A base layer is what you wear under your hockey equipment, and can increase your comfort while eliminating some of the other things you might need to buy. As I was purchasing equipment in preparation for my first hockey lesson, I didn't really think about what I would wear beneath my protective gear. I just assumed I'd wear a t-shirt and some long underwear like players did in the 1980s. That would have been dumb, and would probably have cost more money, anyway. A good base layer is comfortable and eliminates the need to purchase several other necessary items.
There are different brands of base layers, but I am most familiar with the Bauer brand, since that is what I have used over the past year. A base layer is basically like a wet suit. It is made of a combination of polyester and spandex. You can buy a one-piece base layer that goes from neck to ankle, or a separate shirt and pants. I recommend buying a separate shirt and pants, because it costs about the same but gives you more options, such as short sleeves.
Base Layer Shirt
A base layer shirt is more comfortable to wear under your shoulder pads than a t-shirt, since it is made specifically for athletic movement and won't bunch up in the armpits, neck or shoulder areas. You can get them with either short or long sleeves. I prefer long sleeves because I don't want to feel my elbow pads against my skin. However, my elbow pads do tend to slip around a bit because of the long sleeves That is not a problem with short-sleeved base layer shirts, since your elbow pads are wrapped directly around your arm.
The big advantage of a base layer shirt is that you can get them with a built-in neck protector. Adults don't have to wear neck protectors, whereas children under 18 usually do. But even if you are over 18, is it really a bad idea to have some protection around your neck? A separate neck guard will cost $10 to $20, and is very stiff and uncomfortable to wear. The neck guard built-into the base layer shirt is so comfortable you don't even notice it, but it does not offer the same level of protection as a thicker, stand-alone neck protector. However, it does contain Kevlar and will greatly reduce the risk of a cut from a skate blade.
The only drawback of a base layer shirt is the price tag ($30 to $50, depending on sleeves and/or neck protector). Still, I feel that it is a worthwhile investment because it is comfortable and the neck protector can reduce an injury.
Base Layer Pants
Like the base layer shirts, base layer pants also come in several varieties. You have the "pants" type that come down to the ankle, and the "shorts" type that come down just above the knee. Each kind also come with or without a front pocket for an athletic cup.
Since I didn't want to feel my shin guards against my calves (those straps can be itchy), I purchased the long base layer pants. But what really sets this product apart is the built-in pocket for the athletic cup. This is the number one reason I bought these pants. They are much more comfortable than wearing an old-style jock strap and cup.
The Bauer pants also have Velcro tabs on the front and back to hold up your hockey socks, eliminating the need to purchase a garter belt to hold your socks up.
While these pants cost around $40 to $50, you'd spend $20 to $30 on a cup and supporter, and another $10 on a garter belt. Right there, that is almost the cost of the base layer pants.
One frustration with the base layer pants is that sometimes it is difficult to get the cup to sit comfortably when you put it in the front pocket (you have to remove the cup when you wash the pants). Certain brands of athletic cups have a type of rubber or silicone around the edges that is soft to cushion an impact, but also causes friction against the base layer's material. This makes it challenging to put the cup in straight. The base layer pants I bought last year came with an XO brand cup, which would take forever to set it in the pocket just right. But I bought another pair of pants this year, and it came with a Mueller brand cup that has a different type of padding on the edges, and glides easily in and out of the pocket.
My advice is to either buy a cup that doesn't have as much tacky rubber/silicone/whatever around the edges to use in place of the cup that comes with the Bauer base layer pants, or make sure that the base layer pants you buy have a cup that is easy to remove and replace.
Overall, a base layer keeps your equipment from rubbing against your skin, and replaces a few things that you'd need to buy anyway.
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