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 2023, 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 Heavyweight Baselayer for the Cold: Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino ¼-Zip
- Best Synthetic Women’s Baselayer: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew
- Best Budget Women’s Baselayer: REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Crew
- Best Lightweight Women's Baselayer: Smartwool Classic All-Season Merino Crew
- Most Durable Women’s Baselayer: NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody
Best Heavyweight Baselayer for the Cold
Material: 100% merino wool
Weight: 250 g/m²
What we like: Extremely warm and soft; merino build is resistant to stink.
What we don’t: Too thick for high-output activity.
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 Classic Thermal is a shining example, combining all the performance benefits of wool in a well-built and good-looking package. With a fairly heavy dose of pure merino (250 g/m²)—many of the baselayers below are blends or synthetics—the Classic Thermal 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 (which also allows the layer to slide on nicely over a helmet).
All that said, merino wool does have its downsides. First and foremost, the material doesn’t come cheap, and the Smartwool is pricey for a baselayer at $115. 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 Classic Thermal our favorite cold-weather baselayer this year. And if you like the warmth and construction but prefer a different style, it’s also sold in a Crew Top ($110) and Hoodie ($140), as well as matching bottoms of different lengths.
See the Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino 1/4-Zip
Best Synthetic Women’s Baselayer
Material: 100% polyester
Weight: 147 g/m²
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 Classic Thermal 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 Long-Sleeve Base Layer Top is a crowd favorite: For just $55 (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 Long-Sleeve 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 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 Long-Sleeve
Best Lightweight Women's Baselayer
Materials: 87% merino wool, 13% nylon
Weight: 150 g/m²
What we like: Light and breathable enough to wear year-round.
What we don’t: Thin materials require more care.
Smartwool’s Classic Thermal above is our favorite baselayer for cold weather, but the 250-gram construction is overkill for high-output activities and mild temperatures. Enter the Classic All-Season Merino Crew, which is similarly well built but noticeably thinner (150 g/m²) and more breathable. Additionally, unlike the Thermal’s pure wool construction, the All-Season adds 13% nylon to the mix for a boost in durability, and weight goes down significantly from 8.3 ounces to a scant 4.7 (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 Classic All-Season 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 milder temperatures, including shoulder-season hikes and hanging out in camp on cool summer nights. However, the tradeoff to the Classic All-Season’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 Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Daily ($49), which is a thinner variation of their Capilene Midweight above and one of our favorite long-sleeve running shirts. But we love the Smartwool’s combination of comfort and breathability, earning it a spot high on our list this season.
See the Smartwool Classic All-Season Merino Crew
Most Durable Women’s Baselayer
Materials: 93% polyester, 7% spandex
Weight: 197 g/m²
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, $135 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
Materials: 84% merino, 16% nylon
Weight: 180 g/m²
What we like: Fun style, great fit and finish, and a Golidlocks level of warmth.
What we don’t: The high neck style doesn’t ventilate well.
A family-run operation based out of California’s Eastern Sierra, Ridge Merino offers a small collection of high-quality yet affordable merino wool baselayers. Their Aspect High Neck Top has quickly become our go-to long-sleeve this season—its 180-gram weight is just the right thickness for mild conditions or high-output activities, and is so soft and cozy that we can’t help but wear it around home, too. What’s more, the turtleneck is a refreshing change from standard crew and quarter-zip styles and is long enough to extend over the face for added coverage. To top it all off, the Aspect High Neck is just $80 (the crew is $75), making it one of the most affordable merino wool baselayers on the market.
Similar to the Smartwool Classic All-Season above, Ridge added 16% nylon to help strengthen the Aspect’s thin merino wool build. They’ve also done a great job paying attention to the finer details: The Aspect High Neck features well-designed thumb loops that disappear into the cuffs, a very discreet headphones port (we question the utility of this addition), and a long cut that doesn’t ride up. Added up, we’re very impressed with the Ridge Merino Aspect, which offers a slight step up from Smartwool’s All-Season in terms of warmth. For mild conditions or high-intensity activities in colder temperatures, it’s one of our favorite new baselayers of the year (you can also opt for a quarter-zip version for better temperature regulation). And it’s worth mentioning Ridge Merino’s heavyweight Inversion, which features thick (270 g/m²) 100% merino wool.
See the Ridge Merino Aspect Merino High Neck
Materials: 51% merino wool, 49% polyester
Weight: 190 g/m²
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% merino wool
Weight: 240 g/m²
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.
Like the Smartwool Classic Thermal 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 Fryd to the cashmere Voss.
See the Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip
Material: 100% polypropylene
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 $55 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: 200 g/m²
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 Classic Thermal 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
Weight: 185 g/m²
What we like: Fun style, and Wild Rye also offers matching Skida headgear and neckwarmers.
What we don’t: Fit and finish isn’t quite on par with Smartwool and Ridge Merino.
For no particular reason, most baselayers feature solid and/or drab colorways, which is a real shame when you consider their potential for fun. But Wild Rye is out to change this trend, with a small collection of colorful, women’s-specific baselayers, including a crew, a zip-neck, longjohns, and even a onesie. The Evie Raglan is their crew top, featuring 100% merino wool that checks in at a midweight warmth (185 g/m²). The main selling point here is the fun patterning on the arms, but the Evie is the full meal deal from neck to hip, featuring a comfortably roomy cut, generous hem (although not as long as our Ridge Merino’s), and thumbholes at each wrist.
Our main gripe with the Wild Rye is price. At $119, it’s a considerable $40 more than the Ridge Merino Aspect above, without much to show for it other than extra style points. In fact, we consider the Wild Rye to be a slight step down in terms of build quality: Its fit and finish isn’t quite as refined, the thumbholes gape open (the Ridge Merino’s are a sleeker design), the neck opening is fairly wide, and we prefer the Aspect’s longer cut. But you do get a bit more warmth with the Wild Rye (its 100% merino construction is noticeably thicker), and the fun patterning will be well worth the added investment for some. It’s also worth mentioning that WIld Rye has collaborated with Skida to offer matching headgear and neckwarmers for their baselayers, which only helps to sweeten the deal.
See the Wild Rye Evie Raglan
Materials: 71% nylon, 29% elastane
Weight: 190 g/m²
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 190-gram Rho LT falls in our midweight category, 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: 78% merino, 22% polyester
Weight: 150 g/m²
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 Icebreaker 200 Oasis 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 Classic All-Season 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
Material: 100% merino wool
Weight: 185 g/m²
What we like: Functional warmth and flattering cut.
What we don’t: Expensive for an REI product.
REI’s Midweight 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 that’s soft, has a good amount of stretch, and wicks moisture effectively. In terms of warmth, the 185-gram REI beats out thinner options like the Smartwool Classic All-Season above (150 g/²); we’ve found the midweight design to offer a really versatile level of warmth whether you’re backpacking or cross-country skiing. 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 $10 less, Ridge Merino’s Aspect offers competitive warmth (180 g/m²) alongside a great fit and finish. It’s worth mentioning that the REI Merino 185 features 100% merino, which gives up a little abrasion resistance (especially with the thin build) but results in an extra-soft feel. But in the end, the REI doesn’t quite stand out from a value perspective, which is why we rank it here.
See the REI Co-op Merino 185 Half-Zip
Materials: 97% merino wool, 3% elastane
Weight: 260 g/m²
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 Classic Thermal 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 Classic Thermal 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: 185 g/m²
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 2023, 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 Classic Thermal, 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 Ortovox’s long-term durability (even Smartwool’s 150-weight All-Season 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. Another in-house alternative is the 120 Comp Light Long-Sleeve, a seamless, high-performance design that's great for high-octane efforts. 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: 90% polyester, 10% spandex
Weight: 260 g/m²
What we like: Affordable, soft and fleece-y liner, and fun patterning.
What we don’t: Warm and snug design lacks versatility for non-winter use.
Australia-based Rojo Outerwear has a large collection of active clothing designed by women, for women, and their Crew Neck baselayer is worth mentioning here. Similar to designs from Kari Traa and Wild Rye, the Rojo Crew Neck is offered in a fun collection of vibrant patterns (11 at the time of publishing) that will appeal to women looking to add a little spice to their winter wardrobe. The thick polyester construction (260 g/m²) has an almost fleece-like feel, making it substantially warmer than most baselayers here.
As a result of the Rojo’s warmth, the Crew Neck is best suited for low-intensity activities and resort skiing in the heart of winter. It’s also worth noting that the fit is snug all-around, which is great for layering but not always great for standalone use. But the Rojo is nevertheless super soft and cozy, and for just $40, it’s an easy layer to add in your winter quiver.
See the Rojo Outerwear Crew Neck
|Smartwool Classic Thermal 1/4-Zip||$115||Mid/heavyweight||100% merino wool||250||8.3 oz.|
|Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew||$79||Midweight||100% polyester||147||5.4 oz.|
|REI Co-op Midweight Long-Sleeve||$55||Midweight||92% polyester, 8% spandex||Unavail.||Unavail.|
|Smartwool Classic All-Season Crew||$85||Light/midweight||87% merino wool, 13% nylon||150||4.7 oz.|
|NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody||$135||Midweight||93% polyester, 7% spandex||197||8 oz.|
|Ridge Merino Aspect High Neck||$80||Midweight||84% merino, 16% nylon||180||6.6 oz.|
|Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody||$159||Midweight||51% merino, 49% polyester||190||5.8 oz.|
|Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip||$120||Heavyweight||100% merino wool||240||7.6 oz.|
|Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew||$45||Lightweight||100% polypropylene||125||3.5 oz.|
|Icebreaker 200 Oasis Crew||$105||Midweight||100% merino wool||200||6.5 oz.|
|Wild Rye Evie Raglan||$119||Midweight||100% merino wool||185||7.7 oz.|
|Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip Neck||$130||Midweight||71% nylon, 29% elastane||190||7.1 oz.|
|Black Diamond Solution 150||$135||Light/midweight||78% merino, 22% polyester||150||5.2 oz.|
|REI Merino 185 Half-Zip||$90||Midweight||100% merino wool||185||Unavail.|
|Icebreaker BodyFitZone 260||$150||Heavyweight||97% merino wool, 3% elastane||260||10 oz.|
|Ortovox 185 Rock'N'Wool LS||$110||Midweight||100% merino wool||185||5.7 oz.|
|Rojo Outerwear Crew Neck||$40||Heavyweight||90% polyester, 10% spandex||260||Unavail.|
- Baselayer Warmth Categories
- Materials: Merino Wool and Synthetics
- Fabric Weight (g/m²)
- Odor Prevention
- Crew Neck vs. Quarter or Half Zips
- Baselayer Fit
- Key Baselayer Features
- Other Baselayers: T-Shirts, Tanks, and Bottoms
- Layering Systems
When searching for the right baselayer, one of the most important considerations is warmth. Do you need thin and breathable insulation for shoulder season running, or a cozy and thick long-sleeve for deep-winter resort skiing? To help with your search, we've broken down our picks into three categories—lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. In assigning these categories, we take into account the baselayers' materials and fabric weight, in addition to our own testing experience.
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. We don't include too many lightweight options on our list above, but some of our favorite are the synthetic Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Crew and merino wool Ortovox 120 Comp Light.
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 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 deep-winter resort skiing, 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 designs like the Smartwool Classic Thermal and Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip.
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. What's more, it provides more warmth for the weight than synthetic matetrials or blends. 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 Classic Thermal, 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 synthetic materials like polyester or nylon. 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, synthetic 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-synthetic 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 synthetics like polyester and nylon. 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.
Manufacturers list the weight of a baselayer's fabric in terms of grams per square meter (g/m², or GSM), which provides a good idea of how much warmth the baselayer will provide. From our picks above, these weights range from 125 grams per square meter for the Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe to 260 grams per square meter for the Icebreaker BodyFitZone 260 and Rojo Outerwear Crew Neck. On the low end, the Lifa Stripe is a great pairing for mild conditions and high-output activities, while offerings like the BodyFitZone and Rojo will be overkill for everything but deep winter. Do keep in mind though that fabric weight does not always perfectly align with warmth, due to variations in fit and material (1-g merino wool generally offers more warmth than 1-g polyester). For example, we've found the 240-gram Kari Traa Rose to be much warmer than the 250-gram Smartwool Classic Thermal.
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 Smartwool Classic All-Season Crew. 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.
Synthetics: Very 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
Synthetics: 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
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. Wild Rye's Evie Raglan 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.
Baselayer T-Shirts and Tank Tops
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 Classic All-Season 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, synthetic material, 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). 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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