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There's a secret ingredient to making merino wool extra, extra soft. It's bamboo.
At first, I didn't quite believe it either. Bamboo is a tree, and a material that makes sense in wood cores of skis. As it turns out, and as I can attest, Bamboo's rayon fibers also work wonders for merino wool.
Le Bent is a company of bootfitters from Val d'Isere, France, who spent a decade working with skier's feet. Meaning they saw a lot of holey socks. So it makes sense that they were inspired to make a better sock. While setting out to make a better sock, they also found a better fabric.
The sock--Le Sock, I mean--isn't quite for me. It's comfy, but somewhat bulky and less supportive compared to the compression ski socks that I prefer. But Le Bent also makes Le Baselayer, and that's where I found their ah-hah moment with the bamboo-merino material.
Le Bent's merino is merino without the itch. The blend of merino with rayon fibers from Bamboo is almost as soft as silk. It feels like butter, in the smooth, creamy sense. Or put another way, it's luxury in a long-sleeve shirt. And it still has all the qualities we've come to love and expect about merino--it regulates temperature, it doesn't smell, and it keeps you dry. The style I wear is their lightweight raglan. It uses a blend that is 66.5 percent rayon from bamboo, 30.5 percent merino, and three percent lycra.
Le Bent's baselayers are also stretchy, a quality that makes them fit well. The four-way stretch material is thin to fit like a second skin--but it's not so skin tight that I can't breathe. My arms move freely.
I feel good that this shirt is going to last a long time. I've gone through my share of well-worn and well-loved merino baselayers only to have them rip much too easily. The stretch in Le Bent's baselayer gives me more confidence that it will withstand the tug and pull that happens when you're wearing baselayers in the mountains. So you'll get enough use to justify the 100 bucks spent on the shirt.