The 3 Best Base Layers for Cold Weather

It’s inevitable – winter weather can be uncomfortable. Whether you need to stay warm while doing outdoor chores or need protection from the harsh winter while you’re outside hunting, hiking, and staying active, a good base layer is where comfort and long-term warmth begins.

If you don’t have the proper base layer on, it doesn’t matter what else you are wearing. The cold can creep in, wet moisture can linger, and well, you can feel really uncomfortable regardless of what you are doing.

To help you avoid this nasty situation, we’ve put together this important buying guide: How to Purchase the Best Base Layers for Winter.

Also see these Outside Pursuits reviews for cold weather wear: Best Down Jackets, Best Fleece Jackets and Best Beanies

Quick Answer: The Best Base Layers for Winter Weather:

#1 Minus 33

#2 Under Armor

#3 Polarmax

The Best Base Layers

 Minus33 Merino Wool Under Armor Base 4.0Polarmax Core 4.0
editors choice
Mens Base Layers
(Crew Top)


Womens Base Layers
(Crew Top)
Styles Available:Mens and Womens
Are Available
Mens and Womens
Are Available
Mens and Womens
Are Available
Pieces Available: Crew Top and Bottom
Leggings Available
Crew Top and Bottom
Leggings Available
Crew Top and Bottom
Leggings Available
Fabric Material:100% Merino Wool7.5 oz. Polyester / Elastane - ImportedPolyester / Lycra blend
Fabric Weight:18.5 Micron Merino Wool 400 g/m2 Interlock knit constructionHeavyweight thickness for extreme coldHeavyweight (5 oz. per square yard)
Sizes / Fit: Mens: XS-3XL
Mens Tall: M-XL
Womens: XS-3XL
Mens: XS-3XL
Womens: S-XL
Mens: S-XXL
Womens: L or XL only

Base Layers Reviews

#1 Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Yukon Expedition Crew Top

This is one of the warmest base layers you will find. The fine micro Merino Wool fabric is incredibly comfortable, without adding bulk. Plus, there are no tags to itch or irritate your skin, and the flat lock seams prevent chafing.

This top manages to wick away moisture when you’re exerting energy and sweat, and prevents heat loss during times of inactivity. Originally designed for winter mountaineering, this the best base layer for backpacking, the best base layer for hiking, and the best base layer for hunting. With a UPF rating of 50+ your skin will not only stay dry and warm, but also protected from harmful UV light.

Features Of The Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Yukon Expedition Crew Top:

  • Fabric: 100% Merino wool
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: Backpacking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, snow sports
  • Features: Moisture wicking, fire resistant, odor resistant, insulates when wet, tag-less, flatlock seams, stretch cuffs, breathable
  • Fit: Regular fit

#1 Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Katmai Expedition Bottom

The matching bottom to the base layer top above, you will feel warm and comfortable even out in the coldest winter storms. These base bottoms are regular fit, and go nicely under military suits, utility trousers, or snow pants, but are a bit thick to go under fitted jeans.

The stretch cuff at the bottom of each leg keep these long johns in place and allows for socks to layer on easily.

Features Of The Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Katmai Expedition Bottom:

  • Fabric: 100% Merino wool
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: Backpacking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, snow sports
  • Features: Moisture wicking, fire resistant, odor resistant, insulates when wet, tag-less, flatlock seams, stretch cuffs, breathable
  • Fit: Regular fit
  • Care: Machine washable and suitable for tumble drying

#1 Minus33 Merino Wool Women’s Tanana Expedition Crew Top

No matter what comes your way, this top has your back (pardon the pun). It’ll keep you warm regardless of wet snow or sweat, and protects your skin while you’re getting warm by the fire, thanks to its fire-retardant properties.

Minus33 Merino wool is superfine and designed specifically to feel soft on the skin. It feels very different than typical wool. Like the men’s version, the women’s top comes tag-less and with flat lock seams to prevent chafing.

Features Of The Minus33 Merino Wool Women’s Tanana Expedition Crew Top

  • Fabric: 100% Merino wool
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: Backpacking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, snow sports
  • Features: Moisture wicking, fire resistant, odor resistant, insulates when wet, tag-less, flatlock seams, stretch cuffs, breathable
  • Fit: Regular fit
  • Care: Machine washable and suitable for tumble drying

#1 Minus33 Merion Wool Women’s Kenai Expedition Bottom

These are incredibly comfortable long johns for a wide range of cold-weather activities. Because of the moisture-wicking and heat-retaining properties, we recommend these for days when you are active in the cold.

Be aware these can bag out after several wears. After you wash and dry them, they should retain their original shape, however.

Features Of The Minus33 Merion Wool Women’s Kenai Expedition Bottom:

  • Fabric: 100% Merino wool
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: Backpacking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, snow sports
  • Features: Moisture wicking, fire resistant, odor resistant, insulates when wet, tag-less, flatlock seams, stretch cuffs, breathable
  • Fit: Regular fit
  • Care: Machine washable and suitable for tumble drying

#2 Under Armor Base 4.0 Crew Top

If you want a skin-tight base layer without feeling constricted, look no further. Under Armour’s 4-way stretch fabrication makes this top the best base layer for cycling, stretching, and climbing. You can even wear this under a dry scuba suit to stay warm and comfortable.

If you’re a larger man don’t worry – Under Armour offers this top in size small all the way to XXX-large. And unlike a lot of other skin-tight base tops, you never need to worry about the smell of your sweat – thanks to UA anti-odor technology, you can sweat in this all day without giving off undesirable aromas.

Features Of The UA Base 4.0 Crew Top

  • Fabric: Polyester and elastane
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: High-impact cold weather activities like cycling, hiking, skiing, etc.; low-level activities as well
  • Features: Anti-odor, moisture wicking, 4-way stretch fabrication, traps hot air, flatlock stitching
  • Fit: “Next-to-skin with the squeeze”
  • Care: Gentle machine wash, line dry

#2 Under Armor Base 4.0 Leggings

These base leggings allow full range of motion, and are the best base layer for walking, running, and climbing. They have more given than the Merino wool bottoms, and fit snugger, so you can comfortably wear these under fitted pants or jeans.

They are easy to wear on long cold-weather excursions: when nature calls, you can quickly relieve yourself without exposing yourself to the cold unnecessarily. These legging have an overlapping flap style that is easy to access.

Features Of The UA Base 4.0 Leggings

  • Fabric: 96% Polyester and 4% elastane
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: High-impact cold weather activities like cycling, hiking, skiing, etc.; low-level activities as well
  • Features: Anti-odor, moisture wicking, 4-way stretch fabrication, traps hot air, flatlock stitching
  • Fit: “Next-to-skin with the squeeze”
  • Care: Gentle machine wash, line dry

#2 Under Armor Women’s Base 4.0 Crew Shirt

We love this base top because of the ergonomic design and thumb holes in the sleeves. You can still slip on your gloves underneath or overtop – this top is fitted, but has stretch for flexibility.

The material is incredibly comfortable, and the waffle pattern feels comparable to fleece. The waffle pattern is designed for ventilation, and you can run and sweat as much as you want without feeling cold or getting wet chills.

Features Of The UA Women’s Base 4.0 Crew Shirt

  • Fabric: Polyester and elastane
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: High-impact cold weather activities like cycling, hiking, skiing, etc.; low-level activities as well
  • Features: Anti-odor, moisture wicking, 4-way stretch fabrication, traps hot air, flatlock stitching
  • Fit: “Next-to-skin with the squeeze”
  • Care: Gentle machine wash, line dry

#2 Under Armor Base 4.0 Women’s Leggings

These leggings fit easily under jeans, slacks, or snow pants. We love these long john leggings because they are so versatile: they can be worn under almost anything, and given you range and warmth when you are sweating or sitting stagnant.

This come up to your natural waist line and all the way down to the top of your feet. They cover everything they should, and the wide, flat waistband gives you extra stomach support and security.

Features Of The UA Base 4.0 Women’s Leggings

  • Fabric: 96% Polyester and 4% elastane
  • Ideal Seasons: Fall and winter
  • Recommended Activities: High-impact cold weather activities like cycling, hiking, skiing, etc.; low-level activities as well
  • Features: Moisture-wicking, Armour Block® neutralizes odor-causing microbes, lightweight, 4-way stretch, flatlock seams eliminate chafing
  • Fit: “Next-to-skin with the squeeze”
  • Care: Gentle machine wash, line dry

#3 Men’s Polarmax Heavyweight Quattro Fleece Long Sleeve

We like this base top because of the neckline – it goes up a bit higher than your typical long-sleeve base layer. It’s tight, but not uncomfortable, due to the spandex in the fabric makeup. The neck coverage is ideal protection from ice cold winds.

This style can run a bit small, so consider purchasing a size up.

Features Of The Men’s Polarmax Heavyweight Quattro Fleece Long Sleeve

  • Fabric: 92% Acclimate® dry polyester and 8% spandex
  • Ideal Seasons: Winter
  • Recommended Activities: Skiing, snowboarding, walking, hiking, hunting, mountaineering, cycling, climbing
  • Features: Durable, breathable, non-shrinkable, 4-way stretch fabric, anti-microbial protection, quick drying, moisture wicking
  • Fit: Athletic fit
  • Care: Follow tag instructions

#3 Men’s Polarmax Men’s Core 4.0 Tights

These form-fitting base layer tights are excellent if you are concerned about bulk. They fit like an extra skin, and are just as comfortable. They have lots of breathability and allow for quick movement.

These are incredibly warm, so only buy these if you plan on wearing them in truly cold weather. Also, it’s important to note that these tights do not come down past the ankle. If you want longer tights, go with the UA or Minus33 long johns.

Features Of The Men’s Polarmax Men’s Core 4.0 Tights

  • Fabric: 86% Acclimate® dry polyester and 14% spandex
  • Ideal Seasons: Winter
  • Recommended Activities: Skiing, snowboarding, walking, hiking, hunting, mountaineering, cycling, climbing
  • Features: Durable, breathable, non-shrinkable, 4-way stretch fabric, anti-microbial protection, quick drying, moisture wicking
  • Fit: Body form fitting
  • Care: Follow tag instructions

#3 Polarmax Women’s Quattro Fleece Long Sleeve Crew Top

Similar to the men’s long-sleeve, the women’s Quattro top has a high neckline and brushed micro-fleece face. This top isn’t as skin-tight as the UA 4.0 top, but a more relaxed fit. If you want your full range of movement without the skin-tight feel, this base top is an excellent option.

Features Of The Polarmax Women’s Quattro Fleece Long Sleeve Crew Top

  • Fabric: 92% Acclimate® Dry Polyester / 8% Spandex
  • Ideal Seasons: Winter
  • Recommended Activities: Skiing, snowboarding, walking, hiking, hunting, mountaineering, cycling, climbing
  • Features: Durable, breathable, non-shrinkable, 4-way stretch fabric, anti-microbial protection, quick drying, moisture wicking
  • Fit: Athletic fit
  • Care: Follow tag instructions

#3 Polarmax Women’s Core 4.0 Tights

These skin-tight long johns offer full coverage, down to the tops of your feet. The inside fabric feels like soft fleece, while the exterior look sleek, should you ever need to wear them without additional layers.

We recommend these tights for sports that require stretch and movement: skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, or hockey.

Features Of The Polarmax Women’s Core 4.0 Tights

  • Fabric: Fabric: 90% Acclimate® dry polyester and 10% spandex
  • Ideal Seasons: Winter
  • Recommended Activities: Skiing, snowboarding, walking, hiking, hunting, mountaineering, cycling, climbing
  • Features: Durable, breathable, non-shrinkable, 4-way stretch fabric, anti-microbial protection, quick drying, moisture wicking
  • Fit: Form fitting
  • Care: Follow tag instructions

How to Purchase the Best Base Layer for Winter

Fabric Weight
There are four different weights to consider when shopping for a winter base layer:

Ultra-lightweight or Micro-weight – This fabric weight is ideal for mild to cool conditions. You can get away with wearing this in both the fall and winter, so if you are looking to stretch your base layer across seasons, this isn’t a bad option.

This is not appropriate for winter sports where you are immersed in the cold snow or need to face the harsh wind chill for hours.

Base Layers

Lightweight and Mid-weight – Both fabric weights can handle cool to cold conditions. Obviously, mid-weight is heavier than lightweight, and should be selected for colder weather. They can handle mild winters and quick bouts outside in snow.

Heavyweight – This fabric weight is for true winter weather. It can handle blustery, cold, frigid flurries. If you are serious about staying warm this winter season, heavyweight is the way to go.

We’ll review the best heavyweight base layers to help you make an educated purchase.

Best Base Layer Material
Winter base layers come in several different fabrics: cotton, synthetic materials, merino wool, bamboo, and silk. Not all material is created equal, so pay close attention!

Cotton – Stay away from 100% cotton base layers. They dry incredibly slowly compared to other options, and cause a chill if you stop sweating and remain in your clothing. If cotton is only a small percentage that makes up the base layer, and the majority is synthetic fabrics or bamboo, it’s fine.

Synthetic Fabric – Synthetic fabrics like polyester and polyester blends are typically the fastest drying base layer fabrics. They are great for wet snow, hail, and damp conditions, and will keep you comfortable and warm all day. Odors can be an issue with synthetic fabrics, but thanks to new technology, there are a lot of options that tackle this issue.

Base Layers for Running

Are you a runner, even in the winter? The best base layer for running would be made of a synthetic polyester blend with spandex for optimal stretch, and rayon for abrasion-resistant properties.

Merino Wool – If you are really concerned with odor, Merino wool is excellent at absorbing smells for a prolonged period. It is also naturally flame retardant and offers UV protection.

It’s incredibly soft and warm, although some people with highly sensitive skin can find it irritating, although not as vexing as wool. In our opinion, the best base layer for cold weather hunting is made of Merion wool. It offers warmth while protecting you from the elements and whatever else might come your way.

Silk – Silk is incredibly smooth on the skin and is great for individuals who have sensitive or easy-irritated skin. Silk is generally a safe fabric that won’t cause allergic reactions, but be careful – base layers made with silk are often treated with chemicals to enhance moisture-wicking properties.

Silk is appropriate for moderately cold weather and stationary activities like spectator sports, sledding, or snowmobiling. Silk traps odor quickly, so if you are looking for a base layer that is odor-resistant, find a different fabric!

Also, be warned: machine washing and drying can cause shrinkage. Hand wash your base layer or carefully follow the label instructions.

Bamboo – Bamboo is a new material on the market, commonly combined with other fibers like cotton and Lyrca. Bamboo helps base layers fit tightly, hold their shape, and wicks moisture. It is also ideal for sensitive skin.

The Best Base Layer Brands

best base layer brands

Minus33 – In our opinion, Minus33 is the best Merino Wool brand on the market. The company is full of outdoor enthusiasts who love to develop new clothing pieces with hunting, biking, hiking, and backpacking in mind.

The company is owned and operated by what was formerly known as L. W. Packard Inc, one of the world’s leading merino wool textile manufacturers for over 100 years. The quality is superb – plus, they have a 1-year warranty on manufacture defects, if there are any issues.

Under Armour – A well-known brand for excellent sportswear, Under Armour has the top technology for synthetic base layers. If you want your base layer to have lots of stretch and air circulation, UA will not disappoint.

Polarmax – Polarmax is a brand strictly dedicated to designing and manufacturing base layer items. We love this brand because all products are made in the USA, and the manufacturing facilities, warehouse, and shipping departments are all within a 15-mile radius, minimizing the environmental footprint of this brand.

Thanks for reading. If you want to comment or let us know about a great product that was not in our review, please use our contact form to get in touch.

Good luck in staying warm at whatever you do outdoors in the winter months. Enjoy!

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About El Tigre

Richard M. aka El Tigre is an avid adventure traveler with extensive trekking experience throughout Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In 1998 he weathered category 5 Hurricane Mitch on the northern coast of Honduras. He has mountain-biked, hiked and 4x4 toured extensively in Central America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico. In the summer of 2004 he lived among the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands in Panama. Today, he manages a real estate investments company based in San Jose, Costa Rica and organizes adventure travel excursions to Costa Rica. He is a motorcycle enthusiast and enjoys sport touring and dual-sport riding. Richard lives in Arizona.