The cornerstone of any outdoor outfit is one of the greatest base layers. Using a layering strategy with your attire, especially when the weather is cold, is the best method to ensure you stay warm and dry while still being able to cool down when necessary. As you might expect, the base layer is the first of many thin layers that may be added or withdrawn as needed to keep you at a comfortable temperature no matter what activity you’re doing or what the weather is doing.
They’re usually soft, elastic, and close-fitting to make layering easy while preventing any excess fabric from tangling or adding bulk. The most excellent base layers do a great job of wicking sweat away when you’re active while also offering insulating warmth in chilly weather. Our in-depth analysis also includes helpful buyer’s recommendations, equipping you with the knowledge you need to make the best decision for your needs and budget. For some of the best buys, we recommend visiting Secret Sales, as they have a fantastic affordable range.
Icebreaker Tech Lite
Of course, you’re familiar with Merino wool, but you should also be aware that most base layers and T-shirts that claim to use it do so sparingly. Icebreaker’s Tech Lite is almost entirely made of merino wool, which makes a significant difference. It’s soft, toasty, and wicks moisture well as a base layer, plus it’s part of Icebreaker’s ‘150 Ultralight’ collection at 146g. The Tech Lite is a must-have for frequent travellers and ‘backpackers’ because it doubles as a standard T-shirt, is odour-resistant even in humid conditions, and can be wrung out in the sink and dried in hours. Merino has only one disadvantage: it is short-lived and won’t tend to last long.
SmartWool Merino 250 Crew
The SmartWool Merino 250 Crew, a shirt that is likely to become your go-to for all cold-weather activity, continues to impress in this category. This incredibly adaptable mid-layer delivers excellent comfort next to the skin, and its 100% merino wool weave provides outstanding temperature management, moisture-wicking performance, and natural antimicrobial properties. In addition, this layer works well in a wide variety of temperatures, allowing you to get from chilly to hot quickly while being warm, dry, and comfortable.
This shirt will sag and slump a little with regular wear, as is to be anticipated with natural fibers. In order to maintain the lifetime of the Merino 250 Crew, additional care must be taken when laundering it. This top takes a long time to dry once the cloth is wet. From resort skiing to winter alpine ascents to chilly mornings on desert climbing or rafting adventures, it shines in nearly every cool or cold-weather activity.
Oslo Blackcomb (with face mask)
These soft synthetic clothes are comfy and form-fitting, yet flattering, with a ribbed design that stays put all day – and they’re so light that you’ll forget you’re wearing them. They’ll keep you warm in the snow, but they’re also breathable and comfortable enough to wear on their own. They’re also tough: we’ve washed them several times, and they always look and perform like new. There are versions with and without high necks, and we particularly like this facemask version, which has a built-in mask for enhanced cold protection.
Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew Neck Shirt
Synthetics have several advantages over merino wool, the most significant of which are affordability and durability. Patagonia’s polyester Capilene Midweight delivers similar warmth and moisture-wicking properties for slightly over half the price of the Smartwool above. And it’ll probably last for several seasons—despite intensive wear; we have Capilene tops that are several years old. It also doesn’t hurt that Patagonia’s current Capilene Midweight is made entirely of recyclable materials.
What are the drawbacks of using a synthetic base layer? Polyester is a comfy material, but it isn’t as soft on the skin as wool, and it doesn’t regulate body temperature or repel odor as effectively. This doesn’t mean your Capilene will stink up the place. Patagonia has made progress in this area with their anti-odour HeiQ Fresh treatment—but you’ll find yourself washing it more frequently.
I’ll never leave the Brighton Base Layer off a list of the best base layers because it consistently ranks first. This is my go-to base layer on really chilly days and a single layer on great fall days since the Merino wool acts as a wicking basis and naturally repels odours. There will be no chafing because the construction is seamless, and the fabric is silky and comfortable, so you won’t want to take it off.
The most effective foundation layers are light and near to the skin. You’ll be able to add more layers as needed, such as a waterproof or windproof jacket. On a 40-degree day, a thin base layer under a light windproof shell might be the golden formula for warmth; on a colder day, that same light layer might work just as well under a more oversized jacket. A midweight or heavier-weight base layer is recommended for temperatures below 20°F.