Best Base Layer for Cold Weather

If you love being outside on crisp winter days then getting the best base layer for cold weather is a must. After all, winter is the time for biting winds, low temperatures and occasionally heavy snowfall.

A base layer can be considered as the foundation of your clothing system and is an item of outdoor clothing you’re likely to wear all year around, except for scorching hot days. A base layer’s function is to “wick” sweat away from your skin as well as trapping warmth underneath optional higher thermal layers.

Technically, the base layer is the first of a series of thin layers you can add and remove to maintain the optimum temperature for any exertion level. The best base layers can therefore insulate your body at the same time as keeping you warm, dry, and comfortable. They really are an essential item for your walking wardrobe and it pays to get a decent collection together for multi-day camping/hiking adventures.

We’ve researched and reviewed many base layers for Camping Secrets, and provide a roundup below as well as a buying guide to aid the daunting purchase process.

Wedze Merino Wool Base Layer

wedze base layerThe classic straight cut of the Wedze base layer can accommodate various body shapes. Also, it is made out of high proportion of merino wool which is perfect for regulating body temperature reliably in all conditions, hence its popularity.

For the price on offer at Decathlon, this is a great option for most people although we would say it’s probably a little thick for spring and summer walking – this base layer traps in a lot of heat and is therefore more suited for winter activities such as mountaineering, hill-walking or skiing/snowboarding.

We found that it is excellent at wicking sweat away under exertion. The hydrophilic fibers used in the base layer can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without becoming saturated. So, the Wedze can evaporate absorbed moisture easily, speeding up the drying and moisture removal process.

We think it’s a winner for winter time and is one of the best base layers for cold weather which you can buy in terms of value vs performance.

  • Few seams which reduces irritation
  • Warm and soft material 
  • Excellent for wicking moisture
  • No womens sizes
  • It may lose its shape after multiple washes

Helly-Hansen Base Layer Crew Top

Helly-Hansen Base Layer Crew Top 2This 100% polypropylene Helly-Hanssen top is a high-performance base layer that dries quickly. It is exceptionally breathable and light and is therefore a common choice amongst enthusiasts for many outdoor activities. Not to mention the classic striped design on its sleeves – we love it.

Helly Hansen gear is extremely well made and this base layer in particular is perfect for wide range of activities. It will keep you comfortable no matter the conditions in large part due to the contoured body fit. It really does shape well against the body.

The crew neck was a point of controversy between the team. In my view a crew neck can be more adept at holding in heat but if you overheat then having a neck zip is useful to ventilate. Luckily, Helly Hansen make a wide range of baselayers and we would recommend searching through their website to find one that suits your requirements.

Helly-Hansen Base Layer Crew Top

  • Breathable fabric 
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Easy to maintain
  • Can be difficult to pick the right size

Odlo Merino Warm Crew

Odlo baselayerThis Merino Warm Crew Top from Odlo at Black’s combines technical performance with a natural, silky feel. For this, it utilizes ultra-fine 17.5-micron merino wool. As a result, it feels great against the skin and keeps you chafe-free. 

So, you can use it for jogging, trekking, or climbing. Additionally, merino wool is naturally wicking and odour-resistant. That’s why you don’t have to worry about staying warm and dry when using it as the foundation of your layering system.

In use we found the Odlo to really feel good against the skin. Again we were in two minds about the use of a crew neck but feel that it really does work well in the winter and there is much less risk of chafing from a zip. We highly recommend the Odlo Merino base layer.

  • Smooth and silky feel
  • Stylish and trendy design  
  • Perfect for hiking, running, and climbing
  • Natural wicking and anti-odor properties
  • Handwash only
  • The material might stretch after washing

Icebreaker Merino 260 Winter Zone Women's L/S Zip Neck

Icebreaker Merino 260 Winter Zone Women's L/S Zip Neck 2Moving up the price scale brings us to the best base layer at around the £100 mark.

Icebreaker have made a fantastic women’s base layer made from versatile merino wool. It provides a soft, comfortable feel, excellent breathability, and natural odor resistance. Furthermore, this the Icebreaker baselayer features excellent thermal regulation which will keep you warm and cozy at all times.

On a January walk in North Wales my wife Ali really appreciated the zip collar fitted to the Icebreaker which allows for quick venting. The fit is excellent and really feels that it offers support for your shape as well as great insulation and moisture wicking.

In our view the Icebreaker base layer is ideal for a variety of winter sports and should definitely be considered as an option.

Icebreaker Merino 260 Winter Zone Women's L/S Zip Neck

  • Durable build 
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Stylish with great performance
  • Comfortable and odor resistant
  • Can be a bit too tight – perhaps order two sizes and return the worst fit choice

Arc'teryx Rho AR Women's Zip Neck

Arc'teryx Rho AR Women's Zip NeckIf you are looking for a good top for winter sports, the Arc’teryx Rho AR top offers one of the best women’s base layers for cold weather. Arc’teryx is known for incorporating cutting-edge technology into their designs, and the Rho is no exception.

We were immediately struck by the rich interior of the Rho. It just feels extremely soft to the touch and you just know it will keep you warm. In some ways we might consider it to be potentially slightly too thick as a base layer and more akin to a micro-fleece secondary layer. That being said, it can definitely function as a warm base layer and is excellent when the going is going to be cold.

The Rho has a zipped neck to allow hot air out for convenient temperature regulation. It has a trim fit which is well shaped to the typical women’s body. We love it and recommend it highly.

  • Warm, snuggly base layer
  • Perfect for most outdoor activities
  • Durable with high-performance weather protection
  • Possibly too thick as a base layer

Rab Men's Pulse LS Zip Baselayer Top

Rab Men's Pulse LS Zip Baselayer Top 2The Rab Pulse LS Zip is a multi-purpose technical base layer convenient for outdoor activities. We really like it in terms of both value for money and the thinness of the breathable lycra material used by Rab. Value for money and Rab are not words we use together very often at Camping Secrets, and so it’s quite refreshing to see the pricing of the Pulse.

In terms of materials, Rab has incorporated Polygiene odor control treatment into the lycra, making it ideal for prolonged usage. The base layer only weighs 117g and so you barely know you’re wearing it. Perfect for so many outdoor activities.

The deep venting chest zip on offer is great for better temperature regulation. We also appreciated the low bulk seams which reduce chafing or irritation against your skin. The Rab Pulse is a great base layer and definitely worth seeking out.

Rab Men's Pulse LS Zip Baselayer Top

  • All-purpose wear
  • Soft, light, and quick to dry
  • Follows your body shape
  • Built-in ventilation
  • Not alot – it’s a great base layer

Sprayway Women's Kara Half-Zip Base Layer

Sprayway Women's Kara Half-Zip Base Layer

Sprayway Women's Kara Half-Zip Base LayerSprayway’s Kara Half-Zip for women uses 50% merino wool and 50% polyester fibers.

This base layer is ultra-lightweight, featuring flat-locked seams and a deep zip neck for increased breathability and comfort.

As a result, it feels pleasant on your skin and is easy to dry.

The Kara provides greater natural wicking properties as well as increased mobility.

  • Soft and quick-drying
  • Durable and secure
  • Excellent for wicking sweat
  • For women only
  • The material might stretch after washing


Under Armour Men's HeatGear Armour Compression Long Sleeve T-Shirt

Under Armour Men's HeatGear Armour Compression Long Sleeve T-Shirt

Under Armour Men's HeatGear Armour Compression Long Sleeve T-ShirtThis HeatGear fabric is comfortable enough to wear every day and has all of the benefits of UA compression.

This fabric wicks sweat, repels odor, and dries fast, too. On top of that, it utilizes stretch-mesh underarm panels for better breathability and comfort.

You’ll enjoy the long-lasting comfort of this 84% polyester- 16% elastane blend due to the fabric’s four-way flexibility. So, it’s extra resistant to tearing.  

  • Light, soft, and comfortable
  • Four-way flexibility
  • Excellent breathability and ventilation
  • Wicks sweat and dries fast
  • The UA logo is perhaps too large 
  • Might be uncomfortable for tall and muscular people
  • Extra-long sleeves


Buying Guide – How to Choose the Best Base Layers for Cold Weather

  • Different Categories

Besides keeping yourself dry, the texture of a layer is the first thing to consider when looking for the best base layer for cold weather.

Of course, there are a lot of base layers in the market today. Some of them are quite convenient, while others are tough to work with. In general, base layers are grouped into a lightweight, mid-weight, and heavyweight types.

1.   Lightweight

Lightweight base layers are great for less vigorous activities. They do not provide a lot of insulation, but they do dry quickly. As such, they are perfect for those prone to sweating or people living in colder regions.

2.   Mid-Weight

On the other hand, mid-weight layers are slightly thicker. So, you can use them as a base or second layer, depending on the weather. In practice, they’re best for colder temps and balance moisture wicking with insulation pretty well.

3.   Heavyweight

Heavyweight base layers have thicker fabrics, which keep you warm at all times. Overall, they’re the best base layer for cold weather because of that extra insulation.

Tip: Knowing your body type is a bonus. If you usually sweat a lot, adjust your layers based on your activity level.

  • Choose the Right Materials

Knowing a base layer’s fabric is important when searching for the best base layer for cold weather. Check out this list of well-known materials to assist you in deciding which base layer to use.

1.   Synthetic

Synthetic base layers are common, though they might not be too fitting for freezing weather.

This material is made of a blend of polyester, which is usually lightweight and dries super-fast. So, stay away from this fabric if you live in the artic as it won’t help you much in cold weather. They are usually durable, inexpensive, and best for warm weather.

2.   Merino Wool

Merino wool is soft, non-irritating wool that regulates body temperature no matter how freezing it gets outside. Hence, this common fabric stays a top choice as a base layer for cold weather. Also, it isn’t a wrong choice for a warmer climate either.

It is durable, naturally moisture-wicking, and dries slowly. However, this fabric is prone to wear and tear if washed improperly.

3.   Silk

Silk base layers aren’t trendy, yet they have a lot of advantages. Silk is incredibly soft, which might be unsuitable for overly sensitive skin. But, it is lightweight, wicks moisture pretty well, and doesn’t require extra washing.

If you are fond of tight clothing, then silk is a wonderful choice for underwear because it won’t show as much as some thicker fabrics.

4.   Bamboo

Although this fabric is relatively new, it is one worthy of consideration. It contains bamboo extracts and a blend of other fabrics to improve the fit and softness. Plus, it wicks moisture well, has good antimicrobial properties, and is gentler on sensitive skin.

Quick Disclosure: Cotton layers did not make the list of the best base layer for cold weather. This material simply isn’t good around moisture, so it’s best not to use it as a base layer. 

  • Does it Fit?

Your base layer must have a snug fit for it to wick away moisture and regulate your body temperature effectively. Yet, many people overlook this aspect. However, the fact remains that your base layer must hug your skin tightly for best results.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.  What is a base layer, and why do I need one?

A base layer is a fabric that sits tight against your skin and is responsible for keeping you dry and warm. Base layers are available in different styles, including tops, bottoms, long-sleeves, quarter-zips, etc.).

Note that base layers aren’t made from cotton since that’s not a good insulator. If using cotton as a base layer, you’ll be sweating in no time. 

2.  What is a layering system?

A layering system usually involves wearing a base layer, a mid-layer, and a top layer. Hence, it’s like wearing multiple clothing at once during your outdoor adventures.

3.  Common uses of a base layer?

If you have already gotten the best base layer for cold weather, then you need to know when to put it on. For example, skiing, walking, running, and cycling are outdoor activities that call for such clothing, especially in winter.

4.  How should I maintain my base layer?

You don’t have to worry about washing merino wool regularly. This material has odor-resistant and anti-microbial properties that keep the stink away. So, you are excused from wearing your merino layer three to four times before washing it.

Also, asides from handwashing this wool, you can keep it fresh by refrigerating it in a ziplock bag overnight. The freezing temperature will kill all bacteria and restore the freshness of your wool.

5.  Should I always handwash merino wool?

Yes, ensure you handwash this fabric with little or no agitation. However, even if some merino wool clothing is labeled “Machine Washable,” the manual way is a much better option. For this, dip the fabric in cold water and use a wool-specific washer. Plus, such cleansers do not require rinsing, making them ideal for handwashing.

Suppose you’re dealing with blended fabric, including 50% wool and the rest of various origins. In that case, you can easily put your washing machine on a gentle cycle and clean the material without any issues.

6.  Which type of soap should I use?

Recklessly hand washing this wool is one of the quickest ways to ruin it. Also, most laundry detergents contain enzymes whose sole purpose is to eliminate biological molecules such as food stains. However, since wool is a natural material, exposing it to these enzymes is not the wisest of choices. Instead, use a wool-specific wash.

7.  How should I wash synthetic materials?

Synthetics are a little more durable and can withstand machine washing. But, you need to flip the garment inside out to avoid pilling. Next, set the machine to a gentle cycle on warm and hang the fabric to dry unless the tags instruct otherwise. In that way, you ensure the fabric’s longevity.

8.  What is the difference between a base layer and thermal wear?

The distinction between these two fabrics has been causing a lot of debate on forums. However, the best way to tell the difference between them is to look at their functions.

So, base layers are designed to keep you dry and well-insulated, while thermals are not. Instead, thermals simply keep you warm. Hence, they won’t dry you up if you get soaking wet. In short, thermal equals warm while base layers equal dry and insulated. Knowing this, plan your trip ahead of time and prepare accordingly. 


Of course, life has already taught you how getting the best base layer for cold weather allows you to enjoy those winter outdoor activities. Not only are these layers soft and comfortable, but they also keep you warm and dry. Therefore, they are necessary for all snow-related get-togethers. Plus, no one can have fun while coming up with a cold.

To stay protected in the cold, one must wear appropriate clothing. For example, you can get a silk or polyester-wool blend base layer if you just want to be comfortable. However, if you plan on doing a lot of outdoor activities, a merino wool layer is the best way to go.

This guide shows that merino wool is the prime candidate for a base layer material. So, if you got one, try to utilize it the right way. You don’t want to spend so much money on merino wool only to throw it away after a few months. Instead, learn how to care for it.

In this article, we’ve touched upon all relevant factors when it comes to the best base layers for cold weather. So, by following these points, you’ll soon make a habit of taking good care of them. As a result, you’ll always be warm and comfortable, even amidst harsh winds.

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