Your baselayer may not be the most exciting part of your layering system, but make no mistake: It’s certainly one of the most important. As a next-to-skin piece, baselayers are tasked with pulling moisture away from your body and regulating your core temperature, which is especially useful for outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, and climbing. Below are our top picks for the best women’s baselayers of 2022, from premium, warm, and naturally odor-resistant merino wool options to cheaper synthetic alternatives. For more information, see our women’s baselayer comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
- Best Overall Women’s Baselayer: Smartwool Merino 250 1/4 Zip
- Best Synthetic Women’s Baselayer: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew
- Best Budget Women’s Baselayer: REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Crew Top
- Best Lightweight Women's Baselayer: Smartwool Merino 150 Crew
- Best Heavyweight Baselayer for the Cold: Patagonia R1 Air Zip-Neck
- Most Durable Women’s Baselayer: NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody
Best Overall Women’s Baselayer
Material: 100% merino wool
Weight: 8.3 oz.
What we like: Extremely warm and soft; merino build is resistant to stink.
What we don’t: Expensive and takes some extra care.
Merino wool is our favorite baselayer material for many reasons: It’s soft and comfortable, resists odor well, and effectively wicks moisture away from your skin. Smartwool’s popular Merino 250 1/4 Zip (also called the Classic Thermal) is a shining example, combining all the performance benefits of wool in a well-built and good-looking package. Made with 100% merino (many of the baselayers below are blends or synthetics), the 250 is built to keep you warm during winter activities like skiing and snowshoeing, yet is still cozy enough to wear around the house on snow days. Fit-wise, the women's version is fairly snug compared to many options below, but added give in the fabric means it effectively breathes and wicks sweat without feeling restrictive. And for active use or warmer days, we really appreciate the ability to dump excess heat via the 8-inch zipper at the top.
All that said, merino wool does have its downsides. First and foremost, the material doesn’t come cheap, and the Smartwool Merino 250 is pricey for a baselayer at over $100. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t mind compromising in areas like comfort and odor resistance, you can save considerably with one of the blends or polyester options below, including Patagonia’s popular Capilene. Polyester is also inherently more durable than merino, although taking proper care (including washing in cold water and line drying) will help maximize the Smartwool’s lifespan. In the end, we think the high levels of comfort and performance are worth wool’s inherent tradeoffs, making the Merino 250 our favorite women’s baselayer this year. And if you like the warmth and construction but prefer a different style, it’s also sold in a Crew Top ($100) and Hoodie ($135), as well as matching bottoms of different lengths.
See the Smartwool Merino 250 1/4 Zip
Best Synthetic Women’s Baselayer
Material: 100% polyester
Weight: 5.4 oz.
What we like: Polyester is more affordable and durable than wool.
What we don’t: It’s also less soft and doesn’t resist odor as well.
As we touched on above, polyester baselayers typically are cheaper and more durable than their merino counterparts, making them a great alternative for value-focused shoppers. Our top synthetic pick this year is Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight Crew, which will save you around $35 compared to the Smartwool above while still offering great all-around performance. In addition to providing similar warmth and moisture-wicking capabilities, the Capilene feels smooth against the skin, features thoughtful touches like low-profile thumb loops and underarm gussets, and is made with 100% recycled materials (a nice nod to Patagonia’s ongoing sustainability focus). Long-term durability is the cherry on top—we have Capilene tops that are multiple years old and showing minimal wear despite heavy use.
What do you sacrifice by opting for a synthetic baselayer? While the Capilene is comfortable for a polyester design, it’s still a tangible step down in softness compared to the merino competition. Further, despite Patagonia’s HeiQ Pure anti-odor treatment, the Capilene builds stink more readily and will require fairly frequent washing. And unrelated to the construction, the Capilene is dubbed a “slim fit” by Patagonia, which may not work for some body shapes (it’s noticeably trim around the waist in particular). But maintenance is a breeze (you can throw it in the dryer with other clothes), and not everyone wants to spend $100 or more on a baselayer, which is why we love Patagonia’s Capilene collection.
See the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew
Best Budget Women’s Baselayer
Materials: 92% polyester, 8% spandex
What we like: Similar warmth as the Smartwool Merino 250 above at less than half the price.
What we don’t: Not a standout in odor resistance and runs small.
It’s not cheap to assemble a winter layering system from scratch, but the good news is there are a number of affordable, well-built baselayers on the market. REI Co-op’s Midweight Base Layer Crew Top is a crowd favorite: For just $50 (less than half the price of our top-ranked Smartwool), the REI is warm, regulates temperature well, and has helpful touches like flat seams and four-way stretch to minimize bulk and maximize mobility (respectively). As we’ve come to expect from REI, the Midweight Base Layer also comes in a nice variety of size and colorway options, from classic navy and brown to bright red and lavender. It’s also offered in a half-zip option for just $5 more.
REI’s Midweight Base Layer Crew Top is an undeniably enticing value, especially considering the long-term durability advantage over merino wool. That said, although the Co-op’s fabric is comfortably silky, it can’t compete with merino or even Patagonia’s Capilene above in terms of softness and comfort. It’s also more prone to holding in body odor, which means you’ll probably find yourself putting the REI through the wash more often. Finally, the REI lacks thumb holes, which won’t be a deal-breaker for most—but they do make it easier to add layers overtop. But we keep coming back to value: The REI Midweight is an unquestionably well-built baselayer for the price, earning it our endorsement as the top budget pick this season.
See the REI Midweight Base Layer Crew Top
Best Lightweight Women's Baselayer
Materials: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon
Weight: 4.7 oz.
What we like: Light and breathable enough to wear year-round.
What we don’t: Thin materials require more care.
Smartwool’s Merino 250 above is our favorite overall baselayer, but the midweight construction is overkill for high-output activities and mild (read: non-winter) temperatures. Enter the Merino 150 Crew, which is similarly well built but noticeably thinner and more breathable. Additionally, unlike the 250’s pure wool construction, the 150 adds 13% nylon to the mix for a boost in durability, and weight goes down significantly to a scant 4.7 ounces (the lack of zipper helps). In other words, you’re still getting the coziness and moisture-wicking capabilities of merino wool, but in a much lighter and airier-feeling package.
All told, the Merino 150 Crew is a nice match for demanding winter activities like cross-country skiing and cold-weather running. The lightweight construction also makes it appealing for more casual outings in warmer temperatures, including shoulder-season hikes and hanging out in camp on cool summer nights. However, the tradeoff to the Merino 150’s thinner build is that it’s more prone to developing holes and tears, especially if you regularly throw it in the dryer. If you’re hard on your gear and wary of spending $85 on a product that may only last a season or two, it might be worth considering a synthetic option like Patagonia’s Capilene Cool Daily Shirt ($45), which is a thinner variation of their Midweight Crew above. But we love Merino 150's combination of comfort and breathability, earning it a spot high on our list this season.
See the Smartwool Merino 150 Crew
Best Heavyweight Baselayer for the Cold
Material: 100% polyester
Weight: 8.9 oz.
What we like: Great breathability in a very warm package.
What we don’t: Overkill in mild conditions.
Patagonia’s R series (short for “Regulator") is legendary in the world of fleeces, and their R1 Air Zip-Neck slots in as a purpose-built option for active use in frigid temperatures. Despite being considerably thicker and warmer than the options above, the R1 breathes very well thanks to the unique hollow-core yarns and zig-zag patterning—when worn on its own, you can actually feel air moving through. And when you do start to sweat, the recycled polyester fabric effectively wicks moisture and dries out quickly. We often steer clear of heavyweight designs due to their thick and bulky feel, but the R1 Air is now our go-to option for winter ski tours, which speaks volumes about its smart balance of warmth and breathability.
As we touched on above, the R1 Air is technically considered a fleece and toes the line between our baselayer and midlayer categories (we include the full-zip version in our midlayer round-up). In terms of best uses, the heavyweight design is decidedly overkill for mild conditions, making it far less versatile than most of the light- and midweight alternatives here. On the flip side, it’s one of the most specialized and capable picks for active use in frigid weather, whether you’re a backcountry skier, snowshoer, or runner. You’ll probably want another baselayer or two in your closet for warmer days, but it’s hard to beat the R1 Air’s mix of breathability and cozy warmth when you’re exerting in the cold.
See the Patagonia R1 Air Zip-Neck
Most Durable Women’s Baselayer
Materials: 93% polyester, 7% spandex
Weight: 8 oz.
What we like: A highly durable baselayer that can pull double duty as an outer layer.
What we don’t: Pricey for the construction; not as soft or warm as merino offerings.
The baselayers above are great for wearing under a shell and/or midlayer, but NW Alpine’s Black Spider Hoody stands out for how well it functions when worn by itself. The Polartec Power Grid fabric is warm and comfortable but highly resistant to tears and abrasion thanks to the tight weave, and the touch of spandex adds a nice dose of stretch for mobility-dependent activities. For reference, we’ve put ours through more than eight years of climbing abuse—much of the time without a jacket over top—and it has yet to develop any holes or tears. The rest of the design is equally well executed, including a long cut that stays put under a hipbelt or harness, low-profile hood that fits under a helmet, quarter-length front zipper, small chest pocket, and thumb loops.
It's important to note that NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody is not your standard baselayer—with a roomier fit and great standalone performance, you'll probably be layering it overtop a tank top or T-shirt. Further, it's a bit bulkier than most of the competition, noticeably less soft than merino offerings, and—in our experience—doesn't measure up in terms of warmth-for-weight. In addition, $129 is a hefty price tag for a polyester baselayer, and the Black Spider can often be hard to find in stock online or in stores. But the NW Alpine is nevertheless impressive in terms of durability and versatility, which set it apart as a highly functional and long-lasting performance piece.
See the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody
Best of the Rest
Material: 100% merino wool
Weight: 7.6 oz.
What we like: Supremely soft, warm, and fun styling.
What we don’t: Too thick for shoulder-season use.
Norwegian brand Kari Traa bucks the shrink-it-and-pink-it trend with a lineup of high-performance outerwear designed for women, by women. You won’t find boxy or bland baselayers here—Kari Traa, the Olympic freestyle skier who founded her namesake company, places a high priority on fun color schemes and flattering shapes. In short, the brand represents the intersection of technical performance and feminine styling that the market has long needed. The Rose Half-Zip is one of their most popular offerings and rife with thoughtful features and details, including a form-fitting design, tall collar with a ventilating front zip and chin guard, high-quality cuffs, and flat seams. And the styling is hard to beat: The vibrant snowflake pattern and contrasting underarm panels give the piece a decidedly modern and elegant look with a healthy selection of colorways to boot (six at the time of publishing).
Like the Smartwool 250 above, the Kari Traa Rose is made with 100% merino wool, which translates to excellent temperature regulation, odor control, and next-to-skin comfort. But despite Kari Traa's "midweight" designation, the Rose is a good deal thicker and warmer than the Smartwool (we've also found it to be warmer than the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight), and the fit is noticeably snugger (you may want to size up depending on your intended use). In the end, we love this layer for resort skiing and snowboarding, but it's overkill for mild conditions or active use. And if you like the Kari Traa aesthetic, be sure to check out their other offerings, which range from lightweight polyester layers like the Fantastik to the wool/acrylic Perle.
See the Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip
Materials: 51% merino wool, 49% polyester
Weight: 5.8 oz.
What we like: Scuba-style hood is one of our favorite designs; excellent warmth for the weight.
What we don’t: Lacking in wind and abrasion resistance.
Patagonia’s Capilene collection is legendary in the world of baselayers, running the gamut from thick, thermal-weight designs to lightweight T-shirts and long-sleeve layers for hiking. The midweight Capilene Air Hoody is a real standout in the lineup, merging functional warmth with a thoughtful feature set and nice sustainability slant. We love the scuba-style hood in particular: It adds an incredible amount of warmth, offers great coverage without restricting vision, and has a low-profile shape that easily slides under a climbing or ski helmet. On blustery and cold winter days when you really need to hunker down in your layers, it's a nice alternative to a balaclava that's much easier to pull on and off.
What’s not to like with the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody? First, despite the healthy amount of polyester in the construction, we developed multiple holes and runs on our hoody in a matter of weeks. We also found that the knit-like exterior is noticeably permeable to wind, and the fabric tends to pill and act as a catch-all for hair, fuzz, and more. In other words, the Capilene Air works best under another layer or two. Finally, some women may want to add a light layer underneath, as the more open weave gives the lighter colorways a slightly translucent look. But with great odor resistance, impressive wicking and drying properties, and one of the warmest, coziest hoods we know of, the Capilene Air is a fantastic next-to-skin piece. If you don’t plan to utilize the hood, it’s also sold in a standard crew-neck version that will save you $20, and the matching bottoms are equally cozy and light.
See the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody
Material: 100% polypropylene
Weight: 3.5 oz.
What we like: A comfy, stylish, and performance-ready baselayer for under $50.
What we don’t: Limited warmth and tight fit.
Helly Hansen’s Lifa Stripe Crew goes head-to-head with the REI above as a well-rounded budget option. The lightweight build is a step down in warmth and thickness from the midweight REI, but it will still keep you dry and decently cozy in most conditions. The headliner is the Lifa fabric, which is made from polypropylene and specializes in wicking moisture away from the skin (in our experience, it performs better than polyester). Tack on a snug, athletic fit, and the Lifa Stripe is a great next-to-skin layer for high-output activities like backcountry skiing and hiking. At just $45 and a scant 3.5 ounces, Helly Hansen managed to pack in an impressive amount of performance at a very low cost and weight.
What gives the REI Midweight the edge over the Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe in our rankings? The biggest factor is warmth: The polypro build isn’t as warm as polyester, meaning you'll want to pair it with a solid midlayer or insulated shell in cold conditions. What's more, the Helly Hansen can't match merino wool when it comes to next-to-skin feel, and the extra-tight fit will be polarizing for some. The Lifa may be worth the tradeoffs for high-output use, but if you value warmth over breathability, we think it’s worth opting for one of REI’s budget-oriented polyester options (including the $50 Midweight above or the $40 Lightweight Crew). Alternatively, Helly Hansen offers the midweight Lifa Merino Crew ($100), which features a merino wool exterior and polypropylene lining.
See the Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew
Material: 100% merino wool
Weight: 10.6 oz.
What we like: Excellent balance of breathability and warmth.
What we don’t: Some won’t love the technical fit.
New Zealand-based Icebreaker may lack the name recognition of brands like Smartwool and Patagonia, but make no mistake: This merino wool specialist is the real deal. The popular 200 Oasis Crew here is a testament to their top-end quality: It’s made from 100% merino wool, is super soft, and has a performance fit that works well for skiing and cool-weather hiking. We also appreciate Icebreaker’s sustainability focus and transparency about production practices, including working closely with local sheep farmers to ensure that animals are treated humanely with access to clean water, adequate nutrition, shelter, and open pastures.
Our main gripe with the 200 Oasis is its snug fit, which tends to ride up around our midsection and doesn't layer well over a T-shirt. As a result, we don't recommend the Icebreaker if you anticipate wanting to wear your baselayer as a standalone piece (it's not a great choice for hiking), but the skin-tight design is nevertheless warm and low-profile under a midlayer. And compared to the Smartwool Merino 250 above, the Icebreaker's dense weave doesn’t release hot air quite as efficiently—despite having a lighter fabric weight (200 vs. 250g/m²)—and can start to feel muggy when you’re working up a sweat. But the Oasis does wins out in next-to-skin softness, and it's hard to knock the premium craftsmanship of New Zealand-based Icebreaker. For resort or backcountry skiing and other winter use, it's a simple yet high-end merino baselayer that delivers a good dose of warmth.
See the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Crew
Material: 100% merino wool
What we like: Functional warmth and flattering cut.
What we don’t: Expensive for an REI product.
REI’s Midweight Base Layer Crew top above is our favorite budget design this year, but the polyester construction falls short in terms of softness and odor-fighting ability. Enter their Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Half-Zip, which swaps in a full merino build and trades the midweight thickness for a lightweight construction that’s noticeably more breathable. In terms of warmth, the 185g/m² REI beats out thinner and less insulated options like the Smartwool Merino 150 above and slides in just below many of the true midweight designs here. It’s a really versatile level of warmth whether you’re backpacking or cross-country skiing, and the all-merino construction is soft, has a good amount of stretch, and wicks moisture effectively. Finally, the fit is spot-on for many women with enough room to move around and modest tapering at the waist to add shape. In our experience, many REI products fit on the boxy and baggy side, but that’s not the case with the Merino 185 Half-Zip.
However, while the Merino 185 Half-Zip doesn’t suffer from the typical fit issues we anticipated, it does cost more than expected for an REI product. For reference, Icebreaker’s popular 200 Oasis Crew above is a noticeable step up in warmth for only $5 more, although you do get a front zip and higher collar on the REI. And for just $15 more, you can get the legendary Smartwool 250 above, our top pick, which is slightly thicker and much warmer at 250g/m². We really like the REI and have had nothing but positive experiences with it thus far, but it doesn’t stand out from a value perspective, pushing it to a mid-pack finish.
See the REI Co-op Merino 185 Half-Zip
Materials: 78% merino, 22% polyester
Weight: 5.2 oz.
What we like: Innovative construction combines the performance benefits of merino and synthetic.
What we don’t: Expensive.
Black Diamond’s Solution 150 Merino Crew might look relatively unassuming on the outside, but there’s a lot more to this piece than meets the eye. The Solution’s calling card is its innovative NuYarn construction: Many manufacturers weave synthetic fibers together with merino to reap the benefits of both materials, but NuYarn takes it to the next level, wrapping nylon with extra-fine merino fibers in a thread that exudes technical performance down to its literal core. The net result is better durability and tear resistance compared to full merino designs like the Smartwool Merino 150 above, and the Solution also dries out very quickly when wet (great news for women who are prone to working up a sweat). All told, it’s a highly effective mix that merges the best properties of both fabrics.
After wearing the Solution 150 for six days straight while hiking in Patagonia, we were impressed with how well it held its shape and resisted odor. Under a loaded backpack, the offset shoulder stitching was comfortable and mitigated pressure points, and the thumb loops are sleek and well constructed. The BD also has a more relaxed fit than super-snug offerings like the Icebreaker Oasis above, which makes it better-suited as a secondary baselayer (over a T-shirt) or for occasional standalone use. In fact, our only real gripe with the Solution 150 is its $135 price tag, which is $50 more than Smartwool’s comparable Merino 150 above. But cost aside, the Solution offers solid all-around performance and will last longer than most all-merino baselayers without any major compromise in comfort, which is no easy feat.
See the Black Diamond Solution 150
Materials: 97% merino wool, 3% elastane
Weight: 10 oz.
What we like: Warm but breathable—one of the most purpose-built options here.
What we don’t: Tighter fit and more expensive than the Smartwool 250 above.
For working hard in cold weather, the Icebreaker BodyFitZone Merino 260 Half Zip offers one of the best combinations of warmth and breathability. Using Icebreaker’s namesake BodyFitZone construction, it combines 260-weight merino (spun with elastane for durability and stretch) with strategically placed panels of airy merino mesh in moisture-prone areas like the underarms and back. Combined with a 1/4-length zipper at the top for sealing in warmth or dumping excess heat, the Merino 260 Half Zip is a real standout in temperature regulation: It will breathe when you’re working up a sweat but still keep you warm when you stop moving or the mercury drops.
Everything about the BodyFitZone Merino 260 exudes quality, from the flatlock seams to prevent friction to the well-executed thumb loops. Like the Oasis 200 above, the Icebreaker has a decidedly snug fit, which isn’t for everyone but does add a nice performance slant. And importantly, you still get great mobility with gusseted underarms and raglan sleeves, along with a drop-tail hem for added coverage around back. The Smartwool 250 above is roughly the same warmth and costs $35 less, but the Icebreaker’s more athletic fit and body-mapped mesh panels give it the edge for truly high-output use. For warmer weather, the 150-weight variation is thinner but still a very capable performance piece, and Smartwool’s Intraknit Merino 200 is another lighter and highly breathable design.
See the Icebreaker BodyFitZone Merino 260
Material: 100% merino wool
Weight: 5.7 oz.
What we like: Proven merino performance, fun styling, and nice sustainability slant.
What we don’t: A little pricey; we have concerns about long-term durability.
Quality wool baselayers are a dime a dozen in 2022, but Ortovox’s 185 Rock'N'Wool Long Sleeve stands out for a few reasons. First, the Ortovox Wool Promise ensures that their products come from ethical and certified sheep farms. And second, we just can’t get enough of the styling on the Rock’N’Wool—if you want a merino baselayer with some flair, the multi-colored designs really pop in the conservative and largely bland baselayer market. And like the chart-topping Smartwool, the Rock’N’Wool is made with 100% merino, which means you get uncompromised odor resistance, great temperature regulation, and a cozy, soft touch. For a versatile and breathable next-to-skin layer that can take you straight from skin track to après, the Ortovox 185 is an eye-catching but still very capable choice.
At 185 g/m², the Rock'N'Wool Long Sleeve is lighter than our top-ranked Smartwool 250, meaning it’s more suitable for shoulder-season and high-output activities. That said, the thin fabric, paired with the fact that it’s not blended with a synthetic material, does make us concerned about the Rock'N'Wool’s long-term durability (even Smartwool’s 150-weight shirt above features a merino/nylon blend). Ortovox does offer their 230 Competition Long Sleeve, which is a step up in warmth with 240 g/m² wool (the product name is a little misleading) and adds polyamide (41%) and elastane (2%) for a considerable boost in tear resistance. A final in-house alternative is the 210 Supersoft Long Sleeve, which splits the difference in terms of warmth with a mix of Tencel, wool, and polyamide fabrics. All are excellent performance pieces, and a final decision will come down to how you prioritize warmth, breathability, and durability.
See the Ortovox Rock'N'Wool Long Sleeve
Materials: 71% nylon, 29% elastane
Weight: 7.1 oz.
What we like: Typical Arc’teryx quality and great warmth for the weight.
What we don’t: Expensive for a synthetic design; storage layout isn’t all that functional.
Arc’teryx is a leader in technical mountain apparel, and that expertise trickles down all the way to their baselayers. We like the Rho LT Zip-Neck best, which combines mostly nylon with a generous dose of elastane for an effective mix of durability and stretch. Warmth-wise, the Rho falls between our light and midweight categories, making it an ideal layering piece under a midlayer or shell during low-output activities. And while we generally prefer merino baselayers for their better next-to-skin feel, the Rho LT is no slouch with a soft brushed interior, and it doesn’t hurt that its synthetic build is much more hardwearing and long-lasting than wool.
As we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx, most of the details on the Rho LT are well sorted, including articulated patterning to maximize mobility, an odor-repellent treatment for stink prevention, and a tall collar with a quarter-length zipper for tailoring warmth. The only feature we don’t love is the pocket layout, which includes a bulky kangaroo-style pocket at the front and laminated sleeve pocket on the left bicep. The former lacks zippers and is a strange spot to stash items, and the latter is small to accommodate a plus-sized smartphone. Additionally, despite its “trim” designation, the latest version of the Rho LT has a noticeably boxier fit than its predecessor, particularly around the torso. And finally, $130 is a high price to pay for a non-merino baselayer (most synthetic options here are about half the cost). To be sure, the Rho LT certainly has a lot of positives, but value isn’t one of them.
See the Arc'teryx Rho LT Zip-Neck
Materials: 80% merino wool, 20% polyester
What we like: Locally sourced wool and good looks.
What we don’t: Waffle-knit fabric is prone to snagging and fit is on the baggier side.
If you’re unfamiliar with Duckworth, let’s get you up to speed: This Montana-based clothing brand uses 100% locally grown wool, which is sourced from their open-range ranch in the northern Rockies before being assessed for quality. All production processes take place right here in the U.S., which helps the brand maintain a very high level of workmanship. The Polaris Loose Crew is no exception, combining the cozy warmth and moisture-wicking properties of merino with a healthy dose of polyester to increase durability. Like Patagonia’s Capilene Air Hoody above, the Polaris’ waffle-knit construction feels fairly light and airy for the level of insulation, and we love that you can dress it up or down whether you’re spending a day on the slopes or exploring around town.
Why do we have the Polaris Loose Crew ranked here? First, while we like the look and feel of the waffle-knit fabric, it is more prone to snagging than smoother designs. The Polaris is also on the looser end in terms of fit, which is good for comfort (especially when worn casually) but sacrifices a little in moisture wicking and breathability. For a more durable and slightly closer-fitting alternative, we love Duckworth’s Vapor Loose Crew—we’ve been wearing the T-shirt version for 4+ years and have been very impressed by how breathable, hardwearing, and resistant to odors it is. Unfortunately, the Vapor is sold out at the time of publishing, but it could be the better pick if you’re willing to sacrifice a little softness for better long-term durability (it uses 38% wool compared to the Polaris’ 80%). A final option to have on your radar is their heavyweight Comet Loose Crew, which utilizes 275g/m² wool on the outside and a polyester inner layer to keep you warm even on the coldest of winter days.
See the Duckworth Polaris Loose Crew
|Smartwool Merino 250 1/4 Zip||$105||100% merino wool||Midweight||8.3 oz.||250g/m²|
|Patagonia Capilene Midweight||$69||100% polyester||Light/mid||5.4 oz.||147g/m²|
|REI Midweight Base Layer Crew||$50||92% polyester, 8% spandex||Midweight||Unavailable||Unavail.|
|Smartwool Merino 150 Crew||$85||87% merino wool, 13% nylon||Lightweight||4.7 oz.||150g/m²|
|Patagonia R1 Air Zip-Neck||$119||100% polyester||Heavyweight||8.9 oz.||Unavail.|
|NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody||$129||93% polyester, 7% spandex||Midweight||8 oz.||194g/m²|
|Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip||$120||100% merino wool||Mid/heavy||7.6 oz.||Unavail.|
|Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody||$149||51% merino, 49% polyester||Midweight||5.8 oz.||190g/m²|
|Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew||$45||100% polypropylene||Lightweight||3.5 oz.||125g/m²|
|Icebreaker 200 Oasis Crew||$95||100% merino wool||Midweight||10.6 oz.||200g/m²|
|REI Merino 185 Half-Zip||$90||100% merino wool||Light/mid||Unavailable||185g/m²|
|Black Diamond Solution 150||$135||78% merino, 22% polyester||Lightweight||5.2 oz.||150g/m²|
|Icebreaker BodyFitZone 260||$140||97% merino wool, 3% elastane||Midweight||10 oz.||260g/m²|
|Ortovox 185 Rock'N'Wool LS||$110||100% merino wool||Light/mid||5.7 oz.||185g/m²|
|Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip-Neck||$130||71% nylon, 29% elastane||Light/mid||7.1 oz.||Unavail.|
|Duckworth Polaris Loose Crew||$129||80% merino wool, 20% polyester||Light/mid||Unavailable||175g/m²|
- Baselayer Materials
- Important Strengths and Weaknesses
- Baselayer Categories: Insulation Weight
- Crew Neck vs. Quarter or Half Zips
- Key Baselayer Features
- Long-Sleeve Baselayers vs. T-Shirts and Tank Tops
- What About Baselayer Bottoms?
- Layering Systems: Base, Mid, and Outer Layers
Despite being the priciest baselayer material, merino wool is our recommended fabric for several reasons: It’s super soft and comfortable, has superior temperature regulation, and resists odor to an impressive degree. Granted, merino wool baselayers are expensive and less durable than the polyester and synthetic competition, amounting to roughly double the cost. Take good care of them, however, and you should be able to get at least a few seasons of use. Our top baselayer pick, the Smartwool Merino 250 1/4 Zip, is made with 100% merino, but it's also common for manufacturers to weave in some polyester for added durability (more on this below). For more information about the pros and cons of merino wool, check out our article: Merino Wool: Is It Worth It?
For a cost-effective baselayer alternative, you can always turn to polyester. Led by Patagonia’s legendary Capilene line, polyester fabrics are similarly good at wicking moisture, offer a step up in durability (they’re not as prone to forming holes as wool), and the comfort difference isn’t that far off either. The biggest downside is stink prevention, which is an area of emphasis for many manufacturers—newly developed odor-resistant polyesters still can’t compete with the natural benefits of merino, but they are improving. In addition, polyester fabrics don’t regulate temperatures as well, so it’s more important to match the fabric weight with your intended use and expected conditions (more on that below). Despite the downsides, polyester baselayers nevertheless get the job done for a variety of activities, and they often check in at half the price of comparable merino options.
It’s not quite as simple as deciding between an all-merino or all-polyester baselayer. Some performance-oriented brands are experimenting with blends that aim to offer the comfort and performance of merino wool with the durability and moisture-wicking capabilities of polyester. The Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody, for example, weaves 51% merino wool with 49% polyester, while Black Diamond's NuYarn (as seen in the Solution 150 Merino) wraps merino fibers around a nylon core and then weaves this manufactured thread together with polyester. What these designs have in common, however, is that they are among the highest-priced items in this market. In other words, these blends are more about performance than cost savings.
Silk is one of the softest and most comfortable of the baselayer fabrics and packs an impressive amount of warmth into a lightweight, thin design. But as the demand for temperature-regulating baselayers rises, silk is largely going out of vogue. It just can’t keep up with merino or polyester in terms of wicking moisture and turns into a sweat lodge during high-output activities. Moreover, silk is far less durable than polyester and should always be worn under a mid or outer layer to protect from UV rays and abrasion. And finally, it does not resist odor like merino and should be hand-washed. It's for good reason that we don't include any silk options on our list, but it does have its advantages as a dedicated sleep shirt or extra layer for around town.
The breathability of a baselayer is dependent on several factors, including the type and quality of the fabric, thickness, and openness of the weave. In general, lightweight merino wool will offer the best in terms of breathability, although some high-quality lightweight synthetics come close. This means that for high-exertion activities where you will be working up a sweat (think ski touring, cross-country skiing, biking, and climbing), it’s probably worth spending more to get a higher-performing baselayer like the Icebreaker BodyFitZone Merino 150 (a lighter-weight version of the 260 model above). Spending less, particularly on a thick baselayer, will yield less breathability. Whether or not that’s a deal-breaker is up to personal preference and your tendency to overheat.
Polyester: Very good
Silk: Not good
Merino wool excels at pulling moisture away from your skin, and less sweat buildup means less stink. If you’re taking an extended backcountry trip and don’t want to carry multiple baselayers or rinse them each night, merino is the way to go. Some synthetics do fine at fending off odor, provided you aren’t working up a huge sweat. For example, we’ve hiked for extended periods in Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight in cool weather and have been impressed with its odor resistance. But nothing beats merino in keeping you dry and stink-free.
Merino: Very good
Polyester: Not good
Silk: Not good
Here is where the tide changes: Merino is super soft but prone to developing small holes over time that eventually hamper the performance of the product, whereas synthetics should last for multiple seasons. To put this in perspective, we usually get a season or two out of a standard lightweight merino baselayer, even from the top brands and by following their washing instructions (cold water and line dry). Admittedly, these shirts get a lot of use, but that’s still a very short lifespan. But with synthetics, one or two seasons would be on the short end of the spectrum, and we would hope for three or four.
Some companies are blending wool and synthetics to increase the strength of the baselayer without compromising next-to-skin comfort, and overall results have been positive. We haven’t noticed much of a drop in terms of comfort or performance, but merino/synthetic blends are a step up in durability. Even so, if we’re wearing a baselayer without anything overtop, we’ll always opt for a fully synthetic piece such as the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody.
Blends: Very good
Merino: Not good
Silk: Not good
Out of all the fabrics we’ve mentioned, merino has the best heat-trapping properties. In general, you get a better warmth-to-weight ratio with merino than with polyester, and it regulates temperature better too. The same shirt that keeps you warm in the winter will keep you cool when you’re sweating up the skin track in the shoulder seasons. Silk is also noticeably warm for its thin makeup, but its lack of breathability is a strong drawback. It’s also important to consider if you’ll be wearing your baselayer as an outer layer—while merino doesn’t do much to block wind, some polyester fabrics (such as Patagonia’s Capilene) are so tightly woven that they can resist light gusts. And keep in mind that warmth is directly related to the thickness of the material too, which we discuss in the Insulation Weight section below.
Blends: Very good
Logically, lightweight baselayers are the best breathers but do the least in keeping you warm. This is where merino wool shines: It does an admirable job of regulating temperature for its weight and thickness. However, the thinner the merino, the less durable it becomes. For this reason, most lightweight baselayers are made of polyester. These are ideal for shoulder-season activities, early-season skiing, bluebird days, and high-output uses like cross-country skiing and cold-weather running. Resort skiers and winter climbers will likely opt for a warmer and cozier midweight baselayer.
For the widest variety of conditions, a midweight baselayer makes the most sense. It will provide the warmth you need yet still breathe well enough for physical exertion, especially when made with high-quality merino or polyester. Midweight baselayers are the most popular choice for downhill skiers: They’re plenty warm for the lift ride up but won’t cause you to overheat on the descent. They are less popular than lightweight baselayers for hiking or ski touring in moderate conditions, as the extra warmth corresponds with a drop in the fabric’s ability to regulate temperatures (even midweight merino can get too hot in warm temperatures). But in cool spring and fall conditions, a midweight baselayer can perform great as an outer layer and is the ideal next-to-skin piece for resort skiing on cold days.
Heavyweight baselayers are specialized pieces that are purpose-built for use in cold temperatures or if you’ll be relatively sedentary. The extra thickness inhibits breathability, and it’s easy to work up a sweat even on short walks. Keep in mind that you don’t need all of your insulation from a single article of clothing, and as a result, you can always add warmer layers on top of a light or midweight baselayer. But for winter mountaineering, extreme cold, or low-output activities around camp, a heavyweight baselayer can be the height of coziness. If you do go this route, we love the Patagonia R1 Air Zip-Neck, which is a fleece base/midlayer that breathes very well for how thick it is. On the flip side, their Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck can get swampy unless it’s very cold.
Nearly every baselayer on the market is offered in several styles, including long-sleeve crew and half/quarter-length zippered shirts. Many women opt for a crewneck style to minimize bulk, but there are several reasons to consider a zippered shirt. One upside is the ability to adapt to changing weather conditions: You can zip up for added warmth at the start of the day and unzip as you work up a sweat. And if you want to remove the shirt altogether, it’s nice not having to take off your helmet to do so. Additionally, the extra coverage you get with the raised collar is a nice boost in warmth, and we’ve even found that many quarter- or half-zip long sleeves wear decently well around town too. The downside is that the collar can flop around if you unzip the shirt while running, and having a zipper on your next-to-skin layer isn’t as comfortable as the cleaner crew style (especially when adding multiple layers overtop).
For optimal performance, baselayers need to have a snug fit. This helps the fabrics draw moisture away from your skin most efficiently. Some women like wearing their baselayers for casual use, and that’s when a dedicated performance product like the Icebreaker Oasis 200 is less useful. The shirt conforms to your body like a performance piece should, but it’s far too tight to wear anywhere else. Duckworth’s Polaris Loose Crew is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a roomier fit (especially around the torso) that sacrifices a little in moisture wicking and breathability but has added casual appeal. In the end, your decision is a personal one, and we recommend looking at fit based on intended use and preferences on style.
Baselayers can range from simple, featureless crew tops like the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew to hooded half-zips with a chest pocket (the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody, for example). If you know you’ll be layering a mid or outer layer over your baselayer, the simpler the better. However, those who wear their baselayer as an outer layer will appreciate zip pockets and thumb loops. And climbers and skiers will benefit from a tight hood or balaclava that fits under their helmet (the Patagonia Capilene Air’s scuba-style hood is one of our all-time favorites). Some baselayers even have the capability of blocking sun rays (measured by the UPF rating). As usual, it will help to identify what you’ll be using your baselayer for before determining what features you need.
The focus on sustainability has been increasing in the outdoor industry over the past several years, and baselayers are no exception. In this category, there currently are two key trends: responsibly sourced wool and the use of recycled synthetic materials. The former indicates that sheep were treated humanely and in accordance with strict animal welfare and environmental standards (there are a number of certifications, including the Responsible Wool Standard and ZQ-certified wool). We’ve also begun to see more companies utilizing recycled materials, which cuts down on fossil fuel consumption and reduces the amount of plastics being produced overall (Patagonia's Capilene Midweight is made from 100%-recycled polyester). All in all, we appreciate these efforts and are eager to see more brands come on board.
Our list above comprises long-sleeve baselayers, but many of the designs are also sold in T-shirt and/or tank top variations for warm-weather activities like backpacking and hiking. Apart from the inherent differences in warmth and coverage, T-shirts and tanks are generally cheaper since they utilize less material. For example, the Smartwool Merino 150 series has a $10 price gap between each model: The Long-Sleeve Top above costs $85, the T-Shirt is $75, and the tank retails for $65.
In the end, a final decision will come down to preferences on warmth, coverage, and styling. The consensus among our female editorial staff is that short sleeves and tanks are the preferred option in the summer and shoulder seasons, especially for movement-dependent activities like running and climbing. If the temperature drops, you can simply add a light layer overtop. Long sleeves are a nice alternative for those who want added sun protection and coverage, but the boost in warmth can be a downside on truly hot and exposed days, even if you opt for a thinner design.
Most baselayers on this list have matching bottoms with the same construction that are available at a similar or identical price point. For brevity’s sake, we list the tops here as they are more popular, but the bottoms are readily available and share the same pros and cons. However, generally speaking, maintaining a warm core will do much more for your entire body’s comfort than keeping your legs warm. But given that there’s no need to choose—and provided that almost nothing is cozier than a pair of long johns—we’re huge proponents of quality baselayer bottoms as well.
To get the most out of your technical clothing, it’s important to think of everything as a system. Each piece relies on the layers around it to perform well. As an example, if you have a baselayer that wicks moisture well but are wearing a fully rubber mid or outer layer, it won’t matter how nice of a merino fabric you have: You’ll still be wet and miserable. As such, take the time to put together mid and outer layers that are as high-performing as the baselayers listed above.
Baselayers serve two primary purposes: To keep you warm and to wick moisture. Whether constructed with wool, polyester, or a blend, a baselayer is made to retain your body’s heat while moving moisture (i.e., sweat) away from the skin. And it’s important to note that these functions work together—keeping your body dry will in turn lead to more warmth. They can be worn underneath a midlayer or shell during the winter months or as an outer layer during the fall and spring for activities like hiking, biking, and climbing. The thickness and material of your baselayer will heavily impact warmth and breathability, so make sure to keep this in mind when making a purchase. If you’re still on the fence about which option is best for you, we’ve broken down all of the key considerations in our article: How to Choose Baselayers.
For high-output activities like hiking, backpacking and climbing, breathability is top priority. We recommend a fleece jacket or synthetic jacket for balancing warmth and ventilation. High performers include the Arc’teryx Atom LT and the R line of fleeces from Patagonia (including the R1 Air Zip-Neck above). If you only plan to grab your insulating layer during downtimes, such as hanging around camp after the sun goes down, consider a warm and super packable down jacket. Skiing is a similar story, and conditions will dictate the best midlayer for you. Options can range from a puffy down jacket to a light fleece.
Outer layers are the most specialized part of the system, and their complex designs can get quite pricey. A waterproof, breathable, and packable rain jacket is needed for activities like climbing and hiking/backpacking. Winter conditions are much harsher, so durability takes precedence for ski jackets. These designs offer more pockets for storing gear or personal belongings and a longer fit to protect you from snow sneaking through. There are also hardshell jackets that blur the lines, mixing the weight of a rain jacket with the performance (and extra cost) of a ski jacket.
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