hybrid pairs a synthetic inner liner with a merino-wool exterior to capture some benefits of both. Lifa fabric inside wicks moisture from the skin, while the wool outer adds warmth. $75; www.hellyhansen.com

Patagonia Wool 2 Zip-Neck
This fall, Patagonia joins the ranks of SmartWool, Ibex, Icebreaker, and others by offering a full line of 100 percent merino base layers. The company's new wool line is not quite as soft as the finest fabrics on the market, but for good reason: The material is prepped with a process called slow washing, instead of being treated with environmentally unfriendly chlorine. $88; www.patagonia.com

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