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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Icebreaker Men’s Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe Top
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.
Helly Hansen Men’s HH Warm Ice Base Layer Long Sleeve Crew
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.
The North Face Warm L/S Zip Neck Men’s Long Underwear Top
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.
Arcteryx RHO AR Zip Neck
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.
Minus33 Merino Wool Men’s Isolation Mid-Weight 1/4 Zip
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.
Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Zip T
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.
ColdPruf Men’s Basic Dual Layer Crew Neck Base Layer Top
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.
Men’s Compression Long Sleeve Running Fitness Workout Base Layer Shirt
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.
Patagonia Capilene Mid-Weight Crew
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.
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.
Do you already own one of the products we’ve reviewed here? What are your thoughts so far? Let us know in the comments.