This article is part of:

Explainer Series

A series of guides to help you buy and use gear in the outdoors.

view all 48 articles
Base Layers: 27 Winter Tops For Any Budget

Base Layers: 27 Winter Tops For Any Budget

Filed under: Apparel  Base Layer  Explainer Series 

Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn more.

The base and insulating layers of winter 2016 are ripped with high-tech fabrics to keep you warm and dry. These are reviews of some of our favorites in the wool and synthetic genres.


There’s certainly no shortage of options for long underwear these days. To help you pick the best this season, GearJunkie reviewed and has itemized a list by insulation category and price, starting at rock-bottom with a $15 top.

We reviewed men’s tops, though these are all available in women’s and usually have a pairing bottom, which typically cost around the same price. When possible, we’ve identified the country of origin and provide fabric weight in grams per meter squared or microns.

One tip before we dive in: everyone has their own internal thermostat. If you tend to run cold, buy warmer. If you find yourself stripping off layers when others are bundled, go lighter. With 27 options to choose from, this list has something for everyone.


Super light and form-fitting, the ultralight base layer will prevent heat loss on an autumn day, shun solar radiation when things heat up, or provide that first, quick drying layer against the skin under heavier base layers. If you want to strip it off altogether, they disappear nicely in a daypack. Fabric weights are 80-135g/m² or wool fiber diameter in 17.5-micron weight.

L.L.Bean Silk Crewneck. $48


The original ultralight base layer, silk (though not very breathable) is prized for its smooth surface and trim fit, making it an ideal first layer. Looking to boost warmth under your street clothes, L.L.Bean’s Silk Crewneck is a good base layer for those non-athletic pursuits of trekking into work on frigid days.

Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew. $50

Patagonia Capiline Crew

Patagonia’s Capilene Lightweight Crew has structural upgrades over yesteryear’s time-tested design, including weave pattern that allows for easy layering and enhanced moisture transfer, gusseted underarms, thumb loops, flatlock seams, and a long backside to keep the shirt tucked.

At 3.5 oz., the Capilene Lightweight is the lightest in their lineup. We’d like to note that Capilene is available in a variety of weights, and is an excellent option across the board, from this super light option above, to Polartec Powergrid fabric-based Thermal Weight layers.

Fabric weight: 80g/m²

Made in: Sri Lanka

Rab MeCo 120 Short Sleeve Tee. $70

Rab MeCo

Rab combines the activated carbon molecule called 37.5 (formerly Cocona) with merino wool for the MeCo 120 tee (it’s also made in long sleeve) that we’ve tested like crazy and still go to as a top choice for running, hiking, mountaineering, skiing, or any other activity where moisture wicking and stink inhibition are priorities. This is one of our favorite shirts and it’s been going strong for four years. Read the full review here.

Fabric weight: 120 g/m²

Made in: China

Ibex Woolies 1 Crew. $80


Ibex calls its Woolies 1 Crew a “lightweight merino rib-knit top.” It’s a basic, thin, pure-merino piece, a tough and awesomely versatile shirt that seems expensive but is worth every penny. We’ve worn incarnations of this shirt going on 10 years. It’s an icon in the world of merino base layers.

Buy this base layer if you run, snowshoe, or otherwise sweat a lot outside in the winter. We trust the thin merino wool to regulate temp and keep us warm even when soaked with sweat. Caveat: Pure merino is a horrible wicking fabric; look to poly pieces for better wicking and faster drying. ($80; $85 zip-neck version; more info here.)

Fabric weight: 18.5 micron

Made in: Canada

WoolPro Skylark & Juno. $60


Massachusetts-based WoolPro is a new entry in the merino space. We have tested the company’s Juno top for six months, and the shirt is solid. At $59.99, the all-merino (18.5 micron) fabric is midrange in price but of great quality. It has an athletic, close fit, and a bonus is its slick V-neck, which adds style and lets the shirt double as a semi-formal T-shirt. The company’s Skylark is the long-sleeve version, and it costs just $5 more.

Fabric weight: 18.5 micron

Arc’teryx Phase SL. $80



Arc’teryx Phase SL blends polypropylene with polyester through a crimped multi-dimensional weave. The combination increases the fabric’s surface volume (and moisture transfer rate), which in turn dumps heat during high-output exertion.

But it’s the little things with Arc’teryx: athletic fit, flat-sewn seams, gusseted arm panels, and silver fiber ions that temper the notorious polypro stench. At 4oz., the Phase SL was the most expensive in price per ounce.

Fabric weight: 98g/m²

Made in: China

Pettet Endurance Project Shevlin. $60


Pettet Endurance Project, or PEP, is an Oregon-based merino apparel brand that builds pieces for the running niche, cold and warm weather alike. The brand’s Shevlin shirt, a long-sleeve basic merino top, has served as a solid base layer for us in a year-long test.

The fabric is a thin Australian merino wool, 18.5 microns, and it’s comparable to Ibex’s Woolies line, though a bit smoother. (It’s also less expensive, retailing for $60.) We like the look and the fit of the Shevlin, including longer sleeves with thumb loops, articulated arms, and a trim, athletic fit.

Fabric weight: 18.5 micron

Made in: USA

Read on for Lightweight Base Layers…

tagged: winter
Contributing Editor (and Gear Junkie Idaho Bureau Chief) Steve Graepel is allegedly a crook and a thief, conning his friends to steal away time from their families in pursuit of premeditated leisure, which typically involves a bike, a pack-raft, skis, running shoes, climbing rack, or all of the above.