Materials: TercelBuy Here
Being an environmentally conscious consumer is challenging. Often, more sustainable, tree hugger products just don't perform as well as their planet-hurting, chemical-heavy alternatives. It feels like a constant compromise: Would I rather have a reliable product or one that's more eco-friendly? As a skier who cares deeply about the longevity of our planet, and about being comfortable on the mountain, I admittedly want both.
BINGO: The new base layer line from Element Pure. What started as a Kickstarter project in 2015 is now a full-fledged business offering the softest, most comfortable base layers I've ever worn, processed in a way I feel really good about. Element Pure uses a material called Tencel in all of its products, including the Ultrafine Tencel Nanofiber Long Sleeve Crew ($69) and Baselayer Bottom ($79) I wear.
Tencel is the brand name for a fiber called lyocell, which is made from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees. Since eucalyptus is fast growing and does not require irrigation, Tencel uses 20-times less water to grow than the average U.S. or Chinese farm-grown cotton.
It also generates five-times less CO2 to produce than polyester, and because it's made from wood, it is 100 percent biodegradable. And not just "eventually" biodegradable; under compost conditions, Tencel fibers biodegrade is 12 days or less. Anything polyester or nylon is just going to sit in a landfill for 200 years. The production process is also closed cycle, which means it recovers more than 99 percent of water used in the process. Plus, the only chemical used to produce lyocell fibers is nontoxic and organic.
Tencel is the ultimate in sustainable fabrics, but that wouldn't matter much to us as skiers if it didn't keep us warm and dry on the mountain, right? The good news is I've found these ski skivvies to have three main benefits, in addition to their sustainability.
1). Element Pure base layers are crazy soft. I'm talking baby bunnies, really expensive sheets, three-ply toilet paper soft. One factor affecting softness of fabrics is the length of the fibers they are made from. Element Pure uses fibers up to 98mm in length, which is more than twice as long as extremely high-end cotton. Tencel also has low fiber rigidity and a very smooth fiber surface—science-speak for "try these on and you'll never wear anything else."
2). Because you won't want to take them off long enough to wash, it's a good thing Tencel is highly antibacterial and remains odorless even after being soaked in sweat. I put this to the test by wearing these base layers for six consecutive days of skiing, and leaving them in a crumpled heap on the floor every night. Day seven? Still fresh.
Here's how it works: Most odor causing bacteria requires water on the surface of fibers in order to grow. Since all the water and sweat is absorbed inside Tencel fibers, bacteria can't grow here. You could wear these baselayers to the jungle and you won't feel sweaty or stinky.
3). You also won't be cold. At first I was skeptical of the lightness of this material; it feels very thin, yet is has better thermal resistance than most other materials, including wool, of the same thickness and weave. Last week, I endured temperatures as low as -20 and the Element Pure base layers kept me warm, dry, and smiling.
Something else that made me smile? The plastic-free packaging used by Element Pure—because what good is a sustainable product if it comes wrapped in crap?