Your base layer for skiing can make or break a day on the slopes. A good base later will regulate your temperature by wicking away moisture from your skin. This will keep you warm and dry.
Base layers are typically tight-fitting in order to avoid chafing and to provide compression, as well as support.
The best base layers for skiing or snowboarding are breathable and you shouldn’t even notice you are wearing them.
However with so many options available, which base layer should you buy?
We put the top rated brands through the coldest days on the ski slopes and evaluated them based on warmth, comfort and value.
All the base layers have tops and bottoms available. For simplicity we reviewed Men’s base layers and a link is provided for the Women’s base layer.
First lets take a look at the base layers, then we’ll talk about how to choose the right layer for you.
- SmartWool Nts Mid 250 Zip Thermal Top
- Under Armour ColdGear Evo Long Sleeve Compression Mock
- ColdPruf Platinum Dual Layer Top and Bottom
- Helly Hansen HH Dry Stripe Base Layer
- Elementex Merino Wool Midweight Base Layer
Here is a feature overview of them with full reviews and our buying guide below.
Best Base Layers For Skiing/Snowboarding
Base Layer Reviews
SmartWool revolutionized the base layer industry when they sprung onto the scene in 1994. Now known for top quality Merino wool clothing products, SmartWool makes an exceptional thermal layer. With over 20 years to refine their fabric, you can rest assured that a SmartWool base layer won’t let you down.
While other companies are now also taking advantage of the quality of Merino wool to produce great base layers, most will agree that SmartWool has a leg up on these competitors.
This ¼ zip thermal top features long sleeves and a snug-fitting high collar. If you’re worried about seam construction and chafing, worry no more. SmartWool uses flat seam construction in every product.
How long will it last? Mine has lasted well over 8 years and still wears as well as day one. Hint: watch out for clothes moths.
You’ll find that the fit is snug but not compressing. Sleeves tend to form well to the body and not ride up, while the torso leaves just enough room to fit well without any excess material.
Well known for their insistence on top quality materials, SmartWool is invested in high ethical standards in the production of their wool. The company advocates for humane conditions for the animals that produce their wool, while selecting only the highest quality product.
When you purchase from SmartWool you can rest assured the craftsmanship, quality and ethical practices are all top notch.
We recommend this product for the greatest range of comfort and flexibility. With a long zipper for venting and the unique properties of Merino wool, the SmartWool NTS 250 is a great mid-weight balanced solution.
Of course it goes without saying that the antimicrobial properties of Merino wool certainly help give this base layer a nudge up on the leader boards. The Smartwool thermals are the best base layer for cold weather that will keep you warm and comfortable on the slopes.
It’s pretty well known that Under Armour founder, Kevin Plank, got started in his grandmother’s basement. Focused entirely on synthetic fibers, UnderArmour won’t be producing Merino wool products any time soon.Like most UnderArmour products, this ColdGear compression shirt fits extremely tight. These shirts are meant to compress and some users may find that without the proper sizing, the fit may be uncomfortably tight.
When is this fit ideal? I personally ski 100+ days a season in an UnderArmour base layer and it’s ideal when you’re wearing layer upon layer of clothing. Having a skin-tight base layer means more warmth and less bulk for those times you need to add insulating layers and shells .
Composition on this garment is pretty cut and dry when considering the wicking properties and stretch characteristics. 87% polyester means great wicking and moisture movement. This, combined with 13% elastane, gives a seriously stretchy appearance.
Long sleeves and a high collar with no zippers in sight means that once this layer is on, it won’t be easy to to remove or ventilate. This is something to keep in mind when planning your layering choices. To help alleviate some of this, I suggest using a white version of this shirt and simply taking off all other layers in the case of overheating.
Keep in mind, however, that polyester is well-known to quickly build up body odor. That being said, I’ve skied in UnderArmour base layers for several days at a time without building up an offensive odor.
Perhaps this is due to UnderArmour’s new anti-odor technology? Unfortunately I was unable to get any real information about this “technology” from their website.
The bottom line is UnderArmour makes some of the warmest base layers for cold weather that will keep you comfortable on the slopes.
Compared to our other two-base layer manufacturers, ColdPruf is generally less widely recognized. Offering Made-in-America garments, the company’s Platinum series shirt and pants are worth taking a look at.
Tight fitting and offered in two colors, black and heather gray, these base layer shirts and pants are pretty straight forward. Shirts are tight fitting, providing support and compression while the pants’ boot cuffs around the ankles and fit snugly. This ensures the the pants stay in place when you add or remove layers or when enjoying recreational activities.
For fit and comfort, these base layer pants feature a wide elastic waist band which will help the garment sit securely, but comfortably, by spreading the constriction across a wider area of your mid-section.
Where the ColdPruf thermal shirts and pants really diverge from the pack is in the construction of the weave. These base layers are made using a different fiber blend on the inside from the exterior fabric.
Against the skin you’ll be treated to 100% polyester which provides absolutely maximum wicking potential by moving moisture away from the body. This garment’s exterior weave features a 70% polyester, 30% Merino wool blend.
This may seem like an odd choice when comparing Merino wool’s superior next-to-skin performance with polyester. Personally, I would have rather seen ColdPruf switch the positioning of these layers.
ColdPruf uses “Silvadur”, a seemingly proprietary technology for odor prevention, to help mitigate the inherent buildup that many synthetic performance fabrics tend to have.
As mentioned earlier, when digging around on the company’s website we were unfortunately unable to locate information on this technology, thus I can’t offer an explanation as to how this actually prevents odor build up. I can attest, however, from personal experience that it does work.
I’d really love to see ColdPruf offer more information about the garment’s construction, technology, and fiber choices but the results speak for themselves, they make some of the best base layers for snowboarding and skiing available and I highly recommend them.
Helly Hansen has been making outdoor apparel since the 1800’s and is popular among ski instructors and other outdoor professionals. Being based in Norway, they know a thing or two about making warm undergarments.
One important thing to know about them is that they are NOT a compression base layer. So if you are uncomfortable with the tightness of a compression layer the HH Base layer is a solid choice.
Personally after a full day the tight compression of the typical base can get annoying. The non-compression of this layer is a nice change. It is a 100% synthetic material made from polypropylene.
The synthetic material, “Lifa Stay Dry Technology” is actually 3 layers weaved into one layer giving them excellent wicking properties, anti-bacterial and anti-odor properties.
The HH Lifa Stay Dry Technology gives them surprising warmth without the thickness of other base layer materials.
Even though they are made from polypropylene they are very soft and comfortable to wear all day.
Being that they are not compression, you can wear these by themselves, they are pretty stylish as far base layers go. The seams feature a “flat lock” stitching so they don’t rub or chafe.
With a limited lifetime warranty against defects, I think Helly Hansen has a winner here with the HH base layer. Definitely one of the best base layers for skiing or boarding on the market.
With the Elementex base layer we are returning to Merino wool. We already know the benefits of Merino wool; namely warmth, anti-microbial and anti-odor properties. The Elementex wool is responsibly source from Australian sheep so you can feel good you are doing a small part for protecting the Earth.
Being they are made from a natural material they are very soft and comfortable while providing the warmth of wool.
They are very thin and lightweight so they don’t impede movement or flexibility, especially important when trying to carve up the slopes while skiing or snowboarding.
Being made from thin Merino wool they have the wicking properties you need when you are working up a sweat, keeping you warm and dry.
I have worn them several days in a row and not have them stink like some other materials.
The Merino wool is maintenance free and doesn’t shrink so you can buy your size and not have to worry about shrinking in the dryer.
Elementix provides a 30 day 100% return policy for any reason and 1 year warranty against any manufacture defects. If you want a Merino wool base layer, hard to go wrong here.
How to Select the Right Base Layer for Skiing/Boarding
It would seem that the skier seeking a new set of next-to-skin clothing for a day on the slopes might walk into the outfitter and be presented with an easy decision. Alas, it is not so.
Cold weather performance gear comes in a startling variety of colors, sizes, and styles each of which boasts an impressive array of technologies and proprietary claims of one sort or another. We’re going to break it down and work on helping you find a good base layer through a proper understanding of exactly what makes a good base layer.
Types of Base Layers
There are many types of fibers used in base layer construction, however, wool and polyester are far and away the most common and well proven.
One of the two main fibers used in base layer garment construction, normally merino wool, this natural fiber has many advantages. Naturally odor controlling, merino wool garments can be worn many times without accumulating disgusting levels of body odors. This is awesome for days of skiing without easy access to washing machines all the time.
Merino wool fibers, on a microscopic level, boast a hydrophobic sheath surrounding a hydrophilic core. What does this mean? Merino wool fibers basically act as a straw; pulling moisture away from the skin through the core of the fiber where it can then evaporate into the atmosphere.
Disadvantages include high price of garments and lack of durability when compared to synthetics.
Polyester is the other most common outdoor performance fiber. Polyester fibers are man-made synthetics which provide high levels of wicking. This is sometimes achieved by or aided by coatings applied to the fabric. On a microscopic level, the creation process of the polyester fibers has a big impact on wicking potential. Every garment maker will claim their manufacturing process is somehow better than the last.
Polyester garments are very frequently mixed with nylon for added strength and spandex for stretch and form fitting. Almost all major sports manufacturers create their performance and wicking shirts using some blend of polyester based fabric.
Polyester is widely manufactured, inexpensive, but likely to build up high levels of body odor rapidly.
How to Choose Base Layer Weight
Base layer manufacturers each have some proprietary way of measuring the thickness of their garments. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard measurement, such as grams per square foot, by which to compare apples to apples.
Ultimately, you’ll want to identify the different thickness (or weights) of fabric that are offered by whichever manufacturer you’re buying from. Now we’re going to break them down into three categories:
Lightweight base layers are ideal for the hard-charging skiers who never stop moving and crush snow as a habit. These layers provide minimal extra warmth and just enough wicking to keep the skin dry and cool as you ski.
These base layers are right for high levels of activity or warm spring skiing.
Examples include UnderArmour’s UA Base 1.0 and Patagonia’s Capeline 1.
Midweight base layers are the best choice for the widest group of skiers. These base layers will help keep you warm when the winds are cutting across the chairlift. They’re also light enough so that you won’t be sweating out of control on that double black bump run.
Choose a midweight base layer if you need to be protected throughout a large spectrum of skiing activities.
Examples include UnderArmour’s UA Base 2.0 and Patagonia’s Capeline 2.
Heavyweight base layers are noticeably thick and beefy layers meant to add serious warmth and wicking. This type of base layer is only appropriate for extremely cold mid-winter trips when the thermometer has long since bottomed out and iced over.
These are ideal for extremely low levels of activity or extremely low temperatures. You will overheat in these under normal conditions.
Examples include UnderArmour’s UA Base 4.0 and Patagonia’s Capeline 4.
How to Evaluate Base Layer Clothing for Skiing
We talked a bit about choosing a weight, or thickness, of fabric for your base layer. It’s important to balance this against the daily weather report for the mountain and your skiing plan.
If you’re going to ski on run at a time between breaks at the lodge, a heavier layer is most likely best. However, if you’re planning to ski full throttle all day you’d be best served with a lightweight layer.
Remember to choose appropriate outer layers based on your skiing plan and the daily weather.
Breathability in ski base layers is universally excellent so long as you’re wearing wool or polyester. One of the biggest factors in moisture management is outer layer choice.
I highly recommend skiing gear with armpit zips and inner leg zips. These allow for maximum airflow, when needed, to evaporate and cool moisture which your base layer is actively regulating.
You’ll find that polyester fibers tend to dry slightly faster than most others. Of course, it goes without saying, that cotton has the worst drying speed of any fabric so please avoid wearing cotton garments.
For maximum drying speed, I highly recommend black colors. These absorb heat energy the best from sunlight and will lead to slightly quicker drying times than others.
Probably the best piece of advice here is to choose a tight fitting next-to-skin style base layer for your primary garment. Tight fitting stretchy base layers stay in place better under other layers and leave more room for outer layers while still minimizing bulk.
One of the biggest drawbacks of merino wool, unfortunately, is a lack of durability when compared to synthetics.
Polyester is slightly more durable but still a relatively weak fabric by its self.
So what’s the solution? Look for garments with a nylon blend. Nylon is incredibly strong and blends well with performance gear to add strength. There are a few companies out there producing merino or polyester nylon blends and the one which comes first to mind is Darn Tough.
Comfort and Fit
Broadly speaking, the more lycra or spandex content in a garment, the more stretch and form fitting ability the garment will have.
These layers are meant to hug the skin and, if not properly sized, may be uncomfortably tight.
Garments lacking spandex or lycra are meant to be worn more loosely and may add some bulk to your layering system.
Choose a garment with flat sewn seams for minimal chafing. Luckily you shouldn’t need to worry about this as almost every manufacturer understands this and includes flat sewn seams standard on all garments.