Creature comforts…

It’s a cool and crisp sunny day here in West Yorkshire – the second in a row in fact.

It’s on days like these that creature comforts come into their own. Caroline’s just headed out on her touring bike to get some miles under her wheels and to catch up with her son, daughter and grandkids.

As she left, she picked up a couple of pieces of kit that come into their own on such a day as today – a Buff and her SealSkinz cycling gloves.

The Buff comes in a few different guises now and has a few imitators too. The original is still the best though and the few that I have in one of the gear drawers upstairs is a testament to the effectiveness of the idea behind the Buff, the range of designs, colours or logos and the selection of variations on the theme.

There’s the original company logo version, the one for Sprayway, the one for Mountain Equipment, the Saltire one that was bought the last time I was in Scotland, the Long Way Down version for UNICEF/Ewan McGregor/Charley Boorman, the winter one with the fleece/microfibre combo and a few others besides.

They’ve been worn as neck gaiters in the summer, face masks in the winter, balaclavas, cold protection in colder-than-they-should-be retail outlets, as added warmth under cycle helmets and as hand towels, face cloths and a few things that aren’t highlighted on the information film that seemed to be running in every outdoor shop the last time I did the rounds of such things.

They’ve become almost ubiquitous – I’ve used them while walking, cross-country skiing, cycling, climbing, mooching around town, travelling and whilst serving in shops with duff heating systems too. Caroline’s used hers whilst walking, travelling or cycling and her two sons have used theirs for backpacking, climbing, cycling, parachuting or motor cycling.

SealSkinz gloves have also gained a few fans too around these parts. I first came across the original version years ago whilst doing a glove review for Cycling Plus. Yes, they were unusual to wear at first, but the combination of warmth, waterproofness and grip made them ideal for cycling, cross-country skiing and winter walking whilst using trekking poles.

The version Caroline’s using today is the insulated and waterproof take on the theme. They’ve been used over the winter months for ten years or so and yes, she finds them comfortable and useful too (she’s an all-weather cyclist as she uses the bike to get to work as she’s never learned how to drive. She also finds that she can get to work on the bike quicker than she can in a taxi when there’s snow on the ground…).

One thing that came to mind recently was how effective these gloves are. Caroline thought that she’d lost one because there was only one in her winter kit store. Luckily, the other one was at the back of her locker at work because she was about to go out and buy another pair because they had proved to be so useful to her whilst commuting or on long rides and whilst we were wandering around a very cold Prague at 6.30am one February morning in an effort to get some photos down at the Charles Bridge.

It’s on such cold days that another creature comfort comes into its own – wool base layers. I have a couple of Icebreaker and a couple of Tog 24 merino wool tops plus one by Smartwool. I also have a pair of the latter brand’s underpants too – warm, comfortable and they’re neither itchy or scratchy…

I’d been used to using standard base layers for years – polypropylene ones that honked something rotten after one day on the hill or a selection of mixed fibre fabrics that didn’t have the ability to clear a way to the bar by simply raising your arms to expose your pits!

Some brands have used merino wool in combination with other fibres and whilst it’s a good lower cost alternative, I still prefer to use a pure wool base layer instead. I’ve been known to wear those Icebreaker, Tog 24 or Smartwool tops for days at a time either at home, at work or on days out.

At one point I didn’t have access to a washing machine, so the added benefit of the items not needing to be washed at the end of one day’s wearing did come into its own.

The choice of garment that you make is entirely down to you. I have merino wool t-shirts, long-sleeved crew neck tops and also zip neck tops too. The one I decide to wear can be determined by the activity that’s going to be undertaken on the day or indeed by which one just happens to be close to hand when I open the appropriate drawer in my wardrobe.

The next layer above whichever base layer I’ve chosen is likely to be a zip neck fleece pullover. There’s a host of different fleeces to choose from in different weights of fleece fabric, but the one I’m used to wearing is inevitably one made from microfleece.

When it comes to microfleece zip necks, I don’t have a favourite. Yes, a few of them are in black, but others are various shades of blue or riff on a theme of red.

There’s zip neck items from Berghaus, Craghoppers, Peter Storm, Rab, Regatta, Rohan and The North Face in the cupboard and a couple of crew necks too by either Craghoppers or Peter Storm in there too for days or nights when a change is called for, especially in surroundings when a dress code of sorts is in action.

The other fleeces of choice are of a much heavier weight fleece. I have medium weight and heavyweight fleece snap neck fastening fleeces by Patagonia and whilst they’re both starting to show their age, I’m reluctant to part with them because a) they’re still nice and warm and b) because they’re expensive items to replace!

Like the other fleeces mentioned here, they wash easily and can be dry again the following morning. The chest pocket can take a smaller smartphone or a pack of coffin nails if you’re into such things and like the base layers or the microfleece pullovers mentioned above, these fleeces can be used as part of a decent layering system.

But the microfleece and these heavier weight pullovers do have another trick up their sleeve – they can also be used as base layers themselves when the temperatures plummet to levels lower than you’re used to. Layer up with these on and you can put the toast into toasty quite quickly – useful if you’re heating fails and you live in a Victorian era flat with single glazed windows because it’s in a conservation area!

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in both the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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