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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 gear recommendations, check out the Best Base Layers for Women.

hiking gift guide
Hiking Gift Guide

Quick Answer - THE BEST BASE LAYERS FOR HIKING

  1. Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew
  2. Icebreaker Everyday Crew
  3. Icebreaker Oasis Crew
  4. Arc’teryx Phase AR Zip
  5. The North Face Expedition Zip
  6. Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch
  7. Ibex Woolies 2
  8. TerraMar TXO 2.0
  9. Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip

 

Comparison Table - THE BEST BASE LAYERS FOR COLD WEATHER

PictureNameWarmthBreathabilityPriceRating
Smartwool NTS Mid 250 CrewMediumHigh$$$4.9
Icebreaker Everyday CrewMediumHIgh$4.7
Icebreaker Oasis CrewMediumHigh$$4.8
Arc’teryx Phase AR ZipMediumHigh$$4.4
The North Face Expedition ZipHighMedium$5.0
Mountain Hardwear Power StretchHighLow$$5.0
Ibex Woolies 2MediumHigh$$4.8
TerraMar TXO 2.0MediumMedium$4.5
Arc’teryx Rho LT ZipHighLow$$$4.4
PictureNameWarmthBreathabilityPriceRating

 

 

MULTI-DAY HIKING PACKING LIST

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Reviews - BASE LAYERS

Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew

Specs
  • Breathability: High
  • Durability: Medium
  • Material: 100% Merino
  • Warmth: Medium

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING TO SMELL GOOD

PROS: Anti-odor merino, breathability, good everyday wear

CONS: Delicate

Icebreaker Everyday Crew

Specs
  • Breathability: HIgh
  • Durability: Medium
  • Material: 100% Merino
  • Warmth: Medium

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING TO PARTY AFTER THE TRIP

PROS: Anti-odor merino, lighter than Oasis

CONS: Delicate, can’t machine dry

Icebreaker Oasis Crew

Specs
  • Breathability: High
  • Durability: Medium
  • Material: 100% Merino
  • Warmth: Medium

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING ONE BASE LAYER FOR EVERYTHING

PROS: Anti-odor merino, good everyday wear

CONS: Delicate, can’t machine dry

 

Arc’teryx Phase AR Zip

Specs
  • Breathability: High
  • Durability: High
  • Material: 100% Polyester
  • Warmth: Medium

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING A VERY QUICK DRYING LAYER

PROSWicks moisture well, silver ion antibacterial treatment

CONS: Still picks up smell after heavy use

The North Face Expedition Zip

Specs
  • 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

Specs
  • Breathability: Low
  • Durability: High
  • Material: 88% Polyester, 12% Elastane
  • Warmth: High

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

Specs
  • Breathability: High
  • Durability: Medium
  • Material: 100% Merino
  • Warmth: Medium

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING LESS EXPENSIVE MERINO

PROS: Less expensive, merino, no smell

CONS: Delicate

TerraMar TXO 2.0

Specs
  • Breathability: Medium
  • Durability: High
  • Material: 80% Polyester, 18% Spandex
  • Warmth: Medium

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

Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip

Specs
  • Breathability: Low
  • Durability: High
  • Material: 84% Polyester, 16% Elastane
  • Warmth: High

BEST FOR HIKERS WANTING A VERY WARM BASE LAYER

PROS: Very warm, cuts wind, extra long fit in body, smooth outer face for layering

CONS: Not as breathable

 

 

LEARN HOW TO CHOOSE HIKING GEAR FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE

 

 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST BASE LAYER

MATERIAL

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.

 

ETHICAL SOURCING

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.

 

READ MORE

For more of our top hiking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles: 

Base Layers for Women | Rain Jackets for Hiking

Lightweight Long Sleeve Hiking Shirts | Shirts for Hot Weather

Softshell Jackets | Fleece Jackets

Hiking Shirts

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