woman sitting on green truckbed in Kari Traa baselayers and beanie putting on pants and smiling
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

The Best Base Layers for Women in 2022

Your layering system can be the determining factor between a bad day and a good day outdoors, whether skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or hunting. We’ve done the research — and testing — to find the best women’s base layers of 2022.

Base layers are an inevitability if you plan on recreating in any season that’s not summer. Whether you’re hitting the slopes, tackling a 14er in cool weather, or just walking the dog on a frigid day, quality base layers can mean the difference between feeling hypothermic or comfortably navigating your day.

Our advice is to get the best base layers you can afford. Merino wool tends to be a top performer, but yak wool and a few other wool-synthetic blends can also be great in extra-cold environments. Compared to synthetics, wool has the bonus of holding warmth even when wet. It’s also the best for beating back scent for long periods of time.

But synthetic fabrics have a lot to offer. They’re often more affordable. And while you tend to give up some odor control, synthetics are the fastest-drying base layers. Fabric options like Patagonia’s well-regarded Capilene are a top choice for aerobic activities where you’ll work up a sweat, thanks to their quick-drying properties.

Base layers are also made in various densities, and each one provides a different amount of warmth and hand feel. If you want to learn more about base layers, jump down to the buyer’s guide and FAQ at the bottom of this article. Otherwise, read on for our top picks for the best base layers for women in 2022.

The Best Base Layers for Women of 2022

Best Overall: Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew — StraightPlus Size, and Bottom

Smartwool Women's Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew

Smartwool is ubiquitous in the world of base layers, and this top is a top-selling base layer for women from REI’s site. The pants aren’t far behind with 4.3 out of 5 stars across more than 100 reviews.

The Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom (which was originally launched under the name Smartwool Merino 250) keeps you warm for $100 but isn’t overly warm for most activities.

You’ll find 100% merino in this best choice, and that’s just because it works so dang well. Women love both the fit and feel of this easygoing crew and pant, and the fit is right on target. This is also a size-inclusive piece: the top is available for plus-size women in 2X and 3X.

According to customer feedback, the plus sizes are on the money for some, while others would like to see a 4X option added to the lineup and a few inches in length for the option of layering a shirt beneath. And the bottom is available up to 3X.

After months of winter wear, we can attest this base layer kit is a top performer. We especially love the softness and next-to-skin comfort as well as the ease of layering. The construction feels denser than a handful of our other favorite base layers, like the Le Bent Le Base 200 Lightweight Crew.

We’ve worn dozens of midweight layers. This set performs beautifully across temp ranges and is one of our go-to choices for winter activities like skiing and snowboarding at the resort with stagnant breaks in the ski lift line or while riding up. Overall, the merino does a great job of masking stench, too.

For some of our uphill, backcountry, and nordic ski testers, this kit feels a bit warm and heavy for high-cardio activities.

What customers said: “Perfect fit, aesthetically pleasing. Soft and comfortable. Doesn’t itch. Soaks up sweat on hard hikes but washes out so no sweat stains leftover! Would absolutely purchase again and recommend.” — Schisticlees

Specs:
  • Weight: 218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)
  • Fabric: 100% merino wool
  • Thermal category: Midweight
Pros:
  • Super soft
  • Comfortable cut
  • Crossover use outdoors and for professional meetings or social meetups
  • Build feels strong
Cons:
  • Does not fare well in washing machine
  • Some don’t like the slim fit

Check Straight-Size Price at REICheck Plus-Size Price at REICheck Bottoms Price at REI

Best Budget Set: PISIQI Thermal Underwear Set

PISIQI Thermal Underwear Set

As a broke college student, we couldn’t afford high-tech gear, so we turned to a cheap base layer set ($24-26) to get us through ski season. And it performed the job for years. So in honor of those times, we sought out the top-reviewed thermal underwear on Amazon Prime. With over 9,100 reviews and a 4.7-star rating, this PISIQI set is a very affordable and well-loved performer.

Don’t expect uber-durability, but if base layers are something you need a few times a year, this looks to be a great option with an even better price tag. Made of ultra-soft polyester, these are purported to be forgiving with a second-skin feel.

What customers said: “I went to Alaska, everyone made fun of me for buying these saying I wouldn’t need them. Joke is on them, Glacier Bay while sailing is chilly in early May. I got my money’s worth from these as an underlay. They were soft, comfortable, fit as expected, and work beautifully with layers. Hands down, buy them.” — Tiffany

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fabric: 92% polyester, 8% spandex
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Wicks moisture well
  • Fabric provides a 4-way stretch
  • Economic choice
Cons:
  • Not enough thermal protection for sedentary winter activities like ice fishing

Check Price at Amazon

Best Plus-Size Budget Set: REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer & Top

REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer & Top

We were pleasantly surprised to see REI has plenty of offerings for base layers for plus-size women, between Smartwool and the REI Co-op brand. And the affordability and positive reviews on these bottoms ($40) make them a shoo-in for gals who’ve often felt left out of the world of athletic clothing.

And women of all sizes really do love this shirt ($40). The size range for both include 1X, 2X, and 3X.

This is a lighter base layer but will get you through a ton with a fitted poly-spandex mix. If you want to level up and go merino, check out Smartwool’s $100 250-weight legging and to.

What customers said: “I’m a plus-size gal with hips, and it’s always hard to know if sizing will work for me or not. This material is wonderful and seems like it would be able to accommodate a large range of shapes. I got these (the tights as well as the top) to sleep in, and I’m just super impressed. Totally comfy, love the material, and even though they’re lightweight, I stay plenty warm.” — Jiffle

Specs:
  • Weight: 218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)
  • Fabric: 92% polyester, 8% spandex
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Comfortable against skin
  • Hems are not too tight
  • Wicks sweat well
Cons:
  • Some found the pant material around the calves and thighs to be loose
  • Top is snug around bust area for larger-chested ladies

Check Bottoms Price at REICheck Top Price at REI

Warmest Athletic Wool Set: Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip & Rose Wool High Waist Pant

Warmest Athletic Wool Set Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip & Rose Wool High Waist Pant

Merino continues to dominate, and the Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip ($110) brings a classic ski lodge feel to the list. Offered only in fashionable Nordic patterns, this 100% merino half-zip and the Rose Wool High Waist Pant ($100) have a feminine touch with an athletic makeup.

Developed by an Olympic skier, Kari Traa’s base layers also have amazing design features like underarm gussets, a more athletic fit around the shoulders and hips, and a hugging four-way stretch construction.

Our editors have been impressed after testing out the Rose Half-Zip. It performs well doing laps on the slope, and the zipper never jabs or digs into your skin (just make sure you get the right size). During spring skiing and late-winter seasons, you can shed your hardshell and retain warmth with this layer.

Speaking of warmth, the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom are likewise midweight, 100% merino wool designs, so which kit is warmer? Technically, the Smartwool setup is a fabric weight of 250 gsm.

The Kari Traa is 240 gsm with underarm side panels that are 180 gsm, which help dump heat while working up a sweat on a powder day. We found the extended collar on the Kari Traa top provides a bit more coverage and warmth.

Ultimately, similar to the Smartwool set, this Kari Traa design has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Some of our testers prefer to wear this base layer set at the ski area when the temperatures hover below 20 degrees F plus windchill or for backcountry skiing in the 0- to 10-degree F range. The fabric weight can feel a bit too warm for high-output activities in warmer temps.

If you do reach for this lovely design, the look is great, too. Read our full review. For a slightly looser fit and similar style, check out the Kari Traa Else Wool Pant ($90) and Else Wool Half-Zip ($100).

What customers said: “I love my merino [Kari Traa hoodie] — the material is really pleasant to wear — soft, but most of all [works] and protects in bad weather. It’s easy to wear with pride as it looks gorgeous.” — Alexandra S. 

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fabric: 100% merino wool
  • Thermal Category: Midweight
Pros:
  • Extremely warm
  • Quality construction
Cons:
  • Merino wool blends wear down quicker than synthetic
  • Not the stretchiest fit
  • Feels a smidge itchy for some sensitive users

Check Top Price at REICheck Bottom Price at REI

Best Set for High Performance: Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve & Short Pants

Ortovox 185 Rock'N'Wool Long Sleeve & Short Pants

Ever since we pulled on the Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants ($100) and Long Sleeve ($110) set for winter action, this comfortable, breathable kit has been one of our go-to sets for backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, shoveling, and resort powder days.

When we wear this pair, we can’t feel it at all. The airy blend pulls up moisture and dries fast, and the seams don’t feel restrictive.

We like that the pant legs reach below the knee, so we don’t need to layer them over our socks, and the waistband sits comfortably above the hips. The fabric does a great job of covering up body odor after a long haul or uphill workout.

The kit is also climate-neutral and Fair Wear certified, and it complies with the ORTOVOX Wool Promise, which is a higher benchmark than the Responsible Wool Standard, according to the brand.

What customers said: “This is my go-to base layer. It’s warm, and I never seem to overheat in it. It’s 100% merino wool, so it wicks moisture well and does not stink after days of use. I have used this from skiing and ice climbing, to mountaineering and hiking. High out-put, low out-put — this thing delivers! I am going on three seasons with the top and hundreds of days of use and it’s still in great shape.” — Matt Park, a full-time, year-round mountain guide 

Specs:
  • Weight: 142 g (bottom), 164 g (top)
  • Fabric: 100% merino wool
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Breathable and dries fast
  • Durable
  • Comfortable for layering and dynamic movement
  • Eco-friendly design
Cons:
  • Pricier investment

Check Top Price at BackcountryCheck Bottom Price at Backcountry

Best Softness: Le Bent Le Base 200 Lightweight Crew

Le Bent Le Base 200 Lightweight Crew

This could be the lightest, softest, stretchiest, most attractive base layer top we’ve ever worn. We want to use it for everything outside and inside, even going out to dinner. We wore the Le Bent Le Base 200 Lightweight Crew ($90) nonstop for several days of outdoor activity in the Colorado Rockies including frigid, windy trail runs, wintry walks, and even sleeping.

The shirt’s buttery blend features bamboo rayon, merino wool, elastane, and four-way stretch. The arms and torso are long, so no skin is exposed in extreme temperatures or wind chill. And the fabric masked odor for multiple days despite sweaty back-to-back action. This is the perfect do-it-all layering piece during and post sport.

What customers said: “This is a great base layer that is very versatile. These base layers are great even for working women under their business attire. In the northern states it can be cold walking to your office and even once there, many work environments are chilly. This layer is lightweight, warm, and thermal-regulating, but never itchy. It is a great addition to a work wardrobe as well as for the slopes. I bought a second one!” — Dolores

Specs:
  • Weight: 200 g
  • Fabric: 66.5% rayon from bamboo, 28.5% merino wool, 5% elastane
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Extremely soft
  • Versatile contoured fit for the ski slopes, town, or meetings
  • UV 50+ protection
Cons:
  • Not a heavyweight choice for stagnant winter moments like glassing for elk

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at evo

Best Heavyweight Top: Duckworth Powder High Neck Top

Duckworth Powder High Neck Top

Reviews tout the cloud-like feel of this sweater-like base layer ($165), made of merino wool fleece. Eliminating the need for a gaiter, the turtleneck adds functional fashion. With a front pocket and a few classic colors to choose from, this piece can be worn casually or in action on the slopes.

The high price tag reflects the fact that Duckworth’s clothes are made in the U.S. from sheep raised and sheared in Montana. There’s a true farm-to-fit story behind the brand’s clothes. And man, do they last. We beat up a pair of Duckworth base layers for 6 years on the regular before they bit the dust.

What customers said: “I now have three of these sweaters, one reserved for work and two for home and hiking. They are so cozy and comfortable, they can handle sweat without smelling, and they are nice enough to wear out to my favorite brewery!” — Cara

Specs:
  • Weight: 417 g
  • Fabric: 50% merino wool, 30% acrylic, 20% polyester
  • Thermal category: Heavyweight
Pros:
  • Key pullover for ice fishing or hunting trips
  • Generous fit that’s cozy
  • Brushed fabric is soft against skin
  • High neck offers protection and warmth
Cons:
  • Very oversized for some users

Check Price at Duckworth

Best Heavyweight Bottom: Sitka Gear Heavyweight Bottom

Sitka Gear Heavyweight Bottom

Another hunting brand makes it on the list. Unfortunately, these bottoms aren’t offered in solids. But they’re awesome. And we’ve had trouble finding a decent pair of legitimately heavyweight base layers for the coldest times until these hit our kit.

For most of us in most climates, midweight layers will do the trick. But if you’re seeking out the warmest base layers possible, consider the Sitka Gear Heavyweight Bottoms ($99).

These are made of a heavyweight fleece with a sweatpants-like feel. The rise is a little lower on the hips, but for the most part, these pants stay put. This polyester-elastane blend also does a pretty good job combating odor using Polygiene technology.

And when the weather gets cold (and skiing or hunting isn’t on the docket), you can find us drinking coffee in these in our apartment or wearing them under bibs for winter errands.

Specs:
  • Weight: 215 g
  • Fabric: 93% polyester, 7% elastane
  • Thermal category: Heavyweight
Pros:
  • Very warm
  • Comfortable fit
  • Seams are streamlined
  • Workhorse construction
Cons:
  • We wish that the backside fabric reached higher

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Sitka Gear

Best Compression Style: CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt & 3/4 Base Tight

CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt & 34 Base Tight

This performance-oriented design is form-fitting, so if you don’t like apparel that hugs, skip ahead. In a unique approach, CEP recently launched compression-style base layers.

After giving this top ($100) and bottom ($100) test runs at the ski area and in the backcountry, and while sitting sedentary, the compressed feel is noticeable at total rest post-activity. The set is also comfortable to wear while on the go.

The pants reach below the knee, which we like for streamlined layering with our socks and boots. The anatomically designed threads support the hamstrings and quads, and the high-tech fabric manages sweat and heat.

Super smooth chafe-free seams in the top and bottom are anything but noticeable. We also like that these base layers dry fast.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fabric: 44% polyester, 29% lyocell, 8% polyamide, 8% wool, 6% spandex, 5% cashmere
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Sweat dries fast
  • Soft fabric
  • Tights provide medical-grade compression
Cons:
  • Only one arm has a thumb hole
  • For some folks, the mock turtleneck can feel too restrictive for casual or post-activity wear

Check Top Price at AmazonCheck Bottom Price at Amazon

Best of the Rest

First Lite Kiln Hoody & First Lite Kiln Long Jane

First Lite Kiln Hoody & First Lite Kiln Long Jane

Can we live in our First Lite Kiln Long Janes ($95) and First Lite Kiln Hoody ($120-130)? The answer is yes, and we have. We’ve worn these feminine long johns for days on hunts, only to find that they stave off body odor better than any other we’ve tried, even after hours of hiking and packing.

And hoodies are either your jam or not. We like to wear this one when we know we want a second layer to keep our head warm beneath a hat or when the weather isn’t bad enough to require a shell hood.

These things just beat back odor, wick and breathe like magic, and fit in a way that eliminates bulk. If you caught us wearing either, you’d likely think it was a new purchase. Fewer washes beget longer use times. We’re into it.

Another benefit to remember with paying more for wool is if you get wet, you still retain heat. Synthetics might dry faster, but the warmth merino offers is a big plus. The design is also made with 18.5-micron fibers, which is superfine merino wool.

High-waisted, soft, and with seams in the right spot to avoid backpack misery, these leggings are made for women and are our favorite fit of any base layer we’ve owned. And though First Lite is a hunting brand, it offers base layers in solids for those of you who might not need camouflage in your life.

Merino rules the day, and these are opaque enough to wear as a first layer on warmer days with no issues. With a 250g merino and spandex woven fabric, these are a true midweight pant.

But in our humble opinion, they’ll get you through the great majority of cold situations with no problem. We’ve worn ours for a few years, and they feel practically new.

What customers said: “In the winter I live in wool base layers since I work outside in cold conditions. I’ve owned merino base layers from all the top brands and I have to say I am very impressed and happy with the First Lite merino base layers I’ve bought. The material is excellent and the design is great. I love the long sleeves and thumb loops.” — Heather Krauss

“Outstanding leggings. True to fit. Minimal compression fit. Super comfortable. Soft to the touch. I am 5’5″ with an athletic build and weigh about 135 lbs. Medium is a perfect length and fit for me. Material is medium thickness and warm. Wicking and antimicrobial system is on point. I will buy these in every color.” — InspiredByNature

Specs:
  • Weight: 425 g (top), 227 g (bottom)
  • Fabric: 95% merino wool, 5% spandex
  • Thermal category: Midweight
Pros:
  • Excellent quality
  • Ideal versatile weight
Cons:
  • Fit for the top is snug and some opt to size up
  • Top can feel tight around broader shoulders
  • Size large pants tend to slide down for some users

Check Top Price at AmazonCheck Bottoms Price at Amazon

Kora Yushu LS Crew

Kora Yushu LS Crew

Kora base layers are made out of yak wool, and this stuff performs. It’s pricey at $130, but only a bit more pricey than merino, and it tends to be warmer for less weight.

In our experience, that’s a bit of a toss-up unless the weather is really cold. We tend to use our Kora layers as heavyweights rather than midweights, as they’re just a bit too warm for early to mid-fall for what we’re up to.

This crew is a constant in our winter kit. It’s thin enough to easily go under sweaters or fleeces for added warmth, and it’s nice enough to wear on its own with a vest on warmer days. Yak wool really does pack a warm punch. If you’re doing legit stuff in cold weather, invest in Kora.

Specs:
  • Weight: 230 g
  • Fabric: 100% yak wool
  • Thermal category: Midweight
Pros:
  • High-rub areas feature reinforced thread for durability
  • High-quality construction
  • We appreciate the lengthy arms
Cons:
  • A bit pricier

Check Price at Kora

Voormi Women’s Base Layer Bottoms 

Voormi Women's Baselayer Bottoms 

Voormi’s thermal base layer bottom ($119) is one of our top choices for backcountry skiing and splitboarding, resort skiing and riding, post-adventure après, and year-round camping. We’ve taken multiple hut trips packing only this base layer bottom in a range of climates and conditions from gripping-cold blizzards to sunshine.

Despite back-to-back usage, the pants don’t reveal odor, and beads of water roll right off the top surface. Our sweat and any water patches dry fast, so we never feel damp or clammy in these long johns.

The fabric — a fine micron-wool construction with against-skin wicking yarns that pull and disperse moisture to the outer layer — is soft against skin yet has an extremely durable exterior.

The blend is lightweight for the density and warmth provided. The material and seams hold up through arduous usage beneath snow pants and jeans in all seasons.

What customers said: “These base layers are very warm, wick well, and are breathable. I am a snow shoe person, and snow shoeing can range from high output to slow going and this base layer adjusts well. Would recommend.” — Jason

Specs:
  • Weight: 195 g
  • Fabric: Unavailable: proprietary wool and synthetic fiber blend
  • Thermal category: Midweight
Pros:
  • Super durable
  • Shields water and sweat extremely well
  • Athletic fit prevents chafe
Cons:
  • An investment
  • Seams are not as stretchy as less durable options

Check Price at Amazon Check Price at Voormi

Janji Swift Tech Mockneck LS 

Janji Swift Tech Mockneck LS 

Whether we’re skiing pow or jogging groomed trails, the Janji Swift Tech Mockneck LS ($53) is a nice addition to our base layer lineup that keeps us cozy without stifling body heat. The silhouette feels good to pull on with the lengthy arms and ergonomic seams that even fit our pole-planting shoulders well.

The fit is pretty snug without feeling restrictive, and the lower half doesn’t fit tight against the abs, preventing the shirt from sliding up. The material wicks sweat well (and pit stains are pretty visible, FYI) and dries quickly.

We love the slightly higher neckline, which isn’t a full-on turtle neck but adds a bit more protection right where a biting wind can take your breath away.

Our one drawback is, when we have stinky sweat, the fabric doesn’t do much to mask the stink. But if you don’t mind or don’t stink, this cut is unique, attractive, and functional with great crossover into everyday use before or after getting outside.

What customers said: “This is the perfect base layer you can wear alone. I wore this top for a 100-mile bikepacking trip in Big Bend. The temps ranged from 35-70. It was perfect alone, under a vest, or under a cycling jersey. It’s PERFECT. Also, it’s suuuper soft. The fit is so sleek!” — Vanessa

Specs:
  • Weight: 162 g
  • Fabric: 84% polyester, 11% merino wool, 5% spandex
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Integrated thumb holes are seamless and comfortable and provide upper hand warmth
  • Construction is free of harmful chemicals
Cons:
  • With only 11% merino wool, B.O. is typically noticeable

Check Price at Janji

Helly Hansen HH Lifa Crew Performance Base Layer

Helly Hansen HH Lifa Crew Performance Base Layer

One of the longest-standing base shirts we pull on for high-cardio snow sports is the Helly Hansen Crew Performance long-sleeve top. And at only $45, that price tag is hard to beat for the decade-reaching quality without a single unraveled seam.

This extremely lightweight and breathable design doesn’t make us feel claustrophobic on a bell-to-bell powder mission or ringing mogul after mogul. The pull-on smoothly wicks sweat and doesn’t hold onto the moisture. The seams never rub or annoy our skin, even on the more sensitive folks.

The fit is not too snug, either, but if you prefer an even looser fit, check out the men’s cut instead.

What customers said: “I am very happy with my purchase. This shirt is a great base layer — wicks sweat so I feel more comfortable. It’s form-fitted enough to not be wrinkly under other layers, but not so fitted that it feels tight. I’m not a fan of crewnecks, but this one is cut low enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s choking me. It is also well-constructed — should hold up to the test of time. I bought it for trekking with a pack, but will definitely also use it for sailing and cruising.” — Ellen

Specs:
  • Weight: 108 g
  • Fabric: 100% polypropylene (Lifa)
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Nice option for high-output activities
  • No itchiness
  • Great wool-free choice
Cons:
  • Not extremely insulated for low-movement activity
  • No thumbholes

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Helly Hansen

Black Diamond Solution 150 Merino Base Crew

black diamond solution 150

Black Diamond uses a wonderful merino wool blend called Nuyarn in its Solution 150 Merino Base Crew ($135), and multiple members of our testing crew love the material.

Nuyarn gives users the best of both worlds, with the odor resistance and soft hand of merino combined with the durability and quick-drying nature of polyester. It’s a simple design of this fabulous fabric, featuring just thumb holes to keep the layer in place on the arms when pulling over second layers.

What customers said: “The fabric is comfortable, moves with you, soft, and the advertised sizing is accurate … I also used multiple days in a row and the stink was to a minimum — the wool did its job at ensuring the person next to me smelled worse!” — SAR Alexis

Specs:
  • Weight: 146 g
  • Fabric: 78% merino wool, 22% polyester
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Non-bulky fit
  • Breathable blend
  • Fine, stretchy 18.5-micron merino wool
  • Thumbholes
Cons:
  • We wish the length was more generous

Check Price at Black DiamondCheck Price at Amazon

Arc’teryx Motus AR Crew

Arc'teryx Motus AR Crew

Once the temps drop, we grab this just-right base layer for trail runs or uphilling at the ski area. The Arc’teryx Motus AR Crew ($79) pulls our sweat and dries like a champ, so no wonder it’s a top-rated item at REI. The exterior fabric is treated with a DWR finish to barricade dew and drizzles, so we can skip a midlayer if it’s warm enough out and not pounding snow.

We like the mini turtleneck style, which offers a boost of protection for our décolletage and blocks drafts. The shirt is designed for ultimate freedom of movement, so side-to-side motion or planting poles don’t feel held back. And the seams don’t feel bulky, either.

What customers said: “If you’re a fan of the existing Moths hoody, this new crew won’t disappoint. The same light, super-comfy material, and the same flattering slim-but-not-too-tight fit. I always prefer non-hooded versions as they layer better and are more versatile, so this crew is perfect for me. Love it. Am getting all three of the current colours and will look forward to more colours in future seasons!” — K9K8

Specs:
  • Weight: 125 g
  • Fabric: 100% polyester
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Soft against skin
  • No itchiness
Cons:
  • Not extremely durable for alpine and rock climbing according to some users

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Daehlie Performance-Tech Pant

Daehlie Performance-Tech Pant

For a lighter weight, performance-oriented bottom, check out the Daehlie Performance-Tech Pant ($57). After using this pant for alpine skiing and backcountry skiing as well as skimo workouts, we can confidently say it covers up smells and never snags during movement.

Strategically placed panels around the knees dump heat and wick sweat, and all of the fabric dries fast. Overall, this base layer does a nice job of managing a range of temperatures while on the go. It’s also a nice base layer to pull on beneath pants for errands around town during cold spells or on windy days.

Specs:
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Fabric: 50% polyester, 30% Tencel, 20% merino wool
  • Thermal category: Lightweight
Pros:
  • Lighter option for warmer or action-packed days
  • Smooth and easy to pull on
Cons:
  • Not super warm for really cold conditions while sitting on the ski lift

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Daehlie

Why You Should Trust Us

Our GearJunkie product testing team includes a range of skiers from intermediate to expert who explore ski areas around the world, venture into the backcountry, skin uphill at the resort, enjoy nordic trails, and backpack in the shoulder season.

Our team also includes avid hunters and folks who live in wintry, cold, mountainous locations from Bozeman, Montana, to Crested Butte, Colorado.

Beyond our field tests and personal experience, we determined the best women’s base layers based on a variety of metrics including performance, quality, comfort, fit, longevity, and value. These base layers serve a range of athletes, applications, and budgets.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Base Layers

Start by imagining how you’ll use these base layers. Are you looking for something extra warm for relaxing around camp? Or will you be working hard in the backcountry and need a breathable, fast-wicking layer?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but knowing how you’ll use these layers will help narrow the field.

Styles of Base Layers

Technically, base layers feature a range of designs including tank, long-sleeve, and short-sleeve tops, as well as ankle-length or capri pants. In our guide, we focus on the best options for cold weather and the winter season, which are usually long-sleeve tops and ankle-length bottoms.

The fabric blends of base layers include merino wool, synthetic fibers, or a blend of the two. Within those fibers, there are various densities from lightweight to midweight or heavyweight. Some tops feature a hood, partial zipper, or thumbholes. Others are tailored with a crew, mock, or turtleneck.

Base layers are absent of pockets or belt loops. These designs are meant to be worn against the skin in a seamless way that’s comfortable beneath other midlayers and outer layers across various activities such as hunting. fishing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, or working on a farm.

Fabric Blend

Merino Wool

We love wool. It regulates temperature really well. It’s fast-drying, comfortable against the skin, and resists odors like a champ. It’s the warmest fabric choice for low-intensity outdoor activities like ice fishing or spectating ice skating.

That said, 100% merino wool tends to be less durable, gets wear holes more quickly, and gets baggy throughout the day. If you have sensitive skin, even the smoothest 100% merino wool might feel a tad less than cloud-like next to the skin. Depending on your preference, you may prefer a wool blend or straight synthetic materials.

Merino wool can also cost more than its counterparts.

Synthetic

An alternative to wool is a synthetic fabric, which is typically a blend that includes polyester plus elastane or spandex for rebound and form. Some synthetic fabrics are proprietary to a brand with treatments that enhance its odor-fighting ability and wicking moisture.

Synthetic blends do not offer as much warmth and overall temperature regulation that wool provides. They’re a great choice for high-intensity activities that produce a lot of perspiration without long moments of standstill, like during a hunt, when a chill could set in.

These fibers can work really well for people with sensitive skin, especially for exercise use. The breathability is still excellent and really only a hair less impressive than merino wool or wool-synthetic blends. Also, synthetics typically cost less than wool.

One drawback: Odor-intense days are not typically covered up well by this fiber.

Wool-Synthetic Blend

Many folks find a fair balance of managing heat and chill, absorbing sweat, and covering up odors in a design that weaves together both wool and synthetic fibers. Adding synthetics also enhances the durability and overall life of wool apparel.

Insulation Weight 

Lightweight

If you’re running hardpack snow trails, snowshoeing, skate skiing, or doing uphill ski workouts in 30-degree temps, a lightweight base layer top or bottom should do the trick, as long as there’s no wind chill.

Lightweight layers dump heat really well. These could be a good piece for warmer spring laps at the ski resort, but sitting idle on lift rides typically calls for a warmer midweight base layer.

Midweight

Not too airy and not too stuffy, the midweight base layer is optimal for wintry days skiing and riding at the resort. It’s a good choice for snowmobiling, when pulling the throttle can pack windchill at high speeds.

That said, for intense heat-building activities like huge ski or splitboard tours or snowshoeing, a midweight layer might be too much.

woman reading book and holding mug in base layers
(Photo/Xander Bianchi)

Heavyweight

When we’re talking extreme temperatures — well below zero or even below freezing — then you might be coziest in a heavy-set base layer, especially for ski resort laps. These are also the layers we grab for sedentary periods.

Those activities include ice fishing, sailing, hunting, spectating events, hanging at base camp during a mountaineering expedition, or even snowmobiling groomed trails, especially if sightseeing stops are frequent.

Fabric Weight

You might have noticed the acronym gsm (grams per square meter) but likely don’t know what it means — which isn’t a surprise. There isn’t a ton of marketing or public education about the label, which is a standard unit for measuring fabric density.

The higher the gsm, the denser the fabric and the warmer it will be. A fluid-feeling blouse might be as low as 50-100 gsm, while denim reaches into the 340-450 gsm range.

Regarding base layers, an ultralight design would be below 150 gsm. Lightweight base layers typically range from 150-195 gsm. A midweight base layer usually falls within the 195-250 gsm range. Heavyweight base layers are above 250 gsm and below 320 gsm.

You’ll want to match your physical exertion to the gsm or your body’s typical needs. If you plan to do high cardio activity, choose a lower gsm.

If you plan to be more sedentary, such as ice fishing, watching a hockey game, or running errands, choose a higher gsm. A higher gsm is also a good option for folks who have poor circulation or tend to get chilled during winter activities.

For easier reading, we didn’t include gsm labels in our selected products in this guide in lieu of sharing the general thermal categories: lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight.

There are base layers that do not weigh very much but have a dense fabric, or gsm, and therefore, a high warmth-to-weight ratio, such as the Duckworth Powder High Neck Top and the Rose Wool High Waist Pant, which are both categorized as midweight choices thanks to their density and subsequent warmth.

Qualities

Insulation & Warmth

This ties into end use. For extra-cold weather or more sedentary activities like ice fishing, sitting in the hunting blind, or relaxing around camp, you’ll want something warmer and with more insulation power. The strongest options will be in that heavyweight label.

If you’re using your base layer for major cardio output, opt for a lightweight design.

Breathability

In addition to trapping heat, it’s important the layer breathes well and efficiently wicks moisture. Freezing sweat will make you colder faster than a too-thin layer. Generally, the lighter a design is, the more breathable it will be. Merino wool is also more breathable than synthetics.

The Smartwool Merino 250 is a warm winter layer that breathes incredibly well. It’s our top pick for the dead of winter but also for alpine pursuits in fall and winter.

If you know you’re going to be busting it uphill on a bluebird day, then look for a lighter layer. Something like the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Top will be a key part of your layering system.

Odor Prevention

If you’re packing minimally for multiday use, like a hut-to-hut or mountaineering trip, merino wool does wonders with hiding odors. Generally, synthetic materials don’t champion covering up stench as well as this natural fiber.

Comfort & Fit

There’s nothing more annoying than ill-fitting base layers. From backside or frontside sagging to pulling to chafing, it’s important to find comfortable-fitting long underwear. Things to consider are softness against skin and tightness. You want a base layer to fit snugly against your body while allowing full range of movement.

It’s also important to look at length and seams. You don’t want gapping at the waist. Nor is it ideal to have too-short sleeves or pants.

Seams can cause chafing, so beware of your movement and potential trouble spots. If chafing is a constant problem, you may want to consider the seamless Patagonia Capilene base layers.

Durability

Thermal layers are an investment, so it makes sense you want them to last. Synthetic layers are often more durable but can cause more trouble with retaining odors.

Merino wool is naturally odor-fighting but tends to be more fragile. You’ll want to take care putting them on and use them mostly as true base layers underneath protective pants or other layers.

FAQ

How Should You Wear Base Layers?

Base layers — as their name implies — are meant to be worn as the base of your clothing system, next to your skin. If you pile on cotton underwear and a cotton T-shirt under your base layers, you’re negating all the ways a base layer is intended to work. Most base layer bottoms are intended to be worn as long underwear.

Should a Base Layer Fit Tight or Loose?

A base layer should have a close fit to your body without sacrificing freedom of movement. Some base layers are tight-ish, but not restrictive or circulation-ending, while others are a tad roomier but not bulky.

Base layers should be able to fit nicely beneath a fleece sweater as well as a pair of Carhartt pants or overalls or ski outerwear.

man and woman gearing up for the snow
(Photo/Xander Bianchi)

How Do You Choose the Right Fabric for Your Base Layers?

Really, it comes down to what you can afford and what activities you do. Synthetics are highly durable, high-wicking, and have some odor-beating technology. Synthetics usually have a lower price tag.

Merino is less durable, but it has temperature-regulating features that can work in a wide range of weather, combats odors, and also wicks well. Merino wool typically costs more than synthetic blends.

You might notice we left silk off this list. Silk needs a lot of washing, is very thin, and is not very durable. Most of the base layers on this list are a wool blend or polyester-elastane blend.

The weight of the fabric you choose is also important. Most people will do well with a pair of simple midweight base layers. If you’re perpetually cold or doing a sedentary winter activity, grab a pair of heavyweight base layers.

If you’re buying base layers to backcountry ski, run in, or for any other intense activity, go light. Easy peasy.

What Is a Good Base Layer for Cold Weather?

If you’re handling extremely cold temperatures, have poor circulation, or tend to be cold-sensitive, grab a heavyweight set like the Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew Top, Duckworth Powder High Neck Top, or Sitka Gear Heavyweight Bottoms.

For all-around recreation and use in average winter temperatures, grab a midweight option like the First Lite Kiln Long Jane and First Lite Kiln Hoody. Then, cardio intense activities, like running or cross-country skiing, and warmer winter days are a good time to opt for lightweight base layers like the PISIQI Thermal Underwear Set.

What Is the Best Layering System for Winter Activities?

For the greatest warmth and protection, you’ll want to wear full underwear and a sports bra followed by base layers, which wick sweat and help manage body heat during high output or laidback activities.

Base layers fit beneath a midlayer — like a fleece or micro-down jacket or synthetic insulation layer — followed by an outer layer, like a shell, that strongly protects against the elements from rain to snow or wind.

Depending on the day’s activity and climate, you might prefer to wear a base layer beneath an outer layer and skip that middle piece of insulation.

What Kind of Bra Should You Layer Beneath a Base Layer?

Of course, for us gals, bras are often a necessity. So don’t make the mistake of wearing a nonwicking bra beneath your base layers. Find yourself a sports bra that fits, wicks, and supports to combat sweat and chills on your upper half. Then let any of these base layers work their magic!


skier putting on Smartwool socks and ski boots
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