You’re hiking to the summit. When you stop at the top for a break, you notice your first layers are cold and damp with sweat. Later as you make camp for the night, you get worried about staying warm enough as the temperature drops. Knowing what’s the best base layer for hiking is essential to enjoy your adventures outdoors safely.
Hiking in cold weather poses a difficult problem to solve. You are hiking and sweating. Damp base layers are uncomfortable and suck heat from your body. This is a recipe for putting you at risk of hypothermia.
Knowing how to layer clothes is crucial to staying warm and dry while hiking. But, how can you sweat in your base layers and still stay comfortable?
That’s where we come in. One of our goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to make your life easier when it comes to choosing outdoor gear. In this article, we’ll walk you through what to look for while shopping for cold weather base layers. We’ll also show you how to find one that works best for you and keeps you warm and dry.
For more of our top hiking apparel recommendations, check out these popular articles:
Quick Answer - THE BEST BASE LAYERS FOR HIKING
- Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew
- Icebreaker Everyday Crew
- Icebreaker Oasis Crew
- Arc’teryx Phase AR Zip
- The North Face Expedition Zip
- Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch
- Ibex Woolies 2
- TerraMar TXO 2.0
- Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip
Comparison Table - THE BEST BASE LAYERS FOR COLD WEATHER
|Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew||Medium||High||$$$||4.9|
|Icebreaker Everyday Crew||Medium||HIgh||$||4.7|
|Icebreaker Oasis Crew||Medium||High||$$||4.8|
|Arc’teryx Phase AR Zip||Medium||High||$$||4.4|
|The North Face Expedition Zip||High||Medium||$||5.0|
|Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch||High||Low||$$||5.0|
|Ibex Woolies 2||Medium||High||$$||4.8|
|TerraMar TXO 2.0||Medium||Medium||$||4.5|
|Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip||High||Low||$$$||4.4|
Reviews - BASE LAYERS
Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew
Icebreaker Everyday Crew
Icebreaker Oasis Crew
Arc’teryx Phase AR Zip
The North Face Expedition Zip
- Breathability: Medium
- Durability: High
- Material: 83% Recycled Polyester, 17% Elastane
- Warmth: High
BEST FOR HIKERS DOING LOW-INTENSITY ACTIVITY
PROS: Soft fleece, recycled material, warm
CONS: Staticky fabric, too warm for high intensity
Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch
BEST FOR HIKERS OUT ON COLD DAYS
PROS: Soft fleece, stretchy fabric, reversible to have a warm base layer or fast-drying mid layer
CONS: Picks up odor, too warm
Ibex Woolies 2
BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING LESS EXPENSIVE MERINO
PROS: Less expensive, merino, no smell
TerraMar TXO 2.0
BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING LOW-STINK SYNTHETIC
PROS: Activated carbon in yarn prevents smell, thumb loops, smooth outer face for layering
CONS: Not as breathable
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST BASE LAYER
MERINO WOOL is gaining popularity because it’s soft, breathable and doesn’t pick up odor like synthetics do. It also regulates your body temperature well when the thermometer changes.
SYNTHETIC BASE LAYERS pull moisture away from you and breathe well. They’re durable so they’ll last a long time. The downside is the will eventually they will pick up an odor and it will be hard to keep them smelling fresh.
BAMBOO is not a common material but is starting to gain popularity. It has wool-like anti-bacterial properties and breathability. It can be hard to find and is often mixed with other materials.
SILK BASE LAYERS aren’t common either. They aren’t typically used for adventure because they don’t breathe as well as these other options.
Blends of materials are common now. You might find a bamboo merino or synthetic merino mix. The idea here is to get the best of both worlds when you mix two types of material.
WEIGHT OR THICKNESS
For warmer or higher intensity hikes, you may want to opt for a thinner layer to release the heat. For cold weather trips, you’ll want to go thick for extra warmth. Knowing how to layer clothes is crucial to staying warm and dry.
TEMPERATURE CONTROL FEATURES
Collars, hoods, zippers and thumb loops all help you control how warm you are without taking the layer off. They also add weight, bulk, and cost to a layer.
FIT AND STYLE
Loose base layers will let heat escape while tight ones will keep it in. But too tight and they can restrict movement or circulation. Make sure they’re long enough for your body and of course, you want to look good!
CARE AND WASHING
Some of the materials or blends have to be hung or laid flat to dry. They can shrink or melt if you put them in the dryer. Check the care instructions if you want to use the dryer.
It’s important to be aware of where the products you use come from. You might prefer products that use recycled materials or ethically sourced wool. Many companies offer these more sustainable options.