Base Layer Clothing
Part III: Silk Weight Undershirt & Trousers
By: William McKinney
President, Bradley's Military Enterprises
In my last article I spoke about how I disliked the older wool and mohair cold weather clothing items, and how I enjoy the newer polypropylene and grid fleece products. In this base layer clothing article I will discuss my opinions about another new product known as silk weight undershirts & trousers.
SILK WEIGHTS: Officially Known as Light Weight Undershirt & Trousers
- Constructed with Polartec® Power Dry® Silk weight material
- Highly breathable, fast drying next-to-skin level
- Moisture wicking for evaporative cooling in warm weather
- Insulates and stays dry in cool weather
- Significantly lighter with less bulk than previous generation ECWCS
- Thumb holes aid in donning multiple levels
- Reduced chaffing and increased comfort during movement
- Contoured long tail undershirt for additional protection from the elements
- Color: Desert Sand
Soldiers Opinions & Buying Trends:
Silk weight products are well liked by soldiers although I sell more polypropylene and grid fleece products at my store. I also sell more used silk weight products than new. Most likely this is due to the inexpensive $5.95 price per garment when compared to the $19.95 per garment price for new products. The most common feedback I receive from soldiers is "I'm going to the field next week, and I have to get my silk weights!" Soldiers regularly use silk weight products in the field, especially during the winter.
When I was a young soldier in my prime, I was a big man standing 6 foot 3 tall and weighing 225lbs. When people speak about silk weight undershirts and trousers they usually focus on its wicking properties and how it creates a dry barrier against the skin. Although this is true, I focus on the smooth texture of the material and its ability to prevent chaffing. As a big man, I had chaffing problems. Despite the fact that I regularly changed my underwear, after 4 or 5 days in the field my groin area was usually rubbed raw, and I suffered from jock itch. Prolonged exposure to dirt, sand, sweat and course uniform material rubbing against my skin caused my groin area to become really painful. In the early 80s and 90s we didn't have silk weights so I experimented with lady's nylons to prevent chaffing, but I didn't like how it felt. I also experimented with Spandex boxer shorts and powders with some success. During the sizzling summers at Ft. Hood this combination was hot, but it prevented chaffing. On occasion I would run into soldiers who stated they didn't wear any underwear to prevent chaffing, and they recommended this approach to me. I never could bring myself to experimenting with this method.
Today I'm a comfortable civilian. I no longer have to go into the field for 1 to 4 weeks, and I only camp for 1 or 2 days at a time. I will confess that I don't like the feel of silk against my skin, and I have only used silk weights on 3 or 4 occasions. On one occasion when my wife purchased silky pillow covers I had them removed from my pillow. Obviously I'm not a big fan of silk or silk weights products, but I'm confident I would use the product to prevent chaffing if I was a field soldier once again. Most likely I would want to use a pair of trousers that are 1 size too small. I would want the material tight against my skin, and I would use antimicrobial powers. I sense a tight fitting pair of silk weight under trousers would be more effective at preventing groin chaffing than Spandex. Since silk weights are lighter, cooler, and drier than spandex this would be an additional benefit. I'm confident that I would have loved silk weight trousers on long field problems although I doubt I would use the undershirt.
Another interesting note about the evolution of silk weights. In the late 1990's or early 2000 era Under Armour introduced silky UA Tech and Compression Wear shirts and trousers. These products were extremely popular with soldiers during this period. This is especially true for elite soldiers that were a part of Ranger and Special Forces units. In 2006 the Army introduced the silk weight undergarments as a part of a larger package known as the Extended Climate Warfighter Clothing System or ECWCS. Today soldiers are issued silk weights or you can purchase these garments separately at stores such as Bradley's Military Surplus. I can't say for certain, but I suspect that Under Armour's high performance sportswear paved the way for the silk weight undershirt & trousers. Both of these products are very similar in nature.
In summary, if you want to increase coolness or warmth against your skin while increasing dryness I recommend silk weight products. I especially recommend this product to reduce chaffing or skin abrasion. All of these benefits make silk weight undershirts & trousers ideal for field use in hot or cold weather settings. If the weather drops into the 20s or lower I would suggest that you use this product with polypropylene and grid fleece underwear. If it is cold and damp you can add a Gore-Tex parka with a polar fleece liner for additional warmth. All of these new products associated with the ECWCS are outstanding field clothing. I highly recommend silk weights and other ECWCS products to keep you warm & dry in the worst cold weather settings that you can imagine. This is when you will appreciate them the most.
* Note: For more information about silk weight undergarments and ECWCS items there is a related article on ECWCS. You can also find information about Under Armour's UA Tech & Compression Wear at UnderArmour.com For more information regarding silk weights, including prices and colors that we have available, simply click HERE
William G. McKinney
Bradley's Military Enterprises
PresidentA brief look at just some of the silk weights we have to offer: