Helly Hansen HH LIFA Stripe Crew
An all-time classic design. Form meets function.
- Washes in seconds
- Dries as quickly as it washes
- Much more durable than it appears
- Versatile enough for four-season use
- Outstanding wicking properties
- Not the most comfy
Every competing manufacturer has tried to persuade the public that the original HH vest is outmoded. It has no zips, pockets, or gimmicks, it isn't made of a new wonder material or rediscovered 'smart' wool. The look is like something from an '80s magazine. So why do they still get made—and sold all over the world—in large quantities?
Warmth and wicking. The Lifa polypropylene meets both criteria, when your body is working near maximum and the weather is uncooperative. I even have an old white, long sleeved vest, which is perfect under a hot Spanish or Californian sun.
Not as cosy feeling, next to the skin, as some competitors' products. If you have sensitive skin, you might find them scratchy after a hundred washes. Wool and fleecy items also look better in the pub, but neither works as effectively, under duress, and each requires more careful handling. I've rinsed out a Lifa vest, after a long mountain day or during a Pennine bike tour, and dried it with my body heat, or after fifteen minutes thrown onto a thorn bush:-)
Lifa vests take up minuscule space and weigh a few ounces. They shrink a little over time, but stretch back to fit you, with some judicious pulling! I still wear old medium-sized ones, but the large ones have more length.
The wicking works best with a suitably pervious outer garment. A Pertex windshirt, for example, a Buffalo shirt or jacket, or something made of Goretex. One or two layers of fleece will be very cosy, for standing around—fishing, maybe?—but the benefits of the HH product will be diminished by this choice.
A two-week through hike requires one vest. A bike tour, likewise. For caving, canyoneering, or paddling, the Lifa vest is an obvious choice—keeping you warm, although wet and drying out, with your body heat.
My friends, who no longer use them, call these vests 'Smelly Hansens'. Rinsing out your undershirt every day is definitely the way to go—and a lot more efficient than carrying spare clothing you'll never need. (Your friends might practice better hygiene than mine...what can I say?)
I've used and still use underwear from other brands, but for serious days and multi-days Lifa vests remain the ultimate functional thermal layer. Expect ten years of use, at a minimum. Just don't try to remove one with broken fingernails, or store it somewhere frequented by mice. Don't ask me how I know...
Used for every kind of outdoor activity I've ever attempted, on four continents. Bought my first Lifa vest, around 40 years ago. Thousands of walking miles, tens of thousands on the bike.
Source: bought it new
A classic go-to for late autumn-winter-early spring. Tough as nails and a very practical change from wool and other fibres.
My “cold weather” (similar to Lester’s) version is now 10 years old and doesn’t show any signs of giving up the ghost. I will say it’s comparable to wool. Not the same AS wool but if you can find a man-made fibre shirt that is known around the world for its quality and practicality, and durability then please let everyone know.
When humping a pack, I tend to wear a HH Lifa T-shirt on top with a gillet at hand, should I stand around.
As an aside, I also own, use, and frequently abuse the lighter version for late spring-summer-early autumn. Slightly shorter in the arm, white (it was on sale). That shirt is now five years old, no tears, rips and especially no stains . I find it wicks extremely well but also has good insulation properties when standing around on the tops of peaks, for instance.
Love it for rock climbing, for hiking—multi day and day hikes. Rinse it at night or if you know your hiking buddies well enough, don’t.
30 years of hiking/climbing in UK, Norway, SEAsia, and North America.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: USD$35 for the blue & USD$20 for white (summer)