This review is about LIFA ACTIVE Crew, a multisport base layer by Helly Hansen. For those unfamiliar with Helly Hansen (HH), it is a Norwegian company specializing in making professional-grade gear for the outdoors. Their assortment of clothing and gear ranges from base and mid-layers to rain gear, pants, jackets, hats, gloves, socks, and footwear.
Advertised as a base layer top designed for active individuals participating in various outdoor activities, the LIFA ACTIVE Crew is an all-synthetic performance base layer engineered for providing lightweight warmth and moisture management year-round. So we decided to put it to our rigorous testing and see if it lives up to our expectations.
In the text below, we will try to give you as much relevant information as possible about this base layer top to facilitate making a really informed choice whether you should give it a shot or not.
Table of Contents
Quick specs: Helly Hansen LIFA ACTIVE Crew Base Layer
Weight: 185 g (6.53 oz) for ‘Black’ in men’s size 2XL
Material: 66% Polyester (recycled), 34% polypropylene
- Shell (exterior): Polyester
- Next-to-skin (interior): Polypropylene
- 2-Layer construction including 100% LIFA – lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying synthetic fiber – next to the skin.
- Smooth, soft stretch fabric for improved fit and added comfort.
- Bluesign-approved and Oceanbound Recycled materials.
- The chest of the shirt features an embroidered HH logo.
- HH Performance stripes on the sleeve cuffs.
- Lightweight top that’s designed to fit closely to the body. Great for all seasons. It serves as an underlayer in cold conditions and can be worn as a single layer in milder weather.
- Versatile and suitable for a range of activities including hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and other cold-weather sports.
- Fits well, offering a balanced fit that isn’t too tight or overly loose. Feels very comfortable thanks to the soft, stretchy fabric. We also like the classic design of the garment.
- HH LIFA ACTIVE Crew is relatively breathable, allowing better and more efficient thermoregulation. This feature helps to keep your body temperature comfortable during a variety of physical activities.
- Excellent moisture-wicking abilities and lightning-fast drying speed. The LIFA fabric, known for its exceptional moisture-wicking properties, moves moisture away from the skin ensuring the user stays dry and comfortable during high-intensity activities.
- While this shirt offers reasonable warmth for its thin fabric, it doesn’t provide as much warmth as thicker base layers. For colder conditions, you’ll need to pair it with one or more layers to add extra insulation.
- Needs washing after nearly every use, even if worn for only a few hours. On the positive side, the smell after wearing it for a whole day on the trail isn’t as bad as when wearing other synthetic underlayers.
- The fabric is very thin and this can be a drawback in areas with sharp vegetation. We’ve tested it both as an underlayer and on its own and can say that the thin fabric isn’t an advantage when walking through areas with spiky and thorny vegetation. While the fabric is of high quality, it is prone to snagging and tearing.
We’ve had an opportunity to test this lightweight technical multisport base layer since early 2023 in both cold and warm conditions. So, we have plenty of information about its performance and functionality across different environments.
The HH LIFA ACTIVE Crew is a high-quality garment suitable for all seasons. We like its versatility, whether as a part of a layered clothing system or as a standalone. This base layer top is soft, super comfortable, breathable, and has excellent moisture-wicking abilities as well as lighting fast drying speed. All these qualities make it a viable option for both outdoor activities in the mountains and everyday wear in town.
In the text below, we provide important details about the advantages and drawbacks of the Helly Hansen LIFA ACTIVE Crew top. You will also find more details about its features.
Material, construction, and durability
Engineered as a 2-layer construction, its exterior is made from soft polyester, whereas the next-to-skin part is crafted from 100% LIFA. For those unfamiliar with LIFA, it’s basically Helly Hansen’s own proprietary fiber (modified polypropylene) engineered to deliver insulation, moisture management, and comfort for outdoor pursuits and everyday use.
It is worth mentioning that this underlayer contains bluesign-approved material that meets the criteria for sustainable textile production and Oceanbound recycled materials sourced from discarded plastic bottles.
This classic cut design is simple yet effective. Plus, the garment looks pretty good and it is no problem to wear it on its own in town. As with most models offered by Helly Hansen, this one looks much better in person/real life.
The overall construction is well-made and surprisingly durable given how thin and lightweight the fabric is. The double stitching definitely contributes to a more durable construction. There are some loose threads from the garment, but it’s a minor issue not worth worrying about. After some hiking through spiky and thorny vegetation, we can confirm that its durability is anything but mediocre – the shirt has held up great. However, snagging and tearing remain potential concerns when navigating through dense vegetation. Our general advice is to avoid bushwhacking whenever possible when wearing the LIFA ACTIVE Crew as a standalone piece.
Weight and packability
While the product page shows 270 g (9.52 oz), this underlayer top is definitely much lighter than this. We’ve measured it to be 185 g (6.53 oz) for ‘Black’ in men’s size 2XL and it is the largest size offered by Helly Hansen for this particular design.
While the 185 g makes it comparable to the weight of other lightweight designs for active lifestyle such as the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew and Odlo Active F-Dry Light, this weight is definitely lighter than the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top whose weight in men’s size 2XL of 230 g (8.1 oz) is considerably (24%) heavier. Another excellent lightweight model, Arc’teryx Rho LT Crew weighs 220 g (7.8 oz); however, it has a zippered pocket, which adds the extra weight/grams.
The garment is very packable, making it easy to carry and store in your pack for when needed.
Fit and comfort
Fit is among the most important factors to consider when looking for underwear and base layers. The old maxim that the right fit can make or break the entire experience is especially valid for pieces of clothing you wear close to your skin. The size you see in the pictures in this article is 2XL (the biggest size offered by Helly Hansen for this design).
It fits perfectly a person who is 186 cm (6’1″) tall and weighs approximately 98 kg (216 lbs). This base layer top is true to size, despite what some may say. The size 2XL of this base layer matches the measurements of other all-synthetic underlayers by Helly Hansen, which speaks for itself.
The length of the front, back, and sleeves should be sufficient to accommodate individuals who are 5-8 cm (2-3 inches) taller than the author. Of course, this is a speculation as the fit depends on factors such as height, weight, and body shape.
Now, let’s talk a bit about the comfort the HH LIFA ACTIVE Crew provides. It is super important as the shirt will be worn next to the skin. Luckily, it is super comfortable due to the soft and stretchy fabric, so that you won’t even notice this underlayer top most of the time while navigating various terrains during your hiking trips. This says it all.
Now, we would like to share a drawback we have with pretty much all synthetic base layers. It’s called static electricity. Unfortunately, this shirt is no exception. Unlike wool, which has antistatic properties, the synthetic material HH LIFA ACTIVE is made from generates static electricity. It is almost impossible to fix this completely but you can reduce it by:
- Using fabric softener in the laundry.
- Using a commercial anti-static spray for clothing.
- Adding an anti-static fabric conditioner to your laundry.
- Avoid overdrying your garment if using a dryer as it creates a build-up of static electricity. Rubbing a dryer sheet on the fabric just before putting it on can also work.
- Slightly mist the garment with water before wearing it.
Unlike some other garments, this one has only 2-3 labels inside. For those with sensitive skin, these labels can cause some friction, and we recommend removing them. For others – it doesn’t matter whether you remove them or not, as the chances of feeling their touch and finding it unpleasant are minimal.
Warmth and layering
The ‘ACTIVE’ in its name is no coincidence. This lightweight and thin base layer is specifically designed to provide superior moisture management and enough warmth while staying active. It insulates well and when hiking in calm weather with temperatures at or above 12-15°C (54-59°F), the shirt alone is sufficient, eliminating the need for a layered system. If the weather is sufficiently cold and you are not staying active (especially in windy conditions), you will feel cold unless you layer up. The good news is that it’s easy to combine such a lightweight synthetic undergarment with other garments for when the weather is colder.
Layering underneath another layer is easy thanks to the fitting design of the HH LIFA ACTIVE Crew. Similar to other base layers from Helly Hansen we’ve tested and reviewed, the cuffs of the LIFA ACTIVE Crew are designed to enhance airflow and ensure optimal comfort. The sleeve cuffs feel just right – not too tight and not too loose. We like that not only for its comfort but also because it allows easy layering with a mid-layer and potentially an outer layer. Be cautious when rolling up the sleeves of the shirt while feeling warm, as it can potentially stretch the fabric compromising the fit. It is a mistake many people make. For warmer weather, simply switch to a T-shirt to avoid this issue.
The combination of a jacket like the KUHL The One Hoody, a fleece mid-layer like the HH Daybreaker 1/2 Zip Fleece Pullover, and the LIFA ACTIVE Crew worked well in temperatures between -2°C (28°F) and 5°C (41°F). When wearing this combination while walking relatively fast in higher temperatures, excessive sweating made us choose between keeping either the mid-layer or the jacket. In such conditions, you won’t need more than two layers. It’s more about personal preference. Generally, many people tend to dress too warmly for hiking or other active pursuits, underestimating the potential heat build-up.
Breathability and ventilation
The fabric’s mesh-like weave has an interesting structure, allowing for effective ventilation in most conditions. It provides ample airflow, necessary for cooling your body without the sensation of being shirtless, especially important when there’s a breeze. This is understandable because the LIFA fiber is engineered to focus on ensuring insulation, moisture management, and comfort primarily for cool-to-cold weather conditions.
As with other similar long-sleeve shirts that can be worn as part of a layered system or on their own, summer hiking is not recommended unless the temperatures are lower or you pass through forests or mountains where shade is available. Walking under the summer sun for a prolonged period of time is not something we’d gladly do. We just always aim to maximize the benefits of our gear while minimizing its limitations as you should do.
Moisture management and drying speed
Proper thermoregulation is key to the perception of comfort on and off the trail. Serving as the first layer of clothing, this underlayer with a mesh-like weave effectively wicks sweat away from the skin even during intense hiking. This keeps the skin dry and prevents chaffing, discomfort, skin irritation, and temperature fluctuations that can be unpleasant if not dangerous. Hence, we have no complaints about the performance demonstrated by the garment.
If you sweat too much or if moisture isn’t managed properly, the sensation of sweat cooling against your skin is inevitable. This is true for most all-synthetic shirts, and this one is no exception. Despite its excellent moisture-wicking properties, excessive sweating can still lead to damp skin and an uncomfortable sensation. That’s why it’s important to understand the principles of proper layering as it is crucial to minimize these occurrences.
Its lightning-fast drying properties come as no surprise making it highly suitable to use as a single layer as well as a part of a layered clothing system. Thankfully, both polyester and polypropylene have low moisture regain so the fabric doesn’t retain excessive liquid even when wet. In most conditions, the base layer dries in just an hour or two. In sunny and warmer weather, it typically dries completely in less than an hour (often in 40-45 minutes).
The usual price is $60, which makes the HH LIFA ACTIVE Crew quite competitive compared to other high-quality base layer tops with similar features. When on sale, you can hope to find it for as low as $30-40 or so. Whether you get it for $30 or $60, the quality of construction and comfort it offers place it among the best base layer tops.
To give you an idea of how it compares to other base layer designs, let us introduce some of the best all-synthetic underlayers on the market today.
Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew is another classic, all-around base layer of high quality. Made of 100% recycled polyester and with HeiQ Pure odor control, it doesn’t itch and feels comfy in both cold and warm conditions. A versatile piece of clothing, it’s probably the closest competitor to the HH LIFA ACTIVE Crew both in terms of comfort and functionality. Generally, Patagonia Capilene costs $79.
Odlo Active F-Dry Light is an all-synthetic long-sleeve shirt crafted from 88% recycled polyester and 12% polypropylene. This versatile top with a next-to-skin design is lightweight and soft to the touch, suitable for both cold and mild conditions. The material is treated with Odlo’s ZeroScent – a highly effective antibacterial treatment for odor control. This undergarment is made with the quickest-drying fabric Odlo has ever produced. With a price tag of $60, it is a good alternative to the Helly Hansen LIFA ACTIVE Crew.
Arc’teryx Rho LT Crew Neck is an all-synthetic base layer top with a classic crew neck collar. The thin and super soft Torrent 190 fabric (brushed fleece, a blend of 84% polyester and 16% elastane) is combined with Polygiene odor absorbing technology for superior moisture management and long-lasting freshness. Fitted for easy layering, this multisport underlayer is best for mixed output activities on cool and cold days but can be used as a go-to shirt for any occasion. While the more popular Rho LT Zip Neck comes at $130, the typical price of this crew neck version is $110.
REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top is a budget-friendly option that usually comes at $39.95. In spite of the more affordable price tag, this shirt has several disadvantages: the polyester/spandex blend develops a bad odor after an hour of sweating, and the fabric is not as soft and comfortable. When considering budget-friendly options, the principle ‘You get what you paid for’ is often valid, as is the case here.
Helly Hansen’s LIFA ACTIVE Crew is an excellent versatile option for active people. It’s also a great choice for those looking for a lightweight base layer suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities. It is soft and comfortable and works well as a base layer and standalone piece in both cool-to-cold weather and warmer conditions as long as you try to reduce the time spent under direct sunlight. Its moisture-wicking and quick-drying abilities are beyond doubt for a dry and comfortable experience even during intense physical activities.
The classic fit and design, nice color options, and exceptional value for money add to its advantages and make it one of the best options on the market today. We believe that this shirt will be an excellent addition to the gear selection of every outdoor enthusiast.
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