Gear Review: Kari Traa Sjolvsagt Base Layer Set

I adore Kari Traa’s base layers. While the hardgoods industry has been churning out gear for women that oscillates between patronizingly juvenile to boring as fuck, it’s exciting to see a brand turning heads in the softgoods space with women’s gear for grown-ass adults! Their prices are a little higher than what I budget for (especially since I don’t opt for wool very often), but when their Sjolvsagt synthetic base layer set hit $24 on the clearance rack this summer, I had to pounce. (MSRP is $70).

wool
Base layers by Kari Traa

The Sjolvsagt set is a thin, poly-span base layer set. The most important elements of a base layer are that they wick well and dry quickly – some are also designed to insulate, but that’s a lot to ask of a single garment. If they do it all well, they’re quite expensive, so you’re better off leaving the job of warmth and insulation for your insulation layers. There are definitely more refined polyester knits that manage moisture a better, like Patagonia Capilene, but a single piece rivals the cost of a full Sjolvsagt set. The Sjolvsagt set wicks well enough and the thin construction is a low-tech approach that allows it to dry quickly.

s-l1600
This is the print I bought over the summer for $24 from Backcountry

I’ve spent a good deal of time in the Cuddl Duds active base layers, an entry-level price point base layer from Target that retails for $18 per piece/$36 per set, and the performance isn’t markedly different; the Kari Traa set just breathes a little better. The Kari Traa also features flatlock seams instead of the standard seams on the Cuddl Duds (picture of the difference here), which reduces chaffing or bulk on the inside of the garment. And instead of a standard seam up the sides, it has a side panel that allows for better range of motion and allows the shirt to move with the body. These extra touches definitely add value compared to the Cuddl Duds set, but I don’t think the $70 price point is justifiable, especially after taking into considerations some of the issues with their prints and fit.

My Sjolvsagt set is either screen printed or digitally printed, meaning the fabric itself is a solid color and the pattern is either printed on like computer paper, or the print uses a stencil and thick, paste-like ink that gets pressed on. When it’s well done in active wear, the fabric is stretched a bit while the pattern is applied. You rarely see the “true” color of the fabric underneath – only when it’s being over-stretched. When you do, it’s called “grin through.” Grin through was a major issue with the Kari Traa pieces, which made the prints look dull and faded, and made me worry about a “see through leggings” issue with the pants. And it shows in the majority of the product images, where the pattern is faded in some places and darker in others.

grinthrough2
Design vs. execution

It also didn’t help that the pants were extremely small. According to the Kari Traa size chart, I’m a size small through the bust and an XS for everything south of there. I went with an XS for the overall set with the expectation that the shirt would be a little slim. It delivered in July, I tried on the top since it was the risky piece and decided it was good enough. Fast forward to November, and the sight of me in the pants was downright explicit. They’re tight everywhere, but the worst part of all was the crotch/crack seam. While the rest of the garment can stretch fairly liberally, the seam is incredibly short and has a g-string thong effect on the leggings. And many other customer reviews comment that the rise is much to short – drastically different than the wool base layers in Kari Traa’s line. I sold my XS bottoms to a woman who’s 4’11” and definitely under 100lbs and bought a standalone pair of the pants in a medium. They fit a little loose, but somehow it’s still too much tension to fix the grin through issue. What’s the point of an adorably printed base layer if the print looks like shit on-body?

grinthrough
More Sjolvsagt pieces with color distortion between the top & bottom

Overall, the Sjolvsagt base layer set is overpriced. I imagine it’s a high-margin item in the Kari Traa product line. I’d definitely recommend buying separates (including the Fryd pieces, which are also a lightweight poly/span series) instead of a set unless you are very top heavy, since the top is 1-2 sizes larger than the tights. But even then, $70 seems steep for what you get. I’d wait until spring discounts hit this spring – $50 feels like a more fair price.

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Model on the right is wearing a Sjolvsagt set. Notice the distortion in pattern between the top and bottom.

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