The Howies NBL Light Long Sleeve base layer is the surprise of the test. Howies has long been established as a funky eco-fashion brand, but it also has good technical credentials – as attested by the many mountain bikers who have picked up on it. I suspect this is due to the cut: this top is very long, with a lot of vertical stretch and very generous sleeves, which makes it superb for handlebars and stretching. This translates to climbing and scrambling applications. It’s a closer fit, but it’s not restrictive; the wool is a fairly roomy weave so it breathes well; the 100 per cent merino wool is durable and doesn’t smell, and freedom of movement is excellent. It’s light too, which makes it good for summer. But as with all merino wool base layers, the Howies NBL Light Long Sleeve base layer won’t be for everyone. Wool tops are warm and manage sweat generally pretty well, but once they’re soaked they can be uncomfortable and take a while to dry. This particular merino weave is not as smooth-feeling as the Smartwool top (though it’s not far off) and there’s no zip option; so while it’s good value and a lovely, active cut, I personally would probably go for the Smartwool.
Fabric 100% merino wool
Colours sunflower/graphite, ink blue
Sizes S-XL (men’s); 8-16 (women’s)
Weight 194g (men’s size M)
Made in Fiji
Stores in the UK 3
Verdict: The Howies NBL Light Long Sleeve base layer is a great-value merino wool top that is perfect for climbers and scramblers and is no slouch in the walking department either. A zip option would have been nice.
Review by Simon Ingram
First published in Trail magazine October 2009