If you played youth sports in the aughts, it's likely that Under Armour ColdGear shirts were ubiquitous. So many kids who played outdoor sports were wearing the same compression shirt, bragging to their freezing cold friends about how warm they felt in frigid temperatures. But were they really functional or just a fad?
I was skeptical, even back then, but when I finally bought one, I got what all the fuss was about. The shirt was tight but stretchy enough not to limit my range of motion, and it kept me quite warm whenever I wore it. And while my needs for cold-weather clothing have changed since I was a young athlete, I still wear ColdGear whenever I’m out in the cold for an extended period (which is a lot during the New York winter).
SKIP AHEAD Other base layers to consider
Under Armour ColdGear Compression Mock
I’ve previously talked to experts about heated gloves and gained some knowledge on how clothing keeps us warm. According to Under Armour, the ColdGear compression mocks work like this:
- The brushed fabric on the inside of the shirt has channels, which create the air pockets that create insulation right next to your skin.
- The material does let some heat escape to prevent overheating, specifically to prevent too much sweating, according to the company — and we all know the cold-sweat feeling. The company says the shirt is very fast-drying, so you won’t experience much of that cold sweat.
In my experience, that all checks out. I’ve been wearing ColdGear mocks for over a decade, and it’s struck a solid balance between insulation and ventilation — I don’t feel overly warm when I’m wearing it in cool to cold weather, and I feel like I’m at my normal temperature even when it’s below freezing. When it comes to training in the cold, I feel that I’m close to peak performance when I’m wearing my mock. When I’m just walking around Queens, the freezing East River winds are still cold, but they aren’t unbearable if I layer up properly over the base layer. The biggest endorsement I can give is that when I’m wearing the compression shirt, the cold exposure doesn’t get to me — being out in below-freezing temperatures doesn’t make me colder over time.
The mock is made of a blend of polyester and elastane, or spandex, and, according to the company, the material has “4-way stretch,” so it moves and stretches well in every direction. The company also says the shirt has anti-odor protection. It fits right on the skin, so don’t be alarmed if you’ve never worn anything quite this tight before — it’s supposed to be that way. The fit on the neck provides good coverage, in my experience.
There are very few negatives I can point to, other than the tightness being a bit uncomfortable over very long periods of time — it’s great for a few hours, but after a full day (or more, if you’re a camper), it feels like my skin hasn’t breathed in a while. And sometimes the shirt can bunch up — I don’t have especially long arms, though, so it may just be a fit issue.
Other base layers to consider
Compression isn’t for everyone, but there are plenty of ultra-warm base layer shirts out there to try that may provide a better fit for you while keeping you warm. Here are a couple highly rated options.
Uniqlo HEATTECH Ultra Warm Crew Neck Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
According to the company, this shirt is 2.25 times warmer than regular HEATTECH. It’s not a compression shirt, so while it may not fit like the UA for athletic performance, you can wear it like a regular T-shirt. The shirt is made of acrylic, polyester, rayon and spandex. "I own a couple of Uniqlo HEATTECH base layers,” Select editor Michael Park said. “They’ve kept me warm in the Rockies during a once-in-a-century blizzard, right outside the Arctic at a polar bear research center, and even at what was briefly the coldest recorded spot on the planet in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. As soon as he was old enough, I bought my toddler a HEATTECH base layer, too."
Patagonia Men's Capilene Air Crew
This shirt is 51 percent wool — which meets the Responsible Wool Standard — and 49 percent recycled polyester. According to the company, the fabric blend keeps you warm and protects against odor and moisture, and Patagonia says it dries very quickly. It has an average rating of 4.6 stars from over 180 reviews on the Patagonia site.
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