Mid Weight Base Layers Page 1, 2
This section features Mid Weight base layer garments

As a sizing reference: I'm 5'7", 155 lbs (yeah, I'm a little guy), medium build (BDU top medium/regular, BDU pant medium/short), waist 32", chest 43". Keep this in mind when you read my comments with respect to sizing, so you have an idea of how the garments featured below will fit on you. ALL garments in these pages are size Medium, unless stated otherwise.


Military Clothing Systems

Over the past decade, we've finally been seeing the military take notice and adopt some of the advanced technology/high performance fabrics and clothing that civilian mountaineers and backpackers have been using for quite a while. Lighter, more compressible, breathable, quick drying and wicking fabrics now clothe the soldier, doing their part to make a tough job a bit more efficient and a bit less uncomfortable. Clothing the soldier presents a unique challenge as temperatures in certain regions may range greatly over a 24 hour period, or missions might start off at low altitudes and end up much higher. Soldiers most often have to be self-sufficient, carrying everything in their rucks and on their person, so light weight and clothing versatility rank high in importance. Unlike most sporting events, the soldier might have to wear the same clothing for days or weeks on end, and subject them to abuse that civilian use won't.
There are quite a few different clothing development programs out there, and it can be confusing. Since I have no personal knowledge on the subject, I've summarized some of the info from Polartec® literature and other sources like the U.S. Army programs website. I've given credit to the sources of information where possible, and if there's any violation of website policies, webmasters please let me know. Polartec® manufactures much of this high-performance material, and their website is a wealth of information, so please visit it for details. This list is by no means all-inclusive - there are a LOT more programs out there, but I've chosen those that are relevant for this website.

  • ECWS - Extended Cold Weather Clothing System. Cold-wet and Cold dry systems, including the Gore-tex suit and insulating layers
  • SPEAR - Special Operations Forces Personal Equipment Advanced Requirements - A performance layering system developed by SOCOM.
  • MCPS - Multi-Climate Protection System - NOMEX flame resistant clothing for U.S. Marine and Navy aviators and aircrew.
  • SOF-PCU - Special Operations Forces Protective Combat Uniform - Layering garment system with 7 Levels developed by USSOCOM. The different levels are defined as follows (from this website). Also note that the actual products offered may vary slightly from these descriptions:

    Level 1
    Worn next-to-skin, a durable, silkweight Polartec Power Dry fabric worn next to the skin wicks away moisture and dries fast. It consists of a crew neck T-shirt and boxer shorts, or is available in long-sleeve top with invisible zipper and pants, built for comfort and minimal weight.
    Level 2
    A long-sleeve shirt and pants made from Polartec Power Dry fabric are worn next to the skin for extra warmth in extreme conditions, but still wicks away moisture quickly from skin and dries fast. An inserted side panel of Polartec X-Static fabric enhances fit and flexibility. The top has a front 15-inch zip for extra venting and a soft lining around the collar. Comfort features include an articulated side seam on the pants to minimize chafe on the kneecap.
    Level 3
    An insulative mid-layer jacket made from Polartec Thermal Pro fabric is water-repellent yet breathable. It is worn as an outer jacket in mild temperatures or as a heavy insulative layer in extreme cold. Seamless shoulders minimize chafe, which are then lined for extra warmth and padding for heavy pack straps.
    Level 4
    The soft windshirt is made from an encapsulated microfiber that repels water but also breathes for a variety of conditions. It's designed to pair with a next-to-skin layer for intense activity in cooler temperatures or with the Level 5 soft shell as a mid-layer. It stuffs into its own pocket for easy packing.
    Level 5
    The key to the entire system, this soft shell fabric jacket and pants are made with fibers encapsulated with silicone that are highly stretchable, windproof, water repellant and breathable. They are paired with Level 1 or 2 next-to-skin layers, ready for any cold weather aerobic activity.
    Level 6
    A lightweight waterproof and coated nylon hard shell is slightly oversized to fit easily and quickly over gear. The jacket features water-resistant zippers and armpit zips for maximum ventilation, pocket openings to quickly access inside layers and a hood that incorporates a stiff brim. The pants borrow the same design from Level 5 but provide waterproof protection.
    Level 7
    For extreme conditions, this lightweight, loft-insulated level in a jacket, vest and pants has the feel of down but retains its warmth when wet. Silicone-encapsulated fabric sheds water and is paired with Primaloft insulation for maximum warmth while the liner pulls away moisture.
    Level 8
    SOF-CCU (Close Combat Uniform) - Basically a RAID-type BDU.

Typically, there can be several different manufacturers/contractors making the same garments. Sometimes different manufacturers make different levels in the same program, and I hope to feature more of them here. I'm also learning that the item of the same name might vary by manufacturer with differences in materials and features. I was surprised to find this out, and expected the garments to be more standardized.


2/13/05 - Insport is a well known manufacturer of well designed and high quality athletic clothing which has been around for quite a while; I remember buying Insport cycling apparel when I was bike racing at the collegiate level, more than 15 years ago. Relatively recently, Insport landed a contract to produce clothing for the U.S. Navy, and shown here are a few items from their military line (which is available for purchase to civilians).

NS82 PCU Level 2 Long Sleeve Midweight Tee (below) - Also meant to be worn next-to-skin, the Midweight Tee is constructed of Polartec® Power Dry® with 'Comfort stretch and voided construction' (sometimes referred to as 'R1' fleece, used by Patagonia's R2 jacket). Immediately noticeable when handling the Tee is the grid pattern in the lightweight fleece on the inside surface. The grid pattern serves to trap air in the void for warmth while reducing bulk for more compressibility than standard fleece. More for less - that's a great idea. It also feels very comfortable against the skin.
Styled like an undergarment, the Tee is cut slightly long (with the back being slightly longer), so it won't come untucked. Non-fleece X-STATIC panels run up each side, under the arms, and down to the cuffs, for odor protection and heat dissipation where it's most effective (like pit zips). A front zipper opens down to the sternum, which really helps regulate the temperature and ventilation. The medium height collar has a small tab in front for full fleece coverage and comfort at the top under the zipper.
I wore the Tee under my Level 5 Soft shell in the rain, and the Tee worked great as an underlayer without being too bulky under the shell. The Tee is warmer than a garment of comparable weight and bulk, so it's a bit surprising when you first put it on, but it's thin enough not to overheat like the thicker fleece garments might. The X-STATIC panels really help to reduce bulk where it's not needed and to keep you from perspiring under the arms.

Level 2 Tee and Level 1 Pant

Level 2 Tee

Rear view

Inner surface of tee, showing Power Dry and Thermagrid fabrics

Outer surface of Power Dry and Thermagrid fabrics

Details of tee

NS83 PCU Level 3 Half Zip Pullover (below) - The level 3 pullover is mainly constructed of Polartec® Thermal Pro® fabric, which is a family of fabrics with a variety of patterns and textures. The fabric used by Insport is an extremely high-loft material which has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of the Polartec fabrics. Like the Thermagrid R1 fabric, it makes use of minute pockets of air space to keep the person warm and increase evaporation of perpiration. As seen in the above photo, the outer surface of the Thermal Pro has a diamond-pattern of small tufts of fibers. The inside has a soft, fuzzy, shearling-like texture.
The pullover has an athletic/medium fit, which might be a bit tight for the stockier fellows, so take that into account when choosing the correct size. It's amazingly light weight, and noticeably warmer than the Level 2 tee. The long 12" front zipper closes the 2" tall R1 Thermagrid-lined collar. The slightly lower loft Thermagrid fabric is used in the side panels, which extend up to the armpits. On the top of each wrist is a R1 thermagrid panel. I haven't been able to find out the 'official' purpose of this panel, but it makes pulling back the cuff to check your wristwatch easier as it's less bulky than the thicker Thermal Pro fabric. Maybe that's what it's for. The rear of the pullover is cut a bit longer for tucking into the pants.
Unlike the Level 2 tee, which looks like the undergarment that it is, the Level 3 pullover looks pretty darn good when worn as outer wear. Be aware, however, that the high-loft fabric with open-grid air spaces is not wind resistant (air passes freely through the fabric) and the pullover depends on a soft shell or windshirt to retain the trapped air. Worn alone, it's warm as long as there's no breeze. Donning the Level 5 shell over it immediately traps the warm air and increases the temperature. If it gets too hot, the shell can be removed - the beauty of the layering system.

Level 3 Half-zip pullover

Rear view

Collar fully zipped

Close up of collar area

Thermal Pro and Thermagrid textures


2/27/05 - STEPS Inc., produces the PCU Level 3 Half-zip pullover shown below. It's constructed of another high-loft/low weight variation of Polartec® Thermal Pro® fabric. Rather than having a visible grid-like pattern, it's a smoother, furry, texture, with a bit more density. The inside and outside surfaces are identical. The pullover is constructed almost entirely of Thermal Pro, except for Polartec Power Dry® Thermagrid fabric panel under the armpit.
It has a more generous cut than the Insport garment, being longer in both torso and sleeves (see photos for comparison) and looser in girth. Which you prefer obviously depends on your physical measurements. The rear of the pullover is slightly longer than the front. The 15" heavy duty front zipper with pull tab closes the 3" tall collar, which is double-thickness Thermal Pro. The denser fabric and lack of thermagrid side panels makes it slightly warmer than the Insport Level 3, and retains a bit more heat when worn alone as an outer garment (at the cost of slightly more bulk, also due to the more generous cut). While being a bit more resistant to wind, it's still most effective when worn under a windshirt or soft shell.

STEPS Level 3 pullover with collar closed

Front partially unzipped

Rear view

Detail of collar area

Close-up of under-arm thermagrid panel

STEPS thermal pro fabric

It's a very comfy feeling, well put-together garment. The only design change I'd personally like to see would be a smaller sleeve cuff, maybe elasticized, to keep the cuffs snugged at the wrist.

A bit about STEPS Inc. - Located in Virginia, STEPS stands for Southside Training, Employment and Placement Services, and is a private, non-profit organization that provides job training for individuals with disabilities and welfare recipients which will lead to an employment outcome. These outcomes can range from employment within one of their facilities to working in an unsubsidized community job. Their services "assist individuals with disabilities and welfare recipients to become fully integrated, tax paying members of their local communities."

For ordering info, contact Nancy Conner (nconner@steps-inc.org) at (434) 696-1117 or (434) 315-5909.


3/2/05 - SEKRI stands for South Eastern Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries and is a "non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to provide qualified personnel, facilities and related services for persons with disabilities, enabling them to obtain and to be successful in maintaining competitive employment". SEKRI manufactures Levels 1 (bottom wicking layer), 2 (added warmth) and 7 (water/wind resistant high loft insulated) garments of the SOF-PCU multi-layered cold weather system. All items are can be ordered directly from SEKRI online here.

PCU Level 2 Gridded Fleece Long Sleeve Shirt and Pant - For additional warmth, the Level 2 Long Sleeve Shirt and Pant are made of the Polartec® Power Dry Fleece with comfort stretch and voided construction "R1" type material with the grid pattern on the inside. The fleece grid is visible through the smoother outer surface of the fabric and is most noticeable when you hold it up to the light. Again, depending on the light, it can look greenish, or coyote brown (see the pics above - the rightmost photo is taken under fluorescent lighting).
Unlike the Insport Level 2 Tee (same item, different nomenclature) which has Power Dry X-Static panels on the sides and arms, the SEKRI Shirt is constructed entirely of R1 fleece, so it is a bit warmer. Which one is preferable depends entirely on whether you need the additional insulation. The long, 14" front zipper opens to the bottom of the chest for temperature control. The 2.5" collar is an inch taller than the Insport's. The overall fit is looser, and it's also about an inch longer in length in the torso (the back is longer than the front).
The matching Level 2 Pant is also entirely constructed in R1 fleece, and has a fly opening. The gusset provides a lot of room and the waist comes up pretty high (there's quite a bit of overlap between the shirt and the pants). Again, these garments are warm for their weight, and the gridded fleece ensures that there's some airflow between the material and the skin to aid in movement of moisture vapour, meaning you stay drier.

Level 2 Long sleeved shirt and Level 2 Pant

Level 2 Shirt

Details of Level 2 Pant

Polypro ECWS underwear
- Not part of the PCU system, but familiar to many is the Polypro drawers shown below, also manufactured by SEKRI. I've had a set made by a manufacturer other than SEKRI for a while, and frankly, I didn't like it much. After a few washings the material pilled on the outside and inside, the garment didn't retain its shape, and was very 'staticy'. It wasn't very good at wicking away sweat, and I'd recommend a level 1 wicking layer under it. SEKRI's garment seems to be holding up better after a few washings, though, so for those who DO like the ECWS polypro stuff, give the SEKRI one a try.

3/23/05 - Wore the Level 1 long sleeved shirt and Level 2 Long sleeve shirt on a short hike. Temperature went from about 62° to 57°. Pretty strong, cool breeze. I was comfortable-warm with both on, and on the way back, when I started working up a sweat, I had to remove the Level 2 as it got too warm. The Level 1 kept me comfortable on the move despite the breeze and dropping temp.


Rammite Australia Merino Zip Polo - Mid Weight

3/20/07 - This is the Rammite Merino Zip Polo, Mid Weight (item at the top of this page). It's a long sleeved, mid-weight zip polo. The mid-weight material is heavier than that of the Short Sleeved T-shirt shown above, and made of the same 100% Australian Merino wool. As mentioned above, the Merino wool is softer than "traditional" wool products, but still has an inherent prickliness that may or may not be irritating, depending on how sensitive your skin is. For the majority of people who can wear and prefer wool products to synthetics, it shouldn't be a problem. I've found that after wearing it for a while, my skin seems to 'desensitize' or get used to it, but it doesn't ever feel silky smooth like the other synthetic fabrics.

Long sleeved, medium weight

Thumb hole cuff

Cuff worn normally

We've had some very weird weather lately - alternating hot and cold weeks, so I wore the Zip Polo when the weather turned colder instead of a sweatshirt. The 9" zipper in front allows for some temperature control and also keeps the mock turtleneck collar snug around the neck. I found performance as far as insulation and wicking (when the temperature was too warm for this type of garment) to be better than cotton, and comparable to most of my synthetics.
The Zip Polo has a similar cut to the T-shirt; a little longer so it stays tucked in. The wrists have thumb holes in the cuffs, for slipping your thumb into, which keeps the sleeve from riding up your arm when donning a jacket over it, and keeps the hands warmer. They can be worn over or under gloves. The sleeve length is slightly longer to accomodate this. Of course, the thumb holes don't have to be used and the cuff functions like a normal one.

The Zip Polo pictured here is a size Medium, not a Large. Note that like the T-shirt above, it will shrink about 5% (my estimate) if you machine wash and dry it (like I do with all my clothing). The photos above show it after washing, and it's form fitting, but not tight whatsoever. It also has some stretch to it. It's a well-designed and constructed garment, and if you like Merino wool products, it's definitely worth considering.


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