One of the most important items of clothing for skiing and snowboarding is one few people will see: the thermal base layer. Designed to wear underneath your ski jacket and mid-layer (if it’s cold enough), your base layer top should be comfortable and lightweight while still keeping you warm and dry. Some of the best base layers for cold weather are also stylish enough to be worn for a cheeky apres ski session, or as a stand-alone layer when the season starts to warm.
An ill-fitting or poorly designed base layer can make your time charging in the snow super uncomfortable, leaving you chafed, cold and damp by the end of the day. If you are serious about getting the best out of every sweet turn in the white stuff, then you need to be serious about wearing the right gear underneath your outer layers. Any old long sleeve top just won’t cut it, so take some time to familiarise yourself with the most important aspects of a base layer top.
Summary of the best base layers for skiing and snowboarding in 2020
This quick overview of the best base layers for skiing and snowboarding gives you a basic idea of which layer might suit you best. But for the full details of each, skip ahead to reviews of the 12 best base layers.
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|Isobaa Women's Merino 180 Long Sleeve Crew||Merino||Extra length at back||$$|
|BAM Women’s Perform Bamboo Base Layer||Bamboo/organic cotton mix||Thumb loops||$|
|Smartwool Merino 250 Baselayer Pattern Crew||Merino||Seamless shoulders||$$|
|Armadillo Merino Artemis Women’s Long Sleeve Crew Neck||Merino||Double layered cuffs and long back||$$$|
|Icebreaker Tech Top Long Sleeve||Merino||Neck zip||$$$|
|Howies Himalayas Merino Top||Merino/polyester mix||Zippered arm pocket||$$|
|Helly Hansen HH Dry Stripe Base Layer Crew||Polypropylene||Fast drying||$|
|BAM Men’s Reflex Bamboo Base Layer||Bamboo/organic cotton mix||Thumb loops||$|
|Rab Merino+ 160 ||Merino/polyester mix||Neck zip||$$$|
|Patagonia Merino Air Hoody||Wool/polyester mix||Hood||$$|
|Under Armour ColdGear Armour Compression Crew||Polyester/elastane mix||Tight fit||$|
|SmartWool NTS Mid 250||Merino||Neck zip||$$$|
|Arc’teryx Satoro AR||Merino/nylon/elastane mix||Neck zip and zippered chest pocket||$$$$|
|Bambool Thermics Baselayer Top||Bamboo/wool/elastane mix||Neck zip and thumb holes||$$|
|REI Midweight Base Layer Crew Top||Polyester/spandex mix||Drop-tail rear hem||$|
12 best base layers in 2020
Whoever said that base layers should be dull? Certainly not Isobaa, that’s for sure! In fact, many would argue that the perfect base layers for skiing and snowboarding are the ones that slide seamlessly from the slopes to the social scene. And that’s not just aesthetically; a stink-free base layer is also essential. No matter how hard you charge on the mountain the magical Merino wool of the 180 Crew will last you for days of activity before you need to wash it. Made from 100% Merino wool (180gm 18.5 micron), it also has an extra long back to tuck nicely into your long johns, a slim fit that retains its shape, and extra length at the sleeves to keep the draft out. Plus, the wool that Isobaa use in all of their products is sourced from non-mulesed sheep. A huge bonus.
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Available in four refreshingly bright colours, the Perform Bamboo Base Layer is the kind of active top that you’ll find yourself wearing all year round, not just on the slopes. It boasts a form fitting shape with extra length at the back to tuck into your long-johns, and comfortable thumb loops that don’t pull on your hands for lack of length. Side panels prevent chafing under the arms and the fabric has a wonderfully soft, next to skin feel thanks to the sustainable and eco-friendly blend of bamboo viscose and organic cotton. This makes the Perform an ideal option for environmentally conscious skiers and adventurers with skin that is too sensitive for merino. The fabric struggles to compete with merino in the stink-free stakes, however, it does much better than synthetic base layers. It also performs in a similar way to merino when it comes to moisture management: wicks away well, is breathable but holds onto water a little more than synthetic fabric.
Together with the BAM Men’s Reflex, this stylish and mega comfortable base layer is a superb vegan option that is also sustainable.
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Smartwool are another merino-worshipping brand who don’t take their base layer styling too seriously. Their new line of patterned crew tops offers anything from muted greys with subtle swirls to big stripes and geometric patterns in hot pink, and everything in between! They’re fun and funky. But more importantly, the 100% merino fabric is mega comfortable next to your skin with not a hint of wooly itchiness.
Along with the Smartwool NTS and the Icebreaker 260, this Smartwool 250 Crew is one of the warmest base layers on our list. It also boasts flatlock seams for minimal chaffage, and backpack-friendly shoulder panels whose seams sit below the shoulders rather than on top. It’s ideal alongside lots of other layers on those super cold days on the mountain. But its extra warmth also makes it a good option to wear directly underneath an outer shell on warmer days.
The exceptionally cosy Artemis is one of the best merino tops you will lay your chilly hands on. Made with super fine (18.9 micron) merino, this miracle wool isn’t itchy at all – even on the most sensitive skin. As well as close fitting warmth, the Artemis also features double layered cuffs to keep us ladies warm where we need it the most, as well as a bit of extra length at the back to tuck right into your ski pants or long johns. The high neck is soft and comfortable leaving little room to let the draft in. And to top it off, this Armadillo Merino top is also really stylish. Together with its incredible capacity to take forever to get smelly, you’ll have no qualms about wearing it all day on the slopes and well into the night, (depending on your commitment to apres ski!)
For more detail on why the Artemis rocks, read our full review.
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The Icebreaker Tech Top is constructed of premium Merino wool making it naturally odour resistant. The sizing runs small, even accounting for the slim fit, so you may want to order one size up on this one. The shirt design incorporates a few thoughtful details, including a slightly longer back hem for better coverage and a zipper at the neck for ventilation and cooling when desired. This shirt is one of the priciest on our list, but the price can vary greatly based on the size and colour you choose.
If you want a base layer that really stands out on the slopes, look no further than the Helly Hansen’s Dry Stripe Base Layer, which comes in 14 different colours combinations, ranging from black and white to lime green and red. Iconic Helly Hansen stripes run down the outside of each sleeve in a contrasting colour. This is one of the driest shirts on the list because it is made from durable and fast-drying polypropylene. The cut is especially tight fitting around the chest and mid-section. This shirt is also one of the least expensive and it will keep giving for years of use and abuse! You’ll need to wash it after almost every wear as it tends to get stinky pretty quickly, but other that that, it’s a really excellent budget option for those that tend to sweat a lot. Plus, you’ll struggle to find a more durable base layer. These things go on and on.
With a disconcertingly cotton-like feel, the Men’s Reflex is an exceptionally comfortable base layer for skiing and snowboarding. But don’t be fooled by the luxurious softness of the fabric; the organic cotton is blended with 68% bamboo viscose to offset your natural aversion to cotton as an active layer. Bamboo viscose is almost as magical as merino: naturally sweat-wicking, breathable, anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic and UV protective to 97.5%. It also happens to be a highly sustainable fabric AND is inexpensive, especially compared to merino base layers. Impressive!
The flat-lock seams lower the risk of rubbing, as does the underarm panels. It’s great looking, features thumb loops, feels amazing on and is one of the most eco-friendly base layers on our list.
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The versatile hood on the Patagonia Merino Air Hoody is especially helpful in windy environments. When not in use, the hood wraps around the neck like a cowl; it can even be pulled up in front to cover your chin. The hoody is knit from a wool/polyester yarn in a unique design that features very few seams. The minimal seams and the extra soft yarn make this one of the softest shirts on our list. The material (which is made in part from recycled plastics) is stretchy and delicate. Hand washing is recommended to extend the life of the garment.
The least expensive option on the list is also one of the most durable. Under Armour’s ColdGear Armour Compression Crew is made from polyester and elastane (which is similar to spandex). The shirt comes in 6 colours of dual-layer compression fabric. If you have never worn a compression garment, it can feel uncomfortably snug. If you want more room, order the next size up. The compression material makes for a smooth base layer perfect for wearing underneath other clothing.
SmartWool began as a manufacturer of ski and snowboarding gear and continues to produce some of the finest gear on the market. The NTS Mid 250 is made from 100% Merino wool sheared from sheep raised exclusively for SmartWool. They stand by their claim that SmartWool sheep make the finest, strongest, and smoothest wool on the planet. The shirt comes in 8 muted colours and features a long zipper for ventilation. This shirt has a looser fit than many on the list, although it is still snug enough to wear underneath outwear.
The Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip Neck is made from a combination of Merino wool, nylon, and elastane. This combination works together to provide exceptional moisture wicking and drying properties. If you expect a lot of moisture or sweat, this may be the perfect base layer for you. The turtleneck design will keep your neck and chin warm, while the long zipper down the front will give you temperature control throughout the day. The shirt runs true to size and features a zippered chest pocket for keys or snacks.
If you want something truly unique, take a closer look at the Bambool Thermic Baselayer Top. Constructed from wool, bamboo, and elastane, the material is naturally antibacterial and incredibly soft. Although there is currently only one colour option (black), the shirt features both a partial zipper front for temperature control and elongated sleeves with a thumb hole for warmth. The long sleeves will be especially nice for providing complete coverage between your gloves and the sleeves of your coat without the bulk of extra gloves.
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The Midweight Base Layer Crew Top from REI is another inexpensive option for thermal wear. The polyester/spandex blend provides UPF 50 sun protection in addition to keeping you warm and dry. This is another shirt offering the drop-tail back hem to guarantee total coverage and easy layering. The shirt is cut looser in the chest and midsection than many on our list – choose one size down for a closer fit if you are between sizes. The raglan sleeves prevent chafing on your arms. The crew neck is cut wider than most thermal base layers, making it both less restricting and slightly less warm.
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The Rab Merino+ 160 is a perfect option for long days outside because it is made from a Merino wool-polyester blend and features a deep front zipper. The zipper at the neck is the deepest of any on the list, offering the most flexibility for venting and cooling. The neck is slightly taller than on many of our picks, providing a chin guard against biting wind. This shirt can be one of the warmest and coolest, depending on how you wear it, making it one of the most versatile base layer options.
What to Look for in Base Layer Clothing
The best base layers are more than just clothing underneath a jacket or snow pants. Because you will be wearing at least one layer of clothing on top, look for thermal base layers that are thin and smooth.
Merino wool is a popular material because it is warm, moisture wicking, and naturally odour resistant. For the eco-conscious out there, merino is also biodegradable in under a year, compared with its synthetic cousins that can take up to 40 years to decompose. That said, some people find even the finest merino irritating to the skin.
Synthetic base layers offer a good alternative to merino. They also tend to dry much faster and are highly durable. I’ve had my Helly Hansen Dry Stripe for over 15 years and it’s still going strong! Synthetic fabrics get smelly pretty quickly though, and often don’t offer the thermal properties that merino base layers offer.
Bamboo fabric is slowly making its mark on the world of active clothing, and for good reason: it is sustainable, naturally antibacterial, and super soft on the skin.
Base layers should fit snugly so they do not add unnecessary bulk or discomfort underneath your outwear and mid-layers.
Other features to look for include:
- Flat seams to prevent chafing – especially around the shoulder and armpit
- Long back to tuck into long johns or pants
- Long sleeves and cuffs
- High neck to keep the draft out
- Thumb loops
The ultimate goal of a base layer is to regulate your temperature so that you are comfortable. There’s no point having a super thick top that is so warm you end up sweating excessively as soon as you start to move. A base layers’ moisture wicking properties play a big part in this by drawing excess sweat away from your body before it cools. So although it’s important for base layers to be warm, they also need to be appropriate to your activity levels and location, and be paired with appropriate outer layers and mid-layers (if applicable).
Whether you are looking for something extra thin or warm enough to wear alone on warm winter days, there is a base layer for everyone on our list of the best base layers for skiing. Narrow down the many choices by picking the material and cut that is best for your needs and body type and get ready to spend your days on the slopes. Cold, bulky base layers will be a thing of the past when you find the perfect thermal ski wear for your next outdoor adventure.