How to Choose the Best & Warmest Base Layers for Cold Weather

Rilor Staff
Update: July 26, 2021
Table of Contents

If you want to have a comfortable and safe outdoor adventure, you need to know about the correct layering. Specifically, we are talking about your clothing here. The right set of clothes can help you counteract the weather, temperature, and other external elements that you'll encounter during your trip. 

Of course, layering starts in learning how to choose base layers properly. After all, your overall comfort is quite dependent on how your skin feels. If the fabric that is in contact with your skin is irritating, you'll never experience convenience. Furthermore, your safety might get compromised.

In choosing the base layers, you should take the following factors into consideration.

How To Choose Base Layers

In picking a base layer for your intended activity, there are certain things that should influence your decision. They are the following:

Fabrics And Materials

Essentially, if a garment or clothing is tailored to be a base layer, you can expect that it has a moisture-wicking construction. Basically, what you want from a base layer is the ability to manage your sweat and help regulate your body temperature. 

If you aren't that specific or keen when it comes to the type of fabric, then you might want to consider the following options:

Synthetic Fabric 

Synthetics are the typical options when it comes to undergarments and base layers. Polyester is a popular example, but you can also get other types such as rayon, polypropylene, nylon, or a combination of these materials. If the synthetic material integrates spandex, you can expect that the garment becomes stretchable and extra comfortable. It is also snugly but doesn't feel too tight.

Generally, synthetic fabrics are excellent when it comes to wicking perspiration. Hence, they can keep you dry most of the time. Moreover, they are durable too. Among all the base layer materials, synthetics are considered to be the toughest. But this doesn't mean that the said material is impervious to damage. 

It is also observed that some synthetics have special treatments so that they won't retain odor on their surface. In short, you will never get stinky. If you are expecting a multi-day trip, such a trait is quite beneficial. 


One of the notable qualities of silk is its extreme suppleness. Therefore, it is a decent option for a base layer, especially if your activity isn't that rigorous. It works well on light and leisure adventures. 

Silk does a decent job in wicking moisture and sweat. But if you get too sweaty, it will not hold off. Even those that have special treatments may still perform similarly to their synthetic counterparts. Since silk is soft, it is easy to wear, making it a convenient choice for a base layer. But at the same time, its durability is not that great. 

Moreover, keep in mind that silk doesn't negate foul smells. After you use them, make sure that you launder them properly. 

Merino Wool

Merino wool is not your typical wool. Instead, it is an upgraded version. It is notably superior when it comes to softness, thanks to its highly fine fibers. Moreover, it is compatible with other materials such as spandex, making it more fit and flexible.

Since it is still wool, you can guarantee that it can wick sweat and moisture. Specifically, the water is retained on its core. But at the same time, it will not make you chilly. Keep in mind, though, that it doesn't feel dry as compared to synthetics. Furthermore, it has a long drying time, too. 

Merino wool is durable, too. But it doesn't last long, especially if you wear it all the time. The constant wear-and-tear can easily weaken the fibers of the wool. If you want a rugged layer made from wool, you should go with those options that have synthetic blends. 

You will love Merino wool if you don't like to stink on your outdoor trip. This material features impeccable resistance against bacteria that generate odor, which means that you'll never get smelly while wearing it.

Weight Of The Base Layer

You are free to ignore this aspect, especially if you have no problem wearing garments that are too light or too soft. But keep in mind that certain outdoor applications will require you to be specific to the weight of your base layers. 

Heavy clothing suggests that it is tailored from durable and thick material. This piece of garment offers sufficient insulation, making it ideal for cold-weather adventures. During hot days, a thick and heavy base layer will make things uncomfortable on your end. If you are into winter camping and alpine hiking, you have no other choice but to wear heavy base layers for added warmth-retention. 

However, you should always keep in mind that the primary function of your base layer is to manage your sweat and moisture. While it is true that these base layers can add warmth, insulation doesn't really come from them. Instead, your body heat is mostly kept by the middle layer. 


It is important for your base layer to be able to wick off moisture and sweat as efficiently as possible. Therefore, there's a need for these base layers to have direct contact with your skin. If they are loose, they will not be able to do their job.  

Your objective here is to be able to find a base layer that has a snug fit. Keep in mind that a snugly fit doesn't mean that it is too tight. The latter restricts your movement and even inhibits the layer's ability to absorb your sweat. 

I suggest that you try the garment first to see if it is the right fit for you. If not, then you should move to your next option. There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to these outdoor clothing. Hence, you should always check the sizing charts and try on the garments. 

In Summary

It is crucial that you know how to pick base layers for your outdoor activities. These base layers are essential in optimizing your comfort and safety while you are on the move. The quality, construction, and fit of these garments will dictate your overall convenience every time you wear them. Therefore, you should take your time when picking one. 

That's it for now. If you have other inquiries, feel free to ask me in the comment section below.

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