Updated on April 29, 2021

Ok gals, it’s time to talk layers. Specifically, the best base layers for women. You can have the warmest hiking jacket and pants to match, but without the right base layers on, you might as well forget it – you’re still gonna be cold.

Base layers are essential when it comes to suiting up for cold weather hiking. Not only do they keep you warm, but they also regulate body temperature and wick away moisture when you start to break a sweat. So if you plan on hiking anywhere where temperatures plummet, you bet you’ll want to wear the best base layers you can find.

Finding the best of the best, however, is another story. With different fits, fabrics, and weights, finding the right base layers for you and your comfort level is challenging. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ll go over what to look for as well as provide our top recommendations for the best base layers for women so you can suit up and get trekking.

For more of our top hiking gear recommendations, check out the Best Base Layers

 

Quick Answer - The Best Base Layers for Women

  1. Smartwool Merino 250 Top
  2. Arc’teryx Rho LT
  3. Helly Hansen Lifa Crew
  4. Woolx Riley Heavyweight
  5. VOORMI Long Sleeve Tech Tee
  6. Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms
  7. Patagonia Capilene Midweight Bottoms
  8. REI Co-op Midweight Tights
  9. Icebreaker Merino Heavyweight Leggings
  10. Smartwool Merino 150 Bottoms

 

Comparison Table - Best Base Layer for Women

PictureNameStyleInsulationMoisture WickingPriceRating
Smartwool Merino 250Smartwool Merino 250 TopQuarter-zip Mock-neck TopMidweightYes$$4.5
ArcArc’teryx Rho LTPartial Zip Mock-neck TopLightweightYes$$$4.2
Helly Hansen Lifa CrewHelly Hansen Lifa CrewCrew-neck TopLightweightYes$4.6
Woolx Riley HeavyweightWoolx Riley HeavyweightCrew-neck TopUltra-HeavyweightYes$$$4.2
VOORMI Long Sleeve Tech TeeCrew-neck TopLightweightYes$$4.3
Smartwool Merino 250 BottomsSmartwool Merino 250 BottomsForm-fitting BottomsMidweightYes$$4.2
Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight BottomsPatagonia Capilene Midweight BottomsForm-fitting BottomsMidweightYes$4.9
REI Co-op Midweight TightsREI Co-op Midweight TightsForm-fitting BottomsMidweightYes$4.7
Icebreaker Merino Heavyweight LeggingsForm-fitting BottomsHeavyweightYes$$$4.6
Smartwool Merino 150Smartwool Merino 150 BottomsForm-fitting BottomsLightweightYes$$4.4
PictureNameStyleInsulationMoisture WickingPriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - The Best Women's Base Layers

Smartwool Merino 250 Top

Specs
  • Material: Merino Wool
  • Insulation: Midweight
  • Style: Quarter-zip Mock-neck Top
  • UPF: 50+
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Comfortable
  • Excellent Sun Protection
  • Warm
Smartwool Merino 250

BEST FOR: COLD, SUNNY HIKES

Since the Merino 250 Quarter Zip was introduced it has been a favorite base layer for a range of activities and you bet at the top of that list is hiking. Comprised of naturally odor-resistant and moisture-wicking merino wool, the Merino 250 Quarter Zip is warm when you’re cold and breathable when you start to work up a sweat. 

The mock-collar protects your neck from the chill while the front quarter-zip offers additional ventilation when you start to warm up. Toss on your day pack and enjoy your hike chafe-free thanks to the seamless shoulder panels. The Smartwool 250 Merino Quarter-Zip also boasts a high UPF rating so you’ll have incredible sun protection.

Arc’teryx Rho LT

Specs
  • Material: Polyester And Elastane
  • Insulation: Lightweight
  • Style: Partial Zip Mock-neck Top
  • UPF: N/A
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Excellent Range Of Motion
  • High Collar
  • Great Fit
  • Arm Zip Pocket
Arc

BEST FOR: SNOWY HIKES

If you’re the adventurous type in need of a base layer to match, you’ll want to consider the Arc’teryx RHO LT. This partial zip mock-neck top exudes heat with exceptional thermoregulation that’s begging to be worn in the backcountry. 

Superior in quality, the Arc’teryx RHO LT has just about everything going for it. This base layer is durable, comfortable, warm, flattering, and even has a stash pocket on the sleeve. Slip into this base layer and you’ll feel liberated rather than weighed down thanks to the lightweight insulation. The downside? This base layer does fit tighter than some and may not be the most breathable on the list. It’s also very pricey. That said, if you’re looking for exceptional quality with the warmth to match, you’ll find it here.

Helly Hansen Lifa Crew

Specs
  • Material: 100% Lifa
  • Insulation: Lightweight
  • Style: Crew-neck Top
  • UPF: N/A
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Lifa technology offers quick-drying, breathable qualities
  • Flatlock seams prevent annoying scratches
  • Semi-fitted design is comfortable under additional layers
Helly Hansen Lifa Crew

BEST FOR: BUDGET

When you need a base layer that does the basics and won’t break the bank, consider the Lifa crew. This top offers solid warmth, moisture wicking features, and a comfortable feel for only $45. Made from 100% synthetic fabrics, this layer is one of the lightest on the market and it’s semi-fitted design makes for great layering potential.

What we like most about the Lifa crew is its exceptional breathability and how fast it dries.

Woolx Riley Heavyweight

Specs
  • Material: Merino Wool, Nylon, Spandex
  • Insulation: Ultra-Heavyweight
  • Style: Crew-neck Top
  • UPF: N/A
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Extreme warmth without bulk
  • Odor destroying
  • Quick drying
Woolx Riley Heavyweight

BEST FOR: WEARING IN COLD TEMPERATURES

Although it’s a blend of fabrics, it offers the same great moisture wicking and odor resistant qualities of premium merino wool. This top is heavy enough to use alone but also layers nicely for those extra-cold adventures. Woolx incorporates nylon and spandex into the wool, increasing its long-term durability and giving it added form-fitting appeal.

What we like about the Riley base layer is the ability to wear it as a stand-alone piece on brisk mornings.

VOORMI Long Sleeve Tech Tee

Specs
  • Material: Wool
  • Insulation: Lightweight
  • Style: Crew-neck Top
  • UPF: N/A
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • DUAL SURFACE™ Precision Blended Wool
  • Relaxed Fit
  • Lightweight

BEST FOR: WARMER TEMPERATURES

If you’re looking for a breathable, lightweight layer that offers protection from skin-damaging UV rays, the VOORMI Long Sleeve Tech Tee is sure to fit the bill. VOORMI crafted this top from Dual Surface UL Precision Blended Wool, making it 30-50 grams lighter than other lightweight merino tops on the market. It provides for unparalleled performance in warm temperatures, whether you’re hiking, cycling, or out on the water.

What we like most about this base layer is how lightweight it is, weighing in at only 4 ounces.

Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms

Specs
  • Material: Merino Wool
  • Insulation: Midweight
  • Style: Form-fitting Bottoms
  • UPF: 50+
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Excellent Sun Protection
  • Chafe-Free
  • Comfortable In Varying Weather
Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms

BEST FOR: PAJAMA-LIKE COMFORT

Slip into the Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms and you’ll feel like you just put on your favorite pair of skinny jeans. Super soft and chafe-free, the Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms are designed to maximize your comfort level while tailoring to your curves. 

Made from merino wool, this bottom base layer does well at regulating body temperature both in colder and warmer climates. You’ll find the midweight insulation is superb for hiking on more frigid days while still fitting snug under your hiking pants without causing unwanted bulk. The waistline, however, rides on the low side. If you prefer high-waisted pants, you may want to consider another option.

Patagonia Capilene Midweight Bottoms

Specs
  • Material: Recycled polyester
  • Insulation: Midweight
  • Style: Form-fitting Bottoms
  • UPF: 50+
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Smooth face allows easy layering
  • HeiQ Fresh durable odor control
  • Flatlock seams minimize chafing
  • Fair trade certification
Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight Bottoms

BEST SYNTHETIC BASE LAYER BOTTOM FOR WOMEN

You won’t find a synthetic alternative of higher quality that costs under $60. Patagonia crafted the Capilenes from 100% recycled polyester and made them suitable for all season wear. They do a great job at retaining their shape while regulating temperature and the synthetic fabrics make for a durable product with excellent moisture-wicking capabilities.

What we like most about this base layer are the patterns and colors you have to choose from.

REI Co-op Midweight Tights

Specs
  • Material: Merino wool
  • Insulation: Midweight
  • Style: Form-fitting Bottoms
  • UPF: N/A
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Ultrafine 200g merino wool
  • Low-bulk flat seams prevent chafing
  • Low-profile elastic waistband
REI Co-op Midweight Tights

BEST FOR BUDGET

For a base layer bottom that gets the job done for under $50, REI’s Midweights are hard to beat. REI crafted these synthetic base bottoms from a blend of polyester and spandex. They provide for excellent breathability and the ultra thin garment feels silky smooth against your skin.

What we like most about this base layer bottom — other than the price — is that you can wear it on its own thanks in part to the cute, comfortable, fitted style.

Icebreaker Merino Heavyweight Leggings

Specs
  • Material: Merino wool
  • Insulation: Heavyweight
  • Style: Form-fitting Bottoms
  • UPF: 35
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Responsible Wool Standard–certified wool
  • UPF 35 fabric
  • Gusseted construction provides unrestricted movement

BEST BASE LAYER BOTTOM FOR WEARING IN COLD WEATHER

If you’re looking for something to keep you warm on the coldest of nights in the backcountry, these are sure to fit the bill. This heavyweight base layer is constructed from almost entirely Merino wool with a small percentage of Lycra to make for leggings that move with your body. The brand integrated merino mesh in all the right places to provide for optimum ventilation while flat lock seams prevent chafing.

What we like most about the Icebreaker Merino Heavyweight bottoms is how the lycra really makes for a stretchy, comfortable piece of clothing that allows for optimum mobility.

Smartwool Merino 150 Bottoms

Specs
  • Material: Merino wool, Nylon
  • Insulation: Lightweight
  • Style: Form-fitting Bottoms
  • UPF: N/A
  • Moisture Wicking: Yes
Features
  • Merino wool lined elastic waistband adds comfort
  • Stretch merrow stitching elevates comfort, range of motion and fit
Smartwool Merino 150

BEST FOR: WEARING IN WARMER TEMPERATURES

If you’re looking for the most breathable, lightweight pair of merino wool bottoms effective at wicking moisture away on those warmer days, look no further. Smartwool designed the Merino 150s to offer top-of-the-line performance during high intensity activities. These base layer bottoms are constructed from a blend of merino wool and spandex. The thin fabric provides for unparalleled breathability.

What we like most about these base layer bottoms is how seriously superior they are at wicking away moisture compared to others in their class.

 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING BASE LAYERS FOR WOMEN

WEIGHT

One of the most important factors you need to consider when choosing base layers is weight. The three different weight categories are:

Lightweight

Base layers made from lighter, thinner fabric that’s made for mild to cool temperatures.

Midweight

Base layers designed for cold temperatures and best used during moderate activity.

Heavyweight

Base layers meant for the coldest, harshest conditions. They’ll be thicker than the other layers and less moisture wicking.

 

FIT

Relaxed or form-fitting, every lady wants to feel good in how their clothes fit. That said, base layers can be tricky. Too tight and you may find yourself needing to make constant re-adjustments or encountering a restricted range of motion. On the other hand, if your base layers are too loose, they’ll let too much heat escape which is precisely the opposite of their purpose! Find layers that are snug enough to comfortably layer under your mid and outer layers without letting heat escape. Check out our guide on What to Hear Hiking for more tips and considerations. 

 

LAYERING

There’s an art to layering and it goes like this: base layer, mid-layer, outer layer. Combined, these three layers are your best defense against the cold. So that means you want to make sure at the core of your defense is the best layer up to the challenge.

Choose a base layer that can fit comfortably under the other two layers while providing enough warmth to match the intensity and temperature of your hike. Then, you can take off the other layers and toss them on as needed without losing your core heat.

 

BREATHABILITY

Nobody likes feeling stifled by their clothes when hiking. Before you choose a base layer, make sure the breathability matches your level of activity. If you’re a fast and swift hiker, you’ll be working up a sweat, so more breathable materials will be your friend. If you’re just planning on taking a stroll through a wintery wonderland, then it might be in your best interest to choose a heavier weight base layer, to keep you warm while you’re moving slowly through the cold wilderness.

 

SYNTHETIC VERSUS WOOL

The two main types of materials you’ll encounter when purchasing a base layer are synthetic and wool. Here’s the difference:

Wool

Wool is naturally moisture-wicking, breathable, odor-resistant, and thermoregulating. The drawback is that it often comes at a hefty price.

Synthetic

Synthetic base layers can range in materials with polyester, nylon, and blends being the most popular. These are quick-drying, durable, and typically less expensive.

Whether you decide to go with wool base layers or synthetic is totally up to you. It may be worthwhile trying out some layers made of both types to get a feel for what you prefer and then make your decision once you know what you like.

 

 

FEATURES EXPLAINED

UPF RATING

The UPF rating is a sun protection rating that clothing manufacturers assign to a garment to communicate how well it blocks out the sun. A UPF of 50+ is the highest rating you’ll come across, meaning it blocks out the most harmful UV rays.

MATERIAL

Merino Wool is the most common type of wool you’ll encounter in outdoor apparel. It’s coveted for being moisture-wicking, breathable, durable, quick-drying, great for sun protection, and less itchy than other wool. It’s also incredibly thermoregulating which means it helps you maintain your core temperature in warm and cold weather.

Polyester is a synthetic material that is durable and hydrophobic.

Capilene Polyester is a synthetic, proprietary material made by Patagonia. This material is moisture-wicking, breathable, and temperature regulating.

 

 

READ MORE

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