I’m a creature of habit, if something works and works well, it takes something really special to change my decision when it comes to buying kit. I’ve normally used something in the harshest environment to prove its worth, or know someone or some organisation that have used it and given it the ‘rubber stamp’.
In 1992 I went to Norway with 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines with kit I was issued, or what the army thought was good enough for that part of the world. I was cold and wet for the first few weeks but watching the Marines operate in the clothing they had gave me a lesson in life. The gear they were wearing was really good stuff, Helly Hanson and Berghaus to mention but a few. It was clear to me,if I was to make things slightly more comfortable for myself I would have to invest in specialist clothing, and keep the issue stuff in my locker.
One bit of kit I saw the ‘Boot Necks’ (Marines) wearing was the Helly Hanson Lifa thermal tops. This base layer was an absolute must. I was issued a green cotton thermal number; ok it kept me warm but the sweat was collected like a sponge and in minus temperatures, this sweat got very cold and made life very uncomfortable. I bought my first Lifa top on my first tour of Norway, I ordered it through a catalogue via the BFPO service and it was with me in weeks (no internet then). I loved it; the feel was soft and not heavy like a cotton t-shirt. I did my Arctic Warfare course and it was a life saver. Days of sky marching with heavy Bergans (massive rucksacs) were a breeze as I was a fit lad back then so I could enjoy the view, instead of worrying about bad gear dragging me down. The top wicked the sweat away like magic, days out in the field were great and without sounding like a minger, I got away with wearing it for a good 4 days without washing it before it got a bit funky. The warmth it preserved was second to none, in minus temperatures on an active day, I could just have the top and a wind proof smock and was extremely comfortable. As for storage, you can screw it up into the size of a tennis ball, it changed my life in the Arctic for the better.
This Christmas I asked for a replacement, yes for the one I bought in 1992, which by the way is still going strong. I did buy another in the late 90’s, not to replace my first but to have a spare, however, that one did bite the dust in Bosnia in an ironing incident!
I still wear my first one and it is as good as new, it has been to Norway 5 times, 3 weeks in Canada and 2 tours of Bosnia. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve washed it in a make shift showers or sinks. I’ve even had it in the desert for the cold nights and fresh mornings, it is really one of the most universal bits of kit I’ve had.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a kit expert or tester but if that isn’t a good ‘chuck up’ for a decent base layer, I don’t know what is!