Genuine Issue Base Layer Clothing
Part I: Polypropylene
William G. McKinney
Former U.S. Army Lieutenant
President, Bradley’s Military EnterprisesWhen I joined the U.S. Army in 1982 as an enlisted soldier I wasn't ready for the combat arms lifestyle. I was raised in a comfortable middle class family. I never was exposed to hunting, and I rarely went camping. My parents idea of roughing it was to travel 8 hours to Maine, get a hotel room and to stroll along the beach. I spent significantly more time at bistros and cafes than developing my survival skills. Before I went on my first field exercise I thought it would be an enjoyable experience similar to camping. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! Going to the training facilities at Grafenwohr Germany in January was a far stretch from having a relaxing camping experience. I quickly discovered that staying warm and dry was critical for field survival. This may sound easy to accomplish, but it wasn't an easy task. Back in those days we were issued waffle thermal underwear, wool shirts, field jackets, and wool field pants. The field jacket and pants also had removable mohair liners. This type of clothing was heavy, bulky and uncomfortable. Soldiers regularly overheated while road marching. Later we froze in our sweat drenched clothing. In those days we didn't have products that were breathable or had moisture wicking properties such as Gore-Tex, polypropylene, grid fleece or silk weights. Until these products were introduced we had no other option but to suffer or make the best of it. From August 1982 to July 1986, military clothing changed very little. To tell the truth our clothing and equipment was very similar to what was issued in World War II. We still had steel pot helmets, C-Rations, standard web gear, wool clothing, and waffle style thermal underwear. I was even issued olive drab fatigues although the BDU uniform was being introduced. During my first tour of duty the big changes in the Army was the BDU uniform, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and the PGST Kevlar helmet. When I depart the Army in 1986 I didn't anticipate any big changes in the near future, but I was wrong. When I joined the Army again in 1990 I was issued 2 new clothing items I had never used before. These new clothing items were Gore-Tex jackets and polypropylene thermal tops and bottoms. I will not go into details about the Gore-Tex Jacket in this article, but I will briefly say I loved it. What I loved even more was the new polypropylene thermal underwear. When I went to the field during the winter I always made sure that I brought my "Polypro," but there were times when I would accidentally mix in an old waffle style thermal underwear set. Believe me when I tell you there is a big difference in comfort and warmth between polypro and waffle thermal gear. This is especially true in cold wet environments or when the temperature falls below freezing. Eventually I threw away the old white cotton blend "waffles" so they couldn't find their way into my rucksack. The reasons why I love polypropylene:
- Polypropylene dries quickly.
- It wicks moisture away from the skin.
- It creates a dry barrier that increases warmth.
- It is an ideal product to use while road marching on bitter cold days.
- If you get sweaty polypro will quickly dry and help you stay warm.
- I like the soft feel of polypro on my skin.
- Cotton blend thermals absorbs moisture and it results in being cold. This explains why the Army has a cold weather training motto that states: "Cotton Kills."
- Wool dries slowly, it tends to make you itch and it is heavy when wet. Polypro; in contrast, is light, comfortable and surprisingly warm.
- Polypropylene is significant less expensive than newer products such as grid fleece thermal underwear.
- Polypropylene is basically spun plastic. Therefore, it is very heat sensitive.
- Polypro shrinks in the drier, especially in high heat.
- You should wash polypro items in cold water and hang dry. This is the best bet to avoid shrinkage.
- If you use a drying machine place your settings on low heat for 30 minutes.
- If you briefly have contact with a hot source polypro can melt in the blink of an eye. Once I melted a huge hole in my shirt by slightly touching a hot electrical generator.
- If you accidentally put a polypropylene item in the dryer on high heat, and allow it to remain in the colander after the machine stops, it will create small circles on the material. These circles are caused by the colander branding or melting the material. It will also shrink the item by one size or even more.
- Regardless of shrinking, polypro clings to the skin. It isn't as tight as Under Armor's compression wear, but it feels snug against the skin. Some customers don't like this feel, but I think it is very comfortable.
- Over time polypro forms small peal balls. Some say this is caused by exposure to heat. This may be true, but I think rubbing and friction causes the fine polypro hairs to ball up.
- On occasion my customers will tell me polypropylene holds body odor. I don't feel polypro stinks, but I have heard customers make this claim. It isn't a common complaint. Usually if there is any negative feedback about this product it is usually associated with shrinking.
- My recommendation about polypropylene products is twofold in nature. First, buy polypro products one size larger than you would normally wear. Second, don't put your polypro items in the dryer machine.
A look at just some of our Polypro merchandise:
And to browse our FULL line of Polypropylene products, simply click HERE! * Note: Polypro works well in conjunction with wool and polar fleece. It wicks sweat to the outside of the garment and then the outer layers will absorb this moisture. I recommend using wool gloves with polypro glove liners and wool socks with polypro sock liners. *Note: In my next article I will discuss an outstanding new extreme cold weather product called grid fleece.