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Second Skin Shirts

It might look like just a T-shirt, but clothing made to serve as a base layer can protect you from heat, cold, odor, and muscle fatigue.

December 29, 2009  |  by Scott Smith - Also by this author

5.11 Tactical Utili-T

I guess I'm dating myself, but back when I was wearing my GI Joe suit we called it underwear or thermal underwear, depending on the season. With the advent of "layering" in the military we now call the layer next to your skin the base layer and then you add each successive layer to combat the elements. This winter POLICE Magazine thought it would be a good idea to look at some options of base layers available for those who wear a uniform.

While researching the various types of base layers, I found there are numerous types of material, cuts, fits, and degrees of warmth offered. What this means to the end user is you must define what you want the clothing for; is it for moisture wicking, added warmth, or simply to prevent chafing? Yes, your underwear is getting technical and it takes more time to decide on the right type for you. But it has been my experience that these new base layers are far more comfy than the old white boxers or briefs and the pressed white T-shirt of my basic training days.

So what do these manufacturers offer to those who wear a uniform every day? How about clothing that helps keep you warm or cool depending on what you choose? Your base layer will prevent chafing and rubbing from your vest or duty belt. It can act as a barrier to prevent body odor. And if you choose compression fit clothing it will help reduce muscle fatigue. As you can see, your choices are fairly wide ranging when you look at your first layer of clothing.

One word of advice I did get from numerous people in the clothing industry is to choose this layer to fit your mission, particularly when the odds of encountering fire is part of your job. If you are on a tactical team or work fire/rescue avoid base layers that are high in polyester or Lycra because if you are in a fire they tend to burn. Since this is next to your skin the resultant burns could be deadly. Look for fire retardant treated clothing or natural fibers such as cotton or wool to protect you from burns.

I will give you a heads up: Flame retardant clothing is pricey but worth it. There have been numerous cases of GIs having their cling fit base layers melt from the heat of a fire. The only injuries they had were from the trauma centers literally peeling the clothing along with skin off their bodies. This is food for thought when you find yourself thinking flame resistant clothing costs too much.

For most of us, buying a base layer that will wick moisture away from your body is a good idea. This will reduce chafing and the chance of abrasion sores. Personally I like to wear a snug fitting layer with a cotton shirt over it. This provides wicking and a layer to absorb moisture. Remember, our vests trap sweat.

I would also consider a base layer with antimicrobial properties. This does two things for you. First, you will not smell like dead fish at the end of a long shift on a hot summer's day. Second, it will reduce the growth of bacteria, which can cause a myriad of issues.

So what did I find from the major vendors for base layers? There are base layers from cotton, various polyester/Lycra blends, wool blends, and layers for cold or hot weather. The choices seem to be endless.

CONTINUED: Second Skin Shirts «   Page 1 of 3   »

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