21 December 2008

Baby it's cold ooooutsiiiiiiiiide!

The sun was practically piping heat directly to my bed via those beautiful white beams as I cozily stretched between my flannel sheets, snuggled by Bacon, and began to think about getting ready to think about facing the day.
*Enter Aaron.*

Of course, the first thing out of his mouth is, "We should get dressed and go out to Cherokee to see if the trails are frozen." Frozen, eh? That was NOT something I aspired to be. The sun and I were just sharing a moment. Then, as if the word frozen hadn't already entirely turned me away from the idea, I asked what the temperature was. "Oh, 20 degrees, is that all?" Completely disregarding my cynicism, stone-cold Aaron simply said, "Well, with the wind chill, it's actually only six." As in degrees, yes. I told him to have fun, but I doubt he heard me as my head was already buried back in my warm, happy place.

25 minutes later, he returns with a baselayer and hat. Ugh, I can't catch a break! I sat up to actually entertain his proposal when I was saved by the spirit of weather.com.
"Oh no! It's colder outside! 19 with a wind chill of 5!" blubbered a heartbroken Aaron. He knew as well as I that the rule is no rides under 20! Thinking I was saved by the weather.com gods, I started to actually get up. The problem was, though, that I'd forgotten Aaron's recent, bizarre running kick. To cut to the chase, Bacon got to stay in bed, and I got to go out into the frozen Tundra of Louisville for a 30-minute run.In the long run (no pun intended), I am actually glad that it was only 19 degrees (or 5); it gave me a chance to really test out the new 180s Quantum Dry base layer that was sent to me at the shop this week. In the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to test the Zensah Long Sleeve Compression Shirt, Craft's Long Sleeve Windstopper, and 180s Quantum Dry Base Layer. All three were worn in very similar weather conditions; though, in all fairness, the 180s piece was worn for running and not cycling.
In terms of overall warmth, I'd say it's a tie between the Craft Windstopper and the Zensah. The Zensah fabric is a touch thicker and is so form-fitted that I forgot I was even wearing it; I think perhaps this allowed my sweat to distribute evenly rather than pool, so I never got that freezing sensation that comes with sweating in the cold. The Craft piece has Windstopper down the front, and it is certainly effective in doing just that - keeping the wind off of the core. The 180s shirt was perfect for running, but I imagine that had I been riding today and not running, I would have gotten a bit chilly.

All three base layers seem to wick reasonably well; I felt dry post-workout wearing each of them. None of them let me down on that front. In terms of overall feel of the fabrics, Zensah's polymide takes the cake. It's sort of like my Feetures socks - if there were a quilt made of it, it would be oh so welcome on my bed. Plus, it uses silver ions that help regulate temperature and, more importantly, smell. Believe me, it works. I tested it during a couple of two-day race weekends. It should have been unbearably gamey, but it wasn't at all. 180s' baselayer feels similar the Zensah on the inside, but the exterior is a bit stiffer. This is because this piece is uniquely reversible; it seems that this also is what contributes to the piece feeling a bit thinner though, as the nylon is not as warm as the polypro. With the nylon on the outside and the polyproylene on the inside like I wore it, moisture wicks away from the skin; however, it can also be turned inside out, in which case, the polypropylene creates a water barrier and repels moisture from the outside. Kind of a cool concept.

Zensah uses some sort of crazy heat-welding process to join the many panels that make up the compression shirt (which makes a really nice fit), so I didn't feel any seams anywhere. Even when inspecting the piece, the seams are visible, but they are so soft that they just fold and blend right in with the rest of the fabric. The 180s uses flatlock seams, so they lay very nicely and are not really detectable, but now that I've been spoiled by Zensah, they do seem a bit stiffer. The Craft WS is pretty effectively seamless, but it is not paneled as precisely as the other two.

In terms of venting, both the 180s and Zensah are done really effectively; they are not so vented that I was chilled by the wind, but they are vented enough to prevent excessive sweating and the dreaded pooling. The only difference that I can tell between the two is that the 180s' venting seems to come up a bit higher on the tops of the shoulders and is perhaps a touch wider through the back.

The overall fit of the Craft is my favorite; it boasts a shirt tail in the front and the rear, which kept my back from being exposed as I was really moving around. That is my one complaint about the Zensah - I wish it had a longer tail, at least in the rear. The part that I do not like about the Craft is that this model's WS fabric is just added on like a chest plate and does not move and stretch with the fabric below it; it feels a little like I am wearing a pillowcase sewed to the front of my baselayer and is a pain in terms of getting zippers caught. But, it is pretty darn warm... It also seems to hold its shape a bit better post-wash. They do make a higher model that uses the stretch fabric, but again, you have to pay for what you get.

In a nutshell, the Zensah compression base layer is the best for your dollar. Both the Zensah and the 180s retail at $50, whereas the Craft rings in at $80. I still stand firm behind the fact that you can never go wrong with Craft; the WS was really very warm and nicely shaped - apart from the awkward WS fabric on the front. That said, for $50 you can buy a Zensah that is at least close to equally warm, super soft, seamless, incredibly functional in terms of performace. The 180s is a nice layer, and the reversibility certainly makes it unique and useful in the early spring, but in weather like this, I would be much more inclined to only wear it while running.

Thanks to each of these companies for allowing me to test their products!

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