Friday, 4 September 2009

Trekmates Bamboo Baselayer

It’s only recently that I decided to try a baselayer made from ‘natural’ materials having always used synthetic’s in the past. I wasn’t really aware that there was any alternative to Merino so decided to try a long sleeved crew neck from Chocolate Fish mainly as their products are still manufactured in New Zealand using wool that conforms to MAPP standards. Some people are sensitive to merino finding it itchy/scratchy although while I found it was noticeable it certainly wasn’t an issue. The merino is great in that it doesn’t feel as cold as most synthetics when damp and doesn’t retain odours however the downside is that it does take longer to dry. I’m always on the lookout for something different and while on the Trekmates website I found base layer made from Bamboo which grows organically without using pesticides or fertilizers and is 100% sustainable and biodegradable. It was also reasonably priced compared to even the Chocolate Fish Merino which is itself very well priced so I ordered a long sleeve crew neck top and long johns.

The items came in recyclable packaging which was a plus point and had some information about the performance of the base layer together with environmental information about bamboo which was pretty interesting. Bamboo it seems is one of the most sustainable crops in the world, is the worlds fastest growing plant, up to 30cm per day, has natural properties that protect from the suns UV rays and is 100% biodegradable. That all sounds great but how does it perform as a base layer.

My 1st impression was how soft and smooth it was, almost like silk which would probably make it ideal for anyone who finds merino too itchy. I wore it in early May when the temperature varied quite a lot and when I was at times wearing only a fleece over the base layer and at others was wearing full waterproofs. It never felt uncomfortably damp apart from once when I was really pushing on wearing full wet gear. I’m not sure if it feels cooler than merino when damp although I suspect that it may feel slightly cooler. It does take longer to dry than synthetic base layer, close to merino in fact but I normally changed into a dry base layer at night and putting on the bamboo base layer again in the morning wasn’t unpleasant. The base layer does seem at little loose at 1st and like the merino base layer I have isn’t as close fitting or stretchy as some of my synthetic stuff but the packaging does warn that the items are a little oversize to allow for shrinkage during the 1st few washes (approx 6%) The one thing about natural fibres whether merino or bamboo is that they need to be treated with a little more care when washing than synthetics, don’t wash at high temperature and dry in a tumble dryer at the highest setting, another plus point for the environment, it’s easier to hand wash and let dry naturally.

I have to say I like the Bamboo baselayer, it’s heavier than my favourite synthetic, Sub Zero Factor 1 but slightly lighter than my Chocolate Fish Merino, 214g/181g/127g respectively. For anyone wanting a more eco friendly alternative to synthetics but who finds merino uncomfortable or too expensive I’d suggest giving the Trekmates Bamboo range a try. The image below is a macro shot which illustrates the very fine knit of the Bamboo baselayer


  1. A very nice review, Richard, that Macro shot is great. I might try the longsleeve out in the future, as its available at Ultralight Outdoor Gear. Thank you!

  2. Thanks Hendrik, hopefully it was useful. The macro shot was taken using Olympus OM System Auto Bellows and an OM System 50mm f/1.8 lens which I fitted to my E-420 via an OM > 4/3rds adapter. The magnification is the same on each shot.

  3. Try the products from Chocolate Fish that are a Merino wool / Possum mix. Simply fantastically soft which adds to the cosiness. Good to see you recommending them. I'm just about to go to Antarctica and have my Choc fish thermals packed!

  4. Tried bamboo but it felt uncomfortably damp after a short time, particularly in the small of the back. It also took ages to dry. I've got some 190gsm merino (similar in weight to the bamboo T) and the merino dried far faster and didn't give me a damp, clammy feeling. Also after a couple of washes the bamboo looked like a rag. I think the way it soaks up water and then hangs on to it makes it very unsuitable for outdoor gear - worse than cotton in fact.

  5. That hasn't been my experience so far to be honest, I wore the Bamboo top last time out and although my fleece was damp where it was in contact with a Montane Featherlite Jetstream my baselayer was merely damp but dry enough to wear next morning. Maybe the fleece helped draw the moisture out of the bamboo?

    I'll keep a close eye on it though on the strength of your experience.

  6. excellent review - worthy of a pro...

  7. Thanks for the review - I'm considering what to buy for Greenland next summer, and I do like the sound of bamboo from a sustainability perspective (plus, it's soooo soft!)

  8. If you want real sustainability go for merino wool. Bamboo costs a lot more in terms of energy to produce a fibre than wool. Also Crivens is right. Bamboo for outdoor gear not good in my experience. Most mountaineering organisations warn against wearing cotton, and bamboo is just another cellulose-based fabric that'll hang on to water for far longer than merino. I wouldn't wear bamboo for anywhere likely to be cold or wet.

  9. Yes I mentioned the advantages of Merino but pointed out that it isn't an option for some people so even if bamboo isn't as eco friendly as merino it's better than synthetic.

    As to the suitability of bamboo I've been wearing it pretty often recently and haven't found it anything like cotton when damp to be honest. Worn under a North Cape zip neck shirt and Ultrafleece jacket when out on XC skis I was sweating pretty hard but was comfortable enough to not need to change out of it when I returned home. While Merino may dry quicker and I can't say for sure that there's a massive difference the bamboo doesn't feel uncomfortably cold when damp the way cotton does regardless of whether it's cellulose based or not so in that respect and based on my experience I'd disagree with Crivvens.

    I'm happy with the performance generally but if wicking and fast drying were the main requirements then I'd choose synthetic, most likely Sub Zero F1.

  10. I'm no expert on sustainability, fabric technology or extreme conditions. So should shut up now. But won't.

    Maybe bamboo does take more energy than merino. But maybe energy is not everything - efficient use of land is also important. I would think that the growth rate of bamboo means you can produce more garments per acre per year than if you use the same land to graze sheep. Of course, some land is suitable for sheep but not for bamboo, and vice-versa. Fine, let both products coexist, but don't slag off either against the other on one aspect of sustainability while ignoring the other factors.

    As regards suitability for "sweaty" sports, Mac E may not have performed the most scientific, comprehensive test ever, but at least he has tested bamboo with an open mind. Nevertheless, I daresay the jury is still out.

    Me? I like silk. No idea how eco-friendly silk is. Okay, it's not moth-friendly. And I like silk-and-linen for hot climates. No idea how effective the latter is, but it feels nice!

  11. I know this post is a little old but it still comes up on Google and I thought I might be able to help with the debate about bamboo's wicking properties.

    I was similarly baffled by people saying their bamboo was drying as slowly as cotton because my TrekMates kit wicks well and dries quickly.

    Then I tried a lot of stuff from the BAM bamboo range and it's not nearly as good at wicking - lovely design and quality, just terrible at drying.

    Both tops have similar cotton/bamboo ratios on the labels so it appears there's something else going on with the manufacturers. Sadly, TrekMates no longer make their bamboo range.

    If it's helpful, I've written a detailed comparison of the different base layer material types here:

    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Tim, thanks for your comments, I've read your comparison by the way, very good. Out of interest have you ever tried Heattech?

  12. I've not tried Heattech, no. You?

    It sounds really interesting so I'll see if I can get my hands on some (and Rab's coconut base layers) when I get back from my cycling trip. Be good to compare them all.

  13. Yes I've tried Heattech and was surprised to find that I'd only mentioned it in passing as I find it very good indeed before factoring in cost. With cost taken into account I'd say it's excellent.

    It's only available from the fashion store Uniqlo, famous for their UL Down range which is also excellent.