If you’re off to the slopes, you’re going to need layers to keep you warm on the mountain. A base layer goes next to the skin so it needs to be soft and breathable and also should be able to wick-away moisture – skiing or boarding are aerobic sports, so expect to work up a sweat.
However effective your base layer is, it’s inevitable that things could get a bit damp, from both snow and perspiration (if like us you’re prone to wipe outs, you will definitely get some white stuff down you’re back), so it also needs to be quick-drying and odour resistant so it doesn’t start to stink if you have to wear it on multiple days.
Merino wool is favoured by lots of brands for having just these qualities and tops come in different weights depending on the sort of temperatures you will be facing. Some add synthetic fibres into the mix, which can bring the price down, but these ones might start to whiff a bit earlier than their woollen counterparts – though admittedly that probably won’t make a huge difference if you’re just going to the Alps for a week.
While all of these are designed for skiing and boarding, some will work just as well for the likes of hiking and cycling in the UK when it gets really chilly. We tried and tested a range on the piste and also took recommendations from ski experts.
1. Montane Women’s Primino Long Sleeve T-shirt: £55, Cotswold Outdoor
It might not sound like it, but Montane is a British brand that makes hard-wearing, hard-working gear for extreme conditions. For faff-free layering, we like this lightweight long-sleeved tee. It’s a merino, primaloft and polyester mix so is sweat-wicking and quick-drying. We’ve found Montane pieces to be seriously comfortable on the slopes and crucially don’t ride up when your tackling the moguls or powering through powder. Choose from grey or green and these come in sizes 8-16. If you’re going to be in really cold temperatures, this comes in a thicker version, too.
2. Zakti Levitate Merino Baselayer: £30, Zakti
From the Mountain Warehouse stable, Zakti is the specialist women’s brand and its pieces are great value if you’re skiing on a budget. This one is a merino-polyester mix, so it won’t quite stand up to scrutiny in the pong test if you wear it on multiple days, but it’s warm and the ruching means that it’s more flattering then some out there. It comes in an impressive range of sizes too: 4-18.
3. Icebreaker Vertex Long Sleeve Turtleneck Fairisle: £100, Icebreaker
New Zealand-based Icebreaker has been championing the use of its native merino wool for more than 20 years and its tops are some of the best in the business. If you’re skiing in low temperatures, this one will work as a really warm base layer. It’s made from thicker-than-average merino and the low turtleneck helps keep out the wind chill, while not poking out from your jacket. Like all merino, it’s cosy but breathable and shouldn’t start to smell, even if you have to wear it a couple of days in a row. The jazzy pattern means you could get away with wearing this one for après too. If you don’t want to spend this much, look out for Icebreaker’s good-value basics range.
4. Sherpa Dikila Zip Tee: £50, Sherpa Adventure Gear
For gear you can wear all-year-round, we found the Dikila works just as well for skiing as it does for outdoorsy stuff over here. Not as tight-fitting as some on the list, it’s made of a super-comfy, moisture-wicking material. The polyester-nylon mix means it dries quickly and the half zip lets you get a bit of air in if you get too hot spring skiing. The material is UPF 50, so will protect you from the sun if you wear it in the summer, too. Perhaps not one for in minus 15-type temperatures, but it has fast become one of our favourite base-layers.
5. Snow Finel Lightweight Merino Wool Jumper: £85, Snow Finel
British brand Snow Finel is a newcomer to the base layer game, but we’re impressed with its flattering take on skiwear. It’s the little details that stand out: the neon zip and snowflake embroidery on the front and back, and the fine merino wool that’s soft against the skin. This is another one that looks decent enough to wear to après. They come in charcoal or navy and there are four different zip colours to choose from. There are matching merino leggings with the sort of wide waistband you can imagine some people showing off in the bar. There is also a cashmere-mix version that works as a mid-layer.
6. Helly Hansen Warm Flow High Neck Half Zip: £70, Cotswold Outdoor
In our opinion, Helly Hansen makes some of the best quality, long-lasting gear out there (we’ve had a version of its Dry Original with the trademark stripe along the sleeve for the last decade). It’s made from 100 per cent merino wool so it’s really warm and Helly says these wick-away moisture quicker than other brands on the market. We can’t guarantee that, but after a three-resort day in the Alps, ours dried impressively speedily. These are designed to be tight-fitting and close to the skin, but some people like to go up a size. This season these come in three colours, including our favourite, the bright blue.
7. Sweaty Betty Scandi Ski Seamless Long Sleeve Top: £60, Sweaty Betty
We love Sweaty Betty’s range of skiwear that really stands out in the style stakes. This Nordic-inspired one is really warm and breathable, and wicks-away moisture effectively. It’s more flattering than some and it genuinely is one that looks decent in the chalet or out on the town if you don’t have time to go back to base and change. Our only gripe is the threads on the reverse side – they catch easily so be careful when taking it on and off. If you don’t like this design, there are other statement tops in the collection, as well as matching bottoms.
8. Kari Traa Rose Half Zip Top: £85, Cotswold Outdoor
We were recommended the former Olympic freestyle skier’s range by a guide in Chamonix last season. She told us that she needed warm, flexible tops that would dry quickly and not get smelly when she was taking groups out on multiple-day touring trips. She said she had tried loads and these patterned merino tops won hands down, as well as looking jazzier than your average base-layer when you shed a layer. At the time, they weren’t stocked in the UK, but you can now buy them on Cotswold Outdoor. This half-zip style comes in four colours.
9. Rab Flux Pull-On: £45, Cotswold Outdoor
In the Lake District recently, practically every other person we saw was wearing an item of Rab down jacket. The Sheffield-company also makes some super-useful other pieces, like this soft base layer. It’s really comfortable against the skin and it is slim-fitting, but you could fit a tighter thermal layer underneath for the days on the hill when the wind-chill really bites. The zip means you’ve got ventilation options if you work up a sweat, and while this might not be quite as effective as staving away odours as some of the merino options on the list, it’ll still keep you fresh for a day on the piste at least. We’d wear this for cycling and walking in the UK too.
10. Protest Barby Thermal Top: £32.99, Surf Dome
Another good-value thermal option, this one might not have the technical fabrics of some of its pricier counterparts but it’s really flexible, breathable and still quick-drying and the monochrome panels keep things looking stylish. Comes in sizes 8-14.
The Verdict: Base layers for women
For a fairly priced, quality long-sleeved merino-mix tee, we like Montane’s long-sleeved Primino top. The lightweight version will serve you well for cold-weather activities in the UK too. For warmth and a bit of a pattern to show off at après, try Kari Traa or Ice Breaker’s offerings.
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