By Beate Kubitz
I have a few criteria in mind when I test a merino base layer. They start with the simple things like look, feel and cut, then move on to the more demanding technical areas of temperature and humidity control for due consideration. But the ultimate test of merino gear is simply how long can I wear it without having to wash it?
The Alpkit Kepler baselayer is a fine fabric (160gsm if you want the figures) with a subtle sheen and silky feel. It’s 100% merino wool. Wool is well known for being naturally anti-bacterial and having interesting hygroscopic properties (it will carry 20% of its weight in water without feeling damp). And merino wool is a finer micron than the hill sheep of the UK, giving it an advantage in the manufacture of super fine knits. Alpkit merino is from New Zealand sheep – mulesing free and generally acknowledged as sheep farming to a good standard of animal husbandry.
The lupin colour of the top I tested is an attractive shade of indeterminate, on the border of pale grey and lilac, whilst eggplant defines the point that deepest purple meets inky blue and nearly black. Blokes get a darker grey and a denimy blue to choose from.
The women’s top is a nice long length with raglan sleeve insertion and an interesting 3D construction that fits well and doesn’t ride up. It fitted true to size without being super tight. The neckline is wide and scooped – more typical of a fashion cut (and flattering for hanging out in) but you need a buff to fill the gap in the cold. The sleeve length was good to fit my arms (which are on the long side of average) and the sleeves, oh joy, have thumbholes. Seams are flatlocked and this top is well put together.
As for temperature control, the Kepler is a pretty fine denier item which feels warmer than nylon to the touch, but is not stiflingly hot to wear. I found it exceptionally good for layering up. This (for me) is important in winter when the sweat-to-chill cycle can be rapid and dangerous. If you stop to fix a puncture with a good lather on you can be in trouble well before you’re rolling again. So I spend a lot of time trying to achieve the ‘not cold and not sweaty’ balance.
In this it has excelled. I’ve layered it up in various combinations with a singlet, a jersey and a softshell to get an adjustable set of clothes for days that hover just above zero (and probably dip below if you take into account windchill). And when it’s wet (which it has been, in spades), it’s great to have something that is comfy under a waterproof without creating your own personal sauna (I struggle to understand the point of waterproofs when you get equally wet from the inside as from without).
On the occasions I’ve breached the sweat barrier, I’ve found that the top has dried out on the move, keeping me warm and comfortable. Which, all in all, means it’s getting a lot of use this winter.
So, the ultimate test (for those thinking of multi-day rides or reducing the strain on their washing machine). How long can I wear it for without it walking and talking for itself?
Although I wouldn’t want to proclaim it too loudly, I’m not all that fussy about clothes washing. But even so I can’t bear the smell of nylon jerseys with even one ride to their name. Mid-ride and they’re usually already offensive so my end of ride ritual involves peeling them off straight into the washing basket the instant I get in.
The Kepler, however has been worn (in some combination) for every single sporting activity undertaken this month. A ride – or two – a week through bright and chilly, biting winds and the apocalyptic deluge, as well as half a dozen trips to the gym (there are only so many deluges I can take). It’s not quite pristine any more but it’s still firmly on the side of ‘acceptable’ and, frankly, probably good for another month as long as I don’t spill tomato sauce on it at a café stop.
Following the washing instructions (I took a gentle machine wash to mean a 30° wash with a short spin) returned it to clean without shrinkage or pilling.
Overall: At £39 this base layer is astonishingly good value. It’s great on, light enough to stash in your pack just in case an extra layer is in order and nice enough to hang out in at the end of your ride.
|by Beate Kubitz for One month