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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


To prepare myself for winter I wanted to check out Propper's base layers. The company's Generation III Level I base layer is part of the military's new multi-layer harsh weather gear.

Propper's Carbon-Tech Performance Long-Sleeve Lightweight Baselayer Top will keep you warm, dry, and prevent you from smelling bad. To reduce friction hot spots these shirts use body mapping, which also allows the shirt to breathe and reduces weight while increasing comfort.

This base layer is built with Cocona fabric, which is infused with carbon from coconut shells. The fabric is soft and tough at the same time and the carbon absorbs the odors. Sounds like a win-win to me, tough and comfy without odor. If that isn't enough, the fiber also has silver-based anti-microbial X-static woven into it. No matter how much you sweat or how hard of a day you have Propper's Gen III LI will survive and keep you warm and dry.

Visit Propper Online


Tru-Spec by Atlanco

Another manufacturer of Gen III level I base layers is Tru-Spec by Atlanco. I have found Tru-Spec to give the end user a good value for the money, and its winter layers are no exception.          

Tru-Spec's Gen-III ECWCS Level-1 Top is built from 100-percent polyester plaited jersey, a tightly woven material that feels like silk. Having worn this long-sleeve shirt from the company's extended cold weather clothing system (ECWCS) out during the early archery season, I can tell you it feels soft and supple next to the skin.

One feature I found most useful was the thumbhole sewn into the sleeves. This might seem dumb to many, but it allows you to create a weather seal from your hands to your shirt, eliminating that open space at your wrist. Those of us who play and work out in cold climes can tell you this will chill you. Like I said, Tru-Spec looks out for the end user and this is just one example of the company's attention to detail.

Visit Tru-Spec Online


Under Armour

Under Armour is known to most anyone who has visited a sporting goods store or logged onto an outdoor Website. UA makes some of the most innovative clothing on the market and is constantly adding to its product line. Its Tech T is Under Armour's answer to a basic T-shirt.     

Built of polyester, the Tech T gives the wearer complete range of motion and comfort and it wicks moisture away and dries quickly. How quickly does it dry? I washed one by hand, set it out on a deck chair, and it was dry within an hour.

This shirt lies smoothly under body armor, and I have not noticed it "pilling" from Velcro or washing. I have been told this T makes an excellent shirt for yoga, but I can't verify that myself. UA also makes a similar shirt that is flame retardant, which I would suggest for tactical teams to protect them from burn injuries.

Visit Under Armour Online



Woolrich is probably one of the oldest outdoor companies in America. A few years back, the company moved into the tactical end of the business and its Elite Series Tactical line has taken the industry by storm and then some.

The E.S.T. base layer is available as a long-sleeve shirt, short-sleeve shirt, and traditional longjohn-style pants. They are made from merino wool and feel as soft as cotton. The choice of merino means these base layers work well in a wide variety of weather conditions. Since these are made of wool they will keep you warm even if they get wet, something many of the synthetics won't do. You can even machine wash these garments, just line dry them.

I have worn Woolrich's commercial line and I have no doubt that the E.S.T. base layers are every bit as comfortable and long wearing. Based on experience with other items from the E.S.T. line, the base layers should be virtually indestructible.

Visit Woolrich Online

Scott Smith is a former federal police officer for the Department of Veteran's Affairs and a contributing editor to POLICE.

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