I’ve added some specific links below but there are some great savings on some of these at Prendas at the moment (aka fastest shippers on the internet). So have a browse by clicking here
Scandinavian base layers again. It’s a given they’re going to be good. But how good? There’s so much base layer choice out there now and a whole lot of competition. But I was impressed with the Craft gear I reviewed in Part 1. So I had high hopes for their base layers in part 2.
Much of those high hopes was based on the fact that, like in Part 1, I’ve owned a specific Craft piece for a very long time. It’s the first base layer tested below and the one pictured in the header above (well the older model). It’s been washed and worn hundreds of times and is still if not as good as new, pretty darn close to it. Longevity is a given with Craft.
Oh, and, you know I said Craft made a lot of hats? Well they make a load more base layers. Tops, bottoms, every season. There is something for literally every occasion. Indeed, at least one of these base layers will be going skiing with me next year. Whatever you do, Craft has something for you. It doesn’t stop at the cold days either, it does get warm out there and they’ve cracked that one as well. And if you think they’re ‘just’ an accessories firm you’d be wrong there. It’s a mind blowingly comprehensive range full stop. But, let’s get back to the base layers.
Craft Active Extreme (Windstopper) long sleeve base layer
This is one of Craft’s ‘smaller sized’ base layers or racier if you like. I take a medium in most things but, perhaps it’s just that it’s an older model, an XL in this. Much of that is because while base layers are stretchy the Gore windstopper front panel isn’t as stretchy as the rest of it. I could probably get away with a large though but for now I’ll stick with what I have.
In terms of construction it’s two fold, a knitted/woven polyester base layer with the extra addition of a gore windstopper front. It doesn’t replace the knitted polyester but sits on top of it. So at the front you have a double layer of protection. It’s the same windstopper as in the Craft beanie in part 1. It’s incredibly light and that’s its forte really. The temperature range of it is exceptional, but back to that in a moment.
It’s also worth noting that you can buy this model in both long and short sleeve versions. Indeed, the short sleeve version really can transform a summer jersey into something much more spring or autumn like with the addition of some arm warmers. Prendas often get a load of those in so it’s worth keeping your eye out.
In use the fit of the active extreme is a racy one and it’s easy to get a proper form hugging fit. Because of the nature of the knit with all the lines and ridges it really does hold warmth very well. It’s also exceptionally light and breathable. I’ve never had even a damp patch on the majority of this base layer. All save for the front. That part does pick up a little moisture because it’s essentially a portable windproof. It’s to be expected. But it dries very quickly indeed and, of course, it’s busy doing the job of keeping the wind out. If you add this inside an existing windstopper then you get double protection. Add it to a thermal jersey and you make a windstopper jacket.
It’s that front panel that really turns a great base layer into a super product. I’ve worn this under winter jackets, spring jackets, summer jerseys. I’ve used it in cyclocross under a short sleeved jersey for that bit more warmth. I’ve run in it, chucked it on under other layers when out walking. It’s ultra versatile, utterly effective and comfortable. You can wear it at zero under a full on winter jacket, but for those conditions I’d read on, but you can easily use this from 5 degrees even up to 20 degrees (given the right pairing). The sheer longevity of it in my wardrobe is testament to just how good it is.
The RRP on this base layer is generally around £45. Shop around and you can get it for around £30 or perhaps a little lower. The short sleeve is cheaper again. Just get one, it’s one of the best investments you can make.
There’s also a non windproof short sleeve version on bargain price at Prendas at the moment.
Craft Wool Comfort base layer
Sometimes you need something that’s just a little bit warmer. That’s where the Wool Comfort base layer comes in. It’s a wool blend so 57% wool with the rest being made up by polyamide, elastane and polyester. As you can see from the stock pic above it isn’t just about sticking it all together. There’s a lot of ribbing and construction of different elements going on.
The sizing on the Comfort range is more generous and I only needed a medium in this for a form/relaxed fit. There’s still plenty of figure hugging with stretch coming from the elastane. It’s also quite generous in terms of length which is often something that is a little lacking in many base layers. If you’re taller this is going to be better for you. If you’re shorter that extra length isn’t problematic, it just adds some potential versatility. Tuck the extra into your bibtights or fold a little up and protect your back and kidneys. The choice is yours. The arms are also generous in length but there’s no need for any doubling up or ruffling there.
In terms of absolute warmth this is up there with the very best and at least the equal of the Helly Hansen ‘warm flow’ base layer that I tested a few weeks ago. At least equal if not that little bit warmer actually. And, I have to say, in terms of its contact against the skin a little more comfortable. This is a base layer that you really can wear all day with no irritation. That’s why I’ll be taking it skiing. Despite it being a heavier base layer than the Active Extreme it continues to breathe and wick very well.
In terms of temperature range this is one for the coldest days. There’s nothing to be gained from wearing it on warmer ones as, breathable and wicking as it is, it’s just not designed for them. But partner this with a suitably heavy weight jacket (and there are plenty of those being reviewed soon) and you can stay out all day in even freezing temps.
RRP on this one is £45 and, in my view, that’s exceptional value for a mostly wool base layer. You may even be able to shave a few quid off that with some judicious googling. Impressive. Very impressive.
Craft Active Extreme 2.0 Long Sleeve Base layer
Sometimes it’s not that cold. Or you don’t really need windstopper. You just want something that is nicer next to your skin than your jersey on its own and which regulates your body temperature. That’s where the Active Extreme LS comes in.
This one is essentially a 100% polyester base layer branded Coolmax Pro. But the mesh(ier) inserts on the arms add a bit of elastane for a bit more stretch. Indeed, there’s no stretch per se in the majority of the base layer so getting the right size is important. Once again I was fine with the medium here (39″ chest). This is a slightly racier fit that the wool layer above. That makes sense as it’s not necessary to have that length (etc) on the coldest days. That suggests that there’s some variation in sizing within the brand but, in terms of an approach to how certain base layers work, that’s not really surprising.
This is a very effective wicker of moisture indeed. It’s superbly comfortable and those inserts in the armpits really do add that bit more comfort where needed. They are a lovely touch. I should add here that, on the three long sleeve versions tested, I’ve always been a really big fan of Craft collar sections. They really do get it ‘just right’ in terms of height and fit. That’s carried across each of the base layers on review here.
RRP is £36 but, again, shopping around can see you get them a little cheaper. If white isn’t your thing then Prendas have some pretty good deals out there at the moment. Again, for me, that’s a very good price for a base layer that will do the job as good as anything else out there.
Craft Coolmesh Superlight sleeveless
Sometimes it’s really warm. But, it’s still a very good idea to wear a base layer just to help with the transport of moisture. What we have here is, essentially, a string vest. A super advanced, ultra effective string vest. Fabian has worn this, and Jens. So it comes with a pro seal of approval.
This is 95% polyester and 5% elastane. It’s therefore super stretchy and race fit. Once again I opted for the medium and this one is the snuggest of all. But then, it’s supposed to be as it’s going to be worn under your racy summer jersey.
Now, I haven’t really tested this yet. It’s trying to snow as I write this. I doubt I will get round to testing it very soon, but it’s worth chucking it in here because it’s quite easy to compare to similar products that I own to see how they stack up. I’ve a bonkers expensive Assos one which has a knitted feel about it. It’s great. It’s also £70 worth. This one is £28 and, once again, Always Riding would be a great place to purchase. It comes in white or black. It feels as good as the Rapha pro team base layer (which has very similar fabric composition). I’ve no doubt that it will perform exceptionally well.
And there we are. 4 very different base layers from one brilliant company. I’ve been wearing one of them for many years, so we know they’ll last. The RRP on each is actually below many of their competitors and if you can grab a few deals then they become stellar value. Apart from the need to find your size there’s absolutely nothing to fault here, nothing at all. It’s not often that you can say that. Each of these is designed to last for years. Each of them is super comfortable, good value and does what it says on the tin. Tidy stuff indeed.