MEN'S CLOTHING

Best Base Layer for Men: Stay Warm, Keep Dry and Go Harder

Man resting after run
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

If you’re an active gentleman, you should know that before embarking on any activity that exposes you to the elements, whether that’s rain, hail or shine, it pays to invest in a great base layer. Furthermore, to get the most for your hard-earned cash, that should be the best base layer for men available.

In a nutshell, the main purpose of a base layer is to regulate your body temperature which in turn will keep you warm, comfortable and dry in a way that any old shirt won’t; it needs to provide exceptional insulation as well as a high level of breathability and moisture control.

Buttoned base layer

However, with so many manufacturers offering a huge range of products that claim to deliver all kinds of wonderful results, it can be hard to figure out which base layer is the right one for you. To make the search for your ideal base layer a little easier, we’ve put together this guide on what’s important, what to look out for and reviewed the top ten products available for purchase right now.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A BASE LAYER

Why is a base layer so important? Well, in some conditions, it could save your life. We’ve detailed below the important functions a high-quality base layer should have to keep you protected against the elements, and what you should look out for.

Moisture Wicking

One of the most important functions that a base layer should have is the ability to absorb sweat from your skin, which will then allow it to evaporate quickly, keeping you dry. Base layers are able to wick away moisture from your skin as you sweat because they are designed to sit close to your skin.

Base layer keeping me warm

The fabrics that are used in their construction will have moisture absorbent or resistant properties. The risk of not controlling moisture levels during periods of high exertion is that when wet your body will cool down too fast which can result in illness, particularly in very cold conditions.

Odor Resistant

During any strenuous activity, whether that’s running a marathon, cycling or skiing, it’s inevitable that you will sweat and that results in body odor. Any high-quality base layer garment will incorporate an odor resistant treatment or fabric for hygiene, comfort and so you can wear the product all day, or for several consecutive days if necessary.

Warmth

Another very important function of a base layer is to keep you warm. A base layer is an essential if you partake in any activities that expose you to low temperatures such as skiing, snowboarding or hiking in the winter.

It is also important for activities carried out in warmer weather due to the sudden drop in body temperature when you cease strenuous activity, especially after sweating excessively. The most common way that a base layer will provide warmth is through the use of multiple layers which work to trap air within the garment, aiding insulation.

Comfort & Fit

Besides keeping you dry, warm and smelling fresh, the perfect base layer should fit you like a glove. Most base layers are supposed to fit tightly to deliver optimum results when it comes to moisture wicking and warmth, and have been designed in line with this when it comes to sizing, so if you choose your normal dress size then you will be on the right track.

Working out in base layer

In addition, when taking part in any type of physical activity the last thing you need is to hinder your performance with discomfort from chafing or restrictive materials, so look out for products which reduce chafing in the construction and are made of flexible fabrics.

THE MATERIALS USED & HOW THEY WORK

For maximum performance, a base layer constructed with suitable materials is key. We’ve listed the most commonly used fabrics below to provide a basic understanding of the benefits and functions behind them.

  • Merino Wool excels at regulating body temperature by absorbing excess heat when you’re getting too hot and retaining heat when you’re getting too cold, even when wet. It is also great at eradicating odor due to its antibacterial properties and is naturally resistant to UV rays. Merino wool products will normally be more expensive than those made with synthetics, but with good reason.
  • Polypropylene is a fabric which you will see pop up in a number of product descriptions, and is used mainly in thermal products, due to it’s ability to trap air within the garment, delivering further insulation and warmth. In addition, it’s durable and works well to wick away moisture.
  • Polyester, or polyester blends are popular choices for base layers, as polyester is exceptionally hard-wearing and flexible. It is also light-weight, performs well when it comes to moisture wicking and is fast drying. As they are not naturally odor-resistant, polyester made products will normally have an odor resisting treatment applied to them.
  • Bamboo is a relatively new material used in base layers, and as such is not widely available yet. It is normally combined with polyester, cotton or merino wool rather than used on its own. It also has anti-bacterial properties and is an environmentally friendly product, plus it is fast drying and durable.

A BASE LAYER FOR EVERY SEASON

Contrary to popular belief, base layers aren’t just for cold weather. However, some are designed specifically for warmer weather, so if you’re active all year round, it may be worth investing in a couple of different base layers to suit the seasons.

  • Summer The main purpose of a base layer designed for summer use is to battle perspiration; they work wonders to reduce the build-up of sweat. For additional comfort in hot weather they will be made of a thin, light-weight material or mesh and will be sleeveless or short-sleeved.
  • Fall & Spring Products designed for use in spring are suitable for use in the fall, and vice versa. They usually offer a lower level of insulation and warmth compared to a winter base layer, are thicker than a summer layer and have short sleeves like those of a T-shirt.
  • Winter Almost always designed with long sleeves and multi-layers to trap warm air, winter base layers have one main focus; to keep you toasty warm. They will also absorb moisture because even when it’s cold you will sweat, plus thumb loop holes to prevent your sleeves rolling up and collars to provide additional warmth.

Now that you’re aware of the various kinds of base layers there are on the market, here are just a few of the top rated products.

Pick Your Base Layer

Rab Merino+ 160 LS Zip Top

Rab Merino+ 160 LS ZipBEST FOR: An intuitive base layer that responds to changes in conditions and is ideal for all weather.

SIZES: XS, S, M, L, XL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 65% merino wool, 35% polyester, mid-weight Merino+ fabric (superfine merino and polyester with 37.5 technology), single jersey fabric construction, deep venting YKK chest zip, chin guard, close fitting stand up collar, flatlock low bulk seams

DESCRIPTION: The Rab Merino+ will guarantee comfort all day. It incorporates a mid-weight base layer that delivers warmth and resistance to odor plus the inclusion of fast drying technology which makes it the ideal choice for all-day action, no matter the conditions.

The product’s fabric is a blend of polyester which makes increases durability and merino which works to keep your body temperature comfortably regulated in response to changing exertion and temperature levels.

This is further supercharged by the addition of Cocona 37.5 technology; activated carbon built into the fabric. This increases the surface area of the thread, resulting in sweat being spread evenly across the fabric which speeds up evaporation and therefore, drying.

Check the price on Amazon

Icebreaker Men’s Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe Top

Icebreaker Mens Oasis Long SleeveBEST FOR: Highly odor-resistant and can be worn for several consecutive days, in cold to very cold weather conditions.

SIZES: S, M, L, XL, XXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% Merino Wool, light-weight, drop-tail hem, anti-chafe flat-lock stitching seams, slim fit, crew neck

DESCRIPTION: The Icebreaker Men’s Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe Top prides itself on its versatility and the high level of comfort it offers. Its 100% merino wool construction regulates your temperature, eradicates odor and allows maximum breathability. Furthermore, this base layer is light-weight, flexible and boasts an extended hem for extra coverage.

The pain and discomfort of chafing is avoided by the shoulder seams being designed to sit off the shoulder, and the other seams in the garment which are engineered specially to reduce chafing, ensuring that you can go hard all day enjoying maximum comfort.

Check the price on Amazon

Helly Hansen Men’s HH Warm Ice Base Layer Long Sleeve Crew

Helly Hansen Mens HHBEST FOR: Will keep you extra warm in very low temperatures.

SIZES: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% merino wool, non-itch, LIFA technology, low-bulk cuffs, flat-lock stitching, limited lifetime warranty

DESCRIPTION: Helly Hansen calls this product ‘the best wool base layer on the market’ and with good reason too. At the center of its 3-Layer System it boasts the ground-breaking LIFA Stay Dry and the LIFA T3 hollow fiber technology which absorbs 40 times less moisture than a standard polyester based material, keeping you dry for longer.

The merino wool exterior combined with a polypropylene lining delivers exceptional insulation and further prevents moisture build-up. It’s low-bulk cuffs and flat stitching in combination with the crew neck makes this a casual and stylish product that can be worn as either a base layer or outwear.

Check the price on Amazon

The North Face Warm L/S Zip Neck Men’s Long Underwear Top

The North Face Warm LS ZipBEST FOR: High levels of activity in cold and very cold temperatures.

SIZES: S, L

SPECIFIC FEATURES: FlashDry eco technology, anti-odor, high-mechanical stretch double knit, next-to-skin fit, mock neck

DESCRIPTION: This product is a light-weight and durable base layer and is the ideal choice for your winter activities. It is flexible due to its stretch ‘second skin’ fit which allows for ease of movement, essential when you are carrying out any strenuous activity.

Perfect for long, cold days on the slopes, it is engineered to keep moisture at bay due to the integration of FlashDry technology; keeping you dry and warm in the harshest of conditions. This base layer also features a zip neck which is made from a recycled polyester blend, flat-lock seams to avoid chafing and anti-odor technology.

Check the price on Amazon

Arcteryx RHO AR Zip Neck

Arcteryx RHO AR Zip NeckBEST FOR: A breathable base layer which is better suited to slower paced activities, in moderate to cold conditions.

SIZES: S, M, L, XL, XXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% polyester, mid-weight fabric, trim close-to-body fit, flatlock construction, zip neck, single laminated chest pocket, Polartec® Power Stretch® technology

DESCRIPTION: The Arcteryx RHO AR Zip Neck is constructed with the Polartec® Power Stretch® technology which enhances flexibility and stretch while also wicking away moisture to keep you dry. Its versatile due to its mid-layering design which delivers appropriate support no matter the weather conditions, from cycling in the hot sun to hiking at sub-zero temperatures.

It’s close-to-body fit increases insulation and further fights moisture build-up. It features a zip neck which opens up to allow for faster body temperature regulation when needed, and is super comfortable due to its plush interior layer.

Check the price on Amazon

Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Isolation Mid-Weight 1/4 Zip

Minus33 Merino Wool Mens IsolationBEST FOR: A versatile product that works well as an outer layer in mild temperatures, yet keeps you warm as a base layer in cold weather.

SIZES: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% merino wool, interlock knit construction, mock neck and 1/4 zip, flat lock seams, tag-less, machine washable and machine dryable

DESCRIPTION: Made from 100% merino wool, this mid-weight base layer from Minus33 is designed to be worn as either a mid or base layer, or can even be worn alone if weather conditions allow, making it a versatile choice whether you need to keep warm on the mountain or just need something to throw on in a cool breeze.

It benefits from all the qualities that the light-weight model has, but with improved insulation. The ¼ zipper allows for additional ventilation when zipped down and creating a mock neck when zipped up. The mock neck serves up additional warmth without the bulk.

Furthermore, enjoy extra comfort and longevity due to the incorporation of flat lock seams in this product. In terms of fit, the style is slightly baggy so if you prefer a garment that is of a tighter fit, try a size smaller than you would normally wear.

Check the price on Amazon

Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Zip T

Smartwool Mens NTS Mid 250BEST FOR: All activities in cold to moderate yet sunny conditions, due to its UPF 50+ protection.

SIZES: S, M, L

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% merino wool, shoulder panels, interlock knit, center front zipper, flatlock seam construction, UPF 50+ protection

DESCRIPTION: This base layer feature a modern design that works with the contours of your body. Sun protection is provided because of its integrated UPF 50+ protection which shields harmful rays. A versatile product that can be used as a base layer in low temperatures or on its own in milder temperatures.

The Smartwool NTS also benefits from a refined and long-lasting flat lock seam and panels on the shoulders rather than seams, both of which eradicate chafing and improve comfort. Constructed with 100% merino wool, this product delivers optimum warmth and guarantees the ultimate in moisture regulation and odor control.

Check the price on Amazon

ColdPruf Men’s Basic Dual Layer Crew Neck Base Layer Top

ColdPruf Mens Basic Dual LayerBEST FOR: Low to medium exertion activities in cold to very cold weather.

SIZES: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 60% combed ring spun cotton, 40% polyester, Thermachoice System, flat seam, extended tail, tagless, true sizing for accurate fit

DESCRIPTION: Designed for cold weather conditions and slower paced activities, this product features the Thermachoice System that traps air between the fabric’s layers and delivers a natural interior shield to keep out the elements and provide reliable warmth.

Made with extra soft combed ring spun cotton and a polyester blend, the ColdPruf Men’s Basic Dual Layer Crew Neck Base Layer Top is durable and offers a superior level of comfort. Furthermore, say goodbye to chafing due to its flat lock seams, tagless design and extended tail.

Check the price on Amazon

Men’s Compression Long Sleeve Running Fitness Workout Base Layer Shirt

Mens Compression Long Sleeve RunningBEST FOR: Indoor activities such as gym workouts or indoor cycling.

SIZES: S, M, L, XL, XXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% polyester, light-weight, fun superhero designs, tight yet flexible fit, fast drying, anti-fade

DESCRIPTION: This quirky base layer comes in a range of superhero designs, for the playful among us. It’s the ideal choice for indoor cycling or for gym use, but not suitable for extreme sports which expose you to the harsh weather.

It’s made from 100% polyester for hard-wearing durability which also wicks away moisture, keeping you dry and ensuring that your body temperature is at a comfortable level. It’s advertised as a tight fit and sizes are slightly smaller than US or European sizes, so your best bet is to purchase a size or two larger than your normal size if you are planning to purchase this product.

Check the price on Amazon

Patagonia Capilene Mid-Weight Crew

Patagonia Capilene Mid-Weight CrewBEST FOR: Activities in cool to moderate temperatures and can be worn easily as an outer layer.

SIZES: S, L, XL, XXL

SPECIFIC FEATURES: 100% Polyester, Polartec® power and brushed grid fabric, rib-knit with internal neck tape, locker loop, elastic thumb loops

DESCRIPTION: Delivering the perfect balance of breathability and weight, the Capilene® mid-weight fabric that this garment is made from allows it to be worn as a base layer or on its own. Furthermore, the fabric has a smooth exterior surface which allows for comfortable layering.

The Patagonia Capilene Mid-Weight Crew guarantees optimum dryness due to its moisture wicking properties and superior insulation in cool to mild conditions. Comfort is further enhanced by the flat lock seams and rib-knit collar; both of which eliminate chafing and an extended tail for extra coverage.

There is no need to worry about bad smells either as this product has also been treated with Polygiene® odor control treatment. In addition, this base layer also features underarm gussets for extra stretch and flexibility and thumb loops to secure the sleeves to your hands.

Check the price on Amazon

Final Thoughts

And so concludes our reviews of the best base layers out there. We hope that you now have all the information you need under your belt to purchase a new base layer that will last you the long haul, delivering everything you need for top performance from superior moisture control to optimum insulation.

Compression base layer

Do you already own one of the products we’ve reviewed here? What are your thoughts so far? Let us know in the comments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Kenneth Wong

    For me, the form fitting options are definitely the way to go. Moisture wick capabilities are also essential. I own a variety of base layer options, and I have to say that Merino Wool is worth the investment every time. I’ve been using the sames few shirts regardless of season, but I might have to looking into differentiating what I wear to reflect the season I am in.

  • Mark Foster

    True. Merino Wool is still everyone’s favorite and preference. Nothing quite cuts it like this material, although there are a lot more choices today.

  • Josephine Charles

    My husband swears by Helly Hansen. I have to agree, I’ve tried some of their stuff and it’s pretty awesome. It fits really snug, just like it’s supposed to, and it keeps him warm when he decides to run outside in the cold-something I certainly don’t do! And he said it has some excellent wicking. I know I’ve mentioned before, being wet and sticky and sweaty it something I can’t handle. I can’t recommend a wicking shirt enough and this is one of the better ones out there.

  • Tyler LeBlanc

    I have the Icebreaker. It’s pretty nice as base layers go. I haven’t had any problems. Keeps my warm but not overly hot. Just enough warmth to keep me going when I’m out and about. I do have to agree with Kenneth, though, I have quite a stack of Merino is my closet. It’s tough to find a trusted brand and then want to try something else. Stick with what works! Either one of these options is valid.

  • Mark Foster

    This is 100% merino wool and all I can say is this is one fine base layer! I prefer this material over the others since it’s not scratchy/itchy and provides warmth even in freezing temperature. This is great value for your money and I’m pleased to know that your hubby loves it!
    The LIFA technology is worth mentioning since it does a great job of keeping the user dry for longer periods of time. We men do sweat a lot and an excellent wicking feature is very much appreciated.
    I’m glad it passed YOUR standard Josephine! 🙂

  • Mark Foster

    If you’re using this for freezing temps, the merino wool will do the job well. As I’ve said it’s one of my favorite in keeping me warm and has UV-resistant features, too.

    There are different layering clothing for every kind of season, not just for the winter. So, choose one that really fits your needs.

    Don’t be afraid to try out other materials as well – bamboo is one up and coming innovation worth looking out for.

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