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15 best base layers for men and women this winter ski season

Shop base layer tops and trousers to add extra warmth on cold days and ski holidays this winter

Tamara Hinson
Wednesday 03 January 2024 18:13 GMT
We tested out men’s and women’s base layers that will keep you toasty this winter
We tested out men’s and women’s base layers that will keep you toasty this winter (The Independent )
Our Top Picks

There’s no denying it. The mercury is plummeting and it’s time to think about winter-proofing your wardrobe, and what better place to start than with base layers?

These additional layers are designed to be worn under the outer ones. Our top tip? Take a second to think about whether the garment in question is fit for purpose. Base layer leggings, for example, can be a lifesaver on extremely cold days, but they’re probably not necessary if you’re going to be spending the majority of your ski holiday sipping piste-side pints at your favourite après-ski bar.

You also shouldn’t forget to think about versatility. Hi-tech production techniques and a bigger focus on design have seen a trend for gorgeous base layer tops which can be worn under a jumper or ski jacket, but also look effortlessly stylish worn at home.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be. Not only because the base layers we’ve selected are the best in town, but because we’ve tapped a couple of experts for their top tips when it comes to finding the perfect garment. “The best base layer is a merino wool pullover,” says explorer Levison Wood. “It wicks moisture away from the body, keeping you warm and sweat-free, offering natural temperature regulation and a comfortable experience. It’s also great at resisting odour for days on end.”

Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh is another fan of merino – not just for its ability to regulate temperature but because of its sustainability credentials. “Merino is a lot more expensive, but the performance benefits are so marked that it’s definitely worth the extra investment,” he says. “You’ll also know you’re wearing a totally sustainable and biodegradable fabric, rather than plastic.”

How we tested

A selection of the best base layers that we tested for this review (Tamara Hinson)

As keen skiers and snowboarders (the tester for this particular piece is a former snowboard instructor who’s explored the French Alps with Ski Sunday presenter Graham Bell and who has visited Alaska, the Arctic Circle and Swedish Lapland in recent years), we know what to look for when it comes to that all-important base layer.

We’ve got years of experience in cold weather climes, which is why we’re not only able to guarantee these garments cut the mustard, but to explain why they’re worth your hard-earned cash – whether you’re looking to keep warm on a winter walk in the UK, or require extra insulation for your annual ski trip.

The best base layers for 2024 are:

  • Best base layer overall – 66 North women’s básar Merino wool zipneck: £115, 66north.com
  • Best budget buy – Wedze women’s ski base layer bottoms: £7.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best for breathability – Wedze men’s ski base layer top BL 500: £9.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best for cold weather days at home – Pretty Polly active-wear long sleeve T-shirt: £35, Next.co.uk
  • Best for style – Rab men’s conduit hoody: £53.55, Trekkit.co.uk

66 North women’s básar merino wool zipneck

66north-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: Base layer overall
  • Sizes available: XS–2XL
  • Material: Merino wool
  • Why we love it
    • High neck keeps heat in
    • Brilliant sweat-wicking qualities
  • Take note
    • Expensive

Don’t ask us to name our favourite thing about this fabulously soft base layer top – it’s impossible. Although we’re especially smitten with the super soft merino and the high neck, which allows air to circulate while keeping cold breezes out. It’s also incredibly stylish – this is a top we’d be more than happy to wear at our favourite après-ski bar once we’ve finished carving up the slopes, and it’s a great option to wear at home on colder days. Although it’s designed as a base layer, flat stitching (which reduces the risk of chafing) and brilliant sweat-wicking qualities make it a fantastic top to wear under running jackets, too.

  1. £115 from 66north.com
Prices may vary
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Wedze women's ski base layer bottoms

wedze-women-Indybest-baselayers-review.jpg
  • Best: Budget buy
  • Sizes available: XS–2XL
  • Material: Polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Warm
    • Brilliant breathability
    • Flattering
  • Take note
    • Not the most technical

These leggings are perfect for skiers who don’t want the cold weather to keep them from the slopes. The emphasis is on warmth, rather than sweat-wicking, although they’ve got brilliant breathability and a softness which means this garment won’t chafe or rub. They’re not the most technical of pants, but they do exactly what they say on the tin, and their contoured profile is incredibly flattering, too.

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Keela women’s merino hoodie

Keela-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For comfort
  • Sizes available : 10–16
  • Material: Merino wool
  • Why we love it
    • Plenty of impressive added extras
    • Two pockets
    • Lightweight

This super soft hoodie is packed with added extras which are worth their weight in gold, whether it’s the thumb holes to prevent dreaded sleeve-slippage, or the top quality flatlock stitching – a total gamechanger when it comes to garments worn directly against the skin. Unusually for a base layer, there are two pockets at the hip (perfect for keys but big enough for a small purse), although this doesn’t compromise the lightness of this 100 per cent merino wool hoodie, which has a full-length zip.

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Uyn man evolutyon biotech long shirt

Uynman-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: Men’s base layer top
  • Sizes available: S–XXL
  • Material: Bio-based Natex yarn
  • Why we love it
    • Helps to regulate temperature
    • Perfect for undertaking strenuous activities in the cold
    • Great protection from the elements

A large, V-shaped area of meshed, breathable material means it’s easy to stay cool when wearing this long-sleeved top. It has a loose fit and relies on tiny three-dimensional grooves to create airflow over the skin which, in turn, helps regulate temperature. It’s ideal for anyone undertaking strenuous activity in very cold environments and is made with a bio-based Natex yarn, a material which offers brilliant protection from the elements for prolonged periods of time.

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Patagonia women's capilene midweight crew

patagonia-womens-cap-midweight-crew-synthetic-base-layer-indybest.png
  • Best: For odour control
  • Sizes available: XS–XXL
  • Material: Polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Light
    • Sleeves allow for decent airflow
    • Features odour-control treatment

This top had us at hello, thanks partly to the packaging, made entirely of cardboard. It’s surprisingly light and offers plenty of room to move – the sleeves especially allow for a decent amount of airflow (pet hate is tight, tapered sleeves, which crop up regularly on base layer tops).  The hollow-core yarn kept us warm all day long, and we were grateful for the reassuring presence of an odour-control treatment.

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Fjallraven bergtagen thinwool LS W

best base layer indybest.png
  • Best: For multi-day hikes
  • Sizes available: XXS–XXL
  • Material: Merino wool
  • Why we love it
    • Comfortable
    • Incredibly light

You can’t beat merino wool when it comes to base layers, particularly for high-altitude sports, as it’s warming in cool temperatures but will also help prevent you from overheating when exerting yourself. Merino wool also boasts superior sweat-wicking properties and stays warm when wet, which is essential when exposed to the elements. Fjallraven’s bergtagen thinwool base layer isn’t cheap but it is supremely comfortable and incredibly light, both of which are invaluable qualities when hiking, especially over long distances or multi-day hikes when you may want to throw it in your backpack. We found that this top worked well as a first layer under a fleece and rain jacket, but we also wore it as a pyjama top when camping and it kept us warm and cosy for several nights in a row without smelling.

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Planks Clothing men’s fall-line base layer top

Planks-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For standing out on the slopes
  • Sizes available: S-XL
  • Material: Polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Hi-tech fabric
    • Cool print

This is without doubt one of the coolest base layers we’ve come across, and we’re particularly fond of the top’s logo, which reads “drop cliffs not bombs”. It’s been designed with skiers and snowboarders in mind, but don’t let that limit its use – this is a brilliant all round base layer made with thin, hi-tech fabric which kept us warm and dry all day long. We loved the extra-wide neck, which allowed us to keep our cool while working up a sweat, as well as the elasticated cuffs, designed to keep out snow, wind and rain.

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Wedze men’s ski base layer top BL 500

wedze-men-Indybest-baselayers-review.jpg
  • Best: For breathability
  • Sizes available: XS-2XL
  • Material: Polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Wedze offers free repairs on all clothing
    • Sweat-wicking
    • Breathable

We’ll admit it – we’re prone to sweating (a lot) when working out in cold weather climes, so breathability and sweat-wicking are incredibly important, largely because both aid temperature regulation. Thankfully, this has both in abundance. It’s an incredibly technical top, with extra large areas of breathable material on the back, and it also feels wonderfully tactile, whether it’s the super soft material or the raised Wedze logo on the sleeve. Polyester – more specifically one made with fibres knitted in a way that results in an incredibly lightweight fabric – is the star of the show here, although a shout-out has to go to Wedze’s policy of offering free repairs on all clothing.

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Mountain Warehouse keep the heat women's thermal top

Mountain-warehouse-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: Relaxed fit top
  • Sizes available: 4–28
  • Material: Polyester and acrlyic
  • Why we love it
    • Thinnest base layers
    • Provides great heat retention

This top, which has a gorgeously silky feel, is proof that you don’t need to spend a fortune on top-quality base layers. This is one of the thinnest base layers we tried, but it still provides top notch heat retention, and its loose fit and ultra-wide neck made for brilliant breathability. Acrylic and polyester are the main players here, and although it’s undeniably a fantastic base layer, we also found it a brilliant top to wear on long journeys (especially flights) when we were keen to stay warm but didn’t want to feel bogged down by too many additional layers.

  1. £14 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Acai women’s thermal seamless base layer top

acai-seamless-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For sensitive skin
  • Sizes available: XS–L
  • Material: Polyester and polyamide
  • Why we love it
    • Flattering
    • Minimal chafing
    • Fabric is a great temperature regulator

It might sound odd to describe a top as being perfect for sensitive skin, but we’re sticking to our guns on this one – the seamless design means minimal chafing, and the silky material is, quite simply, a joy to wear. Take the high collar for example, despite their ability to keep out the cold we normally find them irritating, but the softness of the material meant this top’s high neck was the star of the show.

The use of Nilit heat tarn technology – a material made partly with coffee bean shell residue, and which is a brilliant temperature regulator – kept us cool, calm and collected. It’s also incredibly flattering – the fit errs on the tight side, but there’s plenty of support in all the right places.

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Falke women’s long sleeve shirt

Falke-women-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For versatility
  • Sizes available: XS–XL
  • Material: Polyamide and polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Multi-purpose
    • Thermo-regulating
    • Features breathable material on the back
  • Take note
    • Fit runs small

This highly technical base layer top is multi-purpose as we’d be equally happy wearing it as a running top or on long flights. It’s lightweight, sweat-wicking and thermo-regulating, and the tactical combination of polyamide and polyester allows for plenty of freedom of movement, despite the top erring on the tight side (we’re usually a size 14, but needed a 16 in this case). That said, the cut is still incredibly flattering, with a slight flare at the waistline. We were especially appreciative of the large areas of breathable material on the back, which came in especially useful when we were lugging a backpack around.

  1. £38 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Pretty Polly active-wear long sleeve T-shirt

prettypolly-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For cold weather days at home
  • Sizes available: S–XXL
  • Material: Polyamide
  • Why we love it
    • Minimal irritation
    • Brilliant breathability
  • Take note
    • Not the most technical base layer

Pretty Polly might not be known for their technical gear, and this certainly isn’t the most technical base layer we’ve tried, but it still cuts the mustard – it makes a brilliant base layer, but also looks fantastic when worn alone. Soft, woven yarn means minimal irritation, and Pretty Polly has incorporated brilliant breathability not only with a larger neckline but with generous patches of meshed material. Bonus points for sustainability, too – it’s made with 96 per cent polyamide, 74 per cent of which is recycled.

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Rab men's conduit hoody

Rab-conduit-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For style
  • Sizes available: S–XXL
  • Material: Recycled fleece
  • Why we love it
    • Thin enough to be worn under jackets
    • Provides plenty of coverage
  • Take note
    • Sizing runs large

Yes, this hoody really does double as a base layer – and a great one at that. Thin enough to be worn under jackets and thinner jumpers, it’s a hoody which is both lightweight and packed with technical features. Made with 92 per cent recycled fleece, its generous cut (we’re especially pleased to see a longer length at the back) and high neck provide plenty of coverage without compromising on breathability too. We also love the fact that its thinness means the hood can be worn under a helmet, and it was love at first sight when it came to the funky two-tone sleeves.

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Damart women’s thermolactyl long sleeve T-shirt

Damart women’s thermolactyl long sleeve T-shirt indybest.png
  • Best: For versatility
  • Sizes available: S–XL
  • Material: Acrylic and polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Stylish enough to wear day to day
    • Kept us warm on chilly days
  • Take note
    • Not the stretchiest

This long-sleeved base layer is from Damart’s high-performance thermolactyl range, which basically refers to materials which use a combination of technical fibres to trap air, creating an insulating effect. And it works. This top kept us toasty warm on a particularly chilly day and was stylish enough to wear for a quick coffee with friends, too. Polyester and acrylic are the main materials here, and although it’s not the stretchiest of tops, the relaxed fit means this won’t be an issue.

  1. £21 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Planks Clothing women’s chaud base layer top

Plankswomen-Indybest-baselayer-review.jpg
  • Best: For easy adjustability
  • Sizes available: S–XL
  • Material: Polyester
  • Why we love it
    • Suitable for wearing alone
    • Light
    • Soft material

A rarity in the world of thermals, this top from Planks is incredibly stylish. It’s designed as a base layer but is equally suitable for wearing alone, and is especially ideal for skiers and snowboarders – the three-quarter length zip was easy to grab with gloved hands. It’s made mainly with polyester and is both light and soft, and we loved the ultra-relaxed fit, which is flattering on all body types. And finally, what’s not to love about the fab giraffe print?

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The verdict: Base layers

We thought 66 North’s women’s básar merino wool zip neck is hard to beat, not just because of the ultra-soft merino wool but the abundance of simple but invaluable features (and ones which manufacturers often leave out) such as the flat stitching and high neck. Planks Clothing’s men’s fall-line base layer top offers undeniable proof that technical base layers can be things of beauty, too, while Wedze’s men’s ski base layer top offers unbeatable sweat-wicking and breathability.

Looking for more winter essentials? Check out our review of the best women’s snow boots and the best ski helmets

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