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Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Kora Shola 230 Zip-T Baselayer



By Will Rietveld

Kora Shola baselayers are made of Yak wool, and Kora is the only company that purchases Yak wool from Tibetan nomadic herders and processes it into fabric. Yaks are the cattle of the Tibetan Plateau; they are raised for their milk, meat, hides, and wool, and are used as pack and work animals as well. Yaks survive at 4000 to 5000 meters due to their soft wooly undercoat that protects them from the winter cold. The yaks naturally shed their wooly undercoat in summer, and herders simply pluck the wool as it is shed; there is no shearing as with Merino sheep.

Why Yak wool? Research by Kora has shown that, compared to an equivalent weight of merino wool fabric, Yak wool fabric is 40% warmer, 66% more breathable, and 17% better at transporting water vapor, as well as being lighter and softer (like cashmere).

The Kora Shola 230 Zip-T is made of Yak wool and is claimed to be 40% warmer, 66% more breathable, and 17% better at transporting water vapor compared to a similar weight of merino wool.
 
I tested the Kora Shola 230 Zip-T to evaluate the performance of a Yak wool baselayer. FYI, a Kora is a devotional practice of trekking around a sacred mountain. I didn’t exactly do that, but I tested the baselayer on numerous trips (mostly snow sports) in the Southern Rockies to check it out.

Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
Kora (www.kora.net
Product
Shola 230 Zip-T
Fabric
100% Yak wool, 230 grams/square meter
Weight
10.15 oz (men’s Large)
Features
12 in front zipper, stand up collar, extra long body and sleeves, flat-locked seams, set-in sleeves, dropped tail
MSRP
$160

Description

Kora is a British company launched in 2013. They purchase fair trade Yak wool from a cooperative of nomadic herders on the Tibetan Plateau, then ship the wool to three factories in adjacent China for processing, knitting, and sewing.

Presently Kora offers a Yak wool zip-T and crew neck in men’s and women’s versions, bottoms, and a hooded jacket. The base layers all use 230 grams/square meter fabric, which is mid-weight. Sewing details, sizing, and fit are excellent. Other fabrics and garments are in the pipeline.

Because of its thermal benefits to the original Yak, and its claimed superiority over merino wool in terms of warmth, breathability, and moisture transfer, the Kola 230 Zip-T is primarily intended as a cold/cool weather baselayer. The focus is clearly on warmth and comfort. For its premium quality and price, an avid outdoors person should be able to detect significant warmth and extended range of comfort benefits from a lighter weight garment, compared to merino wool.

Field Testing

I tested it in winter in temperatures ranging from -10 to 55F and a range of weather conditions. I tallied a total of 36 outings testing the Shola Zip-T: trail running, snow hiking, cross-country skiing, skate skiing, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and warm weather hiking.

In Southwestern Colorado, winter days start out cold but the sun is strong and highs can reach 50F. I wore the Shola by itself under a very breathable hardshell jacket a good part of the time for aerobic activities in cold temperatures, and by itself in balmier conditions above freezing. And then there were those days when I wore it with a midlayer and shell in near blizzard conditions.

For comparison, I wore an Icebreaker 260 weight merino zip-T while trail running to see if I could detect a noticeable difference between it and the Kora Shola 230 (Icebreaker doesn’t have a 230 weight baselayer for a direct comparison). On those days I ran a 3.5 mile loop with 1000 feet of elevation gain and loss on packed snow in 20-35F temperatures, and then weighed the baselayer when I got home to determine moisture accumulation.

I know this is a subjective evaluation, but I will relate my experiences with the Shola as accurately as I can.

I found the construction quality and fit to be excellent. I like the extra long body; it doesn’t pull out when I bend over. And the sleeves are plenty long for my long arms. The cuffs do not have thumb loops. The fabric feels soft and warm against my skin and is not itchy. The flat-locked seams prevented any skin abrasion.

From testing the Shola Zip-T in snow sports and hiking, my impressions are that it is softer next to skin, remarkably warm, and has a broad comfort range. When worn under a highly breathable hardshell made of eVent DVS fabric, the combination provided warmth and sustained comfort while actively skiing or hiking in cold/cool temperatures down to about 15F; below that I added a fleece midlayer. What was remarkable was 1) the baselayer never felt clammy with the jacket fully zipped, and 2) its extended comfort range, out to about 50F before I had to open the front zipper of the jacket, and eventually take the jacket off.

On several warmer February days I was able to test the Shola by itself while skiing or snowshoeing at high altitude. It was delightful to wear a single layer on 40-50F days with a light breeze while skiing on five feet of snow.

I wore the Shola on 23 outings before I washed it for the first time, and there was no detectable smell. The garment smelled like a wet dog when it was wet, but that smell went away when it dried. After the washing I wore the Shola full-time for four days on an 8 mile ski trip to a mountain cabin and daily backcounty sojourns from the cabin; still no smells. The Shola also does not have any detectable pilling after wearing it on 36 outings.

My comparisons of the Shola Zip-T with an Icebreaker 260 Zip-T were all done on trail runs, as described above. With a breathable jacket worn over the Shola, the moisture accumulation in the baselayer was 1.9 ounces, compared to 2.3 ounces for the Icebreaker 260. For the baselayers worn by themselves (no jacket over them) the Kora accumulated 0.6 ounces of moisture while the Icebreaker accumulated 0.45 ounces. The results are very similar.

Assessment

The Kora Shola Zip-T is clearly a premium and elegant baselayer that is exceptionally well designed and sewn. And it has a premium price tag, about one-third more than a comparable merino wool baselayer.

So, does it perform better? Well, from my experience, it feels softer against my skin and softer to the touch, like cashmere. It is finely woven, and shows no signs of pilling. For active winter sports in colder weather, worn under a shell jacket or alone on warmer days, I was very pleased with its warmth, breathability, and comfort. In my opinion, it’s a measure better than a comparable merino wool baselayer.

However, when I pushed it to its limits by wearing it under a hardshell jacket while trail running, it accumulated a lot of moisture by the end of my run, the same as the merino wool baselayer. So they both accumulate moisture when confined under a shell, which is understandable. When either one was worn alone while trail running in cool temperatures, they accumulated some sweat but were still comfortable and warm.

Overall, from a performance standpoint, the Kora SholaYak wool baselayer lives up to its claims. It’s remarkably soft, warm, breathable, and moisture transmitting during moderate aerobic activity in cold/cool weather. However, I did not directly compare the Kora to a merino baselayer for snow sports. When I compared the two while trail running, the performance was basically the same.

From a weight standpoint, the Shola provides more warmth and performance in a lighter weight garment, about 3 ounces lighter than a merino baselayer.

From a cost standpoint, the Shola costs about $40 more than the Icebreaker 260 Zip-T I compared it with. People reading this review will ask if the extra warmth and performance is worth the extra cost. My response is you basically get what you pay for; you will not be disappointed with the Kora Shola. A high-tech cycling jacket or fleece top costs about the same, so the $160 cost is not unusual.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this gear review. Keep posting such details here. Anyways, I too want to buy new gear for my work outs and having an eye on the new collection of the Carbon38 mesh cut out leggings and tank tops. They had cute designs and at the same time the prices were affordable.

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