Base Layers: Staying Cosy with the Right Options

When cold weather hits, one of the keys to staying warm and comfortable is having a good base layer. Your base layer is the clothing that sits directly against your skin, playing a crucial role in regulating body temperature and wicking away moisture. Having the proper base layer can make a world of difference to your comfort and enjoyment when braving frosty conditions.  


This in-depth guide will explore all the key considerations when shopping for the perfect base layer. We’ll look at the critical base layer fabrics and materials to know, the different weights and thicknesses available, key features and design elements, and recommendations for base layers for men, women and children. Read on for everything you need to know to find the ideal base layer for your needs.


Decoding Base Layer Fabrics and Materials  

Today’s base layers utilise high-tech fabrics engineered specifically to provide insulation while managing moisture. Each material has its own advantages. 


Merino Wool  

Premium merino wool is prized for its softness, breathability, moisture wicking properties and natural odour resistance. The crimped fibres trap air to retain heat while allowing vapour from sweat to pass through. It provides warmth even when damp. As a natural fabric, merino is praised for its comfort against the skin. It doesn’t hold odours even after long use. If you’re looking for the ultimate luxury base layer, merino wool is generally top choice.



Synthetic polyester is the budget-friendly workhorse of the base layer world. It excels at drawing sweat away from your body and drying extremely quickly. Polyester is also lightweight and durable, with good stretch. It does need more frequent washing than merino to control odours. For an affordable and high performing base layer, polyester is hard to beat. 



Delicate yet functional silk base layers provide unmatched breathability. The porous structure of silk fibres allow moisture vapour to pass through easily. Silk base layers are ultimately lightweight and breathable, making them a niche choice ideally suited to warmer weather and highly aerobic activities.


Bamboo Rayon

Bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose has grown in popularity in recent years. Derived from bamboo pulp, it shares many similarities with silk. It feels silky soft on skin, offers good breathability and manages moisture well. It also has natural antibacterial properties that help reduce odour. For those seeking a hypoallergenic option, bamboo rayon warrants consideration. 


Wool Blends  

Many brands now offer wool-polyester blends, providing a compromise between merino’s natural benefits and polyester’s affordability. A modest amount of wool boosts moisture control and odour resistance while reducing cost. Wool-poly blends allow you to gain some of merino’s advantages at a more budget-conscious price point.


Weighing Your Options: Base Layer Weights and Warmth

Base layers are available in a range of different weights and thicknesses. Choosing the right one depends on the conditions you’ll be up against and your intended activity. Here’s an overview of the main options: 


Lightweight (150gsm or less) 

Lightweight base layers typically have a fabric weight around 150gsm or lighter. With minimal insulation, they excel at releasing heat and moisture when you’re active in warmer weather. Lightweight base layers offer unrestricted movement and outstanding breathability. They regulate your temperature during high exertion activities like running, hiking or cycling on temperate days.


Midweight (150-250gsm)  

The most versatile choice is a midweight base layer in the 150-250gsm range. Midweight base layers strike a balance between sufficient warmth and breathability. They capably wick away sweat while providing ample insulation for cooler conditions. A midweight merino or synthetic base layer can span all four seasons. It’s a year-round staple that every wardrobe needs.


Heavyweight (250gsm+)

Heavyweight base layers utilise thick fabrics exceeding 250gsm, built to conserve heat in seriously cold environments. They excel at locking in warmth but compromise on breathability and moisture control. Heavyweight base layers are overkill for everyday use but essential for winter sports and polar expeditions. If you’re planning on outdoor activities in frigid conditions, choose a heavyweight option. 


Getting the right blend of insulation and breathability comes down to the climate you’ll be in and your planned activity level. Light and midweight fabrics allow for versatile layering across seasons. Heavyweights strictly for extreme cold pursuits requiring ultimate insulation.  


Base Layer Styles and Desirable Features 

Beyond fabric, base layers come in an array of different styles, each with their own strengths.


Sleeve Length 

- Long sleeve base layers offer full arm coverage for all-over warmth. This conventional sleeve style is the most common. 
- Short sleeve base layers provide greater breathability in warmer conditions, while still covering and insulating the core trunk area.  
- Sleeveless base layers maximise ventilation and range of motion. A sleeveless style is great for running or hiking on hotter days.


Neckline Styles

- Crew neck base layers have a classic neckline sitting at the base of the neck. A crew neck comfortably seals in heat. 
- A zippered neck allows you to adjust ventilation based on your exertion level. Zip necks are perfect for activities with fluctuating intensity. 
- Snug fitting turtleneck base layers provide superior insulation by covering the neck area. A turtleneck is ideal for especially cold environments.


Many base layers also incorporate design features to enhance performance and comfort: 

- Thumbholes keep sleeves securely in place and seal in warmth. 
- Flatlock stitching reduces friction and irritation from seams.  
- Mesh ventilation zones improve breathability in sweat-prone areas.


Consider the conditions you’ll be in and choose sleeve length, neckline and special features accordingly. Turtlenecks and long sleeves provide critical insulation when the mercury drops. Prioritise breathability features like sleeveless cuts and mesh panels for vigorous warm weather activities. 


Base Layers for Men 

Every man needs a collection of base layers to stay comfortable across winter weather scenarios.


For Casual Everyday Warmth

Patagonia Capilene Midweight Zip Neck - The zip neck provides versatile venting power, and the durable polyester layer handles moisture well and dries fast. 


Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Midweight Half Zip - This merino wool base layer is suitable for any activity performed in cold weather.  


Montane Dart XT Zip Neck - Conquer the mountains or the M&S queues in this thermal top, featuring four-way stretch and a low-profile collar.  


For Active Outdoor Pursuits 

Arc’Teryx Rho Hybrid Half Zip Top - Lightweight merino underwear offering unrestricted movement and moisture control during activities.


Icebreaker Oasis Crew - Made for hiking, climbing and skiing, this midweight merino has flatlock seams to prevent chafing when active. 


Rab Conduit Crew - Great for climbing, the Rab Conduit range is made with recycled Thermic G fleece, balancing breathability and quick wicking insulation.  


For Extreme Cold Weather 

Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Crew - Premium heavyweight merino delivering serious warmth for frigid conditions. Flatlock seams maximise comfort.  


Patagonia Capilene Thermal Midweight Zip Neck Fleece - Highly insulating polyester base layer with adjustable zippered neckline. One of the warmest layers Patagonia offers.

Icebreaker 260 Tech Long Sleeve Crew - This insulates in the harshest polar climates but remains breathable. 

Choose wool blends and polyester for casual everyday warmth around town. Rely on merino and polypro midlayers designed for outdoor recreation. Invest in ultra-warm heavyweights like heavyweight merino for expeditions in extreme cold.


Base Layers for Women


Here are the top base layer recommendations to keep women cosy and warm all winter long.


For Low-Key Everyday Warmth 

Montane Primino 140 Zip Neck Top - A perfect blend of merino wool and Primaloft, this base layer also include UPF 50+ sun protection and is naturally odour resistant. 


Helly Hansen Lifa Merino Midweight Crew - Featuring the brand’s Lifa Stay Warm technology, this is a unique two-in-one base layer perfect for the outdoors.


Icebreaker 200 Oasis Long Sleeve - An odour-resistant option offering breathable fabric in a flattering silhouette.  


For Outdoor Excursions  

Patagonia Capilene Midweight Bottoms – With a smooth face for easy layering, these Patagonia leggings are ideal for outdoor activities.


Rab Conduit Pull-On Fleece - The short zip neck allows for customised venting. Its Thermic G fabrication means it excels in cold conditions.  


Ayacucho Longsleeve Baselayer - Made from responsibly sourced materials, including merino wool, this design ensures optimal freedom of movement.


Choose stylish merino and polyester layers for around-town insulation. Rely on merino midlayers designed for outdoor pursuits. Add insulating leggings or pants for ultimate warmth during frigid winter days.


For Frigid Cold

Icebreaker Merino 250 Vertex Thermal Leggings - Premium merino leggings deliver serious warmth. The merino wool retains heat and resists odour buildup. 


Helly Hansen Lifa Active Base Layer Pants - Polyester bottoms utilise Helly Hansen's Lifa fabric to provide lightweight yet insulating warmth. Quick-drying.


Rab Power Stretch Pants - Power stretch fabric allows for easy mobility while retaining warmth. Excellent as a base layer for cold weather aerobic activities. 


Choose stylish merino and polyester layers for around-town insulation. Rely on merino midlayers designed for outdoor pursuits. Add a cosy 1/2 zip or hooded layer for ultimate warmth during frigid days. 


Finding the Right Base Layers for Kids 

Getting the right base layer to keep kids comfortable often comes down to looking for these key features. 


For Everyday Wear 

Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt - A polyester sleeveless layer great for slightly warmer fall and spring days playing outside. UPF 50+ sun protection.  


For Outdoor Activities 

Rab Merino+ 120 Short Sleeve - Short sleeve merino provides insulation for active kids while allowing freedom of movement. 


Arc'Teryx Phase AR Crew LS - This durable merino crew will keep kids warm and comfy during winter play and sports. It's reinforced in high abrasion areas for longevity.  


Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody - The hood and polyester fabric add warmth for cooler weather activities like sledding or ski lessons.


For Bitter Cold

Helly Hansen Lifa Merino 2.0 Half Zip - Specifically constructed to seal out the cold, this merino 1/2 zip is made for the youngest explorers. 


Patagonia Capilene Heavyweights Crew - Insulating polyester with elastic wrists and hem seals heat in during the coldest winter outings.


Start with versatile midweight merino or polyester for everyday schoolwear and play. Use weather-resistant merino and insulating polyester hoodies and 1/2 zips when the temperature plummets. Getting the right fit is key for keeping kids comfortable.   


Caring for Base Layers 

Follow these tips to keep your base layers in top condition:


- Wash in cold water to preserve the integrity of the technical fabrics. Hot water can damage them. 
- Use a front-loading machine or hand wash delicate merino pieces. This minimises agitation. 
- Limit total wash cycles. More washes cause base layers to release more microfibres. 
- Air dry base layers rather than machine drying them. Tumble drying causes premature breakdown of fabrics. 
- Wash base layers with like colours. Some technical fabrics can bleed dye initially. 
- Refer to specific care instructions. Some performance materials need special handling.


With proper laundering, a quality base layer will deliver many years of cosy warmth. Prioritise gentle cold water washing and air drying. Follow any special instructions for your chosen fabric. 


Make Smart Base Layer Choices 

Having the proper base layer clothing is the first step towards comfortable dressing in colder weather. Today's base layers utilise high-tech merino wool, polyester and other fabrics engineered for heat retention and sweat management.  


Use this guide to shop for base layers tailored to your specific needs. Seek out midweight merino or polyester layers offering versatile insulation across seasons. Invest in ultra warm heavyweights if you'll be in extreme environments. Treat your base layers with care and they'll keep you toasty warm for many winters to come.

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