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Your layering system can be the determining factor between a bad day and a good day outdoors, whether skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or hunting. We've done the research — and testing — to find the best women's base layers.
Base layers are essential if you plan on recreating in any season that’s not summer or heading into the alpine. Whether you’re hitting the slopes, tackling a high-elevation peak in cool weather, or walking the dog on a frigid day, quality base layers can mean the difference between feeling hypothermic or comfortably navigating your outdoor adventure.
Our advice is to get the best base layers for the climate where you recreate the most. Merino wool tends to be a top performer, but yak wool and a few other wool-synthetic blends can also be great in extra-cold environments. Compared to synthetics, wool has the bonus of holding warmth even when wet. It’s also the best for beating back scent for long periods of time like multiday hut trips.
But synthetic fabrics have a lot to offer. They’re often more affordable. And while you tend to give up some odor control, synthetics are the fastest-drying base layers. Fabric options like Patagonia’s well-regarded Capilene are a top choice for aerobic activities where you’ll work up a sweat, thanks to their quick-drying properties. Fibers with the ability to dry fast are especially useful in cold, overcast environments where you can not easily change layers.
Base layers are also made in various densities, and each one provides a different amount of warmth and hand feel. If you want to learn more about base layers, jump down to the buyer’s guide and FAQ at the bottom of this article. Also, have a look at our comparison chart to steer your decision-making.
Otherwise, read on for our top picks for the best base layers for women in 2023-2024.
Editor’s Note: We updated our Women’s Base Layers guide on September 22, 2023 to include the Wild Rye Olive Onesie, which received an award, and the Patagonia Capilene Air Crew top and bottoms. We also added and updated 11 new sections and FAQs to support buyer education.
Smartwool is ubiquitous in the world of women’s base layers, and our team found this set to perform well across a myriad of conditions while also being cozy and comfortable with a clean style. Overall this kit is a top-selling base layer for women and remains our top pick.
The Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew ($115) and Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Bottom ($115), which was originally launched under the name Smartwool Merino 250, keeps you warm but isn’t overly toasty for most cold-weather activities.
You’ll find 100% merino wool in this best choice, and that’s just because it works so dang well. Women love both the fit and feel of this easygoing crew and pant, and the silhouette is right on target.
This is also a size-inclusive piece: The top is available in extended plus sizes for women including 1X, 2X, 3X, and 4X for the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew Plus ($115). That 4X was recently launched for the winter 23/24 season, in response to ladies who wanted to see an additional size added, and we love to see the action. The plus-size bottom, the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Bottom Plus ($115), is likewise freshly available in up to 4X, as of winter 23/24.
After months of winter wear, we can attest this women’s base layer kit is a top performer. We especially love the softness and next-to-skin comfort as well as the ease of layering. The durable construction feels denser than a handful of our other favorite base layers, like the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer, which is super soft but less durable and cozy compared to this classic grab.
We’ve worn dozens of midweight layers. The Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and set performs beautifully across temp ranges and size options. The design is one of our go-to choices for winter activities like skiing and snowboarding at the resort with stagnant breaks in the ski lift line or while riding up. Overall, the merino does a great job of masking stench, too.
For some of our uphill, backcountry, and nordic ski testers, this kit feels a bit warm and heavy for high-cardio activities.
One of the longest-standing base shirts we pull on for high-cardio snow sports is the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer ($45). At less than $50, the price tag is hard to beat for the decade-reaching quality without a single unraveled seam.
This extremely lightweight and breathable design doesn’t make us feel claustrophobic on a bell-to-bell powder mission or ringing mogul after mogul. The pull-on smoothly wicks sweat and doesn’t hold onto the moisture. The seams never rub or annoy our skin, even on the more sensitive folks.
You’ll be giving up insulation for this women’s base layer, which really shines for breathability. That also means this base layer is super versatile, because it can be pulled on for sledding, off-trail snowmobiling, cross-country, or alpine skiing and backcountry tours without becoming an oven. You can always wear a thicker mid-layer if more warmth is needed on those frigid days or sedentary activities.
The fit on the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer is not too snug, either, but if you prefer an even looser fit, check out the men’s cut instead.
We were pleasantly surprised to see REI has plenty of offerings for base layers for plus-size women, between Smartwool and the REI Co-op brand. With an economic tag, the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes ($40) make them a shoo-in for gals who’ve often felt left out of the world of athletic clothing.
In step, ladies of all sizes really do love REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top Women’s Plus Sizes ($40). The size range for both include 1X, 2X, and 3X. Some outdoors folks found that the top is snug around bust area for larger-chested ladies, so if that could be you, consider sizing up.
This is a lighter women’s base layer but will get you through a ton of activities with a fitted poly-spandex mix. If you want to level up and go merino, check out Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew Plus ($115) and Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Bottom Plus ($115).
Merino continues to dominate, and the Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top ($120) brings a classic ski lodge feel to the list. Offered only in fashionable Nordic patterns, this 100% merino half-zip and the Kari Traa Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants ($110) have a feminine touch with an athletic makeup.
Developed by an Olympic skier, Kari Traa’s women’s base layers also have amazing design features like underarm gussets, a more athletic fit around the shoulders and hips, and a hugging four-way stretch construction.
Our editors have been impressed after testing out the Rose Half-Zip. It performs well doing laps on the slope, and the zipper never jabs or digs into your skin (just make sure you get the right size). During spring skiing, you can shed your hardshell and retain warmth with this layer.
Speaking of warmth, the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom are likewise midweight, 100% merino wool designs — so which kit is warmer? Technically, the Smartwool setup is a fabric weight of 250 gsm.
The Kari Traa is 240 gsm with underarm side panels that are 180 gsm, which help dump heat while working up a sweat on a powder day. We found the extended collar on the Kari Traa top provides a bit more coverage and warmth.
Ultimately, similar to the Smartwool set, this Kari Traa design has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Some of our testers prefer to wear this Kari Traa base layer set at the ski area when the temperatures hover below 20 degrees F plus windchill. The Kari Traa kit also pairs well for backcountry skiing in the 0- to 10-degree F range and definitely for temps in the negatives. The fabric weight can feel a bit too warm for high-output activities in warmer temps.
While this set provides top-tier warmth, the blend can feel a smidge itchy for some with really sensitive skin. The textile also lacks a bit of stretch that other blends provide. All things considered, the Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top and Kari Traa Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants are still our go-to pair when warmth is the number one priority.
If you do reach for this lovely design, the look is great, too. Read our full GearJunkie review to learn more. For a slightly looser fit and similar style, check out the Kari Traa Else Baselayer Pants ($100) and Else Half Zip Baselayer ($110).
Ever since we pulled on the Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants ($100) and Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve ($110) women’s set for winter action, this comfortable, breathable kit has been one of our go-to sets for backcountry skiing, rippin’ snowmobiles, shoveling, and resort powder days. Any time we are going to be working hard and breaking a sweat, this is our first choice.
When we wear this pair, we can’t feel it at all. The airy blend pulls up moisture and dries fast, and the seams don’t feel restrictive.
We like that the pant legs reach below the knee, so we don’t need to layer them over our socks. The waistband sits comfortably above the hips. And the fabric does a great job of covering up body odor after a long haul or uphill workout.
The kit is also climate-neutral and Fair Wear certified. This design complies with the ORTOVOX Wool Promise, which is a higher benchmark than the Responsible Wool Standard, according to the brand. While merino wool is the top-tier for baselayer construction, you’ll also pay for it — this set is pricey, but we believe 100% worth it.
We’re wearing the 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants and Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve more often than it’s hanging in our closet when winter comes. Perfect for athletic days in the hills, this set excels in motion.
This could be the lightest, softest, stretchiest, most attractive women’s base layer top we’ve ever worn. We want to use it for everything outside and inside, even going out to dinner. We wore the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer ($110) nonstop for several days of outdoor activity in the Colorado Rockies including frigid, windy trail runs, wintry walks, and even sleeping.
The shirt’s buttery blend features bamboo rayon, merino wool, elastane, and four-way stretch. The arms and torso are long, so no skin is exposed in extreme temperatures or wind chill. And the fabric masked odor for multiple days despite sweaty back-to-back action. This is the perfect do-it-all layering piece during and post-sport.
Our only issue is that there aren’t more heavyweight options — we would love a thicker weave for more static endeavors — but barring that, the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer covers our need for luxuriously soft base layer tops for winter. The fabric has only starting to show slight pilling after several seasons, so it’s robust, too.
We love that the Wild Rye Olivia Onesie ($229) base layer is super fun, functional, and that there’s a dropseat — which works sublimely well. How is this the first one-piece base layer we’ve tested with easy bathroom access? The zipper on the ‘back door’ is lean and streamlined (we only pinched our skin once and take full responsibility for user error). While shredding the slopes or walking around the hut kitchen we don’t even notice the zipper even during cook-offs or high-action pow surfs.
Just pull on the onesie, zip up the second half of the suit, and you’re encased in a smooth, stench-resistant, breathable yet warm layer. Made from fine 100% Merino Wool, both the 18.5-micron weave and zippers feel durable. That hood adds extra protection and comfort. We dig that the legs reach the shins — so they don’t bunch in our boots. And we enjoy the lengthy arms with thick 3.5-inch long cuffs (which have thumbholes) for extra warmth around the wrists and hands.
The onesie is a bit leaner and shorter in the torso region than we assumed it would be — making the form a tiny bit tight at moments in the netherregion. If you have a long torso, consider sizing up. Especially with such a large range of sizes — 0 to 18 — hopefully most ladies can find a fit that works.
A bright floral pattern and the tactfully placed seams along the hips create attractive style lines and playfulness — the Wild Rye Olivia Onesie looks good. We’ll definitely be wearing this piece on our next ski trip.
Breathable yet insulating, the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Crew and Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Baselayer Bottoms ($139 each) are like a cozy full body sweater that’s also high performance.
At first glance, these base layers feel and look more like a knit sweater. But don’t be fooled. An almost half-and-half split between merino wool and recycled polyester means the Capilene Air line doesn’t mess around. The fabric is shockingly warm, despite having little gaps in the knit pattern. It also wicks moisture and dries quickly. We were warm, but somehow not sweaty, when wearing these layers.
The top and bottom both have additional features for comfort. Stretch is a primary element. We liked the cuffs on the crew neck, which were snug but not tight nor too soft on our wrists, and the waistband on the bottoms was wide and comfy. No seams chafed or dug into our skin.
Our tester felt a little uncomfortable with how see-through these layers were, especially on the bottom. Whatever sports bra you wear will show through the top, which isn’t the end of the world. But we also prefer base layer bottoms that can be worn hanging out around a yurt or popping into a gas station on the drive home. These leggings absolutely need ski or snowboard pants on top.
We’re also concerned about the longstanding durability of the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Crew and Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Baselayer Bottoms. The airy knit design feels prone to snags and would likely be too delicate to tour up heavily or sharply treed and brushy skin tracks. We’re afraid to see how the light weave would interact with velcro. The fabric also tends to see pilling after a few washes.
All considering, these layers are supportive and enjoyable to use on our winter adventures when we don’t plan to remove our outermost layers. We also appreciate the sustainable design that utilizes 49% recycled polyester.
Kora base layers are made out of yak wool, and this stuff performs. The Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew ($150) is only a bit more pricey than merino, and it tends to be warmer for less weight.
In our experience, that’s a bit of a toss-up unless the weather is really cold. We tend to use our Kora layers as heavyweights rather than midweights, as they’re just a bit too warm for early to mid-fall for what we’re up to.
This crew is a constant in our winter kit. It’s thin enough to easily go under sweaters or fleeces for added warmth, and it’s nice enough to wear on its own with a vest on warmer days. Yak wool really does pack a warm punch. If you’re doing legit stuff in cold weather, invest in the Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew.
The Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length ($119) is one of our top choices for backcountry skiing and splitboarding, resort skiing and riding, post-adventure après, and year-round camping. One of our favorite details about this unique and tenacious fabric blend is that beads of water roll right off the surface, so these bottoms don’t get soaked.
In step, the Voormi Women’s Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew ($119) is constructed with the same material: Dual Surface precision-blended wool technology, which boasts a thin interior layer of fine micron-wool that pulls moisture off the body and disperses it to the exterior, blended with a portion of polyester and nylon. The fabric is soft against skin yet has an extremely durable exterior.
Despite back-to-back usage, the pants and shirt don’t reveal odor. We’ve taken multiple hut trips packing only these women’s base layers in a range of climates and conditions from gripping-cold blizzards to sunshine. Our sweat and any water patches dry fast, and the wool works it magic with regulating temps, so we never feel damp or clammy in these long johns or top.
This blend is lightweight for the density and warmth provided. The material and seams hold up through arduous usage beneath snow pants and work pants in all seasons. They aren’t quite as stretchy as other baselayer options we tested, but we appreciated the inverse effect of not sagging. As a result, we don’t particularly like using the top’s thumbholes, which feel a bit too restrictive.
If you’re looking for a bottom that hugs your legs and doesn’t slouch a bit on high-action days, the Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length are worth the investment. The same goes for the Voormi Women’s Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew.
Black Diamond uses a wonderful merino wool blend called Nuyarn in its Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew ($135), and multiple members of our testing crew love the material.
Nuyarn gives users the best of both worlds, with the odor resistance and soft hand of merino combined with the durability and quick-drying nature of nylon. The blend is breathable and the fit streamlined — we love that there’s no bulk.
It’s a simple design of this fabulous fabric, featuring just thumb holes to keep the layer in place on the arms when pulling over second layers. The torso length was a smidge short for some of our testers — one of our only issues — but layered under another piece it becomes less of an issue.
Overcoming the traditional pitfalls of merino wool, we loved the stretch and durability of the Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew.
Once the temps drop, we grab this just-right base layer for trail runs or uphilling at the ski area. The Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS Women’s ($90) pulls our sweat and dries like a champ, so no wonder it remains a top-rated item.
The exterior fabric is treated with a DWR finish to barricade dew and drizzles, so we can skip a mid-layer if it’s warm enough out and not pounding snow. We like the mini turtleneck style, which offers a boost of protection for our décolletage and blocks drafts.
The Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS Women’s is designed for ultimate freedom of movement, so side-to-side motion or planting poles don’t feel held back. And the seams don’t feel bulky, either.
This performance-oriented design is form-fitting, so if you don’t like apparel that hugs, skip ahead. In a unique approach, CEP recently launched compression-style base layers.
After giving this CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt ($100) and CEP Ski Touring 3/4 Base Tights ($100) for women test runs at the ski area and in the backcountry, and while sitting sedentary, the compressed feel is noticeable at total rest post-activity. The set is also comfortable to wear while on the go.
The pants reach below the knee, which we like for streamlined layering with our socks and boots. The anatomically designed threads support the hamstrings and quads, and the high-tech fabric manages sweat and heat.
For some folks, the compression fit can be a bit much, notably in the neck. It’s a good idea to experiment with compression clothing before pulling the trigger on these winter-weight baselayers.
Rounding out the CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt and 3/4 Base Tights are super smooth chafe-free seams in the top and bottom that are anything but noticeable. We also like that these women’s base layers dry fast.
Can we live in our First Lite Kiln Long Janes ($95) and First Lite Kiln Hoody ($130)? The answer is yes, and we have. We’ve worn these feminine long janes for days on hunts, only to find that they stave off body odor better than any other we’ve tried, even after hours of hiking and packing.
And hoodies are either your jam or not. We like to wear this one when we know we want a second layer to keep our head warm beneath a hat or when the weather isn’t bad enough to require a shell hood.
These things just beat back odor, wick and breathe like magic, and fit in a way that eliminates bulk. If you caught us wearing either, you’d likely think it was a new purchase. Fewer washes beget longer use times. We’re into it.
Another benefit to remember with paying more for wool is if you get wet, you still retain heat. Synthetics might dry faster, but the warmth merino offers is a big plus. The design is also made with 18.5-micron fibers, which is superfine merino wool.
High-waisted, soft, and with seams in the right spot to avoid backpack misery, these leggings are made for women and are our favorite fit of any base layer we’ve owned. That said, the size large pants tend to slide down for some users, so beware.
Merino rules the day, and these are opaque enough to wear as a first layer on warmer days with no issues. With a 250-gram merino and spandex woven fabric, these are a true midweight pant.
But in our humble opinion, they’ll get you through the great majority of cold situations with no problem. We’ve worn ours for a few years, and they feel practically new.
Though First Lite is a hunting brand, it offers its First Lite Kiln Long Janes and First Lite Kiln Hoody in solids for those of you who might not need camouflage in your life.
Scroll to the right to view all of the columns: Price, Weight, Fabric, Thermal Category.
Our GearJunkie product testing team includes a range of skiers and snowboarders from intermediate to expert who explore ski areas around the world, venture into the backcountry, skin uphill at the resort, apres in the parking lot and enjoy nordic trails. Our testers don’t shy away from winter runs and embrace the mantra “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing” when it comes to playing outside in the depths of winter.
Our team includes avid hunters and folks who live in wintry, cold, mountainous locations from Bozeman, Montana, to Crested Butte, Colorado. We backpack, hunt, and track elk in the shoulder season. Senior SnowSports Editor Morgan Tilton grew up in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, where she still lives and plays all winter from the slopes to the backcountry on two planks and one, human-powered and by motor. She’s worn a ton of base layers over the past three decades — and the designs really do keep getting better.
One of our lead testers is environmental journalist Kylie Mohr, who spends time running and skiing up and down the mountains of Montana in various blustery conditions. She tested layers in and out-of-bounds to see what kept her warm and dry the best.
Throughout our field tests and personal experience, we determine the best women’s base layers based on a variety of metrics including performance, quality, comfort, fit, longevity, and value. We take a close look at each product’s warmth, breathability, wicking and drying capability, weight, density, seams, hems, cut, next-to-hand feel, and style.
We also consider the most innovative, sustainable, legacy, award-winning, and popular designs on the shelf today. Hands down, these women’s base layers serve a wide range of athletes, applications, and budgets.
Start by imagining how you’ll use these base layers. Are you looking for something extra warm for relaxing around camp? Or will you be working hard in the backcountry and need a breathable, fast-wicking layer?
There’s no right or wrong answer, but knowing how you’ll use these layers will help narrow the field. You’ll also need to consider the layers surrounding those next-to-skin.
Your alarm goes off. Don’t snooze: It’s time to get up and get dressed for cold weather fun. Your layers will work in a tiered system:
If you wear underwear with leggings or base layers (sometimes we don’t — it’s a matter of personal preference), put that on first, alongside your socks. They better be wool or a synthetic blend, NOT cotton. Under no circumstances! Just don’t do it — your warm, dry epidermis will thank you.
Add your base layer top, bottom, or onesie. If your bottoms are long, make sure they go over your socks. Unless you like your socks on the outside of your bottoms… that’s personal preference. If your bottoms are mid-shin length, like some compressive performance options, adjust socks and fabric accordingly so there aren’t any overlapping, uneven points that could rub or chafe.
Now, it’s time to slip on your midlayer top and bottom, depending on the day’s activity.
Going skiing in bounds? Reach for a streamlined fleece that still allows full range of motion. Hanging out at the campsite? Pull on a bulky deep-pile sherpa fleece.
Your activity will dictate what appropriate midlayers to add on bottom. Maybe you’ll pull on a fleece or some insulated puffy pants for extra warmth below workwear trousers or snowboard bibs.
Headed to the backcountry? Wear a comfy jacket on the way to the trailhead then strip down to your baselayer or midlayer to start, given you’ll quickly warm up from exertion in the cold temps. Running in a breeze on an otherwise warm afternoon? Go for a softshell with no insulation.
If we’re resort skiing in freezing temps, and we run cold, we’ll often do this trio: an uninsulated ski shell over both a fleece and puffy jacket. Insulated jacket wearers will likely find they don’t need all three.
An ideal layering system is all about learning what works for you and how many layers you need to stay warm and dry.
Technically, women’s base layers feature a range of designs including tank, long-sleeve, and short-sleeve tops, as well as ankle-length or capri pants. In our guide, we focus on the best options for cold weather and the winter season, which are usually long-sleeve tops and ankle-length bottoms.
The fabric blends of base layers include merino wool, synthetic fibers, or a blend of the two. Within those fibers, there are various densities from lightweight to midweight or heavyweight. Some tops feature a hood, partial zipper, or thumb holes. Others are tailored with a crew, mock, or turtleneck.
Base layers are absent of pockets or belt loops. These designs are meant to be worn against the skin in a seamless way that’s comfortable beneath other mid-layers and outer layers across various activities such as hunting. fishing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, or working on a farm.
We love wool. It regulates temperature really well. It’s fast-drying, comfortable against the skin, and resists odors like a champ. It’s the warmest fabric choice for low-intensity outdoor activities like ice fishing or spectating ice skating.
That said, 100% merino wool tends to be less durable, gets wear holes more quickly, and gets baggy throughout the day. If you have sensitive skin, even the smoothest 100% merino wool might feel a tad less than cloud-like next to the skin. Depending on your preference, you may prefer a wool blend or straight synthetic materials.
Merino wool can also cost more than its counterparts.
An alternative to wool is a synthetic fabric, which is typically a blend that includes polyester plus elastane or spandex for rebound and form. Some synthetic fabrics are proprietary to a brand with treatments that enhance their odor-fighting ability and wicking moisture.
Synthetic blends do not offer as much warmth and overall temperature regulation that wool provides. They’re a great choice for high-intensity activities that produce a lot of perspiration without long moments of standstill, like during a hunt, when a chill could set in.
These fibers can work really well for people with sensitive skin, especially for exercise use. The breathability is still excellent and really only a hair less impressive than merino wool or wool-synthetic blends. Also, synthetics typically cost less than wool.
One drawback: Odor-intense days are not typically covered up well by this fiber.
Many folks find a fair balance of managing heat and chill, absorbing sweat, and covering up odors in a design that weaves together both wool and synthetic fibers. Adding synthetics also enhances the durability and overall life of wool apparel.
If you’re running hardpack snow trails, snowshoeing, skate skiing, or doing uphill ski workouts in 30-degree temps, a lightweight base layer top or bottom should do the trick, as long as there’s no wind chill.
Lightweight layers dump heat really well. These could be a good piece for warmer spring laps at the ski resort, but sitting idle on lift rides typically calls for a warmer midweight base layer.
Not too airy and not too stuffy, the midweight base layer is optimal for wintry days skiing and riding at the resort. It’s a good choice for snowmobiling, when pulling the throttle can pack windchill at high speeds.
That said, for intense heat-building activities like huge ski or splitboard tours or snowshoeing, a midweight layer might be too much.
When we’re talking extreme temperatures — well below zero or even below freezing — then you might be coziest in a heavy-set base layer, especially for ski resort laps. These are also the layers we grab for sedentary periods. We like the yak wool of the Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew for its insulating powers.
Those activities include ice fishing, sailing, hunting, spectating events, hanging at base camp during a mountaineering expedition, or even snowmobiling groomed trails, especially if sightseeing stops are frequent.
You might have noticed the acronym gsm (grams per square meter) but likely don’t know what it means — which isn’t a surprise. There isn’t a ton of marketing or public education about the label, which is a standard unit for measuring fabric density.
The higher the gsm, the denser the fabric and the warmer it will be. A fluid-feeling blouse might be as low as 50-100 gsm, while denim reaches into the 340-450 gsm range.
You’ll want to match your physical exertion to the gsm or your body’s typical needs. If you plan to do high cardio activity, choose a lower gsm.
If you plan to be more sedentary, such as ice fishing, watching a hockey game, or running errands, choose a higher gsm. A higher gsm is also a good option for folks who have poor circulation or tend to get chilled during winter activities.
For easier reading, we didn’t include gsm labels in our selected products in this guide in lieu of sharing the general thermal categories: lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight.
There are base layers that do not weigh very much but have a dense fabric, or gsm, and therefore, a high warmth-to-weight ratio, such as the Kari Traa Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants, which is categorized as a midweight choice thanks to their density and subsequent warmth.
For extra-cold weather or more sedentary activities like ice fishing, sitting in the hunting blind, or relaxing around camp, you’ll want a base layer fabric that’s warmer and with more insulation power. The strongest options will be in that heavyweight zone and are often comprised of wool.
Certain designs also have an extended mock neck, hood, long sleeves with thumbholes, and a lengthier torso, which can all add extra warmth through coverage.
If you’re using your base layer for major cardio output, opt for a lighterweight design like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer.
Consider what type of outer layers you’ll be wearing with your base layers. Pairing heavyweight base layers with insulated ski pants might leave you a sweaty mess. Layering a lightweight next-to-skin layer with a non-insulated women‘s ski bibs could be the perfect combo for high-output touring. The other factors include your body’s temperature regulation, the choice activity, climate and the weather conditions.
In addition to trapping heat, it’s important the layer breathes well and efficiently wicks moisture. Freezing sweat will make you colder faster than a too-thin layer. Generally, the lighter a design is, the more breathable it will be. Merino wool is also more breathable than synthetics.
The Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew is a warm winter layer that breathes incredibly well. It’s our top pick for the dead of winter but also for alpine pursuits in fall and winter. The Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length and Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew also breathed well, and repelled water, too, keeping us dry after sweaty ascents and snowmobile rips.
If you know you’re going to be busting it uphill on a warm day in the springtime, look for a lighter layer. Something like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer or REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes and Top will be a key part of your layering system.
If you’re packing minimally for multiday use, like a hut-to-hut ski expedition or backpacking/bikepacking trip, merino wool does wonders with hiding odors. Generally, synthetic materials don’t champion covering up stench as well as this natural fiber. Merino wool wicks sweat away from your body, allowing it to evaporate rather than sink into your clothes. Wool fibers absorb nearly twice as much water vapor as cotton and thirty times as much as polyester. The structure of wool binds with odors, playing keep away from bacteria.
Although polyester, a primary thread in synthetics, isn’t naturally odor-resistant, garments can be treated to mimic some of the same benefits. Silver-based compounds and triclosan and triclocarban treatments are toxic to odor-causing bacteria, keeping the nose-pinch at bay. Keep in mind these treatments’ effectiveness could decrease over time as a garment is washed.
Things to consider are softness against skin and tightness. There’s nothing more annoying than ill-fitting base layers. From backside or frontside sagging to pulling to chafing, it’s important to find comfortable-fitting long underwear. You want a base layer to fit snugly against your body while allowing full range of movement. Some base layers, like the CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt, offer a compression fit for optimal performance.
It’s also important to look at length and seams. You don’t want to gap at the waist. Nor is it ideal to have too-short sleeves or pants.
Seams can cause chafing, so beware of your movement and potential trouble spots. If chafing is a constant problem, you may want to consider the seamless Patagonia Capilene base layers.
Not all base layer legs reach down to your ankle bone. Some hit just below the knee or near the shin bone, a la capri pants. We like the CEP 3/4 Base Tight cropped length for easy layering with our socks and ski boots. The Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants also hits at the knee and eliminates the need to layer over socks. Bottoms that hit closer to your feet are usually tapered to a snugger fit to be easily tucked in when necessary, but also, with enough room to slide socks underneath when preferred.
Sometimes a separate top and bottom just won’t cut it. We’re thinking about those best-of-the-season powder days where a gap in base layer coverage could lead to snow where the sun doesn’t shine. Base layers with a seamless connection are a rare, but increasingly popular, option in the base layer lineup. They’re called onesies or one-pieces that include a top and a bottom sewed together. Think: wet suits and footie pajamas.
Leading the charge is the Wild Rye Olivia Onesie base layer. Wearers are treated with head-to-toe merino wool. A hood adds coziness, and fun patterns like chunky yellow florals stand out against your friends’ all-black arsenal. A half-zip helps regulate temperature on this warm, 230 gsm style.
The best feature on a onesie is a rear zip, or drop seat, for easy release. The drop seat is a removable backside flap, usually with zippers that span hip to hip above your booty, to make using the bathroom easier. No one likes having to get totally naked to answer nature’s call. Brr! Though we haven’t tested this one yet, the Backcountry Airblaster Merino Ninja Suit is another onesie option on the market.
Hoods are fairly rare on base layers — after all, how many hoods do you really want to be wearing at once? Hoods can sometimes add bulk around the neck and head area, especially if your base layer, fleece, puffy, and shell all have one. But some of our favorite base layers rock a hood, like the First Lite Kiln Hoody. It can be nice to have a slender hood around your neck to layer under a helmet or block the elements if you’ve forgotten a hat.
Certain base layers have a scoop neck while others have collars with a mid-chest zipper. We like the mock turtleneck fit on the Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS for covering our chest but not feeling restrictive.
A shirt cuff is a layer of fabric that demarcates the edge of the garment at the wrist. The cuff is made up of an additional piece of fabric that’s sewn on to help prevent fraying and increase comfort. The lengths of sleeves and elasticity of cuffs can vary.
Thumb loops, also known as thumbholes, are small openings directly underneath a shirt’s cuffs at the end of the sleeves. Some sleeves are meant to go up to your knuckles and cover your palms, and include thumb loops to facilitate and provide more coverage in cold conditions. Not all base layers have thumbholes, especially lightweight, more streamlined designs like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer. In the absence of thumbholes, cuff designs can vary: some are flat and smooth while others have a denser fabric, such as elastic, that extends at the wrist.
Thumbholes play a role in how your base layer interacts with layers on top. We find that base layer thumbholes can be tedious to slide into or too tight under ski gloves. Like many layering decisions, it’s really a matter of what feels good and what goes unnoticed, so you can focus on the fun.
Helping keep base layers in place, thumbholes can prevent the sleeve fabric from bunching up on your arm as you pull numerous layers on top. If you’re wearing a base layer on its own and your hands get chilly, thumbholes can pull the fabric down onto your hand in a pseudo-open-fingered glove scenario. It’s not a great solution for cold hands but works in a pinch.
Some thumbholes can be restrictive — too tight for your hands or awkwardly placed. The width and placement of the loop that goes around your thumb varies by brand and design. A handful of thumbhole designs are simple elastic bands, while others are wider, flat pieces of fabric that jut out from a seam. We especially liked the thumbholes on the Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew. They are stretchy enough to be comfortable while wearing them for back-to-back hours.
Many base layers hidden beneath midlayers and outerwear jackets will never see the light of day. But others, especially lightweight ones geared for year-round use, will. That’s where sun protection is a nice added feature. The REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top Women’s Plus Sizes boasts a UPF rating of 50+, as does the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer.
Thermal layers are an investment, so it makes sense you want them to last. Synthetic layers are often more durable but can cause more trouble with retaining odors.
Merino wool is naturally odor-fighting but tends to be more fragile. You’ll want to take care putting them on and use them mostly as true base layers underneath protective pants or other layers.
When it comes to sustainability, buying new gear isn’t as environmentally friendly as having a closet swap with friends or finding scores at the thrift store. But conscious consumers can still shop with Mother Nature in mind. Sustainability can come in many forms: manufacturing new goods with recycled materials, sourcing wool ethically, or creating products in facilities that don’t dump harmful toxins into nearby waterways and pay their employees a livable wage.
Some base layers, like the Patagonia Capilene Air Crew and Bottoms, are made with a portion of fabrics that meet the criteria of Bluesign, an organization that works to keep chemicals out of the supply chain for the health of humans, wildlife, natural resources, and the earth. Factories approved by the group must meet standards for pollution control and safety protections for their workers. Products can reach those standards partially or as a whole, which is identified in labels and online descriptions.
Incorporating textiles that are created from recycled materials such as old plastics is one way companies like Patagonia reduce waste and demand for petroleum-based products. Some materials are partially or fully recycled, like the recycled polyester in the Capilene line.
In past years, we’ve seen the brand Daehlie do well with material sourcing for products, selecting fiber from fast-growing eucalyptus trees on a farm that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Meanwhile, the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes and Top is made in a Fair Trade certified factory. That certification means the factory meets safe working conditions as well as environmental protections and that the supply chain is transparent.
Sustainability extends to wool, a major component of most base layers on this list. Smartwool argues that wool is an inherently responsible choice: it’s not plastic, and it breaks down in water and soil. The brand’s wool is ZQ-certified by a New Zealand-based group that sets standards for animal welfare, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability. You’ll see this wool in the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom, as well as all of the brand’s base layer offerings.
Our favorite women’s base layers run from $40 to $229. That includes options for the budget-conscious shopper and the athlete wanting to splurge on a technical textile.
On the low end, there’s the REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Tights Women’s Plus Sizes and Long-Sleeve Crew Top, each for $40, and the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer at $45. The over-$50-under-$100 lineup includes the Arc’teryx Motus Crew Neck Shirt LS for $90. The most economic choices have a basic construction, fit, and work well.
In the “100 bucks, give or take” shelf, you’ll see a bump up in the complexity of the textiles, how they’re constructed, as well as a slightly higher quality and softer feel of materials. We’ve got the CEP Ski Touring Base Shirt and CEP Ski Touring 3/4 Base Tights for $100 each, while the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew and Bottom are available for $115. There’s also the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer for $110. The Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve is tagged at $110 and the Short Pants for $100. Despite being super durable and inherently water resistant, the Voormi Women’s Baselayer Bottoms Full Length and Long Sleeve Baselayer Crew sits only at $119.
Even higher price points include the Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top for $120 (the Kari Traa Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants is labeled at $110), and the Kora Yushu Yak Wool Base Layer LS Crew for $150, all of which are woven with high quality wool from yak and merino sheep. The Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew is available at $135, while the Patagonia Capilene Air crew and Capilene Air Bottoms hang at $139 a pop. The First Lite Kiln Hoody is $130, while the sister piece, the First Lite Kiln Long Janes, is lower at $95, for a good balance.
At a premium, the Wild Rye Olivia Onesie is available at $229, given the stylish one-piece is the most technical to create and includes both the top and bottom plus a dropseat.
Base layers — as their name implies — are meant to be worn as the base of your clothing system, next to your skin. If you pile on cotton underwear and a cotton T-shirt under your base layers, you’re negating all the ways a base layer is intended to work. Most base layer bottoms are intended to be worn as long underwear. Incredibly soft base layers like the Le Bent Women’s Lightweight Crew Base Layer make this a breeze.
A base layer should have a close fit to your body without sacrificing freedom of movement. Some base layers are tight-ish, but not restrictive or circulation-ending, while others are a tad roomier but not bulky.
Base layers should be able to fit nicely beneath a fleece sweater as well as a pair of Carhartt pants, overalls, or ski outerwear.
Really, it comes down to what you can afford and what activities you do. Synthetics are highly durable, high-wicking, and have some odor-beating technology. Synthetics usually have a lower price tag.
Merino is less durable, but it has temperature-regulating features that can work in a wide range of weather, combats odors, and also wicks well. Merino wool typically costs more than synthetic blends.
More specifically, Merino is often woven with other fibers for longevity, elasticity, and fit. The percentage of merino varies in each design, which is why some wool blends are warmer than others. Be sure to check the percentage of wool to get a better idea. The Black Diamond Women’s Solution 150 Merino Baselayer Crew is approximately three-quarters wool and one-quarter polyester, while the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Air Crew and Bottoms are basically a 50-50 blend.
You might notice we left silk off this list. Silk needs a lot of washing, is very thin, and is not very durable. Most of the women’s base layers on this list are a wool blend or polyester-elastane blend.
The weight of the fabric you choose is also important. Some people will do well with a pair of simple lightweight base layers. If you’re perpetually cold or doing a sedentary winter activity, grab a pair of midweight or heavyweight base layers or a wool blend.
If you’re buying base layers to backcountry ski, run in, or for any other intense activity, go light. Easy peasy.
If you’re handling extremely cold temperatures, have poor circulation, or tend to be cold-sensitive, grab at least a midweight set like the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew or bump up to a high percentage of wool like the 100% wool Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Baselayer Top and Rose High Waisted Baselayer Pants.
For all-around recreation and use in average winter temperatures, the midweight First Lite Kiln Long Jane and First Lite Kiln Hoody are also great options.
Cardio intense activities, like running or cross-country skiing or backcountry tours, and warmer winter days are a good time to opt for lightweight base layers like the Helly Hansen Women’s HH LIFA Long-sleeve Crew Base Layer or the Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Short Pants and Ortovox 185 Rock’N’Wool Long Sleeve.
For the greatest warmth and protection, you’ll want to wear full underwear and a sports bra followed by base layers, which wick sweat and help manage body heat during high output or laidback activities.
Base layers fit beneath a mid-layer — like a fleece or micro-down jacket or synthetic insulation layer — followed by an outer layer, like a shell, that strongly protects against the elements from rain to snow or wind. The shell can be insulated or non-insulated. Looking to upgrade your kit, layer by layer? We’ve rounded up our favorite fleece in our women’s fleece jacket buyer’s guide and the best women’s ski jackets, too.
Depending on the day’s activity and climate, you might prefer to wear a base layer beneath an outer layer and skip that middle piece of insulation.
Of course, for us gals, bras are often a necessity. So don’t make the mistake of wearing a non-wicking bra beneath your base layers. Find yourself a sports bra that fits, wicks, and supports to combat sweat and chills on your upper half. Then let any of these base layers work their magic!
Base layers should be comfortably snug. These next-to-skin layers should have a close fit to your body without sacrificing freedom of movement.
Your skin and the fabric need to be touching in order for the base layer to do its job: absorb moisture. Base layers that are too loose, or saggy under the arms or around the groin or torso, can’t efficiently wick sweat or hold warmth against the body. Baggy base layers can let in cold air, lessening thermal abilities.
Most well-fitting women’s base layers are tight-ish, but not restrictive or circulation-ending, while others are a tad bit roomier though not bulky. Base layers should be able to fit nicely beneath a fleece sweater as well as a pair or workwear pants, overalls, or ski outwear.
A women’s base layer top and bottom are essential components of your ski and snowboard gear. They build the base — literally — for a warm, dry day on the slopes.
Improper layering, or having materials like cotton next to your skin, is a recipe for a wet, cold, disaster. Getting sweaty without a good base layer to wick away moisture or one that quickly dries can lead to serious body chills, discomfort, loss of energy, and can steal away the fun. Getting goosebumps outside on a winter day is a mild inconvenience at best and potentially deadly at worst, leading to hypothermia if you’re not near a place where you can warm up, like in the backcountry.
Basically, base layers will help you stay warmer on the slopes, so you can happily ski bell to bell or midday to aprés.
Looking for the best merino wool T-shirts out there? Check out our favorite merino layers for hiking, biking, running, and more.
We tested the best synthetic insulated jackets of 2022 with options for every budget. Top picks include Arc’teryx, Patagonia, and more.
Based among the awe-inspiring peaks of Crested Butte, Colorado, Morgan Tilton is a Senior Editor for GearJunkie honing the SnowSports Buyer’s Guides alongside warmer coverage. More broadly, she’s an adventure journalist specializing in outdoor industry news and adventure travel stories, which she’s produced for more than a decade and more than 80 publications to date. A recipient of 14 North American Travel Journalists Association awards, when she’s not recovering from high alpine or jungle expeditions she’s usually trail running, mountain biking, or splitboarding in Southwest Colorado, where she grew up and lives today. From resort to backcountry and human-powered to motorized travel, she loves sliding across snow.
Nicole Qualtieri has been writing about hunting, fishing, and the outdoors for 8 years.
From 2014-2017, Nicole worked for ZPZ Productions. There, she partnered with multiple hunting outlets and personalities on social media and e-commerce, including MeatEater, Randy Newberg, and Remi Warren. She also managed online communications for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for nearly two years, and she spent six years prior in Corporate sales. Additionally, she served a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Bridgewater, MA, coordinating volunteers for a therapeutic recreational facility.
Based in Montana, Nicole is an avid hunter and angler. She’s a lifelong horsewoman and animal lover, and she’s recently ventured into the world of bird dogs with her young Boykin Spaniel, Bob.
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