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The Best Base Layers for Women in 2023

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 2023.

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. Whether you’re hitting the slopes, tackling a high alpine peak 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 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:

The Best Base Layers for Women of 2023

Best Overall

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


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


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


  • Does not fare well in washing machine
Best Budget

Helly Hansen HH Lifa Crew Performance Base Layer


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


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


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

REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer & Top


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


  • Comfortable against skin
  • Hems are not too tight
  • Wicks sweat well


  • Some found the pant material around the calves and thighs to be loose
Warmest Base Layers

Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip & Rose Wool High Waist Pant


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


  • Extremely warm
  • Quality construction
  • Long arms cover wrists


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

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


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


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


  • Pricier investment
Softest Base Layer

Le Bent Women’s 200 Crew


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


  • Extremely soft
  • Versatile contoured fit for the ski slopes, town, or meetings
  • UV 50+ protection


  • Not a heavyweight choice for stagnant winter moments like glassing for elk
Most Sustainable

Daehlie Compete-Tech Pants


  • Weight Unavailable
  • Fabric 50% recycled polyester, 30% Tencel Lyocell, 20% merino wool
  • Thermal category Lightweight
The Best Base Layers for Women in 2023


  • Lighter option for warmer or action-packed days
  • Smooth and easy to pull on
  • Sustainable design


  • Not super warm for really cold conditions while sitting on the ski lift

Best of the Rest

Kora Yushu LS Crew


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


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


  • A bit pricier
  • Not as versatile across all temperatures

Voormi Women’s Base Layer Bottoms & Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew


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


  • Super durable
  • Shields water and sweat extremely well
  • Athletic fit prevents chafe


  • An investment
  • Seams are not as stretchy as less durable options

Black Diamond Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew


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


  • Fine, stretchy 18.5-micron merino wool
  • Thumbholes


  • We wish the length was more generous

Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck LS


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


  • Soft against skin
  • Moderate price
  • Fairtrade certified


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

CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt & 3/4 Base Tight


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


  • Sweat dries fast
  • Fairly soft


  • 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


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


  • Excellent quality
  • Ideal versatile weight


  • 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

Base LayerPriceWeightFabricThermal Category
Smartwool Women’s Classic
Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew
$110218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)100% merino woolMidweight
Helly Hansen HH Lifa
Crew Performance Base Layer
$45108 g100% polypropylene (Lifa)Lightweight
REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer$40218 g (top), 208 g (bottom)92% polyester, 8% spandexLightweight
Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip$120Unavailable100% merino woolMidweight
Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool
Long Sleeve
$110142 g (bottom), 164 g (top)100% merino woolLightweight
Le Bent Women’s 200 Crew$95200 g66.5% rayon from bamboo,
28.5% merino wool, 5% elastane
Daehlie Compete-Tech Pants$60Unavailable50% recycled polyester,
30% Tencel Lyocell,
20% merino wool
Kora Yushu LS Crew$130230 g100% yak woolMidweight
Voormi Women’s
Base Layer Bottoms & Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew
$119195 gUnavailable: Proprietary
wool and synthetic fiber blend
Black Diamond Solution
150 Merino Baselayer Crew
$135146 g78% merino wool, 22% polyesterLightweight
Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck LS$80125 g100% polyesterLightweight
CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt$100Unavailable44% polyester, 29% Lyocell,
8% polyamide, 8% wool,
6% spandex, 5% cashmere
First Lite Kiln Hoody$130425 g (top), 227 g (bottom)95% merino wool, 5% spandexMidweight

Why You Should Trust Us

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, and enjoy nordic trails.

Our team also 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.

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 base layers serve a wide 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 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.


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 


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.


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.


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 Kari Traa Rose Wool High Waist Pant, which is categorized as a midweight choice thanks to their density and subsequent warmth.


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.


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 Classic Thermal Merino Crew Base Layer 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 Long-Sleeve Crew 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 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.


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.

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)


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.

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.

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. 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 a midweight set like the Smartwool Merino Classic Thermal Merino Crew Base Layer Top or a blend with a high percentage of wool like the Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip and Rose Wool High Waist Pant.

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.

Then, 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 Daehlie Compete-Tech Pant or the Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants and 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.

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!

skier putting on Smartwool socks and ski boots

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