The world of baselayers can be a bit of a mine field. Different brands, different materials, different “technologies” at play. Most people seem to arrive at a particular preference, whereas I tend to use a different baselayer dependant on what it is I’m doing. In the winter of course I would tend to use something thicker, for single day pursuits of high intensity I’d go for synthetic and multi-day trips I’d use merino. The thing with merino is that it tends to be expensive, which rules it out for a lot of people. The Alpkit Kepler however, comes at a price point to suit most.
As I said, merino is my and many people’s choice of material for multi day trips; but you also need a good, comfortable and functional fit too. As soon as the Alpkit Kepler arrived, I tried it on. It seemed a little looser than I would like a baselayer to sit (size guide pointing me to medium) as I usually favour a more athletic cut. I feel the baselayer then moves better with the body and causes a little less annoyance at the collar and sleeve ends. I always expect Merino to itchy to start with so I ran it through a cycle with wool wash the night before the trip. Something else that is noticeable, mainly because I was looking out for defects (considering the price point), is that the tshirt is really well made. No stitches out of place, no pulls in the fabric. It feels like a more expensive baselayer.
So with a fully loaded weekend pack in tow; the Kepler felt comfortable from the off. No itchiness after the initial wash, and although slightly big it didn’t feel as though it was hanging from me. I’d still have preferred a closer fit, but next time it would be as easy as ordering a size down if that is what you’re after. The rucksack was a 48ltr, packed ready for three days and so was somewhat heavy. Due to the flatlock stitching though and the fact that the seams are located om the front as opposed to the top of the shoulders – there was no rubbing at all. So again – comfortable.
You may think that the Alpkit Kepler may be thinner or of lesser quality merino at such a friendly price, but it is 100% New Zealand merino wool. Quite often, with cheaper ‘merino’ baselayers, I have found that the wool sometimes makes up a much lower percentage of the material. The Kepler felt robust enough to stand up to multiple days of activity without suffering considerable wear. In the past, I have used baselayers from larger companies such as Rab that have suffered holes after a couple of days. To no surprise, the Alpkit Kepler did last out the weekend still looking as new as when it arrived. The quality of the shirt also showed through how warm it proved to be. On a not so summery August day, it was fine to use as the only layer and didn’t need to be coupled with a midlayer. Even after setting up camp near the summit of Wetherlam, I only needed a thin softshell jacket as well and I was more than happy. I would definitely say this would make a great first layer in a winter layering system.
Merino wool isn’t well-known for its wicking ability as such. The fibres will soak up moisture but don’t really transport it away from your body and allow it to evaporate nearly as good as synthetic fibres, but with that said – the Alpkit Kepler did a decent job at drying even after a few hard hours pushing up the fells. To really put it through a decent test, I planned to use this baselayer in my summer down bag aswell, in order to save weight leaving my liner at home. By the time I had pitched, arranged my gear inside and made a brew the t-shirt was dry, so no soggyness when trying to sleep. I do think that the loose fit helped with a bit of ventilation in this, however. After using the Alpkit Kepler across three days, and as nightwear also there wasn’t much of a discernible odour either. Of course merino is naturally odour resistant but it is indicative of quality, the longer a garment can go being used without beginning to whiff just a tad. I do tend to sweat quite abit when hitting longer routes or staying out for a couple of days and so the anti odour properties of the Alpkit Kepler really was the ‘acid test.’
In all, this is pretty much your typical merino baselayer. The difference between the Alpkit Kepler and most others is the great price point that the company has managed to achieve, while still retaining the quality that you would expect for twice as much coming from any other brand. It is comfortable, if not perhaps a little too large, warm, dries quickly (in terms of how fast merino usually dries) and leaves very little to no noticeable odour. It is certainly ideal for multi day trips, and most other outdoor pursuits. It will be interesting to see how long the Alpkit Kepler will last, I feel like there has to be a downside to the fact it’s cheaper than others – I can’t find one yet though! I think a long sleeved version will fit the bill for later in the year. I don’t think that the long sleeved version has thumb loops, but if it did it would probably be a perfect baselayer for me when the weather turns colder.
*QUICK EDIT* The guys over at Alpkit have told me that the long sleeved version of the Kepler does indeed have thumb loops.