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The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

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.

woman sitting on green truckbed in Kari Traa baselayers and beanie putting on pants and smiling(Photo/Eric Phillips)
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Base layers are essential if you plan on recreating in any season that’s not summer or heading into the alpine. Whether you’re hitting the slopes, tackling a high-elevation peak in cool weather, or walking the dog on a frigid day, quality base layers can mean the difference between feeling hypothermic or comfortably navigating your outdoor adventure.

Our advice is to get the best base layers for the climate where you recreate the most. 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 like multiday hut trips.

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. Fibers with the ability to dry fast are especially useful in cold, overcast environments where you can not easily change layers.

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. Also, have a look at our comparison chart to steer your decision-making.

Otherwise, read on for our top picks for the best base layers for women in 2023-2024.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Women’s Base Layers guide on September 22, 2023 to include the Wild Rye Olive Onesie, which received an award, and the Patagonia Capilene Air Crew top and bottoms. We also added and updated 11 new sections and FAQs to support buyer education.

The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024


Best Overall

Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew — Straight, Plus Size, and Bottom

Specs

  • Weight 218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)
  • Fabric 100% merino wool
  • Thermal category Midweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Super soft
  • Comfortable cut
  • Crossover use outdoors and for professional meetings or social meetups

Cons

  • Does not fare well in washing machine
Best Budget

Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer

Specs

  • Weight 108 g
  • Fabric 100% polypropylene (Lifa)
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Nice option for high-output activities
  • No itchiness
  • Great wool-free choice

Cons

  • No thumbholes
  • Not very insulated
Best Plus-Size Budget Set

REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights and Long-Sleeve Crew Top Women’s Plus Sizes

Specs

  • Weight 218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)
  • Fabric 92% polyester, 8% spandex}
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

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
Warmest Base Layers

Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top & High Waisted Baselayer Pants

Specs

  • Weight Unavailable
  • Fabric 100% merino wool
  • Thermal category Midweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Extremely warm
  • Quality construction
  • Long arms cover wrists

Cons

  • Merino wool blends wear down quicker than synthetic
Best for Workouts

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

Specs

  • Weight 142 g (bottom), 164 g (top)
  • Fabric 100% merino wool
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Feels lightweight
  • Durable
  • Comfortable for layering and dynamic movement

Cons

  • Pricier investment
Softest Base Layer

Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer

Specs

  • Weight 200 g
  • Fabric 66.5% rayon from bamboo, 28.5% merino wool, 5% elastane
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

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
Best Base Layer Onesie

Wild Rye Olivia Onesie

Specs

  • Weight 510 g
  • Fabric 100% Merino Wool
  • Thermal Category At 230 gsm, this is a midweight choice
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Dropseat makes bathroom access super easy without disrobing
  • Long wrist cuffs with thumbholes add extra warmth
  • Shin-length legs prevent bunch-up in boots

Cons

  • Not as adaptable as wearing two separate base layers
  • Hood isn’t the most noticeable but might be cumbersome with some layers
  • Size up if you have a long torso
Best of the Rest

Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Crew and Baselayer Bottoms

Specs

  • Weight 147 g (top), 130 g (bottom)
  • Fabric 51% merino wool, 49% recycled polyester
  • Thermal Category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Airy yet warm
  • Stretchy
  • Comfortable cuffs and waistband

Cons

  • See-through
  • Durability concerns

Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew

Specs

  • Weight 230 g
  • Fabric 100% yak wool
  • Thermal category Midweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • High-rub areas feature reinforced thread for durability
  • High-quality construction
  • We appreciate the lengthy arms

Cons

  • A bit pricier
  • Not as versatile across all temperatures

Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length & Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew

Specs

  • Weight 195 g (pants), 208 g (top)
  • Fabric Proprietary wool and synthetic fiber blend
  • Thermal category Midweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

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

Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew

Specs

  • Weight 146 g
  • Fabric Nuyarn 78% merino wool, 22% nylon
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Fine, stretchy 18.5-micron merino wool
  • Thumbholes

Cons

  • We wish the length was more generous

Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS Women’s

Specs

  • Weight 125 g
  • Fabric 100% polyester
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Soft against skin
  • Moderate price
  • Fairtrade certified

Cons

  • Not extremely durable for alpine and rock climbing according to some users

CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt & 3/4 Base Tights

Specs

  • Weight Unavailable
  • Fabric 44% polyester, 29% Lyocell, 8% polyamide, 8% wool, 6% spandex, 5% cashmere
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Sweat dries fast
  • Fairly soft

Cons

  • Only one arm has a thumb hole
  • For some folks the mock turtleneck can feel a bit restrictive

First Lite Kiln Hoody & First Lite Kiln Long Jane

Specs

  • Weight 425 g (top), 227 g (bottom)
  • Fabric 95% merino wool, 5% spandex
  • Thermal category Midweight
The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023-2024

Pros

  • Excellent quality
  • Ideal versatile weight

Cons

  • Top can feel tight around broader shoulders and some opt to size up
  • Size large pants can be a bit loose around the waist
female skier standing in a base layer top at the ski area
Editor Mary Murphy testing out women’s base layers on a ski day at Crested Butte Mountain Resort; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Base Layers for Women Comparison Table

Scroll to the right to view all of the columns: Price, Weight, Fabric, Thermal Category.

Base LayerPriceWeightFabricThermal Category
Smartwool Women’s Classic
Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew & Bottom
$115218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)100% merino woolMidweight
Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer $45108 g100% polypropylene (Lifa)Lightweight
REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes & Top$40218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)92% polyester, 8% spandexLightweight
Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top & Pants$120, $110Unavailable100% merino woolMidweight
Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool
Long Sleev
e & Short Pants
$110, $100142 g (bottom), 164 g (top)100% merino woolLightweight
Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer$110200 g66.5% rayon from bamboo,
28.5% merino wool, 5% elastane
Lightweight
Wild Rye Olivia Onesie$229510 g100% Merino WoolMidweight
Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Crew & Baselayer Bottoms$139147 g (top), 130 g (bottom)51% merino wool, 49% recycled polyesterLightweight
Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew$150230 g100% yak woolMidweight
Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length & Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew $119195 gUnavailable: Proprietary
wool and synthetic fiber blend
Midweight
Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew$135146 g78% merino wool, 22% polyesterLightweight
Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS Women’s$90125 g100% polyesterLightweight
CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt & 3/4 Base Tights$100Unavailable44% polyester, 29% Lyocell,
8% polyamide, 8% wool,
6% spandex, 5% cashmere
Lightweight
First Lite Kiln Hoody & Long Janes$130, $95425 g (top), 227 g (bottom)95% merino wool, 5% spandexMidweight

How We Tested Base Layers for Women

Our GearJunkie product testing team includes a range of skiers and snowboarders from intermediate to expert who explore ski areas around the world, venture into the backcountry, skin uphill at the resort, apres in the parking lot and enjoy nordic trails. Our testers don’t shy away from winter runs and embrace the mantra “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing” when it comes to playing outside in the depths of winter. 

Our team includes avid hunters and folks who live in wintry, cold, mountainous locations from Bozeman, Montana, to Crested Butte, Colorado. We backpack, hunt, and track elk in the shoulder season.

GearJunkie Senior Editor Morgan Tilton specializes in the snowsports category and grew up in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, where she still lives and plays all winter from the slopes to the backcountry on two planks and one, human-powered and by motor. She’s worn a ton of base layers over the past three decades — and the designs really do keep getting better.

Tilton has been a gear journalist including covering snowsports categories for more than a decade in the outdoor industry. That includes reporting at nearly 16 outdoor industry trade shows including for the Outdoor Retailer Daily and Snow Show Daily, and serving as Snowboard Editor at Teton Gravity Research. For two seasons, she’s managed the annual GearJunkie Ski and Snowboard Test at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. While she teams up with many gear testers, Tilton also field tests between desk blocks.

To date in 2023, Tilton has tested women’s base layers on 59 days and throughout 177 hours of recreation in the backcountry and frontcountry. Those days have entailed blizzards, sub-zero temps, harsh wind, heavy and wet snow, plenty of perspiration, and sunshine. That metric excludes daily shoveling responsibilities at her home in Crested Butte, Colorado, when she also often pulls on base layers.

One of our lead testers is environmental journalist Kylie Mohr, who spends time running and skiing up and down the mountains of Montana in various blustery conditions. She tested layers in and out-of-bounds to see what kept her warm and dry the best.

Throughout our field tests and personal experience, we determine the best women’s base layers based on a variety of metrics including performance, quality, comfort, fit, longevity, and value. We take a close look at each product’s warmth, breathability, wicking and drying capability, weight, density, seams, hems, cut, next-to-hand feel, and style.

We also consider the most innovative, sustainable, legacy, award-winning, and popular designs on the shelf today. Hands down, these women’s base layers serve a wide range of athletes, applications, and budgets.

Senior Editor Morgan Tilton testing base layers at the GearJunkie Ski and Snowboard Week at Crested Butte Mountain Resort; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Women’s 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. You’ll also need to consider the layers surrounding those next-to-skin.

Layering System 

Your alarm goes off. Don’t snooze: It’s time to get up and get dressed for cold weather fun. Your layers will work in a tiered system:

  • Base Layer: Next to skin to wick sweat
  • Midlayer(s): Add warmth to retain body temperature
  • Outer Layer: Protects from the elements, repels rain, and blocks wind 

If you wear underwear with leggings or base layers (sometimes we don’t — it’s a matter of personal preference), put that on first, alongside your socks. They better be wool or a synthetic blend, NOT cotton. Under no circumstances! Just don’t do it — your warm, dry epidermis will thank you. 

Base Layer

Add your base layer top, bottom, or onesie. If your bottoms are long, make sure they go over your socks. Unless you like your socks on the outside of your bottoms… that’s personal preference. If your bottoms are mid-shin length, like some compressive performance options, adjust socks and fabric accordingly so there aren’t any overlapping, uneven points that could rub or chafe. 

Midlayer

Now, it’s time to slip on your midlayer top and bottom, depending on the day’s activity. 

Going skiing in bounds? Reach for a streamlined fleece that still allows full range of motion. Hanging out at the campsite? Pull on a bulky deep-pile sherpa fleece.

Your activity will dictate what appropriate midlayers to add on bottom. Maybe you’ll pull on a fleece or some insulated puffy pants for extra warmth below workwear trousers or snowboard bibs.  

Outer Layer

Headed to the backcountry? Wear a comfy jacket on the way to the trailhead then strip down to your baselayer or midlayer to start, given you’ll quickly warm up from exertion in the cold temps. Running in a breeze on an otherwise warm afternoon? Go for a softshell with no insulation.

If we’re resort skiing in freezing temps, and we run cold, we’ll often do this trio: an uninsulated ski shell over both a fleece and puffy jacket. Insulated jacket wearers will likely find they don’t need all three. 

An ideal layering system is all about learning what works for you and how many layers you need to stay warm and dry.

Styles of Women’s Base Layers

Technically, women’s 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 thumb holes. 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 mid-layers 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 their 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.

woman reading book and holding mug in base layers
Well-made base layers dry fast so you can lounge in your kit after activity; (photo/Xander Bianchi)

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.

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. We like the yak wool of the Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew for its insulating powers.

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.

  • Ultralight base layers are 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 Kari Traa Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants, which is categorized as a midweight choice thanks to their density and subsequent warmth.

Insulation & Warmth

For extra-cold weather or more sedentary activities like ice fishing, sitting in the hunting blind, or relaxing around camp, you’ll want a base layer fabric that’s warmer and with more insulation power. The strongest options will be in that heavyweight zone and are often comprised of wool.

Certain designs also have an extended mock neck, hood, long sleeves with thumbholes, and a lengthier torso, which can all add extra warmth through coverage.

If you’re using your base layer for major cardio output, opt for a lighterweight design like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer.

Consider what type of outer layers you’ll be wearing with your base layers. Pairing heavyweight base layers with insulated ski pants might leave you a sweaty mess. Layering a lightweight next-to-skin layer with a non-insulated women‘s ski bibs could be the perfect combo for high-output touring. The other factors include your body’s temperature regulation, the choice activity, climate and the weather conditions.

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 Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew 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. The Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length and Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew also breathed well, and repelled water, too, keeping us dry after sweaty ascents and snowmobile rips.

If you know you’re going to be busting it uphill on a warm day in the springtime, look for a lighter layer. Something like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer or REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes and 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 ski expedition or backpacking/bikepacking trip, merino wool does wonders with hiding odors. Generally, synthetic materials don’t champion covering up stench as well as this natural fiber. Merino wool wicks sweat away from your body, allowing it to evaporate rather than sink into your clothes. Wool fibers absorb nearly twice as much water vapor as cotton and thirty times as much as polyester. The structure of wool binds with odors, playing keep away from bacteria. 

Although polyester, a primary thread in synthetics, isn’t naturally odor-resistant, garments can be treated to mimic some of the same benefits. Silver-based compounds and triclosan and triclocarban treatments are toxic to odor-causing bacteria, keeping the nose-pinch at bay. Keep in mind these treatments’ effectiveness could decrease over time as a garment is washed. 

Comfort & Fit

Things to consider are softness against skin and tightness. 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. You want a base layer to fit snugly against your body while allowing full range of movement. Some base layers, like the CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt, offer a compression fit for optimal performance.

It’s also important to look at length and seams. You don’t want to gap 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.

Bottom length 

Not all base layer legs reach down to your ankle bone. Some hit just below the knee or near the shin bone, a la capri pants. We like the CEP 3/4 Base Tight cropped length for easy layering with our socks and ski boots. The Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants also hits at the knee and eliminates the need to layer over socks. Bottoms that hit closer to your feet are usually tapered to a snugger fit to be easily tucked in when necessary, but also, with enough room to slide socks underneath when preferred. 

Onesie & Dropseat

Sometimes a separate top and bottom just won’t cut it. We’re thinking about those best-of-the-season powder days where a gap in base layer coverage could lead to snow where the sun doesn’t shine. Base layers with a seamless connection are a rare, but increasingly popular, option in the base layer lineup. They’re called onesies or one-pieces that include a top and a bottom sewed together. Think: wet suits and footie pajamas. 

Leading the charge is the Wild Rye Olivia Onesie base layer. Wearers are treated with head-to-toe merino wool. A hood adds coziness, and fun patterns like chunky yellow florals stand out against your friends’ all-black arsenal. A half-zip helps regulate temperature on this warm, 230 gsm style.

The best feature on a onesie is a rear zip, or drop seat, for easy release. The drop seat is a removable backside flap, usually with zippers that span hip to hip above your booty, to make using the bathroom easier. No one likes having to get totally naked to answer nature’s call. Brr! Though we haven’t tested this one yet, the Backcountry Airblaster Merino Ninja Suit is another onesie option on the market.  

Hoods & Collars 

Hoods are fairly rare on base layers — after all, how many hoods do you really want to be wearing at once? Hoods can sometimes add bulk around the neck and head area, especially if your base layer, fleece, puffy, and shell all have one. But some of our favorite base layers rock a hood, like the First Lite Kiln Hoody. It can be nice to have a slender hood around your neck to layer under a helmet or block the elements if you’ve forgotten a hat. 

Certain base layers have a scoop neck while others have collars with a mid-chest zipper. We like the mock turtleneck fit on the Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS for covering our chest but not feeling restrictive. 

Cuffs and Thumbholes

A shirt cuff is a layer of fabric that demarcates the edge of the garment at the wrist. The cuff is made up of an additional piece of fabric that’s sewn on to help prevent fraying and increase comfort. The lengths of sleeves and elasticity of cuffs can vary.

Thumb loops, also known as thumbholes, are small openings directly underneath a shirt’s cuffs at the end of the sleeves. Some sleeves are meant to go up to your knuckles and cover your palms, and include thumb loops to facilitate and provide more coverage in cold conditions. Not all base layers have thumbholes, especially lightweight, more streamlined designs like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer. In the absence of thumbholes, cuff designs can vary: some are flat and smooth while others have a denser fabric, such as elastic, that extends at the wrist. 

Thumbholes play a role in how your base layer interacts with layers on top. We find that base layer thumbholes can be tedious to slide into or too tight under ski gloves. Like many layering decisions, it’s really a matter of what feels good and what goes unnoticed, so you can focus on the fun. 

Helping keep base layers in place, thumbholes can prevent the sleeve fabric from bunching up on your arm as you pull numerous layers on top. If you’re wearing a base layer on its own and your hands get chilly, thumbholes can pull the fabric down onto your hand in a pseudo-open-fingered glove scenario. It’s not a great solution for cold hands but works in a pinch.  

Some thumbholes can be restrictive — too tight for your hands or awkwardly placed. The width and placement of the loop that goes around your thumb varies by brand and design. A handful of thumbhole designs are simple elastic bands, while others are wider, flat pieces of fabric that jut out from a seam. We especially liked the thumbholes on the Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew. They are stretchy enough to be comfortable while wearing them for back-to-back hours.

Sun Protection

Many base layers hidden beneath midlayers and outerwear jackets will never see the light of day. But others, especially lightweight ones geared for year-round use, will. That’s where sun protection is a nice added feature. The REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top Women’s Plus Sizes boasts a UPF rating of 50+, as does the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer.

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.

Sustainability 

When it comes to sustainability, buying new gear isn’t as environmentally friendly as having a closet swap with friends or finding scores at the thrift store. But conscious consumers can still shop with Mother Nature in mind. Sustainability can come in many forms: manufacturing new goods with recycled materials, sourcing wool ethically, or creating products in facilities that don’t dump harmful toxins into nearby waterways and pay their employees a livable wage. 

Some base layers, like the Patagonia Capilene Air Crew and Bottoms, are made with a portion of fabrics that meet the criteria of Bluesign, an organization that works to keep chemicals out of the supply chain for the health of humans, wildlife, natural resources, and the earth. Factories approved by the group must meet standards for pollution control and safety protections for their workers. Products can reach those standards partially or as a whole, which is identified in labels and online descriptions.  

Incorporating textiles that are created from recycled materials such as old plastics is one way companies like Patagonia reduce waste and demand for petroleum-based products. Some materials are partially or fully recycled, like the recycled polyester in the Capilene line. 

In past years, we’ve seen the brand Daehlie do well with material sourcing for products, selecting fiber from fast-growing eucalyptus trees on a farm that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Meanwhile, the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes and Top is made in a Fair Trade certified factory. That certification means the factory meets safe working conditions as well as environmental protections and that the supply chain is transparent. 

Sustainability extends to wool, a major component of most base layers on this list. Smartwool argues that wool is an inherently responsible choice: it’s not plastic, and it breaks down in water and soil. The brand’s wool is ZQ-certified by a New Zealand-based group that sets standards for animal welfare, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability. You’ll see this wool in the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom, as well as all of the brand’s base layer offerings. 

Price

Our favorite women’s base layers run from $40 to $229. That includes options for the budget-conscious shopper and the athlete wanting to splurge on a technical textile.

On the low end, there’s the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes and Long-Sleeve Crew Top, each for $40, and the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer at $45. The over-$50-under-$100 lineup includes the Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS for $90. The most economic choices have a basic construction, fit, and work well.

In the “100 bucks, give or take” shelf, you’ll see a bump up in the complexity of the textiles, how they’re constructed, as well as a slightly higher quality and softer feel of materials. We’ve got the CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt and CEP Ski Touring 3/4 Base Tights for $100 each, while the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom are available for $115. There’s also the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer for $110. The Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve is tagged at $110 and the Short Pants for $100. Despite being super durable and inherently water resistant, the Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length and Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew sits only at $119.

Even higher price points include the Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top for $120 (the Kari Traa Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants is labeled at $110), and the Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew for $150, all of which are woven with high quality wool from yak and merino sheep. The Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew is available at $135, while the Patagonia Capilene Air crew and Capilene Air Bottoms hang at $139 a pop. The First Lite Kiln Hoody is $130, while the sister piece, the First Lite Kiln Long Janes, is lower at $95, for a good balance.

At a premium, the Wild Rye Olivia Onesie is available at $229, given the stylish one-piece is the most technical to create and includes both the top and bottom plus a dropseat.

man and woman gearing up for the snow
Morgan Tilton pulls on backcountry outerwear over her Kari Traa base layer set on a -10 below day; (photo/Xander Bianchi)

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. Incredibly soft base layers like the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer make this a breeze.

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, overalls, or ski outerwear.

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.

More specifically, Merino is often woven with other fibers for longevity, elasticity, and fit. The percentage of merino varies in each design, which is why some wool blends are warmer than others. Be sure to check the percentage of wool to get a better idea. The Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew is approximately three-quarters wool and one-quarter polyester, while the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Crew and Bottoms are basically a 50-50 blend.

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 women’s base layers on this list are a wool blend or polyester-elastane blend.

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

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 at least a midweight set like the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew or bump up to a high percentage of wool like the 100% wool Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top and Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants.

For all-around recreation and use in average winter temperatures, the midweight First Lite Kiln Long Jane and First Lite Kiln Hoody are also great options.

Cardio intense activities, like running or cross-country skiing or backcountry tours, and warmer winter days are a good time to opt for lightweight base layers like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer or the Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants and Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve.

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 mid-layer — 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. The shell can be insulated or non-insulated. Looking to upgrade your kit, layer by layer? We’ve rounded up our favorite fleece in our women’s fleece jacket buyer’s guide and the best women’s ski jackets, too.

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 non-wicking 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!

Should base layers be tight or loose?

Base layers should be comfortably snug. These next-to-skin layers should have a close fit to your body without sacrificing freedom of movement.

Your skin and the fabric need to be touching in order for the base layer to do its job: absorb moisture. Base layers that are too loose, or saggy under the arms or around the groin or torso, can’t efficiently wick sweat or hold warmth against the body. Baggy base layers can let in cold air, lessening thermal abilities. 

Most well-fitting women’s base layers are tight-ish, but not restrictive or circulation-ending, while others are a tad bit roomier though not bulky. Base layers should be able to fit nicely beneath a fleece sweater as well as a pair or workwear pants, overalls, or ski outwear.

Do I need a base layer for skiing and snowboarding?

A women’s base layer top and bottom are essential components of your ski and snowboard gear. They build the base — literally — for a warm, dry day on the slopes.

Improper layering, or having materials like cotton next to your skin, is a recipe for a wet, cold, disaster. Getting sweaty without a good base layer to wick away moisture or one that quickly dries can lead to serious body chills, discomfort, loss of energy, and can steal away the fun. Getting goosebumps outside on a winter day is a mild inconvenience at best and potentially deadly at worst, leading to hypothermia if you’re not near a place where you can warm up, like in the backcountry.

Basically, base layers will help you stay warmer on the slopes, so you can happily ski bell to bell or midday to aprés.

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