Lightweight, flatlocked seams, thumb loops, sustainable Naia fibres, odour minimising
Really does minimise sweaty odours
Super stretchy and comfortable
Made using sustainable fibres
Came up a little short on me
What I’m Looking For
Full disclosure: I’m a BAM fan. It’s my go-to brand for climbing leggings, and trust me on this one, they have the best opacity of any I’ve ever worn (your belayer won’t get an eyeful of your undies, guaranteed). I have a few other BAM bits in my wardrobe, including yoga pants and their notoriously soft socks, and can attest to the longevity of the products too – this is a pretty big deal for me because for a brand to claim sustainable values, their products need to have a healthy lifespan as well. It’s interesting to note that independent assessments of their sustainability model that reflect pretty favourably on the brand too. They’ve already made some impressive moves in textile sustainability and end-of-life solutions, are transparent about their footprint and have ambitions to become impact positive by 2030.
In base layers specifically, exactly what I’m after will differ depending on my intended activity. I find BAM base layers lend themselves particularly well to yoga and climbing, but having tried one of their older bamboo jersey layers a couple of years back, I found that it held sweat and left me feeling damp and cold whilst running. The Novea base layer uses a new fabric comprising bamboo viscose and Naia, a fibre made from responsibly sourced wood pulp with a low impact processing method, that is ‘designed for high intensity workouts‘, so I’m interested to see if it behaves better when things get sweaty!
At 5’8″, I often find that women-specific base layers can come up frustratingly short, or with inadequate length sleeves. Coupled with a climbing harness, I often end up with a gap of cold, exposed flesh on my lower back, so a base layer that doesn’t leave me with chilly kidneys would be wonderful too. And then of course, there are the base layer standard requirements of decent temperature regulation, comfort (no itchy stitching please), and good all-round mobility is of course a must in any activity.
Oh yes – it’s super soft. The fabric feels great against my skin and the flatlock seams mean there’s no chafing or itching. Just like the jersey version, the fit is very clingy but there’s plenty of stretch and the mobility feels great when I reach up. It is however lighter than the jersey version, and whilst I find bamboo clothes in general tend to be a little heavier than synthetics, the fabric feels superior.
There’s just one thing – the length. I can tell straight away that there’s going to be a gap between my waistband and the hem. The cut actually is a little longer at the back and paired with high-waisted leggings it works, but with lower-cut trousers I can definitely feel a draft. This probably wouldn’t be an issue for those of shorter stature, but tall folks beware!
The sleeves however, are perfect; long enough with a comfy cuff and thumb hole. The neckline is a nice height and cut, balancing comfort with warmth and the colour (which aptly for the festive season, is called Cranberry) is lovely and bright.
The Novea base layer’s maiden outing was to some local boulders inbetween wet spells. Since then, it’s run drizzly laps of Whinlatter’s forest trail underneath a light waterproof, scaled the heights of some of Cumbria’s indoor climbing walls (some of which can be surprisingly chilly at this time of year), hiked some Lakeland hills and has been an integral part of my WFH layering system as I stoically resist turning on the central heating.
Who is this base layer for?
This base layer would suit hikers, yogis, climbers and the slightly less gnarly runners amongst us
I mentioned before that I had different desires depending on activity when it comes to base layers; if I were off on a big winter mountain day, I’d probably choose something in merino rather than bamboo for a bit more warmth, but for street and trail running or activities on lower-level hills and crags, the Novea is a great option.
In my experience, bamboo isn’t necessarily suitable for lightweight hiking or wet weather, as the nature of the fibre is that it tends to be pretty slow-drying after a downpour or wash. That said, BAM reckon that owing to the natural, odour-eliminating properties of bamboo fibres, you shouldn’t need to wash their garments as often as standard synthetics anyway, which is a small win for both the environment and my electricity bill.
BAM has a wide, multi-generational appeal (my mum was wearing BAM long before me), and their clothes are not activity-specific, the Novea included. This base layer would suit hikers, yogis, climbers and the slightly less gnarly runners amongst us, particularly those who value comfort and versatility and have an interest in sustainability and ethical brands.
What stands out?
The stretch and softness of BAM’s base layer are a big win for climbers and yogis. Big reaches and backbends? No problem for Novea.
The natural fibres of the Novea base layer do a brilliant job of keeping sweaty smells to a minimum. I’m not saying the get rid of them altogether, but compared to synthetic fabrics, there’s a marked reduction.
Whilst it might not be the base layer for extreme conditions, for the purposes tested the Novea did a decent job of keeping me just the right temperature as I changed pace on my run and alternated between climbing and resting. The heavier-weight jersey version might be a better option for colder days and lower-intensity activities.
Length and cut
The Novea base layer has a close-fitting cut which wont be to everybody’s taste, but I find it sleek and unobtrusive when I’m on the move. I’d love a longer length option however, to prevent that cold back gap when bending, squatting and reaching.
I can’t fault BAM when it comes to comfort, and Novea is no different. The flatlock seams make a big difference and the cuffs keep the sleeve snug at the wrist so no drafts sneak in.
Moisture wicking and dry-time
This was the biggie – BAM claims the Novea dries more quickly than their classic bamboo base layers, and it certainly seems to be the case. Even after a sprint with a waterproof over the top left me rather sweaty, the Novea dried much quicker than the classic jersey bamboo layer did.
Value for money
BAM’s Novea base layer is priced similarly to some upper-middle budget outdoor brands, but of course the USP is very different – you’re paying for ethics, longevity and versatility rather than technical prowess in the most extreme conditions – if you buy with the latter in mind, you might be disappointed.
Novea is an excellent option for milder winter days or shoulder seasons, and the fact that it is such a versatile, multi-activity layer adds to its value. Whilst £55 certainly isn’t cheap, I am confident that BAM kit is made to last.
BASE Bottom Line
I’m not one to be sucked in by big sustainability claims – I like to do my research. But one thing I do like about BAM is their transparency and openness around doing better. Yes, it’s eternally frustrating that more sustainable textiles will hit you harder in the wallet and times are tight for many of us right now, but what I will say for BAM kit is that in my experience, it’s multi-functional, and it does last.
If you’re in the market for a lightweight, low-impact base layer that’ll take you from climbs, runs and rides to stretching and Savasana, with minimal washing and an improved drying time, Novea is well worth a try.
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