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Whether you are a hiker, outdoor enthusiast or just someone who spends time out and about in the great outdoors, wearing a system of layered garments will help you adapt to a wide variety of weather conditions, from fair to foul, shivery to sultry.
A typical layering system consists of an outer layer for rain protection, a fleecy mid layer for insulation and – arguably the most important– a base layer.
Base layers sit next to your skin and are designed to be masters of moisture management.
Outdoor activity can be sweaty business so you need your base layer to wick moisture away as fast as possible and help keep you dry. They also need to provide insulation when needed, yet maintain a comfortable body temperature.
We’ve been putting a variety of base layers through their paces, from garments made with quick wicking Merino wool to sporty, synthetic togs built for outdoor action. Here’s nine of the best.
This technical top hails from mountain kings Inov-8, an incredibly eco-conscious company based in Staveley, Cumbria.
It’s an ultra-light garment made from durable polyester fabric which (we’re told) is made by recycling approximately 8 x 500ml PET bottles.
Although primarily designed for fell running – it features reflective panelling on the front, sides and rear – we find it perfectly suited for wearing a summertime, single layer hiking top or wearing under a fleece on strenuous winter walks.
For warmth, wickability and core temperature management on the trail, this technical top is hard to beat.
This top of the range, premier-priced base layer is a joy to slip into. Made from
51% RWS-certified Merino wool and 49% recycled polyester, it’s a luxurious, fleecy feeling garment, versatile enough to wear on its own for early autumn outdoor action or deployed as a base layer when the temperature starts to dive.
The balaclava style hood is its secret weapon against winter chills – wear it under a helmet for more extreme mountain activities or use it to keep your ears warm during cold weather camping.
With its distinctive chevron sleeves and sleek, crew-neck cut, the Helly Hansen Lifa has been gracing the backs of gnarly fell-dwellers for over 40 years.
It’s a super lightweight garment that excels in keeping your core warm whilst boasting supreme sweat-wicking credentials.
Flatlock stitched seams means there’s no danger of chafing, and the stretchy Lifa fabric provides unrestricted movement for flailing up hill and down dale.
Whilst this base layer is perfect for wearing under a fleece during strenuous winter activities, it also performs equally as well as a single layer running top for nippy autumnal mornings.
This fast-wicking wonder from Föhn is constructed from a 200gsm mid-weight Merino yarn with a slim, figure-hugging fit.
It’s a rather unassuming looking top and doesn’t have any fancy fabrics to boast about, but it is very good at what it does – which is to keep you warm, dry and stink-free.
Style-wise, the sleeve length and neckline make it closer to a casual t-shirt than an undergarment.
You could happily wear this top down the pub for a post-walk pint, but when used as a base layer this tops excellent, temperature-regulating properties really come into their own,
If you are looking for a cheap and cheerful base layer to stave off the cold you could do worse than sliding into this stealthy black two piece from Eono.
Featuring elasticated wrists, trouser cuffs and flat seams, this set is sleek, comfortable and tight fitting whilst allowing for a decent amount of stretch.
The 100% polyester construction is beautifully soft and does a grand job of wicking away sweat, but it does mean things can get a bit static-y when it’s time to disrobe.
No frills – but crucially no chills either.
This set of quality, Columbian-made garments are what you need when the temperature really starts to plummet.
Favoured by mountain guides and outdoor instructors, these garments are constructed from Nikwax Paramenta G fabric which is woven into a distinctive gridded pattern for maximum wicking proficiency.
Worn under another garment and you’ll feel the immediate benefit from its warm fleece-like material, but more surprising is the high degree of wind protection it offers worn as a single layer.
We also love the extra long, thumb looped sleeves and high rise collar for maximum, neck to knuckle protection. The long johns also feature a handy ‘old-school’ fly pocket for rapid access should you get caught short in the cold.
Our pick of the base layers from online sports outfitter Decathlon is this long sleeve top made from Merino wool – a thin, natural material with impressive moisture wicking properties.
Some folk can find Merino a bit itchy, but we found the weave of this Forclaz shirt to be extremely soft next to the skin.
The flat panel stitching also reduces the risk of chafing which can be a problem on cheaper base layers, especially around the shoulders when wearing a rucksack.
Egged on by the ‘odourless shirt’ claim, we pushed this garment to the very limits of personal hygiene but still found it stayed remarkably fresh, even after numerous sweaty wears.
This smart base layer set from TOG24 is constructed from sci-fi sounding ‘carbon infused particles’ that help eliminate odours and also boasts a 50+ UV protection.
Both garments are incredibly soft to touch and despite the skin tight fit and thermal nature of the fabric, feel pleasantly snug, not oppressively tight and restrictive.
We also like the extra long length top that helps prevent ‘hikers bottom’ – an inadvertent exposure of the upper buttocks when bending over to tie boot laces.
The leggings can be purchased here.
Snugpak’s toasty offering ticks all the boxes, being lightweight and comfortable with impressive sweat wicking credentials.
Fit-wise, they err towards ‘relaxed’ rather than super clingy, so will suit folk who prefer a bit of air whistling between their underlayers rather than full-on, second skin style.
Each garment comes in it’s own zipped carry-case (with handle) which seems slightly superfluous to requirements, but it does make them easy to locate in an unorganized, overstuffed undie drawer.
Purchase the long johns here, £22.50