Best Base Layers for Women

Best Base Layers for Women

Base layer (n.): a necessary layer for outdoor adventuring that wicks away sweat to stay dry and can be worn in all 4 seasons.

That’s my personal definition of what a base layer is and not a dictionary definition. However, “necessary” doesn’t seem like a far stretch from how much I rely on base layers for all sorts of outdoor adventuring throughout the year.

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What are base layers?

At our house base layers go by many different names: thermals, long johns, jams, etc. They may go by many names at your home too.

It makes for lots of confusion amongst my kids to have me refer to them by so many different terms. 😂

For the purposes of this round up we’ll call them base layers but if you call them something else then hopefully you get the idea of what I’m referring to. It’s that cozy layer you wear closest to your skin.

Having the “right” baselayer for your outdoor adventures (whether it’s skiing, hiking, running etc.) can make a huge difference in your overall comfort and experience. If you’ve ever worn a long sleeved cotton shirt in a downpour while hiking then you likely already appreciate the practicality of a good base layer.

running in cold weather

Why base layers are so important

Base layers are important because they are your first layer of warmth in the winter and might be your only layer in the summer. They’re often described as a second skin and this is a great descriptor for appreciating their importance.

Like skin, you want your baselayer to be able to wick away sweat and keep you warm and dry.

What kind of base layers to avoid

Cotton is not ideal as a base layer. Instead look for a fabric that is wool, synthetic or a blend of wool and synthetic fibers. When cotton gets wet it absorbs water and becomes cold and heavy.

When merino wool gets wet the porous fibers help absorb water while still keeping you warm.

Synthetic materials also work well when wet. They tend to be more resistant to moisture and are quick drying.

Blended layers are designed to give you the best benefits of both wool and synthetic materials.

Properties of merino wool

Some of the best properties of merino wool is the wool’s high weight to warmth ratio, odor resistance, breathability and ability to insulate when wet.

Some of the downsides of merino wool is that it is less durable and can be expensive.

Properties of synthetic fabric

Some of the best properties of synthetic fabric is that the fabric is good at wicking, durable, more affordable, hypoallergenic and able to dry quickly.

Some of the down sides of synthetic fabrics is that it can retain odor and doesn’t insulate when wet.

fall weather and base layers
TMM Team Member Jen wearing synthetic fabric for a fall run

Blended fabrics

Blended fabrics are a blend of both merino wool and synthetic fabrics. These blended layers try to capture the best of both merino and synthetic fabrics. They are great for high aerobic activities when you want the insulation and warmth of wool and the quick drying ability of synthetic fabrics.

For more information on fabric types and best base layers for kids check out our post on kids baselayers.

Why are base layers great for all 4 seasons?

You might think of base layers as something you typically only wear in the winter. While they are great and very appropriate for winter use (especially worn under other layers), base layers are awesome to wear at other times of the year too.

Planning to use them in all four seasons is a great way to justify spending a little more for a nice pair that will last for many years to come.

It can be tempting to pack them away with winter gear but I highly recommend leaving them out. I can almost guarantee you’ll find great uses for them all throughout the year.


Thicker base layers work great for winter sports and activities when used on their own and thin ones work great layered under snow gear.

I always wear base layers when I’m skiing and tend to like one thin layer under my snow pants. When I’m playing in the snow with my kids or on days where the temperatures are super low I always wear a base layer with a mid layer over top and then my snow clothes.

Activities for winter base layer use:

  • winter running and hiking
  • snow-shoeing
  • nordic skiing
  • alpine skiing
  • sledding, snow fort building and playing in the snow with kiddos


Base layers are super great for spring and fall weather as well. When temperatures are slightly more unpredictable base layers are perfect for layering under things and helping you stay dry and comfortable despite fluctuating weather.

If you’re engaged in activities where you anticipate the weather going from cold to hot or hot to cold during the day then wearing base layers is a great way to do this comfortably.

Activities for spring/fall base layer use:

  • biking (road/mountain)
  • hiking
  • camping

Summer base layer needs:

Summer might not be a time you typically think of wearing base layers but keep base layers in the drawer with your summer clothes too.

In the summer you still want to wick sweat away and chances are you might be sweating even more in the summer.

Base layers are great for summer activities because they help prevent chafing. In fact a thin, breathable base layer will be better for wicking away sweat then bare skin.

I love merino for backpacking trips when I’m not changing my clothes as frequently. It’s a great option due to its odor control and temperature regulation properties.

That’s part of the magic of merino. Not only does it keep you warm but it does a great job of helping you stay cool too.

In the summer it will help you stay cool by drawing sweat to the outer layer of the fabric where it can evaporate, resulting in you staying cool and dry.

Activities for spring/fall base layer use:

  • backpacking
  • camping (especially for night time use)
  • hiking

What are the best base layers for women?

Everyone has different preferences, body types and base layer needs. There are lots of different brands that make quality base layers. It’s hard to narrow down one layer that does it all for everyone.

Chances are you might already have some great base layers in your closet, even if you haven’t intentionally purchased them as base layers. Athletic tops and bottoms fit under this category and are a great place to start.

If you want some ideas on how to expand your wardrobe or need a specific layer to accommodate a specific need then see below for the TMM team recommendations on various base layers we’ve purchased and love.

The TMM Team had tons of input on their favorite layers and their opinions reflect a wide variety of women in different stages of life with different needs, body types, climates etc.

Below is our list of favorite base layers categorized according to the need they best fill as well some thoughts and information on why that layer might be a good fit for you.

Best merino base layer

The Smartwool Classic layers received the most votes for best merino base layer from the team.

This base layer can be purchased separately and comes in bottoms, a crew top or a 1/4 zip top. It comes in a wide variety of colors and has a slim fit. These layers are designed for cool to cold weather and for a wide range of activities.

My favorite base layers are SmartWool. They fit smoothly, look nice and keep me warm.

TMM Team Member Becky
smart wool base layers and skis
Team Member Becky wearing SmartWool

Quick Stats: Smartwool Merino Classic Thermals

I like my Smartwool classic thermal merino base layers for pretty much anything. I have a few tops and bottoms. I am petite and feel like these fit me well without being too long.

TMM Team Member Jami
hiking with base layers
TMM Team Member Jami wearing SmartWool Classic

Best synthetic base layer

Patagonia Capilene thermal weight and midweight layers are my personal favorite of the synthetic layers I have worn and others on the team like them as well.

I think they outshine other synthetic layers because of how durable they are. I have worn both the thermal weight and midweight layers for years and they still have great shape and the ability to keep me warm.

I am biased towards the midweight layer in the winter and love that this layer provides plenty of warmth on its own.

Quick Stats: Patagonia Thermal Weight

biking in grass
TMM Team Member Jen wearing Patagonia

Quick Stats: Patagonia Midweight

I love my Patagonia Capilene for winter, fall and spring adventures.

TMM Team Member Jen
running with headband and base layers
TMM Team Member Jen wearing Patagonia

Best blended base layer

The base layer most team members reported loving in the blended category is the Capilene Air base layer from Patagonia. Particularly, the Capilene Air hoody was loved by the team.

fishing in base layers
TMM Team Member Sarah wearing Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody

One team member reported the durability not being as great with the bottoms so if you’re ordering the Capilene Air bottoms then consider how much use they’ll get and plan accordingly.

As described by the name the Capilene Air is a very thin, light weight layer.

I love the Patagonia air hoody I received as a gift. I’ve worn it a ton this winter for a post workout dry shirt and even as a sweater to a gathering.

TMM Team Member Calisa

Quick Stats: Patagonia Capilene Air

My favorite baselayer top is the Patagonia Capilene Air hoody.

TMM Team Member Sarah

Best base layers for pregnant and breastfeeding moms

We’re so glad that Iksplor’s base layer design for women accommodates pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum moms so well.

It can be tricky to get outside as a new mom and the design of the nursing top is perfect for keeping warm and also covered while being able to discretely breastfeed.

mom and daughter wearing base layers
TMM Team Member Stephanie and Baby wearing Ik’Splor

They design of the bottom was also well thought out for the different stages of motherhood. We love that it comes with a wide thick band that’s comfortable around the waist.

Plus, it’s so fun when you can match your little baby or toddlers by purchasing a matching set for them.

I’ve been wearing the Ik’splor baselayer pant this winter and it’s great, nice and thin.

TMM Team Member Sarah

Quick Stats: Women’s Iksplor Set

  • Price: $159.00/set – also available as separates
  • Fabric: 100% merino wool (200 grams)
  • Size: Small to Large

The sizing on Iksplor is somewhat limited (S to L) and we hope Iksplor will eventually expand it’s sizing to accommodate even more moms that want to wear these awesome layers. However, they do run slightly large so size down if you are not pregnant.

Smartwool’s 1/4 zip thermal merino base layer (mentioned above) was also reported as working well for breastfeeding.

I like the smart wool quarter zip merino wool top while breastfeeding and wear my husband’s base layers as long as possible while pregnant.

TMM Team Member Anna

Best base layers for spring/summer

stretching in base layers

Quick Stats: Alpine Fit

For spring and/or summer tops check out Alpine Fit. It is a women owned company in Alaska and Jen, the owner, uses a combo fabric that has silver to help with odor control.

They’re a great option to consider for spring/summer as they have short sleeve and tank layers in addition to their long sleeved layers.

Quick Stats: Nike Pro Combat

  • Price: $50/bottoms
  • Fabric: 83% polyester & 17% spandex
  • Size: XXS-2XL

For bottoms team members reported liking Nike pro combat. These pants have mesh across the calves and provide lots of stretch so they’re easy to move around in.

Best for warmth/wind

Title 9’s Crash Polartec Bottoms are ideal for those super cold days when you need an extra warm, wind resistant winter pant. They are known for being super toasty by the mountain mama team.

Title 9 calls them their “warmest tight ever” and the exterior is designed to be tightly woven to help with wind resistance.

Title 9 base layer bottoms
TMM Team Member Jami wearing Title 9 Crash Polartec Bottoms

Team members reported that they do run long so keep that in mind if you wear petites.

Quick Stats: Title 9’s 2.0 Crash Polartec Tights

  • Price: $99/bottoms
  • Fabric: 84% recycled poly & 16% spandex
  • Size: XS-XL

Best base layers for ski moms

Kari Traa is a champion gold medal freestyle skier and the creator of this fun base layer sports brand. This brand was specifically designed for girls (by girls) with skiing being a focal point of what they create.

The base layers are designed with fun nordic prints and designed to be feminine and classy.

hiking in base layers
TMM Team Member Calisa wearing Kari Traa

Quick Stats: Kari Traa Merino Wool Base Layer

I love any of the merino Kari Traa tops. The hooded, half zip and crews. I have found that I grab these not only as a base layer for activities but even for work shirts. I’m drawn to the fun Scandinavian prints. The Kari Traa bottoms are good too. They do get stretched out though and I feel like I need to wash and dry them to regain shape.

TMM Team Member Calisa
laughing with base layers
TMM Team Member Calisa wearing Kari Traa Hoody

Best base layers for high intensity aerobic activities

The women’s intraknit thermal is a newer blended layer from Smartwool made for staying active in extremely cold weather. This layer is super light weight and designed with gender specific ventilation.

skiing in base layers
TMM Team Member Jami wearing Smartwool Intraknit under vest

It’s a great combination of merino for warmth and odor control and the fast drying capabilities of polyester.

Quick Stats: Smartwool Intraknit Thermal

  • Price: $120/crew top,
  • Fabric: 53% Merino Wool, 45% Polyester, 2% Elastane (180 grams)
  • Size: XS to XL

I recently just got an intraknit cardio top and I like that one for winter cardio activities, but it snags SUPER easy!

TMM Team Member Jami

Best for looser fit

Kristin, from the team, recommends Sloomb for a best base layer for the cold. She wears her Raven hoody constantly in Alaska.

Kristin always sizes down in the hoody for a slimmer fit for this base layer but if you’re wanting a less snug fit then you can go with your size.

This brand and Ridge Merino were some of the only brands that have larger sizing options.

The Raven comes with a crew top or hoodie option and a leggings bottom. It comes in lots of beautiful, earth tone colors.

The downside with Sloomb is all sales are final, but I’ve heard only amazing things about the comfort and quality.

snowmen and base layers
TMM Team Member Kristin wearing Sloomb Raven Hoody

Quick Stats: Sloomb Raven

The Sloomb Raven hoodie, sized down at least two sizes so it’s a baselayer fit, is my favorite. I wear an XS in this top when I’m normally a M-L. I love everything about this top and it’s rare that I’m ever wearing anything else!

TMM Team Member Kristin

Best for long & lean

Craft is a Swedish company that has a large variety of base layer options. They are designed with athletes in mind and cater well for individuals doing cardio activities.

Keep in mind these layers tend to fit well for those that are long and lean. Craft can’t apologize for this because they say this is what makes Swedish people so fast.

Quick Stats: Craft

Craft makes a great kit, especially for high intensity activities like cross country skiing or bikes.

TMM Team Member Jen

Best for snug fit

If you want a layer that can do it all then this might be the best fit layer for you. Ridge Merino makes a nice, blended layer that is predominantly merino wool with a little nylon and spandex too.

Their women’s aspect layer promises to provide complete coverage for women and the snug fit with flatlocked seams makes it easy to put other layers over top (although this layer is known for being plenty warm on it’s own)

Quick Stats: Ridge Merino

I absolutely love my Ridge Merino base layers. They do fit on the snug side so they tend to feel tight.

TMM Team Member Rita

Best budget base layer

32 degree heat (sold seasonally at Costco and year round at Amazon) took home the trophy for best budget base layer.

If warmth is not the highest priority then don’t overlook this well loved base layer.

Purchasing 2 sets of base layers for $20 is a steal of a deal.

Quick Stats: 32 Degree Heat

I actually love the 32 degree base layers…especially the top. It’s a great nursing layer because it pulls down easily and seems to keep its stretch after a lot of pulling. I buy a size up for nursing. It’s stinky though, like a lot of synthetic layers.

TMM Team Member Cait

Other brands to consider

Having a large team there were many brands that TMM team members mentioned as their favorites or ones they’ve worn in years past and loved.

running in base layers
TMM Team Member Jen wearing Under Armour and Lulu Lemon

Other runner up brands that team members mentioned and are also worth mentioning are Icebreaker, Burton, lululemon, and Helly Hansen.

biking with base layers
TMM Team Member Jen wearing Icebreaker

Care instructions for your base layers

Keeping your baselayers in tip-top shape will allow them to perform better, last longer, and give you some good resale value on those expensive merino wool pieces.

Merino Care

Due to the natural odor resistant properties of merino, your merino pieces can go quite a while without a washing. It’s always tempting to wash clothes after heavy activity use but merino wool does NOT need a wash after every wear. Trust us on this. TMM Team Member Jami only washes her wool clothing every 3-4 weeks (even after running in her wool).

Most Merino pieces listed here can be machine washed on cold/delicate. A wool wash is recommend by most brands to keep the Merino in great shape. Check out Nikwax Wool Wash to keep your wool fresh. Most Merino pieces can also be tumble dried on low but I prefer to always lay them flat to dry.

Synthetics Care

Synthetic base layers tend to be a little more durable in the wash. They will require more frequent washing than your Merino layers, likely after every sweaty use. Nixwax Basewash is a great way to keep those base layers clean.

A lot of detergents can leave residue behind that hang on to odors but base wash helps clean and deodorize synthetic base layers.

Most synthetics can be tumble dried on low. Once again I prefer to lay my pieces flat to dry or put them on air dry in the dryer.

Best Base Layers for Women: Bottom Line!

sledding in cold snow

What surprised me most in compiling our list of favorites is all the mix and matching that team members do with their base layers. This might be something to consider when picking out base layers that will best meet your needs too.

For example, team member Sarah loves to wear the Patagonia Capilene Air Hoodie with the Ik’splor merino base layer pant.

Team member Calisa likes the Kari Traa tops and the Alpine Fit base layer bottoms.

And team member Jami likes the Smart Wool classic merino top with the Title9 crash polartech bottoms.

Although some base layers are sold as sets, most base layers for women are sold as separates. This allows for a lot of flexibility when purchasing.

swedish base layers

Any base layers we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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Best Base Layers for Women

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  • Stephanie is a South Idaho native but currently lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, Jayson, and their 4 kids. As a family of 6 they enjoy biking, hiking, skiing, camping, traveling, backpacking and being silly. Like many others they’re trying to balance the complexities of work and family life. They’ve found that time slows down when they’re outside adventuring together and appreciate the simplicity and beauty they find there. Find them on instagram: @switchbacksandsingletracks

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