You have to agree with us that it doesn’t matter if you despise the winter because you feel so cold, or you adore it because of all the activities snow and ice can offer, since in both cases you will have to put some high-quality thermal insulation on yourself. But, you also have to agree that the old way of putting a plenty of layers to reach the desired amount of warmth is no longer needed because today’s best cold weather clothing provides plenty of warmth as just a single or sometimes double layer of cloth.
For you, this means less weight carried and a greater freedom of movement, right? Base layer garments are some of the most demanding apparel and many innovations in the textile industry are first applied to these. Owing to that, the base layer tops, and sometimes bottoms, can be particularly pricy, but people still look for them praising the great abilities of the base layer fabrics in retaining warmth, repelling any moisture, repelling odors, feeling great on the skin and being quite light weight.
This article will take a look at some of the best cold weather clothing of the moment, as well as other key features that you should look for before buying. We plan on guiding you through the items and their features to help you make a better choice when buying clothes on this winter season.
Our Top Picks
|Product Name||Materials||Fit||Special Features||Price|
|Smartwool 250 Zip T||100% Merino Wool||Form fitting||Shoulder panels which eliminate top shoulder seams, center front zipper 10 inch – interlock fit, anti-chafing flatlock seam construction, shoulder panels, seams do not go over your shoulders.||Check price on Amazon|
|The North Face CK28||100% Synthetic high-mechanical stretch double knit||Next-to-skin fit||Mock neck, flatlock seams, front half-zip, anti-odor property, flash-dry eco technology, left chest TNF logo.||Check price on Amazon|
|Arcteryx RHO AR||100% Polyester||Next-to-skin flatlock construction||Center half zip, laminated zip pocket on the left chest, moisture-wicking property, tall warm collar.||Check price on Amazon|
|Icebreaker 100476||200g/m2 Merino Wool||Body-fit||Anti-chafe seams, drop-tail hem, naturally lightweight and breathable, offset shoulder seams||Check price on Amazon|
|Patagonia Capilene||100% Polyester||Loose fit||Rib-knit crew at collar with internal neck tape for comfort, elastic thumb loops to keep hands in sleeves fully, hang drying locker loops, offset shoulder streams.||Check price on Amazon|
|ColdPruf Platinum||100% Polyester in base. 70% Polyester and 30% Merino Wool in Face||Form fitting||Thermachoice cold weather control, ring spun yarns, odor-repellent cold-pruf technical fiber polyester with SILVADUR intelligent freshness.||Check price on Amazon|
|Carhartt 100640||100% Cotton||Form fitting||Moisture-wicking fabric, elastic waistband with the logo, reinforced stitching, rib-knit cuffs.||Check price on Amazon|
|Coldpruf Platinum||Inside 100% Performance Polyester. Outside 70% Polyester, 30% Merino Wool||Form fitting||Comfort logo waistband and gussets, thermachoice dual layer system for retaining heat in very cold and moderately cold climates, ring spun yarns, cold-pruf technical fiber polyester featuring SILVADUR intelligent freshness.||Check price on Amazon|
Features to Consider Before Buying
If you know your needs you should learn more about features, materials and other considerations, which define an appropriate winter base layer.
Base cold weather clothing uses materials with high insulation property. Speaking of natural materials, an absolute leading fabric in winter insulation, clothing is merino wool. Merino is the breed of sheep known for its top quality wool and is commonly found in top tier cold weather garments of any type.
Speaking of winter base layer, there is another reason for merino wool besides warmth – its moisture-wicking property. Both are achieved thanks to tiny pockets in the structure of every wool hair, and the fabric knit used for winter clothing, emphasizes that property.
The greatest advantage of Merino wool is its temperature flexibility. Merino sheep origins from subtropical mountains where huge temperature changes within 24 hours are common in winter and the wool keeps animals equally comfortable at 0F as well as 50F. Merino wool is a great UV shield, too, which is a must on the highest mountains, where it is often sunny and where UV exposure is higher than elsewhere.
Other good properties of merino include soft feeling on the skin and antibacterial protection. However, it is one of the most expensive materials and requires special maintenance – it is often not good for machine washing or can only be washed in cold water.
Synthetic material used in cold weather clothing is most commonly polyester. Polyester fabrics are not as good in extreme cold as merino wool, but it is still great at temperatures not falling below 15F. There are many ski resorts where temperatures usually don’t go much below, so unless you need to go skiing or backpacking far north you will prefer polyester.
Thread and knitting technology behind the latest poly fabrics have thermal properties very similar to those found in merino wool, while its superb moisture-wicking ability is further improved. Synthetic base layer garments are usually cheaper than wool, and are somewhat lighter. These new fabrics also provide you with the ability to machine wash and generally may last longer than wool.
Lack of antibacterial and UV property contained in wool can be reached by special chemical solutions, in which fabrics and threads are dipped. These coatings will not last particularly long and some manufacturers seek resort in blending polyester with merino. These blends combine the advantages of both materials, but add significantly to the end product’s price.
Polyester-wool blends are also found in double-layer clothing which aims to provide extra warmth through trapping the air between the layers to make a shield against the cold. In these cases, it is usually the outer layer which is made of the blend, while the inner layer is the finest polyester fabric which feels very smooth and comfortable on the skin.
Other materials found in base layers include Lycra, cotton, and bamboo. Cotton is usually found in summer base layer garments, but rarely in winter ones owing to its high tendency to collect moisture. Despite being another material made from natural sources, bamboo fabric is a novelty surpasses both merino and polyester materials.
Since it’s quite new and not fully standardized as an apparel technology, quality of bamboo extract fabrics, vary greatly among brands and buying it is quite risky. This is why we will not review any bamboo clothing, for now, focusing instead on polyester and wool products.
Winter base layers provide insulation through tight contact with the skin surface, and that is why most of these are slim-fitting or next-to-skin tight. The idea is to take advantage from micro chambers of the heat created within the fabric. Any additional layers, being it ski clothing, hoodie or parka is there just to secure some additional insulation. Modern base layers will spare you the need to put excess clothing on yourself in order to reach warmth and dryness.
Next-to-skin construction is found in clothing for the very cold weather. In a double-layered shirt, the inner layer is next-to-skin, while the outer, is slim-fitting, but loosely. Single-layer slim-fit garments which look loose are also widely found, and these can be good even if worn alone in spring or autumn. Tighter models usually have collars, while the latter don’t which makes them very good for casual wearing.
Half-zip is found in some base layers – usually very warm ones, and the purpose is to allow you some additional ventilation when you feel overheated. Most half-zipper models also feature a collar.
UV protection, moisture-wicking, and antibacterial screens are found in some polyester clothing. Merino wool possesses these properties naturally.
Pockets – there is sometimes a single pocket, which is used for the most basic needs. The majority of base layers, don’t feature any pockets, especially those for the harshest of winter conditions, they’re never worn alone.
Thumb loops are found in some models on the sleeve ends. It helps you to get your hands inside a sleeve when they’re too cold and are a great aid in dressing and undressing. A great feature, which is less common than it, should be.
Bottom Base Layer
While protection of the torso is crucial, having your legs warm is very important, too. If your legs feel cold your body will react, sending more blood to that part of the body at the expense of your upper body. You will first notice it as cold fingers. If legs are cold there is simply not enough blood in you to heat up the entire body.
The good news is, that legs are much more resistant to cold. Thanks to this, cotton base layer bottoms are common, though some other models use the same advanced insulation materials used in the tops.
Top Product Reviews
Even though you might know what you want, you have read the features above and understand what to look for, you might be wondering which brand or which clothing to buy. That’s why we came of with a lost of the top fabric reviews, to help you out picking which one you prefer.
Price: $75 – $250
Material: 100% merino wool
Shape: Form fitting
Sizes: Small to XXL
Colors: Black, taupe heather, olive heather, charcoal heather, dark blue steel heather, light gray heather, deep navy, moab rust heather
Specific features: Shoulder panels eliminate top shoulder seams, center front zipper 10 inch – interlock fit, anti-chafing flatlock seam construction, shoulder panels, seams do not go over your shoulders.
Best use: All snow activities.
Description: If you agree that there is no compromise towards both warmth and comfort, you go with Smartwool 250 Zip T Baselayer.
A big plus of this shirt is the center front zipper. Prolonged activities will cause overheating even if the temperatures are very low, so the option to adjust ventilation and breathability of a base layer is great. Overall, this is a premium cold weather clothing with a premium price, but every penny you invest in it will be rewarded.
Most reviewers consider it as the best base layer they have had or seen. As a matter of fact, this product has a 5 star rating, which is nothing short of impressive. It will keep you incredibly warm, as well as being very comfortable, fitting perfectly to your torso, which allows you to comfortably wear something else on top. Furthermore, it’s classy, it looks good, which means it can also be used fashionably.
- 5 star rating
- Zipper option for ventilation
- Flatlock seam construction
- Excellent base layer
- A bit expensive
Related: The Smartwool NTS 150 Bottoms are a common purchase, alongside the 250 Zip T. Both ideal for any snow activity.
Price: $60 – $70
Material: 100% synthetic high-mechanical stretch double knit
Shape: Next-to-skin fit.
Sizes: Small, medium, large, x-large
Colors: Black (branded TNF black).
Specific features: Mock neck, flatlock seams, front half-zip, anti-odor property, flash-dry eco technology, left chest TNF logo.
Best use: All snow activities.
Description: The North Face CK28 Warm Top takes advantage of its cutting-edge synthetic materials to keep you warm, well ventilated and dry. The comfortable skinny fit will keep enough air inside to heat you up and allow your skin to breathe without excess sweating.
In case you got too warm, or you are indoors, this top has a half-zip in the front, which makes it very easy to use and perfect for ventilation. Just lower the zipper and allow your body to breathe more than before, cooling down your chest and upper body.
Despite fully made of synthetic materials, the North Face retains the dry state of your skin better than most base layers made with natural fabrics such as wool or cotton.
It also has a mock neck, which makes it a good companion in case of strong winds. It protects the neck, avoiding sore throats that are so common during winter.
- Good price for the value you get
- Mock neck
- Front zip for ventilation
- Fully synthetic materials
Related: The North Face Haystack Bag can be a good addition to the top. It is a good bag, ideal for short hikes, day trips, or even travels.
Price: $110 – $160
Material: 100% polyester
Shape: Next-to-skin flatlock construction
Sizes: Small, medium, large, x-large, xx-large
Colors: Legion blue, adriatic blue, iron anvil, sangria, twinleaf green, noche violet, black, odysseus green.
Specific features: Center half zip, laminated zip pocket on the left chest, moisture-wicking property, tall warm collar.
Best use: All snow activities.
Description: Usage of advanced synthetic fabrics can do magic through making the Arcteryx RHO AR Zip Neck a warm, comfy, lightweight and moisture-wicking base layer. Excess Sweating is no longer a problem with this quintessential top-tier clothing.
This shirt is the solution for those who asked for the best not asking for the price. Precious elastin, retains contact with the skin and keeps any discomfort away. This can go well as a pro, competitive ski clothing. Being one of the lightest winter clothing it invites you to spend the whole day on the slope, as well as making it ideal for trips or travels, easily fits in any bag.
The vertical zip laminated chest pocket is a unique feature which might be needed in some occasions when it is the only layer on you. The high neck collar has the similar construction as the body panels, so you have the greatest warmth coverage you can get from a shirt.
- Front Zipper and Chest Pocket
- Very warm
- The fit might not be the best, too small according to reviewers
Related: The Arcteryx Teneo Gloves are a good add-on if you are planning on buying winter equipment. They are made with leather, warm and durable.
Price: $40 – $100
Material: 200g/m2 merino wool
Sizes: Small through 3x-large
Colors: Admiral deep blue, black, cargo olive green, monsoon gray, trail heather, black stripe.
Specific features: Anti-chafe seams, drop-tail hem, naturally lightweight and breathable, offset shoulder seams.
Best use: All activities in the cold.
Description: While leading edge synthetic fabrics are really great, some people prefer comfort offered by the finest merino wool, such as that, in the Icebreaker Oasis Crewe Top. Simplicity and its breathable loose, slim fit will appeal to those who like the lightest winter base layer insulation. Thanks to this it has a wide field of application: from extreme winter sports to hiking, backpacking, and cycling.
This top also has the advantage of being very fashionable, not even resembling an undershirt, but a normal shirt. If you’re planning on hanging out indoors, or going to fancier ski resorts, this top will not disappoint from a fashion perspective.
The Merino fabric is one of the best and preferred ones in the market. It does keep you very warm, and this top is made with that fabric. It also is naturally odor-resistant, with the intention of not smelling as strong as other tops do when they get in contact with sweat. This top smells much less.
- Very comfortable
- Ideal for hiking
- Size is a bit small
- Can have a strong smell after sweating
Related: The Icebreaker Apex Leggings are commonly bought together with the top. They are comfortable, and will keep your legs warm during outdoor activities.
Price: Approx. $180
Material: 100% polyester (Polartec power grid)
Shape: Loose fit
Sizes: Small through 2x-large
Colors: Black, navy blue, classic French red, forge gray.
Specific features: Rib-knit crew at collar with internal neck tape for comfort, elastic thumb loops to keep hands in sleeves fully, hang drying locker loops, offset shoulder streams.
Best use: All activities in the cold, casual and everyday.
Description: Another not-so-tight wool base layer is the Patagonia Capilene Crew, made of ultralight polyester fabric. It goes great as a single layer, too. It is not too tight and looks like most casual long sleeve shirts. The material is 93% recycled poly and is treated with Polygiene odor repellent.
While it can go well on the slope, its primary purpose is casual wear in moderately cold weather. What we like a lot are the thumb loops which spare the need for gloves and help you keep the sleeves and the whole shirt in place while dressing and undressing.
The internal neck tape on the collar is also a good feature, as it gives additional comfort and a better it every time it’s being worn. Not all tops have such a comfortable neck, actually it is a problem for most.
It is also beneficial for its durability, along with its offset and anti-chafe seams. Other features worth mentioning include the smooth face for easy putting on additional clothing, as well as additional moisture-wicking brushed-back grid and underarm gussets.
- Thumb loops
- Internal neck tape for comfort
- Odor repellent materials
- Not as warm as others
Related: The Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket is ideal to wear on top of the Capilene Crew, to keep you dry, warm and safe against the wind.
Price: $15 – $50
Material: 70% polyester and 30% merino wool
Shape: Form fittin
Sizes: Small through 3x-large, taller versions of the clothing available in all sizes
Colors: Black, heather gray.
Specific features: Thermachoice cold weather control, ring spun yarns, odor-repellent cold-pruf technical fiber polyester with SILVADUR intelligent freshness.
Best use: Hiking, cycling, camping.
Description: Two layers are smarter than one, that’s at least what the makers of the ColdPruf Platinum Crew Top. The two layer system makes this shirt one of the warmest, of not the warmest of all the reviewed. Reviewers are all very satisfied with the response this shirt has given in extreme winter conditions.
Also, it has a very affordable price compared to some of the others. This doesn’t mean this shirt is bad quality; on the contrary, it is very durable and strong. Hence the reason why you get so much value out of a very good price.
This shirt is awesome for all purposes, in the base camp, on a hike or the slope, though it would be better if it had a ventilation half zip as well as offset shoulder and hip seams.
Overall, this is a garment, which targets a specific group of customers: those looking for convenience and warmth with as little pieces of wear, as possible. And that exact purpose is perfectly fulfilled.
- Incredibly warm
- Great price
- Not the most comfortable fabric when in contact with skin
Related: The Wigwam Sirocco Ski Socks are commonly bought alongside this shirt. They are ideal for ski trips and other winter outdoor activities.
Price: $25 – $40
Material: 100% cotton
Shape: Form fitting
Sizes: Small through 4x-large.
Colors: Black, natural beige.
Specific features: Moisture-wicking fabric, elastic waistband with the logo, reinforced stitching, rib-knit cuffs.
Best use: Skiing, snowboarding, camping.
Description: While tops require high-quality insulation material to support the warmth of the torso, bottoms like the Carhartt 100640 Legging super cold weather legging get enough warmth from natural materials such as cotton.
The tight fit allows the optimal amount of air to be locked between it and the outer layer (e.g. Trousers) to constituting a shield of warmth. It also means it’s ideal for any leg movements. If it was a loose fit, then it would be uncomfortable to wear under other pants, and movements like stretching your legs would be harder. With the tight fit, you can have better movements, ideal for winter sports and activities.
The bottom’s legs are a bit long, reaching the heels, securing full coverage of the area around the ankles, regardless of the length of your socks. The 9.5-ounce, 100-percent cotton ring-spun knit brings high moisture-wicking capability without adding excess weight. Quality seams and long-lasting construction.
- Made of cotton, very comfortable fabric
- Ideal for everyday use
- Might be too long for some
- Not as warm
Related: The Carhartt A511 Gloves are a common addition to these underpants. They will keep your hands dry and warm during the winter season.
Price: $15 – $50
Material: Inside 100% CPT performance polyester/ outside 70% polyester, 30% merino wool
Shape: Form fitting
Sizes: Small through 3x-large, taller versions of the clothing available across all sizes.
Colors: Black, heather gray.
Specific features: Comfort logo waistband and gussets, thermachoice dual layer system for retaining heat in very cold and moderately cold climates, ring spun yarns, cold-pruf technical fiber polyester featuring SILVADUR Intelligent Freshness.
Best use: All activities in the cold, casual and every day.
Description: This ColdPruf Platinum Dual Layer is the pair bottom of the ColdPruf Platinum Crew with which it shares the same dual-layer fabric solution. It means it is one of the warmest cold weather bottoms around, as the makers did not care about the difference in insulation requirements between a bottom and the top.
ColdPruf is a brand that for reviewers, makes the warmest products for winter wear. These underpants are another proof. Reviewers agree that the double layer technology works perfectly, and manages to give them the warmest underpants they have seen or worn.
It also has that tight grip with great feeling on the skin. We gladly recommend it to be worn without any additional layers unless it’s very cold in which case it can be a perfect underwear for casual trousers or jeans. Very smooth face makes wearing an additional layer a breeze.
- Incredibly warm
- Good price
- Double layer technology
- Fabric might be a bit itchy
- They are a bit tight
Related: The Meriwool Beanie is a good add-on for these underpants. The beanie will make sure your head stays warm during any winter activity, from walking outside to doing sports.
Warmth retention is the first thing we think about when it comes to any kind of winter clothing, but base layers need to play several more roles, from wicking moisture through antibacterial and UV protection.
For high levels of activity or long lasting activities, it is best to have some of these half zippered models, which let you regulate the temperature due to overheating or daily outdoor temperature changes. Since most base layers don’t feature any temperature ratings, it is best to follow the material solution.
Merino wool, blend and double layer shirts are not suitable for the moderately cold weather, and despite having a merino wool base layer will by itself make you feel so special, you don’t really need it unless you spend many hours at very low temperatures such as 0F or less.
Modern polyester fabrics don’t feel uncomfortable on the skin at all; they’re so fine and hard to tell from wool by the smoothness. While we still prefer natural materials in apparel winter base layers are special cases where poly is better.
Finally, we would like to hear opinions from buyers of various cold weather base layers for various purposes. It would be some of those we reviewed in this article, or some other, from some other brands. We are especially interested in opinions of those who opted for a bamboo garment.