For the outdoor athlete, a layering system is essential to staying comfortable in all weather conditions. Choosing the best base layers is vital for keeping you warm and dry as you go about your adventures and are an essential item to pack when skiing. The best base layers are breathable, have moisture-wicking capability, and have a comfortable fit.
Base layers come in different fabric weight categories – lightweight layers, midweight layers, and heavyweight layers—the heavier the weight, the warmer the base layer. Depending on the time of year and the activity you are participating in, you may need lightweight base layers for warm-weather activities like hiking or running or heavyweight base layers for cold-weather sports like skiing.
When choosing the best base layers, it is essential to consider the fabric composition and fit. Cotton is not ideal as a base layer because it absorbs moisture and traps it next to your skin, which can lead to chafing and irritation. Instead, opt for base layers made of synthetic fibers or wool materials that are naturally moisture-wicking. Look for base layers with flatlocked seams to reduce friction and skin irritation, and make sure the fabric is stretchy so that it moves with you as you are active.
Considering the best base layers to keep you comfortable and dry on your next outdoor adventure, consider these top 7 options.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
What Is The Best Base Layer?
Here is our ranked and reviewed list of the best base layers.
The 7 Best Base Layers
- Best Overall Base Layer – Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Max
- Best Budget Base Layer – Helly Hansen Lifa
- Best Synthetic Base Layer – Patagonia Capilene Midweight
- Best Merino Wool Base Layer – Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve
- Best Heavyweight Base Layer – Icebreaker BodyfitZone Merino 260
- Best Lightweight Base Layer – Smartwool Classic All-Season
- Best Durable Base Layer – North West Alpine Fortis Spectra
1) Best Overall Base Layer – Smartwool Intraknit™ Thermal Max
- Material: 100% Merino Wool
- Category: Heavyweight
The Smartwool Intraknit thermal merino base layer is built for cold-weather activities, from skiing and snowboarding to hiking and mountaineering. This base layer features seamless insulation zones that trap heat in when you need it most and strategically placed ventilation zones to help you stay cool during high-intensity activities. Made with ultra-fine merino wool fibers, the Intraknit thermal max is a durable and breathable base layer to keep you comfortable all day long.
Intraknit Thermal Max Top: $150
Intraknit Thermal Bottoms: $125
2) Best Budget Base Layer – Helly Hansen Lifa
- Material: 65% Recycled polyester, 35% Polypropylene
- Category: Lightweight
The Helly Hansen Lifa Active base layer top and bottoms are an excellent choice for a high-quality, affordable base layer. Made with Lifa Active fabric, these garments are designed to wick moisture away from your skin quickly and efficiently, keeping you dry and comfortable no matter the activity. They also provide lightweight insulation, ensuring that you stay warm without weighing you down or feeling too bulky. Other features include flatlock seams for reduced irritation and tailored to fit the contours of your body for optimal comfort and range of motion.
If you’re looking for an affordable yet highly effective base layer top or bottoms, look no further than the Helly Hansen Lifa Active base layers.
Lifa Active Half-Zip Base Layer Top: $60
Lifa Active Base Layer Bottoms: $55
3) Best Synthetic Base Layer – Patagonia Capilene Midweight
- Material: 100% recycled polyester
- Category: Midweight
The Patagonia Cpilene Midweight baselayer is a best-in-class synthetic option for staying warm and dry in cold climates. This midweight base layer features quick-drying, wicking fabric that draws moisture away from the body to keep you comfortable during strenuous activities like hiking or skiing. Made from 100% recycled polyester fabric, this baselayer also benefits the environment by reducing the need for new materials.
Designed with a contoured fit that hugs your body and moves with you, this base layer is ideal for use in cold conditions or active pursuits such as hiking, skiing, or snowboarding. Other key features of this versatile synthetic base layer include:
- Laser-cut ventilation panels to help regulate temperature
- Thumb holes to keep your sleeves in place and hands covered
- Flatlocked seams for reduced chafing and enhanced comfort
Patagonia Cpilene Midweight Top: $79
Patagonia Cpilene Midweight Bottoms: $79
4) Best Merino Wool Base Layer – Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve
- Material: 100% Merino Wool
- Category: Midweight
The Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve is a high-quality base layer made from extra soft merino wool. With excellent temperature and moisture regulation, this long sleeve keeps you comfortable in cold conditions. This shirt is ideal for outdoor activities and is stylish and functional, with a unique split, asymmetrical design, and multi-colored twisted yarn. For a versatile, breathable next-to-skin layer that can keep up with your active lifestyle, the Ortovox 185 is an excellent choice.
185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve Top: 100 Euro
185 Rock’N’Wool Short Bottoms: 90 Euro
5) Best Heavyweight Base Layer – Icebreaker BodyfitZone Merino 260
- Material: 97% Merino Wool, 3% Elastane
- Category: Heavyweight
If you’re looking for a high-performance base layer that can keep up with your most intense training sessions, look no further than the Icebreaker BodyfitZone Merino 260. Made from heavyweight merino wool and infused with elastane for enhanced stretch, this baselayer is designed to wick moisture away from your skin and regulate your body temperature. The breathable panels in critical zones make this top a perfect option for high-intensity activities like running, hiking, and skiing. The thumb loops keep your sleeves in place, and flatlock seams prevent rubbing and irritation. The Icebreaker BodyfitZone Merino 260 is a top choice for athletes looking for superior performance and comfort.
Icebreaker BodyfitZone Merino 260 Top: $140
Icebreaker BodyfitZone Merino 260 Bottoms: $140
6) Best Lightweight Base Layer – Smartwool Classic All-Season
- Material: 87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon
- Category: Lightweight
The best lightweight base layer for spring skiing or summer camping, the Smartwool Classic All-Season Long Sleeve is made from ultra-soft Merino wool and features reinforced nylon for extra durability. With offset shoulder and side seams, this base layer offers a streamlined fit that minimizes chafing and stays comfortable no matter what activity you’re taking on. Made with a plant-based dye technique, the Light Woodsmoke, Indigo Blue, and Black Marble Wash colorways add an eco-friendly touch to your wardrobe.
Smartwool Classic All-Season Top: $85
Smartwool Classic 3/4 All-Season Bottoms: $70
7) Best Durable Base Layer – North West Alpine Fortis Spectra
- Material: Honeywell 90% Nylon, 10% Spectra
- Category: Lightweight
This high-performance lightweight baselayer is perfect for extreme conditions. Made from the innovative Spectra material, this baselayer offers unparalleled durability and resistance to tears and abrasions. It features a small chest pocket for storing small essentials and long sleeves with thumbholes for added coverage and warmth. With an entire zip front, this baselayer is versatile and perfect for a wide range of outdoor activities. Whether scaling mountains or exploring the great outdoors, this baselayer is an essential layer you can trust to keep you comfortable and protected in any weather. Try it today and see why this high-quality base layer is one of the best on the market!
North West Alpine Fortis Spectra Top: $149
Base Layer Buying Guide
A sound layering system will keep you comfortable and dry in all weather conditions. Layering allows you to stay active for more extended periods and adapt to changes in temperature, making it an essential part of any outdoor wardrobe. A good layer system includes a base layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer. The base layer sits next to your skin and is responsible for wicking moisture away from your body and regulating temperature. The mid-layer provides insulation and is designed to keep in the heat captured by the base layer. Finally, the outer layers protect you from wind and rain, keeping you dry and comfortable.
Choosing a Base Layer
When choosing base layers, a few key considerations must be kept in mind.
Base layer warmth comes in three categories – lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. Lightweight base layers are best for warmer weather and high activity levels, while midweight layers are best for cooler weather or low activity levels. Finally, heavyweight layers offer the most warmth and help to regulate your body temperature even in extreme conditions.
Base layers are typically made from merino wool, synthetic fibers, or a combination of the two. Merino wool is soft, and lightweight, and naturally wicks moisture effectively away from the body. Synthetic base layers are more affordable and durable but do not regulate temperature as well. They are, however, very good at wicking moisture.
Synthetic Base Layers
There are many synthetic fabrics to choose from, so it’s best to read reviews and product descriptions carefully when shopping for a base layer. Some common synthetic fabrics include nylon, polyester, spandex, elastane, Thermolite, and Coolmax. Synthetic base layers have good moisture-wicking capability and durability.
Wool Base Layers
Wool layers are a great choice if you’re looking for a base layer that will regulate temperature and keep you comfortable in all weather conditions. Merino wool baselayers are popular because they are soft, comfortable, breathable, and have good moisture management abilities. It also offers odor resistance and natural sweat-wicking capabilities.
Most people prefer a base layer to be tight-fitting. However, some people prefer a looser fit for added comfort. Depending on your desired warmth and planned activity level, consider a thermal base layer that is loose-fitting or stretchy.
Base layers optimized for breathability will allow sweat to evaporate quickly, keeping you dry and comfortable. It would help if you looked for a lightweight base layer designed with mesh or other breathable fabric panels to ensure maximum airflow around your body.
Because base layers are exposed to lots of wear and tear, choosing high-quality materials with good stitching is best. Seems should be reinforced, so they don’t tear easily, and the fabric should have good abrasion resistance to prevent pilling.
When shopping for a base layer, it’s best to read product reviews and compare different brands and materials to find the best fit for your needs. With a suitable base layer, you can stay active and comfortable in all types of weather!
Depending on the activity, drying speed can be an important purchase consideration. Some activities, like hiking or skiing, require that your base layer dries quickly so you can continue your day without feeling too cold or wet. Choose synthetic base layers if you’re looking for fast-drying and moisture-wicking capability.
Merino Wool Care
Merino wool is a popular material for base layers because it is soft, comfortable, and has excellent moisture management abilities. However, caring for a merino wool layers requires some special considerations. When washing merino wool, use warm water and a gentle detergent. Never put your merino wool layer in the dryer, as this will cause it to shrink. Instead, lay it flat or hang it to dry after each wash. You can also add some natural fabric softener to increase the softness and decrease pilling. With proper care, your merino wool base layer will last for years!
Base layers are an essential part of any layering system. They offer excellent moisture management and breathability, keeping you comfortable and dry no matter what you’re doing. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or just getting started with colder temperatures, choosing the best base layer for your needs is essential in ensuring your comfort and safety. You can stay active and warm in even the harshest conditions combined with an excellent mid and outer layer.
See you in the mountains!
What is the best base layer material for cold weather?
There is no best base layer material for cold weather, as different materials work best in different conditions. Some popular options for cold weather base layers include merino wool, synthetic fabrics like polyester or spandex, and even bamboo. Ultimately, the best choice will depend on your personal preferences and the type of activity you are doing. Many people prefer merino wool or a combination of merino wool with synthetic materials for cold weather, as they offer excellent moisture management and breathability while providing plenty of warmth.
What is the difference between base layers and thermal layers?
Base layers and thermal layers are the same thing. Both terms refer to thin layers of clothing worn next to the skin that keep you warm and dry. They are typically made from various materials, including merino wool, synthetic fabrics, and bamboo. Both base and thermal layers can be used in layering systems and are best suited for activities that require a lot of movement, such as hiking, backpacking, or skiing. Choosing a suitable base layer depends on your specific needs and preferences, so it’s best to research and compare different brands and materials before making a purchase.
Are base layers worth it?
Before heading to the store to buying a pair of thermals, you may be asking yourself whether they are worth it. The answer is yes. Base layers work by wicking moisture away from the body, helping to regulate your temperature, and preventing chafing or irritation. In addition to being comfortable and practical, most base layers are affordable, making them an excellent investment for any outdoor enthusiast. Whether hiking, cycling, skiing, or any other activity in cold weather, a well-chosen base layer can make all the difference!