Best Base Layers
When you’re hiking or traveling, layering is a great way to stay warm and comfortable without packing any bulky jackets. In brisk weather, you may be able to get away with only a top or a bottom, but in extreme conditions, you’ll be happy to have both. The best base layers will be breathable, comfortable, and easy to wash. Base layers pack down to the size of a normal long sleeve shirt but provide much more warmth. Certain styles are good looking enough that you may not even want to hide them. With so many options available, it can be difficult to decipher the good from the bad. Here, we have compiled the best of the best and provided clear and honest reviews of each.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 9 hrs of research
The tall collar adds another layer of warmth
With merrow stitching, the amount of chafing is reduced
Has rapid moisture transfer and next-to-skin feel
Top 10 Picks
1. Arc'teryx Satoro AR
The tall collar adds another layer of warmth
With merrow stitching, the amount of chafing is reduced
Has rapid moisture transfer and next-to-skin feel
The chest pocket is not very practical
Arcteryx has been known to top a list such as this every now and then, and they are back again. For every single man looking to go on an adventure where weather could play a factor, this base layer is a must-have.Read more
The main material of this baselayer is Merino Wool, 81%. The other materials included are 12% Nylon and 7% Elastane. The advanced fabric technology of Nucliex STR 180 wool allows for high-performance protection against the weather. Besides adapting for multiple activities, the nylon core provides the necessary strength and durability.
To provide next-to-skin comfort, all the textiles are made from natural fibers. Past this, the long V-neck will keep you extra-warm and the merrow stitching will minimize the amount of chafing against your skin.
The materials used in this baselayer work together to absorb sweat and release them quickly, keeping you cool and dry. Made from wool, this fabric has a natural repellent to odor and sweat. After a while, you will need to wash them, but they will not stink up the joint.
You can expect a next-to-skin fit and you can choose between small all the way up to xx-large. For guys, there should be enough colors to satisfy everyone with black, macaw, Vermillion, woad, and Nighthawk available.
With this base layer, your upper body will be ready for the harshest of conditions. To be honest, the issues present are technically not even issues (more personal preference).
2. Carhartt Base Force Legging
When the wind is howling and the weather is freezing cold, these will keep you warm
It assists in keeping your dry when your legs begin to sweat
With Stain Breaker technology, you can easily wash out any stains that make their way on the fabric
They tend to fit long, so be aware of this
Carhartt is a well-known brand when it comes to clothing catered toward winter conditions and not because they are notorious for bad quality. On the contrary, they always deliver top-notch quality and their Men’s Base Force Legging is right up there with anything they have ever made.Read more
They are constructed from 9.5-ounce, 100 percent cotton. Besides this being incredibly soft, there is reinforced stitching on all the seams that add an extra amount of durability and strength.
The cotton material itself will provide softness, comfortability, and warmth throughout the entire day. However, its design will also keep you dry even when you are sweating in the freezing weather. Also, although a simple addition, the neck label is tagless and will not chafe against your skin.
Integrated into this base layer is FastDry technology. What this delivers is an odor-resistant material as it will wick away the sweat from your body.
Carhartt surely accommodates for every guy on the planet as you can select size options from small all the way to 4x-large. Be aware, though, that these leggings tend to fit long.
Your hard-earned money will be put to excellent use here. What they do so efficiently is keep you warm even in the most extreme weather conditions, but also provide enough comfort to want to wear them all day long.
3. Smartwool NTS Mid 250
The flatlock stitching is designed to eliminate chafing on your skin
Made from wool, which is one of the most advanced fibers
The 10-in. front zipper will ventilate on demand and the collar provides extra warmth
The seams on the shoulders can be itchy
Smartwool is another manufacturer that proves that wool might just be the best fabric possible for base layers. Past this, their Men’s NTS Mid 250 Pattern Zip T also delivers a great amount of comfort (past a slight itching issue) and a natural repellent to odors.Read more
Indeed, the fabric is 100 percent wool. Being one of the most advanced fibers in the world and being flatlock stitched makes it an article of high-performance clothing that eliminates abrasion. In addition, it has a UPF 50+ rating to protect it against harmful ultraviolet rays.
The flatlock stitching not only protects against abrasions but also adds increased comfort and an enhanced fit. Also, the shoulder panels eliminate the need for top shoulder seams which reduces the amount of chafing on your skin. But, the shoulders can be itchy at times.
The wool will naturally resist odor to prevent harmful bacteria. Plus, it also wicks away moisture to deliver quick-drying capabilities.
There are plenty of sizes for everyone as you can select from small all the way up to xx-large. Additionally, each guy should be able to find an appropriate color for them with choices of charcoal and black, dark blue steel, olive and bright orange, Moab rust, among others.
Despite its slight itching issue, there is not too much to harp on with this Zip T. Smartwool knows how to make a terrific base layer, as they understand comfort, design, and fabric.
4. Icebreaker Oasis
There are enough color options to satisfy everyone
The soft wool feels comfortable to the skin and insulated in cold weather
Slightly thin for some
Sleeve length may be longer than desired
This lightweight base layer is a great addition to any wardrobe. It is easy to pack, soft on the skin, and odor resistant. Whether you plan to use this shirt for traveling, hiking, or running errands, it won't let you down.Read more
This long sleeve base layer is made from 200g 100% Merino Wool. It is naturally UV resistant and offers UPF 50 protection.
This lightweight baselayer has a slim fit and feels great against the skin. Some people immediately remember that itchy wool Christmas sweater from their Grandma and turn the other way, but wool has come a long way since then. Additionally, the seams of this shirt sit slightly off the shoulders and are flatlock, meaning they won’t rub or chafe, even while wearing a backpack.
The Oasis will help to keep you warm, but not sweaty. If you do happen to break a sweat, the wool material is innately breathable and will quickly wick away moisture. The material is odor resistant and can be worn for multiple days at a time, without washing.
This shirt is available in a wider range of sizes, from Small to XXXL. For the most part, reviewers agree that it fits true to size. Only a few have had issues with the sleeve length being a bit long. As an added bonus, the shirt is available in over twenty different colors. There really is something for everyone here.
This is a great base layer that could play a crucial role in each camping trip you take. To ensure its durability, you will want to make sure you follow the directions and wash and dry it correctly.
5. Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew
The back-body seam wraps to the front to enhance the overall fit
There are enough colors to satisfy the pickiest of people
To eliminate the top shoulder seams, there are integrated shoulder panels
If you ignore the washing criteria, you may shrink the fabric
To complete the full ensemble, Smartwool gives women both the bottom and the NTS Mid 250 Pattern Crew top. It shares some of the same properties of the bottoms and for all women in the world, you might as well complete your outfit.Read more
Just as the bottoms, the top is made from 100 percent Merino wool. For an enhancing fit, the body seam wraps around the front of the body. But, as you know so well, Merino wool provides the utmost in high-performance clothing.
The included shoulder panels eliminate the need for top shoulder seams, while the flatlock seam construction is designed to eliminate the amount of chafing. Both of which, combined with the wool fabric, provide enhance the overall comfort.
With its natural resistance to odors, you can wear this top for hours on end without scent becoming an issue. Its wicking moisture technology will also keep your legs dry, hence preventing a gnarly smell.
To accommodate for several women, you can select size options from extra-small all the way up to extra-large. Color options include dogwood white and black, indigo heather, mountain purple, and blue ice, potion pink, and several others.
This completes the ensemble masterfully, but be aware of the washing instructions. If you do not follow them, you may end up shrinking the material. But, as long as you can follow directions, you will not compromise the quality of this fantastic base layer.
6. Ibex Wool Woolies
They work just as great an extra layer of warmth and pajamas at home
The flatlock seams and tag-free label increases the comfort
A gusseted crotch prevents them from splitting and adds movability
After long walks or extended uses, they can become a little baggy
This is yet another pair of women’s leggings and while Ibex could have done a slightly better job with the fitting issue, it remains an ideal choice for its terrific odor-resistance and comfort.Read more
The fabric is a breathable and lightweight 150 GSM wool. Besides this, most notable is the gusseted crotch that keeps the leggings from splitting.
Although it seems simple, the tag-free label is paramount as it prevents unnecessary irritation. Plus, the flatlock seam ensures easier layering for a more comfortable fit. However, after walking for a while they can become a little baggy. For some, this could be an issue.
You are already aware of the wool’s resistance to odors, but it also properly regulates temperature and provides great breathability by wicking away moisture to allow for long and extended uses.
The choices are available from extra-small to extra-large. Also, take note that it is a form fit with a wide-comfort waistband.
It is unfortunate that bagginess becomes an issue over time. It does not necessarily hinder these from being a sensational base layer, but it is something to take note of.
7. Burton Midweight Capri
4-way and 360-degree stretching allow for unrestricted movement
The chafe-free soft lock seam provides an extra amount of comfort
Its newly-enhanced stink-proof finish does an admirable job of fighting odors
Fabric is a little thin, working a little better as long underwear
These are a little different than a traditional pair of base layer leggings, as these are capris. No matter, they still work great as a base layer and it is mostly thanks to its all-purpose design.Read more
The body is made from 93 percent polyester and 7 percent spandex. With its UPF 50+ Rating, ultra-violet rays will not negatively affect the performance and appeal of the capris.
No doubt about it, these capris maximize comfort with all their features. Included with this are the elimination of overlapping fabrics for smooth and chafe-free seams, 360-degree unlimited mobility and four-way stretch for unrestricted mobility, and soft lock seams for extra comfort.
This type of DRYRIDE UltraWick fabric will pull away any moisture with their microscopic fibers. With its stink-proof finish, it also will fight away any funky bacteria and prevent the need of you washing it after each use.
Featuring a traditional women’s specific contoured waistband, it fits naturally. For sizes, you can select from extra-small to extra-large.
It really depends on your preference whether you prefer a Capri base layer, but if you do, you may not find a better one than the Midweight pair from Burton. Its high breathability, comfort, and fast-wicking technology all combine to make it a terrific garment.
8. Arc'teryx RHO
Long chest zipper
Zipped chest pocket
The RHO is slightly different than many of the additions on our list. Instead of using Wool, this base layer is made from Polyester and Elastane. The armpits are gusseted for flexibility and comfort, and the shirt is overall very comfortable. If you have the faith to invest in this shirt, it'll be with you for many years to come.Read more
This base layer is slightly different than our other additions. Instead of being made from Merino Wool, this long sleeve is made from Torrent brushed Polyester with 16% Elastane. The combination of these materials gives the shirt a great combination of stretch and heat regulation. The minimalist design helps to keep the jacket lightweight.
As long as you are aware ahead of time that this shirt is meant to fit tightly, there should be no gripes with comfort. The underarms are gusseted, providing you with a full range of motion. The seams are flatlock seams, avoiding the possibility of chafing. Additionally, this long sleeve features a laminated chest pocket for easy access to money or keys.
The Torrent finish of the polyester allows moisture to be absorbed and released through the shirt. For additional temperature control, there is a deep chest zipper and a high collar. If you need to let off some steam, simply unzip it to your desired length. For odor control, the shirt is finished with Polygiene.
This base layer has a “next to skin fit.” Almost all reviewers say that the fit is true to size. It is available in sizes S-XXL and in seven different colors.
The RHO from Arc'teryx is a great base layer option. Reviewers love the zipper that allows them to control the airflow within the shirt. The addition of a chest zipper also allows you to easily access your most commonly used items, or items that you would like to keep safe.
9. Tsla Long Sleeve
Many colors and styles
Quick time drying
Sizing can run small
This base layer is one to check out as it offers a variety of features such as quick drying, non-abrasion material, a variety of colors and styles, and looks great. The other bonus with this base layer is the price tag, with an affordable price on this base layer it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up a couple for your next outdoor adventure.Read more
For ultimate comfort and flexibility, this shirt is made from 87% Polyester and 13% Spandex.
Being a next-to-skin fit, it provides a superb amount of comfort while also remaining breathable. This shirt is also quick to dry which means that you will never feel uncomfortable from sweat with this base layer.
To kill all odors to prevent bacteria from becoming an issue, it has integrated Dry Moisture-Wicking Quick Drying Acclimate technology. Expect only the best moisture-wicking.
Has body form-fitting and is designed to fit close to your skin. As such, you may want to go a size larger. For options, you can select from x-small to 2x-large. Even better, three are a variety of colors and styles. You will not have any problems finding a style for you.
The only true factor to take note of here is the tight fit, but besides that, expect nothing but pure-quality and comfort with this base layer. Its superior moisture-wicking technology is only the icing on the cake.
10. Tsla Thermal
Sizes run small
These thermal pants not only come in a variety of colors but also are a great addition to your base layer collection. These pants will keep you dry and warm when the chilly weather starts to hit on your next camping or hiking trip as they have fleece linings and great ventilation.Read more
Similar to the TSLA shirt, these leggings are made from 87% Polyester and 13% Spandex. They provide a great range of motion and flexibility. To keep you even warmer, they are lined with fleece.
These pants will not only keep you warm during those chilly nights but also feel comfortable. There is plenty of stretch and the interior fleece material feels soft against the skin.
Even if you happen to use these for several days in a row without washing, they will maintain their odor-resistant capabilities. The ventilation also allows for the odors to escape while keeping your body heat in.
When looking at sizing for these pants it is best to get a size larger then you are as the sizing can run small. It is designed to fit next to your skin and you can choose from small to xx-large. Although, some sizes may not be available.
Hard to argue with the results and specifications with these bottoms. There is nothing but pure-quality here and a worthy addition to your next adventure.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
The type of fabric that a base layer is constructed from goes a long way in determining its usefulness for you. Throughout this list, you saw a few different types including polyester, cotton, and wool. They all possess their advantages and, quite frankly, all are a terrific option when it comes to fabric.
Starting with wool which was the most popular in this guide, it does a superb job of providing warmth and wicking away moisture. Because it has a natural crimp, this type of material is able to trap more dead air than most fabrics. Dead air works as a terrific insulator, thus adding warmth. In addition, it is fantastic at feeling dry even when weight. The fibers that are in the wool can absorb up to 30 percent of their dry weight before you will ever notice your weight.
Polyester and cotton are certainly capable of providing a great base layer, as well. The former has strong fibers that will not wear down as fast and is resistant to both shrinking and wrinkles. Meanwhile, the latter does an admirable job of providing comfort, controlling moisture, and delivering insulation.
It is an arguable point, but the main purpose of a base layer is to provide you with an extra amount of insulation. However, comfort is nearly as important as, after all, no one wants to wear garments that are irritating or uncomfortable. Ironically, the fabric design is what provides both insulation and comfort. Wool and cotton will always deliver an excellent amount of comfort, much like other fabrics.
Although it is the front runner, however, there are general design integrations to look out for. For instance, the type of stitching implemented. If it is merrow or flatlock stitching, it is designed to not only protect the fabric from abrasions but also enhance the comfort by eliminating the amount of chafing on your skin. Also, look for shoulder panels, as these eliminate the need for top shoulder seams which can also minimize chafing. Of course, comfortability also can be related to movability. Thus, it is nice when you have four-way stretching and 360-degree unlimited mobility. Simple integrations, for example, the omission of a tag label, can also assist in the overall comfort, as well.
With any article of clothing, after a while, they will need to be washed and cleaned. However, base layers are special and work a little differently. When manufacturers design them, they need to be sure they include technology to repel or control odors. This keeps users from having to wash them after each use, which can come into play for serious users. In specific, this is one great characteristic of wool as it is naturally repellent to odors. Thus, with this fabric, there is no need for further treatments to be applied.
When using other fabrics, designers have to put a little more thought into it. As long as you some sort of fast-dry technology, for example, Polygiene, FastDry, or DRYRIDE, you know that it will wick away moisture. Then, you may see some sort of stink-proof finish or permanent odor control to repel any odors. This is a tremendous way to provide people with the luxury of not needing to wash a base layer after each use. Again, after a while, you will want to wash it due to the nature of fabric and clothing.
Size is everything and not to sound cliché, but that is no different with clothing. Base layers do tend to cater to everyone with their plethora of different sizing options. Most, if not all, will be a next-to-skin fit, or form fit. What this means is it will tightly follow the contours of your body and not provide excess room. This is not something that should surprise or shock you, as this is the entire point of a base layer.
About the only aspect, you need to pay attention to is if a certain base layer is true to size. Some will have long sleeves, some long leggings, and some just a smaller fit. If you know you like it when your pants leg and shirts sleeve are not too long, you may want to veer away from those that are (or try a smaller size than you typically would). Thankfully, most sellers will provide you with ample size options to adapt to everyone.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
The reality of clothing is when you wear it for the first time, it may end up being a façade. If the garment is primarily made from a fabric that shrinks in the wash or dryer, say cotton or wool, the fit may be better or worse after you wash it. A few tips to consider to avoid this are drying them at the lowest heat setting possible, avoiding drying them multiple times, air-drying them and using the cold water setting on your washing machine. For extra precaution, reference the instructions on the label.
You're already saving space in your pack by utilizing base layers in place of bulky clothing items, but did you realize you could save even more space? Packing cubes provide great organization and give you more room in your pack. Many cubes are sold in sets of different sizes and colors and can make a world of a difference on your next trip.
Other Factors to Consider
Honestly, this may have been something that you took issue with as soon as you starting reading. Color and the visual appeal is important in clothing, but what is the point when you have other layers on top? After all, base layers are specifically designed to be used as underneath layers. This question shall be answered with another question. For those who believe this is a pointless criterion, why do sellers go through the hassle of creating multiple color options? Just because you will not always see them, does not mean you never will. For example, do tattoos come to mind?
Plus, some base layers can still be worn by themselves. Whether this is as pajamas or as a t-shirt in the summer. It is just human nature to prioritize a product that we feel “looks better”. If nothing else about it is better that is a different story, but if you are weighing two that are close and one has a superior color, take it.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: How tightly should a base layer fit?
At this point, you have been beaten to death with the point and purpose of a base layer. They are meant to be form-fitted as they are used as insulation and a moisture-wicking method. So, the answer to the question, how tight should it fit, is tight. Yes, it should wrap around your body and be tight to the bone. Obviously, if it is uncomfortable it is a little too tight and you should consider going up a size.
As a general rule of thumb, however, it is a smart idea to choose the size you normally wear. They will be made slightly smaller due to their design but should fit you sufficiently.
q: How should I take care of wool base layers?
As wool is a primary and popularly used fabric for base layers, it is appropriate to address a question specifically about it. The reality is, there are extra precautions you can take to ensure that your wool garment lasts as long as you want it to. These types of base layers are not the cheapest, so you want to do everything in your power to ensure their shelf life.
Firstly, when dealing with stains be sure to rinse them off with cold water and then a dry cloth. After you get done washing it, to remove the excess water, you can roll it up in a towel. Then, you can proceed to air dry it. Never air dry it with direct access to the sunlight, even with a UPF rating against ultraviolet rays, it is still not recommended to do so. If your base layer happens to be incredibly wrinkly, instead of ironing it you should hang it up in a steamy bathroom. Finally, it is not a bad idea to have it dry cleaned once a year.
q: How do you properly layer clothes?
This is just the beginning and the base layer is the foundation of the complete ensemble. People sometimes will become confused with how they are supposed to properly layer their clothes. When heading out to an adventure with unpredictable weather (or just flat out cold), layering your clothes correctly can be the difference in a great time or a miserable time. While not going too in-depth here, here is a general guide that you can take.
The base layer, which you now are fully educated on, will manage the moisture and provide the initial layer of insulation. This should go on first before anything else, then you can put on your second insulating layer. While this will vary, this could be a long-sleeve shirt or a sweatshirt. Lastly, you would want your outer shell on last to protect you against the rain and the wind. For example, a Gore-Tex jacket.
q: Why should I wear a base layer in the first place?
This should not be a question that is difficult for you to answer, but it is one that gets brought up a lot. You have just been briefed to why you should wear them in warmer weather, but why so in colder weather. Clearly, they are meant to add another layer of insulation in shivering weathers. They do so by wicking away the moisture of your body, keeping you dry, and by providing an extra layer of insulation. Often times, for example with wool or cotton, the fabric itself will also deliver you warmth.
Athletes or fitness gurus may also wear them, not only for the same benefits listed above but also because some specific types provide specific advantages. This includes a delay in muscle fatigue and an increase in overall performance.
q: Can you wear a base layer in the heat?
This whole time, you may have been under the impression that base layers are only sufficient in the cold weather. Guess what, this is not true. As a matter of fact, not only can you wear a base layer in the heat, you should. One would think that the more layers the worse, but not with the way base layers are designed. First of all, because they wick away the moisture on your body they will assist you when you are sweating profusely. Not only does this keep you cooler, but it also keeps you more comfortable. Reducing the moisture on your body will avoid the clamminess feeling as a result of it. This is why you will see athletes and cyclists with an extra layering of clothing on.