It's hard to stay warm when you're cold. It's even harder to stay cold when you're warm.
You wake up and it's cold outside (Or you already are outside!) and so you make a judgement call on sticking on a base layer before you go out for your run / walk / hike / patrol. Perhaps with the first three options, it's not going to too big a problem if you decide to up the pace and want to pause and take off that base layer.
Certainly in the middle of Afghan with body armour, helmet, a patrol pack weighing over 40lbs and all the other kit strapped to you, it's something that's not really a feasible option.
It's a conundrum we've all faced from time to time and one that never gets any easier. Since the introduction of synthetic base layers we've been inundated with choices. Each manufacturer claims something different and unique about their blend of materials and man-made fibres which will give you the best wicking or insulation properties available.
The choice however has been made a lot easier with the increased awareness in the fact that hey, synthetic materials like to melt to human skin! We're talking about extremes of temperature such as being caught in an explosion or covered in flammable material and duly set on fire, but it's a poignant fact and one that there are far too many pictures available to show the aftermath of such incidents.
That's why Armadillo Merino, with their 100% Merino wool construct, are confident their products offers not just the best in wicking, but also the best in personal protection when it comes to volatile environments where there is a risk of the material being exposed to extreme heat or naked flame.
Looking at the Falcon long sleeve crew neck top, it's 100% Merino with a honeycomb rib knit which helps to both insulate and ventilate. The structure of the knit means that the individual honeycombs retain the heat close to the body whilst still maintaining a sweat wicking ability, ensuring that as you perspire, it doesn't build up between the body and the clothing but rather between the clothing and either the air or whatever is against it, be that a jacket or body armour.
The problem with wearing anything under something as solid as body armour is that it doesn't matter how good it claims to be in terms of wicking - it's just not going to work when you've got a hulking great Kevlar plate stuck tight up against it. What normally happens in this scenario is that as soon as you take the body armour off, you feel like you've been dunked into a cold bath as that high temperature build-up meets the outdoor temperature and instantly cools, giving a rapid chilling effect.
Sometimes this is a good thing when it's roasting hot and you just need to cool off, but in the wrong conditions it can be a severe problem and risk cold injury in worst case scenarios.
Armadillo Merino deals with this problem by utilising the natural features of Merino wool as well as the way the top is manufactured. Any sweat or moisture build-up that's unable to escape will be retained on the outside of the garment so that when it's finally introduced to the outside temperature, it wicks away and doesn't drop the body temperature. Armadillo Merino calls it 'No Chill'.
Tie into this the fact that it is extremely quick drying and you're onto a solid combination to ensure that your comfort is maintained at all times.
The top is figure hugging (Sorry pie munchers!) and even after numerous washes it maintains that aspect, constantly hugging against the skin which it needs to do in order to work effectively and being wool again means that once it's out the wash, it's dry in a few minutes.
The seams on the top are placed in such a way as to minimise the risk of rubbing - there are no shoulder seams, a common point for complaint when the seam which is naturally slightly bulkier than the rest of the garment, starts to bunch up as the rubbing persists. The seams instead run around the top of the back and over the front of the shoulders meeting at the neck line.
There's also no tag in the back of the neck, meaning again one less thing to rub or cause grief.
Used with body armour, it does the job. As soon as you take the armour off, yes, there's sweat and a lot of it, but within five minutes it's evaporated and the top feels relatively dry to the touch. There's also no lingering stench even after a few days straight use which is ideal for field conditions when you can't (Or wont!) do a dhobi run. I know that with the Helly Hansen top I have, as my wife has mentioned to me on a ski-ing trip, the smell becomes offensive pretty quickly, never mind a week straight!
It also, more importantly, avoids heat rash which is caused when sweat and heat meet against the skins body for a prolonged time. Because the moisture is kept to the outer side of the garment, your back isn't irritated by that combination, making for a comfortable experience over prolonged use.
I found very little movement as a whole with the top when under body armour or just when worn for running. You often find tops start to ride up the back of the shoulders and you'll have a gap at your waist where the fabric has bunched up further up. This again means you're protected fully and that the wicking properties are working full steam ahead thanks to the constant body contact.
As with everything though, there is a catch. The price when compared to other manufacturers brands such as Hansen and Under Armour is at the top of the range, although compared to Under Armour you're definitely getting a superior product with Armadillo Merino and I've now proven that you smell better with Armadillo Merino than Helly Hansen.
I have a wide selection of base layers to choose from; some are private purchase, some are issued for various theatres and some are of course review tops. Currently, the Armadillo Merino Falcon is now my favourite choice and if it's going to be worn anywhere where things are likely to explode, catch fire or otherwise aim to potentially hurt me, it'll be worn every time.
At the same time though, would I have paid almost £60 for it? No, because it was a brand I was unfamiliar with, hadn't heard much about and hadn't seen anyone wearing it, being a relatively new company. However, if I was in the market for a new base layer top, and I was just reaching the last lines of this review (Hi there!), it'd probably give it a shot and I'd be pleasantly pleased to find out I wouldn't regret it.
UPDATE: Four years on, the Falcon is still keeping odour and the cold at bay. This little badboy has gone everywhere with me and has spent some considerable time being my only layer of choice under my ski-jacket when over in the Ski Weldt area of Austria or up in Zermatt in Switzerland, and it does the job 100%. Still smelling fresh, no fraying, no disintegration of the fabric, it's held on beautifully. When skiing it's the ideal base layer as well as every-day top. When it's time for a (several) Gluewhein, the jacket comes off and this fits in as a normal top without any problems and on days when the sun has been out, I've even gone with just this.
Can't recommend enough.