The 9 Best Base Layers of 2022

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

The outdoors can indeed be great—as long as you feel well outfitted. That comfort begins with base layers that keep you warm, but not overly hot, whether you’re winter camping at a national park, skiing, skating, or sledding in in a winter wonderland. But there are lots of options available, so we rounded up our top picks to help you find the best ones for any activity.

Read on for our picks of the best base layers available.

Best Overall (Men): Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Midweight Crew Top

Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Midweight Crew Top

Courtesy of Backcountry

Helly Hansen combines merino wool and synthetic fabrics for a dual-layer construction that offers the best of both worlds. The brand's original LIFA fiber inner layer adds warmth while pulling moisture away from the skin. That’s especially important for active men who tend to run hot and work up a sweat. The outer merino wool layer adds odor resistance and additional insulation. As a midweight garment, this is suitable for colder weather or more easy-going activities in milder temps. Helly Hansen makes a women’s version of this top as well.

Fabric weight: 225 grams | Material: LIFA (proprietary synthetic blend) and Merino wool | Sizes: S–XXL

Best Overall (Women): Kari Traa Tora Half-Zip Top

Kari Traa

Courtesy of Kari Traa

This pure merino wool base layer has all the function and style many women seek. Kari Traa picked superfine anti-itch merino that offers plenty of stretch and insulation while not feeling constrictive. The form-fitting design is also tailored specifically for women’s bodies. Thinner underarm side panels and a half-zip pullover design allow women to cool off quickly if they heat up during active pursuits. Plus, the snowflake patterned fabric, contrast stitching, and bright colorways will appeal to fashion-minded women—even if the only ones seeing these base layers are themselves.

Fabric weight: Midweight | Material: Merino wool | Sizes: XS–XL

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Patagonia Men's Capilene Midweight Crew Top

Patagonia Men's Capilene Midweight Crew Top

Courtesy of Backcountry

With a midweight fabric and approachable price point, the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew is the Goldilocks of base layers. The product’s versatility spans leisure to active pursuits, and from moderate to cold temperatures. Patagonia has swapped merino wool, a traditional material in base layers, for 100 percent recycled polyester, which makes this top eco-friendly. Going synthetic sacrifices some of the odor-absorbing benefits of the natural product; however, Patagonia has applied a fabric treatment that assists with odor control and adds to the crew top’s longevity. The fabric also offers superior moisture wicking, so you won’t find yourself chilled after finishing a hike from sweat clinging to the shirt. A women’s version is also available.

Fabric weight: 147 grams | Material: Recycled polyester | Sizes: XS–XXL

Best Budget: Under Armour ColdGear Long-Sleeve T-Shirt

Under Armour ColdGear Long-Sleeve T-Shirt

Courtesy of Dick's Sporting Goods

Under Armour is made to move, and the brand delivers flexibility in spades via this lightweight, affordable base layer. A polyester-blend fabric lends this garment warmth and moisture-wicking and quick-drying qualities. The addition of elastane gives this top impressive mobility—it stretches in every direction and moves with you, whether you’re cross-country skiing or building an epic snowman.

Fabric weight: Lightweight | Material: Polyester/Elastane mix | Sizes: XS–XXL

Best for Kids: L.L. Bean Wicked Warm Midweight Underwear Set

L.L. Bean Toddlers' Wicked Warm Midweight Underwear Set

Courtesy of L.L. Bean 

This shirt-and-pant set will keep kiddos warm without breaking the bank. And since it's made of synthetic polyester, this set won’t itch. The midweight fabric is well suited for layering under snowsuits without being so heavy your kid will end up looking like the main character from The Christmas Story. L.L. Bean offers sets for infants, toddlers, and older children with slight modifications for each age group. The set also has an affordable price point, so you’ll easily be able to replace these layers for fast-growing kids each season.

Fabric weight: Midweight | Material: Polyester | Sizes: 2T, 3T, 4T

Best for Summer: REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Crew Top

REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top

Courtesy of REI

Made of a lightweight polyester blend, this top will keep you well insulated in mild conditions. Even in summer, conditions such as thunderstorms, wind, and cool evenings can call for layering up, and this crew delivers a season-appropriate level of protection and breathability. With a bit of Spandex blended into the fabric, this garment has a four-way stretch that’s perfect for hiking, climbing, sailing, and any other seasonal activities. UPF 50+ sun protection also makes this a summer-friendly single-layer top. Fast-wicking polyester keeps sweat from settling on the skin and helps the crew dry quickly. REI Co-op makes a men’s version of this top as well.

Fabric weight: Lightweight | Material: Polyester/spandex blend | Sizes: XS–XL

Best for Skiing: Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew

Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew

Courtesy of Amazon

Perfect ski trips don’t start and end with fresh powder. Your layers are important for keeping you comfortable on the slopes too. Made by Smartwool, a pinnacle brand in the world of base layers, this merino-wool crew is a crowd-pleaser. Interlocking knit fabric enhances the natural comfort, breathability, and moisture-wicking qualities of the merino wool. That makes this base layer a fitting pick for activities like skiing. Plus, with flatlock seam construction, this top won’t chafe, even when worn under a snow jacket all day. Smartwool makes a women’s version as well.

Fabric weight: 276 grams | Material: Merino wool | Sizes: S–XXL

Best for Cycling: Outdoor Research Enigma Half Zip

Outdoor Research Enigma Half Zip

Courtesy of Outdoor Research

This lightweight layer was designed with active pursuits in mind. With a close fit, this layer won’t feel bulky on rides, whether it’s serving as a single or base layer. Thumbholes help keep sleeves secure if you’re layering up or slip over your hands to help stave off the chill while you’re holding handlebars. Quick-drying, odor-resistant wool makes this top breathable; however, if you’re feeling overheated, simply unzip the 12-inch front zipper for instant relief. Shop the women's version here.

Fabric weight: Lightweight | Material: Polyester/wool blend | Sizes: S–XXL

Best for Winter: Seirus Heatwave Reversible Long Sleeve Crew Top

Seirus Heatwave Reversible Long Sleeve Crew Top

Courtesy of Seirus

Whether you’re snowmobiling or winter camping, cold-weather conditions call for serious insulation. Seirus, a leader in heated gloves and hats, delivers great protection with its base layer via heat-reflective technology. Kinetic properties help raise your temperature four to five degrees while Heatwave™ technology helps reflect 20 percent of escaping body heat back to you. All that adds up to a warm core that will help keep your extremities toasty even in harsh winter conditions. Seirus makes a men’s version of this base layer as well.

Fabric weight: Heavyweight | Material: Polyester, spandex, and nylon | Sizes: XS–XL

Final Verdict

Finding the right base layer can be a bit of a trial-and-error process, but the Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Crew (view at Amazon) or Kari Traa Half-Zip (view at Backcountry) is a great place to start for most buyers. Both are designed in consultation with professional winter athletes; they don't scrimp on quality fabrics, and they add a bit of extra warmth in addition to effectively managing moisture. Treat one of these well, and you'll be able to wear it for years and years of cold-weather activity.

What to Look for When Shopping for Base Layers

Moisture-Wicking

It's tempting to think that a winter base layer should just be the thickest, warmest material possible, but a crucial point of a base layer is actually to keep you dry, not just warm (though some do both). It's the mid-layer, like a fleece or thicker long-sleeve, that keeps you warm. That's why you should always look for base layers made from materials that wick away moisture. These are usually synthetic materials, as they're custom-built to pull moisture away from your skin, though some natural wools are also very effective at moisture management. 

Wondering why being dry matters? When you're active in any environment, you're bound to sweat, regardless of the air temperature. Unfortunately, water conducts heat much better than air, which means your skin will lose heat much faster when it's wet. Moisture on your skin during cold weather will pull heat away from your body when you stop moving. And moisture on your skin during warm weather can make you feel overheated and sticky, and in extreme cases, block your pores and cause rashes.

Thickness and Fit

You should always choose your base layer based on your expected level of exertion. If you're skiing at a resort and not planning on any heavy, sweat-intensive cardio, you can choose a thicker base layer. If you're snowshoeing, uphill skiing, or doing anything else where you're likely to perspire on and off throughout the day, you'll want to choose a thin base layer, so it's easy for your sweat to evaporate off the fabric. And if you're selecting a base layer for warm-weather wear, you'll likely want the lightest option available. The goal of a summer base layer is to get the moisture-wicking benefits while feeling like you're wearing nothing. That's why your base layer should always be tight: It can't pull sweat off your body if it's not touching your skin.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How does layering work?

    Layering is a simple concept, though you may have to adjust a bit on very cold or very warm days. Start with the base layer to wick moisture off your skin. Then, add a middle layer to trap body heat against your skin, like a fleece pullover or a thin insulated jacket. Your outer layer is protection against the elements and should have some level of waterproofing and wind resistance, depending on your activity.


    For pants, it's common to skip the mid-layer, wearing just a base layer under your snow pants. However, down or insulated pants can be an effective mid-layer on frigid days. You can wear a base layer on its own for warm-weather sports, but you'll likely need to have another layer handy if the temperature drops.

  • How do I make my base layers last as long as possible?

    The care of synthetic fabrics isn't too complicated. For most items, you can throw them in your washing machine, but it's usually best to air-dry to avoid pilling or thinning. Treat wool tops and bottoms with a little more care since they're prone to stretching and shrinkage. Check your base layer's label, but most wool items need to be washed on a gentle cycle and dried on a flat surface. The good news is that wool naturally repels odor and bacteria, so you can wash wool garments less frequently than synthetics.

  • Are different base layers better for different sports?

    Not so much for different sports, but for different levels of activity. Choose thinner layers for highly aerobic and sweat-inducing activities and thicker layers when you're less likely to sweat. Summer base layers are usually the thinnest.

Why Trust TripSavvy?

TripSavvy writers are experts who live the topics they write about, and that includes mountain expert Suzie Dundas. She’s lived in high-elevation mountain climates for over a decade and snowshoes and snowboards anywhere between 30 and 50 days a year. Add in summer camping, climbing, and backpacking, and she’s tried nearly every type of top and bottom base layer available. Suzie reviews outdoor gear often and knows the different types of fabrics, stitches, cuts, and features that can cause your base layer to make (or break) your day on the snow.

Was this page helpful?
Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Continue to 9 of 9 below.