String Vests – The best way to stay comfy in the Polar Regions and at High Altitude


Last year I was very kindly offered from Rhodri @ Nordic life to test out some Brynje Of Norway baselayers and I still remember our phone conversation that I am now slightly embarrassed about:

Rhodri – “These things are going to change the way you have ever looked at and used base layers”

Jamie “But they look terrible – they’ve been around forever; “I know Hillary and Tenzing were among the pioneering users of the Brynje mesh, but that was 65 years ago? Have things not moved on?”

String vests

Normally the look of a practical outdoor item like a base layer doesn’t even come in the equation for me but we all have the same image that comes into our head when we hear the words string vest…! Especially when they offer long sleeve long john’s and boxers! Hellfire these things were going to have to be pretty special for me to risk giving my clients this much ammunition to take the mick!


AND THEY DID, these baselayers changed my world.

When they arrived they were provided in tasteful but minimal packaging which is always a plus for me. Not like some modern providers who are trying to compete with Apple just to package a set of socks.

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The build quality is fantastic even down to the make-up of reinforced but still soft material around the cuffs and in the arms legs and around the neck.

They have also allowed enough room around the cuffs in the short sleeve version for people who have anything but stick thin arms so that it doesn’t dig in or cut off circulation.

So what is a string vest and how does it work?

Material: 100% polypropylene (Merino wool mesh is available, but recommended for more static users….or those allergic to synthetic fibres)

“warm, dry, strong and happy”

“The concept is incredibly simply, and is based on the most efficient material you can use……air! Nothing breathes, insulates or dries like air!

The secret to the high performance of Brynje mesh clothing is that it draws excess moisture away from the skin while maintaining a warm regulated cushion of air next to the body.”

“To maximise capabilities, use in conjunction with another top with a zip to vent, such as a running top or another breathable product. This allows you to “dump” heat when you start to get too warm.”

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So above is all of the geeky breakdown and background – now this is where I used it and why I found it amazing.

Having used in the trail for all of the below activities it worked well for all, but in certain areas it came into its own.

-Ski touring

-Polar crossing

– Ice climbing

– Extreme altitude mountaineering.

– High Mountain Summer rock climbing

– Running and Cycling



“Goodbye to the cold wet back syndrome”

The one thing that really amazed me, even when using it for running and cycling in the summer which the model I was testing was certainly not sold for and would require a lighter version –  It breathed amazingly. The SV stayed bone dry but make sure that the layer which you wear on top of that is breathable as well and your outer layer has good venting. Otherwise, there will be a moisture build up from the efficiency of the SV at warming you up and drawing away the moisture, if this heat and moisture then gets caught in your mid-layer, which will wet out.

Running Picture Scotland

For winter climbing it worked well, as for the times you were on the sharp end, leading. You would produce a large amount of heat but when you stopped and were sat on the belay for an hour afterwards, rather than sitting shivering as your baselayers were wet out, it continued to trap and store the heat you had without any damp residue from working hard on lead.


No more smelly Hansons!

Another bug plus to no making you sweat and having less material is they don’t smell half as much as a standard synthetic baselayer.

Extra padding/warmth for the knees.

There is never a time when more knee protection isn’t a good thing! Perfect for when you are kneeling down in the cold snow and ice creating ice threads to secure your tent down to a frozen lake.

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No more itching!

Perfect option for people like me who want more warmth but just can’t get on with any woolen product against the skin. Even when you are working hard and hot at the skin there was no irritation or itchiness like I would get with a Marino wool.


No rubbing!

The material both sounds and looks quite harsh. Having spent considerable amount of time in both the underwear and leggings one of my main concerns was chaffing. I’ve always been cursed with big upper legs especially now half my time is spent dragging sleds across plateaus and the other is climbing high mountains – my legs are even wider now. This means that the top of my legs touch and even on a small local run without double shorts I would have rubbing damage that would restrict normal movement. Cross country skiing has a lot of movement in that part of the body and requires your legs to be close together. This I thought could be a receipt for disaster, but with over 40 days last season in the Nordic Life baselayers not one minute of rub! This is a huge plus for me.

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The crocodile look.(

  • Lizard skin solution – There is a 3/4 length longs for use with Ski boots… I didn’t know this until after testing.

So the one negative I came up with having used these for 14 days without removing them (Sounds gross but it was -26 in the tents) on a crossing of Spitsbergen – where the ski boots added extra pressure between boot garment and skin, over many days it started to mark the skin. By the end I looked like I had morphed into some sort of lizard man. It caused minor irritation and, to be fair, I’m confident if I had removed them and let my legs breathe overnight every few nights, this would have removed the issue. Try doing that when you are having to get up and do bear watch every few hours 😉

Pricey but do they last?

On the outset these seem on the higher end of base layer prices but the performance is far better than comparable items. But do they last?

Having completed Hardangervidda, Finnmarksvidda, Spitsbergen, month climbing Annapurna II, Aconcagua, Mount Toubkal, a week’s ice climbing in the Lyngen alps, runs and cycles – this is the condition they are still in:

Blog Bryje

So to sum up – if you discount the looks (and it will be a very rare occasion for you to strip down completely to your baselayers in front of your expedition team) – I’ve tried and tested these as thoroughly as it gets, and couldn’t recommend any better ones to do the job. They’re now a staple on my expeditions! Thank you Rhodri, for convincing me in the first place J

Nordic Life logo

Here’s a little about Nordic Life from Rhodri the owner.

“We bring you the best clothing and equipment the Nordic countries have to offer! Having lived in Norway for some years, we lived as the Norwegians live….that is to say we lived for the outdoors….. fishing, canoeing, cross country skiing, cycling, hiking, you name it! Of course, being a kit man, I had to have the stuff the Norwegians were wearing. I was really impressed by the quality, functionality and the no nonsense approach they take. Back in the UK, I had the opportunity to start selling the stuff for myself, and so came Nordic Life.”

I’ve been really impressed with both the flexibility and in-depth knowledge that Rhodri and his team have. Not just in understanding the needs of my team and my clients but also down to really understanding the sizing of the products and how that will work with the shape and size of the person he is working with. There is lots of choice out there for outdoor equipment/companies to sell it to you but what has been lost is the quality, personal service and esoteric but essential items that are life saving in the environments where we operate. Nordic Life  has continuously exceeded in all of these areas.

We are really pleased to be able to offer a 15% discount @ Nordic Life to anyone who is joining us on one of our expeditions. This guy shouldn’t need to give this for all the extras that he offers but we all love a  bargain.







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