The Polygiene Challenge

9th Nov 2015

Rob Aeon Base Layer

My partner Cal and I were 3 days into a late season crossing of the south side of Iceland.  The weather had been continually challenging and the nights freezing.  We were carrying heavy rucksacks with ten days of food and camping equipment which included winter sleeping bags and a mountain tent.  This was certainly no fast and light adventure.  Having said that, we’d decided to cut back wherever we could and so we had crazily decided to bring only one set of clothes (I would always suggest having spares nowadays).  

Days of activity and nights in a cramped tent were always going to be a challenge for our wardrobe and I remember snuggling up one night and, as Cal nestled in my arms, her almost fainting at the smell of my sweaty baselayer.  It wasn’t a good moment in our relationship and made even worse because this was actually our honeymoon……

Why synthetic base layers smell

On my honeymoon I didn’t quite realise the nature of the problem.  As you exert yourself, all sorts of oils, sweat, skin cells and dirt build up on the fabric.  Then, as bacteria chomp away on all this, the pongy smell develops.  This is often particularly noticeable under the armpits because you have lots of sweat glands there. 

Synthetic fabrics are particularly prone to this and wearing Merino, which is naturally more resistant to odour build up, is one part solution.  However, synthetics are particularly good at wicking, dry very quickly and are generally cheaper than Merino and so they are sometimes a more practical choice.  

How to keep base layers smelling sweet

One way to help stop this pong build up is to treat the fabric with something to prevent the bacterial build up and one that is becoming increasingly popular is called Polygiene.  Polygiene is a silver ion based anti-microbial treatment that is permanently bonded to the fabric during manufacture.  It is guaranteed to last the life of the product.  

The Challenge

We were recently contacted by Polygiene with a request to test a Polygiene treated Rab Aeon baselayer.  The only stipulation was that we’d have to wear it for a full week without washing!  It would be even better, they suggested, if we could make a comparison between it’s end of week ponginess and the smell of an untreated garment.  I agreed quickly and soon wondered why - especially because I was now going to need to explain the idea to Cal.  Would it be Iceland revisited?

The Test

The Rab Aeon arrived and, although this is really about the Polygiene treatment,  I should also say that this is a great simple crew neck short sleeve t-shirt style baselayer made from polyester hi-gauge knit fabric.  It is really light and the fabric feels very silky to the touch.  It certainly wasn’t going to be such a chore wearing this for a week.  For Cal it was time to pull on a non Polygiene treated base layer.  Her wardrobe certainly isn’t short of a base layer and so it was easy to find something in a similar weight and style. I’m not going to share the make and model but this was also a polyester fabric similar enough to the Aeon.  Of course, not everyone creates the same pong levels as each other and that could well skew the results, but as the Polygiene treated top was a men’s large, there wasn’t too much choice about who wore what.

The Challenge 

Of course, Cal and I needed to plan for a suitable week when we both had time to be active every day with either work or play and so, after waiting a while,  the coming week seemed perfect.  We started this morning……. 

The Polygiene Challenge - Day 1

Polygiene Diaries day 1

We started wearing our base layers at 8.00am and within the hour we had both headed out for 3 and half hours on the mountain bikes.  It was cold, wet and windy - infact, we asked each other several times why on earth we were out at all!.  The base layers had to come off when we got back as they were soaking wet.  So far, however, no obvious pong from either garment.  As soon as they have dried out we’ll start wearing them again.

Current pongometer rating  - 0/10


This evening we were invited to attend the European Outdoor Film Tour (EOFT) event in Sheffield and, surprisingly, it was probably a bigger test for the Rab Aeon than the morning's biking!  A hot room and some adrenaline fuelled films kept the temperature set to sweaty.  Cal stuck with the non Polygiene base layer too.  Fortunately, all is still good in the armpit department for both of us. Oh, and the EOFT was fantastic - try and get along to see it if you can.

Current pongometer rating - 0/10

The Polygiene Challenge - Day 2


Today dawned bright and clear which was rather a pleasant surprise after a few wild days.  I had a morning in the office and was then heading to Birmingham to deliver an evening first aid course.  In between I had a 3 hour window to climb.  The Rab Aeon was pulled on first thing after a night of airing and it had stayed impressively smell free.  Infant, it felt like pulling on a freshly laundered top.  Cal was away early for a meeting and won't be back until late so, although she has worn her base layer, it will be tomorrow morning until we get to test its ponginess.  Anyway, after sitting comfortably in the office I headed out to meet Dave and we had a great gritstone session in breezy but dry weather.  The temperature was just about warm enough to wear just the Aeon although I didn't work up too much of a sweat in the chillier weather.  The gritstone is great to climb on at the moment by the way.  

From there I headed to Birmingham which unintentionally turned out to be the biggest Polygiene test of the day.  I was delivering the first aid course in a stuffy and unventilated room and it was really hot.  The Aeon wicks well but it was still getting pretty sweaty at times (at least until someone showed me where a large wall  extractor fan was!).  As far as my nose can tell things are still at zero on the Pongometer although Cal may have a different view when she gets back.  So far - very impressive Polygiene.

Current pongometer rating - 0/10   

The Polygiene Challenge - Day 3


Day 3 of the Polygiene Challenge dawned bright and clear so, although we had a stack of work to do in the office, we started by escaping for a few hours on the bikes.  We deliberately layered up so a decent sweat built up and headed out of Castleton via one of the steepest routes (Pindale Road).  All in all, it was a great test for the base layers and when we got back we got stuck in to a good sniff test.  The baselayer Cal has been wearing definitely has a bit of an odour to it now but I'm still amazed to say the Polygiene treated Aeon was still odour free.


We left the baselayers to air for a while and then wore them in the office for the rest of the day.  This evening was a stunning fresh autumnal night and, as the gritstone would be great to climb on, the junior team and I headed out for a torchlit bouldering session at Curbar.  Of course, the Aeon came too.  It was a great work out and again the Polygiene garment stayed odour free.  I am loving this challenge.

Current pongometer rating - Polygiene 0/10 Other synthetic baselayer 2/10

The Polygiene Challenge - Day 4

rab baselayers

The test baselayers have spent the bulk of today in the office and the only main sweat producing activity was a late afternoon run up onto the Great Ridge.  Fortunately, we got back before the rain arrived. The baselayers are now airing (see photo) but initial post run sniff tests showed that the Polygiene top is still holding up brilliantly despite loads of wear.  Cal's base layer, by contrast, is definitely producing a significant odour now.  Infact, I must say that I can't believe quite how well the Polygiene is performing and has certainly exceeded all my expectations so far. 

Current pongometer rating - Polygiene 0/10 Other synthetic base layer 3/10

The Polygiene Challenge - Day 5

Day 5 of the Polygiene Challenge was spent mainly in the office which, given the strong winds and rain, was the ideal place to be.  I wore the Aeon and Cal had her base layer on but it only got tested by some rigourous keyboard action and, later in the day, by a supermarket trip to stock up on provisions for a leader selection event coming up over the weekend.  We had a good sniff at the end of the day and decided that the pong rating for both layers were unchanged.

Current pongometer rating - Polygiene 0/10 Other synthetic base layer 3/10 

The Polygiene Challenge - Days 6 and 7

Leader weekend

And so we come to the last couple of days.  I have been delivering a potential leader course in my role as technical advisor for expedition company Schools Worldwide.  The weekend weather have very variable with everything from driving rain and strong winds through to occasional gentler weather.  The course involved time on the hill combined with indoor sessions and was the perfect finale to the challenge.  For Cal it has been a weekend of mountain biking and so her non Polygiene treated top has also been given a continuing thorough run for it’s money.

Leader Selection

This morning I thought it was finally time to consider how well the Rab Aeon had coped.  It isn’t often you would offer week old clothes to others to sniff but, as I happened to have a number of seasoned instructors with me, I did just that.  Quite a few, as I would have myself, politely declined the offer but a few were up for it.  Just like Cal and I, the consensus was that the Polygiene top had coped brilliantly with the week’s challenge. 

Andrew was one of the leaders brave enough to give it a sniff and he summed up the results nicely by saying that it smelt fine but you could certainly tell it had been lived in.  A perfect description which, given it’s use and abuse, this was a remarkable result.  Cal's baselayer had held up but definitely had a pongier smell to it.  Full marks to Polygiene and I will certainly be seeking out Polygiene treated garments in the future.  I also expect that this revolutionary treatment will continue to grow in popularity for synthetic baselayers.  Now, finally, it is time to wash the Aeon and here’s me signing off from my very successful Polygiene Challenge.  A big thanks to Rab and Polygiene.  

Final pongometer rating - Polygiene 1/10 Other synthetic baselayer 5/10

Posted by Paul

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