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Synthetic vs Merino Wool shirts

Old 11-20-21, 06:20 AM
  #1  
HendersonD
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Synthetic vs Merino Wool shirts

I have done a lot of backpacking over the years and have used merino wool short and long sleeve shirts. I did my first bike tour, a 420 mile 8 day trip through NY, PA, and NJ and used synthetic biking shirts each day. In May I plan on crossing the country from east to west on the Transamerica bike route starting in VA. Trying to decide what type of shirts to bring with me. Both types of shirts are lightweight and comfortable but have differences
Merino wool
Advantage - keeps away the stink longer than synthetics
Disadvantage - when sweating it really shows with wet areas being a different color than dry areas. This is more so for light colors and less so for black shirts. When backpacking it makes little difference since you are in the woods. When biking and stopping at restaurants and grocery stores, not so good. One way to mitigate this is when arriving at a store or restaurant during the ride is to trade shirts before going in
Synthetics
Advantage - does not really show sweat as much as merino wool. Has pockets
Disadvantage - tends to stink more than merino wool

Any thoughts? What do you tend to wear when touring?
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Old 11-20-21, 06:51 AM
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I got back into bike touring after hiking the Triple Crown in the early 2000s. My clothes bag for bike touring is pretty much the same as when I'm hiking. I wear synthetics for both. I don't have a problem with dripping with sweat or really bad BO, so that's not an issue for me. I wear my long-sleeved nylon trekking shirt almost all the time on the bike. I wear shorts more often on the bike but not all the time. On a recent desert tour I wore my trekking pants for sun protection as well. The pants and shirt work well for town stops and restaurants where you can almost look like a human being.

It's a little harder to stay clean on the bike. Road dirt and chain oil will always find your clothing. Finding camping spots is harder too. But food resupply problems are almost negligible.

You'll probably run into other hikers out there on the bike. When I rode the Northern Tier route, one night at a town park in MT there were two other random cyclists there and we were all AT veterans.
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Old 11-20-21, 06:53 AM
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On my Northern Tier I used a synthetic "Rock Lobster" shirt from Ground Effect. I've worn merino shirts in the past, but I now use synthetic because it's lighter and dries more quickly.
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Old 11-20-21, 07:00 AM
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Sometimes nature just cannot be bettered. When I accidentally bought my first pair of marino socks I felt I was floating on air and now never wear anything else even for daily life. As for clothing, unless you have very sensitive skin and find marino itchy (is it possible) I would say there are no REAL benefits that matter a damn with synthetics.
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Old 11-20-21, 07:15 AM
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I have worn both. It is easier to find a place to wash a jersey when touring than when backpacking. A long sleeve wool jersey and short sleeve synthetic might make sense for an early May East to West route since it will still be pretty cold at night at elevation, I would expect 35-40F and possibly freezing temps but rapidly warming during the day. The LS would also be my PJ top.
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Old 11-20-21, 07:40 AM
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Originally Posted by GhostRider62 View Post
I have worn both. It is easier to find a place to wash a jersey when touring than when backpacking. A long sleeve wool jersey and short sleeve synthetic might make sense for an early May East to West route since it will still be pretty cold at night at elevation, I would expect 35-40F and possibly freezing temps but rapidly warming during the day. The LS would also be my PJ top.
It is a bit tough to predict what weather I will run into in terms of temperatures. I will likely hit Colorado sometime in mid June and of course will be at higher elevations for much of the rest of the ride to Oregon. Even thought about packing a down vest and wool beanie to use once off the bike later in the day and into the evening.
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Old 11-20-21, 07:47 AM
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I have not found the no stink claim for wool to be true for me. Maybe my body chemistry is weird or something, but my wool garments stunk the worst of anything I had along when I tried any wool for touring. Synthetic vary as far as how much/if they stink. I choose ones that tend not to to take along on tour. Synthetics hold less water to start with and dry faster. I find them a little more comfortable, but both wool and synthetics come in a variety of textures so feel can vary quite a bit.

Way back in the day I used to wear wool becase that was all there was for wet use that worked at all. Yes I am that old. I have to say that I was so happy that I was willing to live with the early synthetics for my whitewater canoeing, kayaking, and other wet outdoor activities despite the fact that the early stuff was VERY stinky. Now that the newer synthetics are not bad in that regard I am not hesitant at all to choose synthetic garments.
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Old 11-20-21, 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by HendersonD View Post
It is a bit tough to predict what weather I will run into in terms of temperatures. I will likely hit Colorado sometime in mid June and of course will be at higher elevations for much of the rest of the ride to Oregon. Even thought about packing a down vest and wool beanie to use once off the bike later in the day and into the evening.
I would think about resupply of clothing using USPS Priority boxes

WRT May, I was talking about from Charlottesville until you cross the Ohio after Kentucky.

Mid June will still be cold at night in the Rockies.

I used a down puffy for off the bike at night and also for riding in the early morning in the Rockies. It weighs almost nothing and packs very small.
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Old 11-20-21, 07:57 AM
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For bikepacking and going light, merino wins for me. Same for backpacking. Iíve worn a merino T for 8 days straight and no funk. Paired with merino arm warmers, itís a great combo or perfect base layer. Synthetics get funky after one day and itís hard to get that funk out while touring. At home we presoak in vinegar/water but canít easily do that touring. For long road tours, merino under a jersey gets me extra mileage between washes and jersey pockets. Bonus is that wool still insulates when wet.
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Old 11-20-21, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by HendersonD View Post
It is a bit tough to predict what weather I will run into in terms of temperatures. I will likely hit Colorado sometime in mid June and of course will be at higher elevations for much of the rest of the ride to Oregon. Even thought about packing a down vest and wool beanie to use once off the bike later in the day and into the evening.
It's pretty easy to cover temps down to freezing by layering. I pack a long sleeve synthetic cycling shirt, a long sleeve mid weight synthetic 1/4 length zipped base layer shirt for off the bike, a Marmot Driclime wind shirt and a lightweight rain shell. I can mix and match those for a wide range of temps. A beanie, a buff and gloves are always in my bag.
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Old 11-20-21, 09:24 AM
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When I started bike touring, I wore synthetics because that was what was available at the stores where I bought biking clothes. After reading about merino wool, I tried one and really liked the way it kept me just warm enough in cold weather and just cold enough in hot weather. That jersey is long gone and the new ones I can find are a bit thicker, so they are a bit warmer in hot weather but better in the cold.

I only use wool jerseys these days. I like the way they feel and, on me, they don't stink. I find that they dry overnight after washing. I also take wool t-shirts as my off-bike clothes for the same reason. In fact,I now take these when I travel without the bike, as they greatly lessen the laundry requirements.

On particularly cold days, I wear both the t-shirt and a jersey. On particularly hot days, I just wear a wool t-shirt.

The only downside might be that wool isn't as durable as other fabrics, though I only use wool these days, so have no current experience on this topic.
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Old 11-20-21, 11:10 AM
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I used to be a huge merino proponent but I've since switched over to synthetic. I tour in a nylon sunshirt. The advantage over merino is that it is far more durable. Smartwool/Icebreaker/Ibex, basically all the good merino brands, are extremely fragile and start to fall apart after a few months of use in the lighter weight categories that are comfortable to tour in. I've probably gone through 10 Smartwool 150wt tshirts, and they're $80 a piece not on sale (although I always wait for sales). Since I've switched to nylon, my one nylon sunshirt has lasted for ages. It doesn't really smell, it provides better protection from the sun, bugs and wind due to the tight weave, and it can take a tremendous beating compared to merino.

I've also switched away from merino for my long johns. I just use cheap polyester long johns because I find they don't really smell even after 10 nights or so of use, and they are lighter and more durable than expensive smartwool stuff.

The only place I still use merino is socks and my non-riding tshirt. I keep a lightweight Icebreaker merino tshirt for when I'm off the bike and walking around a town and it can go months without washing. Which is good, because washing machines and even hand washing are what destroy merino in my experience. Obviously I never use hot or warm water when washing merino, but even cold water takes its toll. I've used nothing but Darn Tough socks for years. They're more durable than smartwool and they're just amazing, I would never tour in anything else.

Last edited by RollingExist; 11-20-21 at 11:14 AM.
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Old 11-20-21, 12:03 PM
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Originally Posted by HendersonD View Post
It is a bit tough to predict what weather I will run into in terms of temperatures. I will likely hit Colorado sometime in mid June and of course will be at higher elevations for much of the rest of the ride to Oregon. Even thought about packing a down vest and wool beanie to use once off the bike later in the day and into the evening.
Some of my tours where I am not sure about weather, I bring one long sleeve jersey and one short sleeve one. And also a long sleeve jersey that is full zip and a litte thicker that I instead consider it to be a thin jacket, only wear it over other clothing. Plus a wind breaker over that. All of those are high visibility but the wind breaker is so sun faded now that it is quite dull.

I always bring a down vest, bright yellow in case I want to start the day on the bike with the vest on. And I keep a skull cap beanie in the vest pocket so I know where to look for it. Usually pack my vest in the same compression stuff sack that my sleeping bag is packed in.

I also bring a thin ear band that fits nicely under my helmet for those chilly mornings on the bike. My entire month long tour in Iceland, I never removed my rain cover from my helmet, it was great to keep the wind off of my noggin in chilly weather.

There are lots of choices for thin full finger gloves that have a fold out mitten pocket over the fingers, these are my favorite gloves for wet cold weather down into the 40s. Mine are about six years old, they might have made a few changes since then.
https://www.planetx.co.uk/i/q/CLPXHW...le-race-gloves


Originally Posted by GhostRider62 View Post
I would think about resupply of clothing using USPS Priority boxes
...
I used a down puffy for off the bike at night and also for riding in the early morning in the Rockies. It weighs almost nothing and packs very small.
I do not see resupply of clothing as being that great, if you need something then buy it. You would almost have to pack different items in boxes ahead of time so you would be able to tell someone to ship box labeled X to General Delivery, Podunk Anystate.

Agree on the vest, I noted that above.

I only have a couple merino items, none are bike specific clothing.

But, I try to do sink laundry fairly frequently. Carry a small bottle of Woolite in a 3 oz squeeze bottle and also a flat silicone sink stopper for campground sinks that almost never have a stopper.

My clothesline is 25 feet of thin cord, I have about 10 or 12 clothespins that the cord is strung through, 100 grams.





I made a huge mistake on this ACA trip I did with a dozen other bikers, I put up my clothesline before I did my laundry, when I was done washing my clothesline was already full.





Off topic but related. Some people think a sleeping bag liner will make your bag handle colder weather better. I do not think it does much in that regard, but a gal that I used to work with used to always use a sleeping bag liner to keep her sleeping bag cleaner. For that reason I started using a liner. And there have been a few nights where it was quite warm when I went to bed, started out using the liner as my sleeping bag, then as the night got colder, then used the bag too.
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Old 11-20-21, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by GhostRider62 View Post
I would think about resupply of clothing using USPS Priority boxes

WRT May, I was talking about from Charlottesville until you cross the Ohio after Kentucky.

Mid June will still be cold at night in the Rockies.

I used a down puffy for off the bike at night and also for riding in the early morning in the Rockies. It weighs almost nothing and packs very small.
I do have nice Mountain Hardware down jacket that is very lightweight and packs small. Either that or a down vest might work perfect
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Old 11-20-21, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Some of my tours where I am not sure about weather, I bring one long sleeve jersey and one short sleeve one. And also a long sleeve jersey that is full zip and a litte thicker that I instead consider it to be a thin jacket, only wear it over other clothing. Plus a wind breaker over that. All of those are high visibility but the wind breaker is so sun faded now that it is quite dull.

I always bring a down vest, bright yellow in case I want to start the day on the bike with the vest on. And I keep a skull cap beanie in the vest pocket so I know where to look for it. Usually pack my vest in the same compression stuff sack that my sleeping bag is packed in.

I also bring a thin ear band that fits nicely under my helmet for those chilly mornings on the bike. My entire month long tour in Iceland, I never removed my rain cover from my helmet, it was great to keep the wind off of my noggin in chilly weather.

There are lots of choices for thin full finger gloves that have a fold out mitten pocket over the fingers, these are my favorite gloves for wet cold weather down into the 40s. Mine are about six years old, they might have made a few changes since then.
https://www.planetx.co.uk/i/q/CLPXHW...le-race-gloves




I do not see resupply of clothing as being that great, if you need something then buy it. You would almost have to pack different items in boxes ahead of time so you would be able to tell someone to ship box labeled X to General Delivery, Podunk Anystate.

Agree on the vest, I noted that above.

I only have a couple merino items, none are bike specific clothing.

But, I try to do sink laundry fairly frequently. Carry a small bottle of Woolite in a 3 oz squeeze bottle and also a flat silicone sink stopper for campground sinks that almost never have a stopper.

My clothesline is 25 feet of thin cord, I have about 10 or 12 clothespins that the cord is strung through, 100 grams.





I made a huge mistake on this ACA trip I did with a dozen other bikers, I put up my clothesline before I did my laundry, when I was done washing my clothesline was already full.





Off topic but related. Some people think a sleeping bag liner will make your bag handle colder weather better. I do not think it does much in that regard, but a gal that I used to work with used to always use a sleeping bag liner to keep her sleeping bag cleaner. For that reason I started using a liner. And there have been a few nights where it was quite warm when I went to bed, started out using the liner as my sleeping bag, then as the night got colder, then used the bag too.
Clothing resupply isn't hard. It is much easier than buying kit because I'm very picky. Hell, finding decent tires is hard in some areas and bike shops are far apart. I do admit East to West at that time, kit resupply might not be needed but if the direction were reversed with a June start in Astoria, winter clothing would be needed until out of the Rockies and then it would into the smelter after Pueblo, making Pueblo my choice for a resupply West to East. But to each his own, you have three times the clothing hanging there than I would have on such a tour.
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Old 11-20-21, 08:25 PM
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You are going to see a lot of weather. What? Who knows but it is near certain you will see poor enough weather to justify wearing two or more jerseys and/or wanting a dry one to start the next day (in weather where nothing dries).

Bring both, the merino and the synthetic. I guarantee you will wear both. Probably at times at the same time. You will also find that in certain conditions, one will be the better.
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Old 11-21-21, 05:34 AM
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Originally Posted by GhostRider62 View Post
..., you have three times the clothing hanging there than I would have on such a tour.
Perhaps you did not read where I said: I made a huge mistake on this ACA trip I did with a dozen other bikers, I put up my clothesline before I did my laundry, when I was done washing my clothesline was already full.

If that was not clear, everyone else had filled up my clothesline before I could hang anything, none of the clothing on the line was mine.

Or if you were referring to the first photo where I had one jersey, one towel, two pairs of socks and one pair of undies, you must travel really light if you have only one third of that.
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Old 11-21-21, 06:01 AM
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i'll take merino wool every time. if you're worried about the visuals, throw on a windbreaker. the synthetic stink but pleasing visuals loses to the merino lack of stink
and not-so pleasing visuals every time. in the wet and the sweat, merino just works better. if you're worried about your instagram posts, you're gonna do what you're gonna do regardless.

and yes, it's true. the merino stuff will not last as long even if you're diligent about maintaining it. and yes, the synthetic stuff is usually less expensive. however, when the bleep hits the fan,
which would i rather be wearing? pretty easy to trace the slow deterioration of a merino wool garment vs a complete and utter failure of synthetic stuff in wet(tish) conditions.
we get those wet conditions occasionally.

Last edited by ooga-booga; 11-21-21 at 06:10 AM.
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Old 11-21-21, 06:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Perhaps you did not read where I said: I made a huge mistake on this ACA trip I did with a dozen other bikers, I put up my clothesline before I did my laundry, when I was done washing my clothesline was already full.

If that was not clear, everyone else had filled up my clothesline before I could hang anything, none of the clothing on the line was mine.

Or if you were referring to the first photo where I had one jersey, one towel, two pairs of socks and one pair of undies, you must travel really light if you have only one third of that.
I read it but still can't understand what you were trying to convey.
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Old 11-21-21, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by ooga-booga View Post
however, when the bleep hits the fan,
which would i rather be wearing? pretty easy to trace the slow deterioration of a merino wool garment vs a complete and utter failure of synthetic stuff in wet(tish) conditions.
we get those wet conditions occasionally.
Not sure what you are saying here. In what way do synthetics fail when conditions get wet?
If you mean they don't keep you warm when wet, I beg to differ. I come from a whitewater canoeing and kayaking background. I spent many a very wet day in freezing and subfreezing conditions and would have never chosen wool for quite a few decades now. Wool used to be the best or even the only reasonable answer, but that was along time ago. I was glad to see those days end.
If you mean that they fall apart that certainly isn't the case. My favorite garment is a synthetic kayaking sweater (Immersion Research) that is probably well over 30 years old and has been down countless rivers, been on just about every backpacking trip since I have owned it, and been on all my bike tours. As far as I can tell it is still perfect.
If you are referring to the stink, that varies with the garment. Early synthetics were terrible, much worse than wool. These days synthetics vary, some of mine are good some not so good, but none are really terrible like the early ones. I choose the ones that work for me to take on long trips. Personally I don't find wool works all that well at preventing stink. Maybe I have weird body chemistry or something.
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Old 11-21-21, 08:01 AM
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Originally Posted by GhostRider62 View Post
I read it but still can't understand what you were trying to convey.
the other riders put their clothes on his empty clothesline
these are not his clothes
they were clothesline hogs
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Old 11-21-21, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by ooga-booga View Post

and yes, it's true. the merino stuff will not last as long even if you're diligent about maintaining it. and yes, the synthetic stuff is usually less expensive. however, when the bleep hits the fan,
which would i rather be wearing? pretty easy to trace the slow deterioration of a merino wool garment vs a complete and utter failure of synthetic stuff in wet(tish) conditions.
.
not my experience at all over decades of outdoor stuff, winter and summer, but you obviously feel otherwise.
and I love some of my merino stuff, especially my long sleeve top with a nice high neckthat fits snugly. My most worn top.

I also do the synthetic jerseys, take one light one that breathes well and cooler in super hot riding, and can put the thicker one on top of the other one if cool, and use arm warmers.

basically I use both synthetic and wool, but synthetic jerseys are handy , I wash them in shower every day along with bike shorts and socks, so just part of the daily routine.

and yes, always have a fleece , beanie, neck up buff thing, and light gloves.
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Old 11-21-21, 08:26 AM
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Since the subject here is essentially about being less stinky, I have found that shaving armpits and using an industrial strength anti antiperspirant called "CERTAIN DRY", holds up for weeks.
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Old 11-21-21, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by RollingExist View Post
The advantage [of synthetics] over merino is that it is far more durable.
My experience as well. I've switched to capilene (Patagonia) Ts.
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Old 11-21-21, 11:31 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
My experience as well. I've switched to capilene (Patagonia) Ts.
I am now wondering how much microfiber that is shedding to the environment but that Capilene does last near forever and is really good. (It should be noted here that synthetics are far from equal. Merino wool and the like is far better than many but the really good synthetics are really good. I wore expedition weight Capilene next to my skin when we left St Johns, Newfoundland on a 34' sailboat for Ireland. 1987. Days 4 and 5 - real North Atlantic storm. 60 mph sustained winds, waves to 25'. Everything was wet all through if it didn't leave Newfoundland in a sealed bag. Day 6 was calm. I put on dry, clean polypro. In 24 hours, I couldn't stand it next to my skin anymore, took it off and pulled the soggy Capilene back on . Wore it through the next storm and until fair weather 24 hours from landfall.

Now that first day of sun! Over the continental shelf of Europe. Dolphins playing around us. My brother and I took showers on deck with one of those solar bags. Soap! Clean! And then a dry scarlet union suit. Wool and cotton. Felt so good! But to that Capilene? I wore it for 10 of 11 days; taking it off once.. Neither it nor I ever saw soap. I cannot say I was comfortable- this was life at 50 degrees; air, water and latitude. That 50 degree water was everywhere. But I wasn't uncomfortable. Slept just fine in my damp thermals and damp (fiberfill) sleeping bag.

I still have that Capilene top. Heaviest thermal I've got and still oh-so-comfortable - through anything and everything,
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