GRAPHENE-X LAYERS (by Jason Whyte)
Open any outdoor magazine and you’ll find discussion of layers. The theory is simple: first, you have a base layer whose main job is to keep you dry by wicking sweat away from your body. On top of that, goes a midlayer whose main job is to keep you warm. The final layer is a shell or outer layer with two seemingly contradictory roles: to keep out the elements while at the same time allowing the moisture wicked away by the base layer to evaporate - a paradox that modern breathable membranes seek to resolve.
In truth, all layering systems are compromises. The trick is to find a balance between weatherproofing and moisture management, between being too cold and being too hot, between packability and effectiveness that works for you.
For me, finding that happy equilibrium has been difficult. I get warm when I work, and I find it very easy to overheat. Staying in the right zone on a walk or cycle ride is usually a constant cycle of fiddling with zips, putting layers on or pulling them off. It takes a serious downpour or serious cold to keep me wrapped up in a single set of layers for more than a few minutes at a time.
In more normal conditions, I usually get by with a base layer and a shell. So it was a bit of a surprise when the first time I wore my Graphene-X Alpha Series jacket for an extended period I found myself shivering. It was a bright, cold, blustery autumn day, and I had cycled across Richmond Hill to coach my daughter’s rugby squad. It’s a hard ride and normally enough to keep me warm for some time, but I had cooled down surprisingly quickly once I settled into relative inactivity of coaching from the sidelines.
I’ve learned that this is one of the more unusual characteristics of the Graphene-X membrane: it’s much more breathable than most jackets, and the evaporation cools you down very quickly, especially in windy conditions. So, for the first time I found myself taking my layering strategy seriously when I wasn’t on a major trek. I took along a packable Primaloft Gold mid-layer to put on under my Alpha once I stopped cycling.
That worked fine, but it still involved the hassle of changing layers. It was only then when I got my GRAnaREC mid-layer jacket and Layer-X layers from Graphene-X. I’ve worn the three of them together - Alpha over the GRAnaREC over the Layer-X - for a wide range of activities. There have been evening treasure trails around time with the family, early morning walks to catch the sunrise, a trek through the snow to make snowmen in the park and a hard cycle ride back and forth over Richmond Hill.
Two things stand out. The first is temperature management. The combination never seems to get excessively warm. At first, you start to worry that maybe it won’t insulate you when the weather gets colder or you stop working so hard, but a peculiar property of graphene-based insulation is that it never seems to get too warm, but equally never gets too cool.
You don’t get that cosy feeling that you get snuggled up inside a down jacket - but at the same time you don’t get that stifling feeling that you get when the conditions are slightly too warm for down. The Alpha-plus-GRAnaREC stays just slightly cool across a wide range of external and internal conditions. Once you get used to it, it’s a very pleasant combination - I’ve said elsewhere that it’s like always being on the cold side of the pillow. It’s also worth noting how light and packable the GRAnaREC is - it folds into one of its own pockets and I am pretty sure that pound for pound it offers the best insulation of any synthetic layer I have used.
The second standout feature is moisture management. The Layer-X does an excellent job of wicking even under a hard load, and while there’s usually a sheen of moisture on the inside of the Alpha and the outside of the GRAnaREC after a hard walk or ride, it’s never enough to impair the insulation. I have not found a combination that does this job anything like as well, though I’d strongly recommend the long sleeve Layer-X over the short-sleeve one if you are planning to layer like this; things work much better with wicking fabric all along your arms.
They also work well in other combinations - Layer-X plus Alpha works well for a period of consistently hard work like a long cycle ride; Layer-X plus the GRAnaREC works for warmer and drier conditions. Layer-X on its own is a good base layer for warm days, and stays fresh for several days at a time, which is helpful.
The combination of good temperature management and good moisture management offers a better solution to the paradox of layering: I’d be happy to wear these three layers for extended periods of time on a trek, adjusting my temperature using the zips alone rather than constantly taking layers on and off.
It’s rare to find a set of layers that work so well together, particularly when they are the first three products from a new company. I’ve been used to mixing and matching my layers from different brands, but Graphene-X has done such a good job here that they have become an automatic first choice for me.
Jason has been a keen user of outdoor kit for over three decades. Mostly he wears it for coaching rugby, cycling between his children’s weekend activities or taking family walks. But he’s also done longer expeditions, including walking the Scottish West Highland Way with his son, visiting Everest Base Camp and climbing Aconcagua.