This is a review of HH LIFA Crew, a lightweight and breathable best base layer by Helly Hansen – the Norwegian manufacturer of professional-grade gear for the outdoors. It employs the LIFA Stay Warm Technology – a classic fiber for lightweight performance base layers. Here’s a little more about this fiber: invented by Helly Hansen in the 1970s, the LIFA fiber is engineered to deliver insulation, moisture-management, and comfort for outdoor pursuits and everyday use. The LIFA is essentially modified polypropylene engineered to meet the performance needs and requirements of the wearer in cool-to-cold weather conditions, i.e. the fiber should work best in autumn and winter.
HH LIFA Crew does not absorb much water and dries really fast especially in sunny weather
Quick specs: Helly Hansen HH LIFA Crew
Weight: 145 g (5.1 oz; men’s); 107 g (3.8 oz; women’s)
Material: 100% Polypropylene
- Flatseam construction for reduced chafing and maximum comfort against the skin
- 100% LIFA – lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying synthetic fiber for a range of outdoor pursuits
- Smooth, soft stretch fabric for improved fit and added comfort
- Fits well and feels comfortable
- Ultralight design plus the HH LIFA Crew is relatively breathable, which makes this top suitable not only for layering in cold weather but also for wearing it in warmer conditions as a single layer
- Excellent moisture-wicking abilities; great dry speed – it’s one of the best base layers considering solely the drying speed
- Super-affordable price; the garment also looks and feels good
- The smell after wearing it for a whole day on the trail (a couple of hours sweating is enough); especially in sunny weather as well as in warm temperatures and during high-intensity activities where you are creating a lot of heat
- The design of the cuffs isn’t the best when you have to wear the garment underneath another layer but the not-so-tight design compensates when worn as a single layer (for more information about the cuff design, see the picture below where we compare the cuffs of two different Helly Hansen base layer tops)
- The stitching of the sleeve cuffs doesn’t look that strong
The top is advertised as a lightweight technical multisport base layer for cold weather made with 100% HH LIFA fabric.
The base layer has been worn for about six months now and we can say that it is definitely a high-quality garment especially considering its price (it comes at roughly half the price of one of its major rivals – Patagonia Capilene). It’s been used during hiking trips in mountainous regions (changing weather; elevation from 750 to 1600+ m a.s.l.) as well as for town.
Fit & Comfort
The right fit can make or break the entire experience. It’s not only valid for boots but for clothing and other gear as well. The size you see on the pictures in this article is XXL (biggest size) and the person wearing it is 186 cm (6’1″) and weighs approximately 95 kg. While some people say that this base layer top runs small, it seems true to size (the measures of 2XL of this one coincide with the measures of size 2XL of other synthetic base layers by Helly Hansen). Actually, it might even look a kind of large but as soon as you put it on, it fits well and feels extremely comfy. The truth is that the sleeves are great length as well as the torso (it would probably fit easily someone who’s up to 193 cm or 6’4″). This means that the wearer should not worry too much that his/her back would be exposed to wind if they decide to bend over.
Generally, a garment is comfortable enough if you don’t notice anything strange while wearing it. This under layer is so comfy that most of the time you won’t even notice that it’s on you while walking, backpacking, cycling or doing some outdoor sport. The labels inside can cause friction but unlike other under layers by Helly Hansen, this one has only 2 labels inside (for example, the HH Dry Stripe Crew has 5 labels inside and trust me, it’s a lot). Anyway, cut them if you are one of those with very sensitive skin or if you are afraid that your skin might not tolerate any kind of touch or friction.
Warmth and layering
This base layer is made for aerobic activities (it’s lightweight and very thin) so you shouldn’t expect it to be too warm. And it isn’t. However, it feels warm enough when worn underneath a good middle layer and as long as you try to stay active, the thin LIFA fabric insulates well. Keep in mind that this top won’t cut the wind and cold so you’ll need other garments and layers in low temperatures.
The cuff design is very interesting especially for those used to wear other under layers for cold weather by Helly Hansen such as HH Lifa Stripe Crew or LIFA Merino. Unlike most of them, this one does not have tight cuffs, which has some positive but also some negative aspects. Generally, tight cuffs stay in place, seal warmth in, and work well for layering. However, many people don’t like the feeling of sleeve cuffs that are uncomfortably tight. The HH LIFA Crew won’t cause such a problem as its cuffs are designed to improve airflow and comfort like the cuffs of models designed to keep the wearer dry and warm (or cool) as needed. Apparently, the Norwegian company more recently focused on improving the heat-regulating performance of their base layers designed for high-intensity scenarios. On the flip side, a bit loose-fitting cuffs like these don’t work that nice for layering.
When worn beneath another layer, this synthetic base layer breathes well in cooler temperatures. During summer hikes in the mountain when the temperature range is between 16°C and 26°C (or 60°F to 80°F), it is breathable enough even when walking in the sun. However, we do not recommend wearing this top for prolonged time on a sunny summer day unless you’d pass through forests or mountains where shade is available.
According to Helly Hansen, this layer works best when layered underneath another garment to provide moisture management during aerobic sports and activities. It’s true. The material is really good at moisture evaporation as it wicks sweat away from the skin even during some intense hiking. The moisture evaporates through the mesh-like weave and the skin feels warm, dry, and comfortable. In addition, when wet, this base layer doesn’t need more than an hour or two to dry.
Lightning-fast drying properties make this top highly suitable to use as a single layer as well as for layering. Looking at different synthetic base layers objectively, there aren’t many others out there that can dry faster.
Construction and durability
The thin material and the low weight of this layer make it look as if it has mediocre durability. But it’s not true. Given that this top has been used quite a lot during these six months and the affordable price, it’s well-made and fairly durable for a lightweight construction. Anyway, avoid bushwhacking unless you’d like to test how easy it is to snag and tear a thin garment like this.
The usual price is $45, which makes the HH LIFA Crew quite affordable (keep in mind that it can be found for as little as $30 or even less during sales). No doubt, there are better base layers that offer more warmth, better breathability or superior quality. However, the price of the HH LIFA Crew is unbeatable for the quality of construction and comfort it offers.
Definitely one of the best budget base layers for hiking and backpacking, the Helly Hansen HH LIFA Crew is a good option for challenging trails and other high output activities in various conditions. It has great moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties. It isn’t the most breathable garment but breathes reasonably well and is comfortable for both cool-to-cold and warmer conditions as long as you try to reduce the time spent under direct sunlight.
As to our final verdict: the HH LIFA Crew top is an excellent buy if you know how to use its advantages while minimizing its weaknesses.
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