I’ll be the first to admit that I was late to jump on the base layers for kids bandwagon. I’ve always loved and worn them as an adult, but I did not appreciate until very recently how much they truly make a difference in keeping kids warm from the inside out.
It’s easy to forget about or neglect this thin layer when thinking about winter gear for kids. Keeping kids warm for winter already requires a lot of gear (warm boots, mittens, snow pants, jackets, fleece, wool socks etc.).
I’ve always prioritized the gear on the outside but with time I’ve discovered that one of the best secrets for truly keeping kids warm is the layer on the inside.
I am now the biggest kids base layer convert, and I’m baffled on why it has taken me so long to invest in quality base layers for my kids.
If you’ve also been on the fence on whether quality base layers are worth the investment then this post is for you. Below is a list of favorite base layers for kids of all ages with input from the entire Mountain Mama Team.
It turns out we have lots of favorite brands for base layers for different ages and stages. Thankfully, there are lots of great options out there.
Thinking about your budget and the needs and preferences of your child can help you make the best choice for your child. We also have several discount codes for winter gear to help save some money.
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Why Base Layers Are So Important
What is a Base Layer?
A base layer is the layer worn closest to your skin. Most base layers tend to be on the thinner side but they come in variable thicknesses.
A good base layer should be able to keep you warm and cozy while also wicking away moisture.
Since the main purpose of a base layer is to move moisture away from the skin, the best base layers will have good wicking properties.
Goal of Base Layers
Since this is the layer worn closest to the skin there are several important factors to consider when thinking about what kind of base layer will work best for your kid.
Base layer materials and how they feel
First, it’s important to consider what material will work best for your child. Knowing your childs’ sensory needs and what kind of fabrics they do/don’t like can help you make a more informed choice on what brand will be a good fit.
Consider how much your kids sweat
Another thing to consider is how much your child tends to perspire. Tweens and teens who are more prone to sweat might prioritize a material with good odor wicking capabilities while this might be of little importance for those with young babies.
Consider how warm or cold your kids run
Finally, it’s a good idea to know your childs’ preferred temperature. One of my girls is always hot. Getting her to wear a coat outside in the winter is like pulling teeth.
On the flip side I have another child that is always complaining of being cold. Her teachers at school tell me every year that she wears her winter coat in the classroom all day long.
I often wish I could pass off the heat from my hot child to warm up my freezing child. Sadly, this cannot be done but it has helped me recognize the importance of picking out base layers based on my children’s natural preferences.
My child that runs hot prefers a thin, synthetic or merino wool layer and my child that’s always cold loves a thicker merino wool layer or doubling up her base layer with a mid layer over top.
How Base Layers Should Fit
To best take advantage of the warmth that base layers can provide the fit should be a snug, close to body fit. Many call base layers a ‘second skin’ and this is how I like to think about them. The base layer doesn’t need to be constrictive and some kids may like a more relaxed fit. However, for optimal moisture wicking, the ideal fit is for them to be snug like an additional layer of skin.
When to Wear Base Layers
Base layers are not only for winter wear under ski/snow gear (although this is a great use for them). The great thing about base layers is that they can be used for recreational activities all year long.
They make great pajamas for camping in the summer and they are a great layer for under rain and snow jackets. Merino wool stays warm even when damp and synthetic fabrics tend to dry quickly.
Both have different strengths in wet environments.
We find base layers are also essential to take hiking or backpacking when the temperature tends to fluctuate more.
Wool or Synthetic Base Layers?
Most base layers come in two main fabrics: merino wool or synthetic and both have advantages and disadvantages. The type that is best for your family will depend on your needs, activities, and budget. Merino and synthetics can both be worn year round (yes, wool in the summer too!).
Merino Wool Base Layers
Merino wool comes from a special type of sheep called a Merino sheep. These sheep have very fine, soft wool fibers that contain lanolin, a natural antibacterial agent. Favorite features of Merino wool base layers are that they are warm when wet, are odor resistant, sustainable, and soft.
Merino wool is great at temperature regulation and will help keep you warm on colder days and cooler on warmer days. Merino doesn’t dry fast if it is not in a dry environment, however, it will still keep you warm and won’t make you feel clammy even when wet.
Downside to Merino is that it is delicate and care must be taken to not damage the delicate fibers. Items can get snagged on Velcro, tree branches, hangnails, and gear. However, it is often repairable with a little needle and thread.
I learned the lesson about Merino’s delicacy the hard way when the first time my daughter was wearing her merino base layers she got a hole in the knee. Thankfully little holes are easy to repair but it made me appreciate how delicate the fabric can be. That said, many families use them on a daily basis AND wash and dry them and they last for multiple kids.
Merino is best for layering in the cold or for multi-day use when you don’t want to pack a lot of base layers.
Examples: Smartwool, Ik’splor, Ellas Wool, Sloomb
Synthetic Base Layers
Synthetic base layers are most often made of polyester, nylon, spandex, etc. They come in a wide range of styles, price points, and technologies, like adding silver to aid in antimicrobial properties.
Although synthetic base layers dry fast when wet, they do not keep you as warm when they are wet and can often leave you feeling clammy if the material doesn’t have airflow to dry.
Synthetics are best for warmer temps, more aerobic activities, or if there is prolonged wetness (from environment or sweat). They’re also great for kids who have wool allergies.
Examples: Patagonia Capliene, REI, Shred Dog/Akova, Jan & Jul
Mixed Blend Base Layers
Some companies have started mixing Merino wool and synthetic materials to try and capture the best of both worlds. They start with using primarily Merino wool for its odor resistance, breathability, and softness. Then add in some polyester to aid in faster wicking and making the product lighter weight.
These mixed blend items are great for higher intensity aerobic activities when you still want the best wool properties but want to stay drier.
Examples: Helly Hensen, Reima
So What Base Layer is Best?
Both Merino wool and synthetic base layers stand out in certain areas and most of us have a mix of synthetic and Merino base layers. It all comes down to personal preference and what kind of material is best for the activities you are doing.
Best Base Layers for Babies
Below is a list of our favorite base layers for the littlest ones in your family.
Ella’s wool is a company based out of Brooklyn, NY. Becca’s Norwegian roots were her inspiration to start the company when she couldn’t stand to see empty playgrounds in the winter after moving to New York.
What we love about Ellas wool is that the merino wool is super soft and warm. They claim to be buttery soft, and I can vouch for how warm and cozy they are.
The baby base layers are footed which keeps feet warm too. They come in moss green, gray, navy blue and pink.
You can read our full review on Ella’s Wool TUBES as well. These are a great heavier weighted wool base or mid layer for kids 9 months-7years.
Quick Stats: Ella’s Wool Baby Base layers
- MSRP Price: $69 for onesie and footed pant set
- Fabric: 100% Merino wool (21.5 micron)
- Size: 3-18 months
The Ella’s Wool base layers are so soft and snuggly. I didn’t like that the baby set only had footed bottoms, so I purchased a onesie and un-footed pant separately. This was great because I was able to use them longer and didn’t worry about extra pressure on the bottom of the feet when in a carrier.TMM Team Member Jami
Iksplor’s tagline is that better days start with a better base. This company based out of Jackson, WY has two great merino wool options for babies.
The Ik’splorer set and adventure onesie both have handmitts for sun and snow and are made of 100% merino wool. Unlike Ella’s wool, the feet are open on the Ik’splorer set and the baby adventure onesie.
The main difference between the two options is that the adventure onesie is made with a mid-weight wool while the Ik’splor set is thinner. The onesie might be the preferred option if you are in frigid temps or want a looser fitting mid-layer.
If your baby is in between sizes then I would order the size larger.
Quick Stats: Iksplor set and adventure onesie
- MSRP Price: $89 (both)
- Fabric: 100% Merino wool (18.9 micron)
- Size: 0-24 months for the set & preemie-24 months for the onesie
The 3-6 month Ik’splorer set fits quite snug on my average sized 3mo daughter and she will outgrow it sooner than I was hoping. I wish I ordered the 6-12 month option so she had more growing room for the future.TMM Team Member Stephanie
Patagonia Infant Capilene base layers are made with 100% recycled polyester. The onesie has fold over cuffs and reinforced elbows. The bottoms also have reinforced knees.
The sizing was generous a few years back, but the product has changed a little. Check out current customer reviews for sizing suggestions.
Quick Stats: Patagonia Capilene
- MSRP Price: $55 for onesie and pant set. Can also purchase top and bottom separately. Henley Top- $35 and Pants $29
- Fabric: 100% recycled polyester with HeiQ® Fresh durable odor control
- Size: NB-24 Months
We’ve had a lot of luck with Patagonia, they last forever and I think they are my favorite.TMM Team Member Jen
Best Base Layers for Toddlers and Kids
Toddlers and kids also need warm, cozy base layers. Some of our favorite brands for this age group include: Burton, Chasing Windmills, Helly Hansen, Ik’splor, Icebreaker, REI, Reima, Smartwool, and Sloomb.
How can a kid not love a Burton product? They create the most fun patterns with the most kid friendly prints.
Their fleece base layer set for toddlers and kids is a great purchase if you want a thick, cozy synthetic layer for your little shredder.
They are also a great layer if you have a kid that doesn’t love the constricted feeling of other base layers.
Quick Stats: Burton
- MSRP Price: $59.95 (toddler)-$64.95 (kid sizing)
- Fabric: 94% Polyester, 6% Spandex
- Size: 18 mon- XL (kids)
Chasing Windmills is a direct to consumer brand created by a partnership duo in Denver, Colorado.
These base layers are made from a midweight merino wool and are known for being super soft and sustainably sourced.
They come in beautiful colors and simple patterns and they are designed with reinforced knees for better wear.
Quick Stats: Chasing Windmills
- MSRP Price: $79.00-$89.00 (depending on size)
- Fabric: 100% Merino Wool, 18.9 micron
- Size: 6 months – 12 years
We just got Chasing Windmills and love them! They’re soft with fantastic durability from the extra knee patches.Anna, TMM Team Member
Helly Hansen has a mixed blend base layer that is comfy to wear. Helly Hansen uses a 2 layer construction to make these base layers and they’re designed to wick away moisture for super active kids. They have reinforced elbows and knees which is great for active kids.
HH runs on Euro sizing, so measure your kiddo before ordering to ensure a proper fit, but sizing starts at about a 12month equivalent size.
Quick Stats: Helly Hansen Lifa Merino
- MSRP Price: $75.00
- Fabric: 57% Merino Wool, 43% Polypropylene
- Size: 86/1-134/9
When I was looking for Kylie’s first real base layer, we came across Helly Hansen and was pleased that they had nice base layers for tiny humans and a sale sealed the deal. My oldest wore hers for 2 winters and then my youngest was in them (size 92/2 -wears 2T/3T clothing). Aside from a few stains, they have held up great!TMM Team Member Jami
While Icebreaker base layers are one of the priciest merino wool brands out there, their thermals are called the Oasis for a reason. These base layers are designed to move with the body and contour to every body movement.
The merino wool jersey fabric is designed to be comfortable and soft.
Quick Stats: Icebreaker
- MSRP Price: $60/top & $70/bottom
- Fabric: 100% merino mid weight jersey
- Size: 2-14
My daughter loves icebreaker shirts…Super warm but not as soft as HH or Smartwool.TMM Team Member Jen
My daughter ended up with a pair of Icebreaker base layer bottoms in a bag of hand-me-downs and those have held up incredibly well and are really soft too. She wears them as regular leggings at her nature preschool and we’ve had them for two years (and I think they went through two kids before us) and they still look awesome.TMM Team Member Cait
Ik’splor not only has a great baby set but they’re base layers for toddlers and kids are also loved by the team.
Their kid set is designed to fit long in the torso, back and sleeves to make sure kids are well protected from the elements. The great coverage provided is my favorite part of the Ik’splor design.
I ordered one size up for all my kids and anticipate my kids being able to wear them for 2 seasons with how long the fit is.
The wool is neither scratchy nor itchy and the fabric is thin while still holding up well after multiple uses.
Quick Stats Iksplor Kids Base layers:
- MSRP Price: $109
- Fabric: 100% Merino wool
- Size: 2-12 years
My daughter loves the Iksplor set we bought…they are super soft and the right level of thickness, and she’s a huge fan of the thumbholes (who isn’t?).TMM Team Member Cait
If you are looking for a thicker, cozier layer than look no further than Jan & Jul. These thermals are designed to be perfect for everyday wear so they double well as an outfit and thermals.
They are thicker than some of the other brands and they are great for a kid that is going to be more rough and tumble on their clothes.
They are also one of the most affordable base layer sets if you’re not wanting to break the bank.
Quick Stats: Jan & Jul
- MSRP Price: $39.49
- Fabric: 100% polyester
- Size: 1T-5T
These new Jan & Jul base layers are nice and thick!Amelia, TMM Founder
One of the favorite synthetic layers of the team for toddlers is the REI lightweight base layer.
This is a light weight layer so it’s best for use in the summer (UPF rating of 50) or for a kid that always complains of being hot.
Quick Stats: REI Lightweight Base Layer
- MSRP Price: $19.95 (top) & $19.95 (bottom)
- Fabric: 82% polyester/18% spandex
- Size: 12 month-4T
I really like the lightweight REI layers for warmer days. They’re almost halfway between a base layer and a sun layer.Jamie M., TMM Team Member
My son can’t handle any wool next to his skin so we are a synthetic family. My son really likes the REI lightweight base layers.Jess, TMM Team Member
Reima seems to be in a league of their own as far as kids’ gear is concerned and their base layers are no exception. This Finnish brand is constantly impressing our team with all their well made gear.
Many team members love these base layers due to their thick softness and warmth.
Team members also mentioned that Reima base layers are more affordable than other brands and love having an option that’s high quality but doesn’t break the bank.
Reima has several different styles and base layer fabrics. The variety of different options is almost overwhelming, but I love that there is are so many different options at different price points.
Team members reported liking both the polypro Reima base layer (called the Lani) and the merino tencel blend (called the Kinsei).
My personal favorite Reima layer is the Taitoa which is a merino wool blend that’s mixed with bamboo. I tell every mom who asks me what base layers to buy that these ones are the “overall best base layer” in our home.
Other team member kids have described the Taitoa layers as the softest they’ve ever used which is why they’re a household favorite.
Quick Stats: Reima Thermolite
- MSRP Price: $49.95
- Fabric: 43% polyester THERMOLITE®, 53% polyester, 4% sorona
- Size: 12 month-14 years
Reima has really great soft and thick polypro base layers.TMM Founder Amelia
Quick Stats: Reima Kinsei
- MSRP Price: $79.95
- Fabric: 72% wool, 28% lyocell
- Size: 12 month-14 years
I like the Reima layers, the price is good and they have a merino/tencel blend that is really soft and silky.TMM Team Member Kristin
Quick Stats: Reima Taitoa
- MSRP Price: $79.95
- Fabric: 48% merino wool, 43% viscose (bamboo), 9% polyamide
- Size: 12 month – 14 years
My boys love their Reima base layers but often they don’t wear them because they get too warm. Go figure!TMM Team Member Rita
Another great option for kids is the Sloomb Raven line. It is a thicker base layer made of 100% merino wool that provides additional warmth for those in extra cold climates or for kids that are always complaining that they are cold.
They have a looser fit for kids who struggle with tight fitting clothes.
One downside of the Raven line is that products are final sale, however it is nice that the tops and bottoms come as separates. The Raven line comes in many beautiful earth tone colors as well and a wide range of sizes beyond the ones sized just for kids.
Quick Stats for Sloomb Raven:
We have lived in Sloomb layers for years. They’re really comfortable and wash up great.TMM Team Member Kristin
Smartwool’s base layers are made with 100% Merino wool. They are thicker than Iksplor as they come in a 250 weight, but they are still soft. We love that you can get coordinating patterns with hats, neck gaiters, adult base layers, and headbands.
Tops and bottoms are sold separately so you can mix and match patterns too or get two tops and one bottom if the shirts tend to get dirtier.
- MSRP Price: $65 for Base layer Crew, $65 for Base layer Bottom
- Fabric: 100% Merino Wool, 250 weight
- Size: Youth XXS (age 3, limited stock), XS (age 4-5)-XL (age 13-14)
We have been using Smartwool Merino 250 base layers with my oldest daughter for 4 years now. She was able to get two years out of one set before sizing up with only a few minor repairable holes. They are still in great shape for little sister. They are warm and soft!TMM Team Member Jami
Best Base Layers for Tweens/Teens
Helly Hansen has a mixed blend base layer set that is also super popular among the older kids of our team members.
Helly Hansen uses a 2 layer construction to make these base layers and they’re designed to wick away moisture for super active kids.
Quick Stats: Helly Hansen Lifa Merino
- MSRP Price: $75.00 for Kids set, $100 for Junior set
- Fabric: 57% Merino Wool, 43% Polypropylene
- Size: Kids 86/1-134/9, Juniors 128/8-176/16
I found Helly Hansen half off on Amazon Warehouse. These are wool and soft. I hear they wear out, but we’re two seasons in and no holes.TMM Team Member Jen
I grabbed Helly Hansen kids wool base layers on sale and they are the ones my daughter reaches for first.TMM Team Member Anna
The final brand loved by tweens and teens among our group are the REI Co-op Long Underwear Tops/Bottoms.
Teens tend to like that they are not itchy and feel like they’re a great, comfortable product at a great price point.
Quick Stats: REI Co-op Midweight Long Underwear Tops/Bottoms
- MSRP Price: $34.95/top & $34.95/bottom
- Fabric: 89% polyester/ 11% spandex
- Size: XXS (size 4/5) to XL (18)
The teens favorite base layers are cheap ones I got from the REI brand on clearance.TMM Team Member Rita
I grabbed a pair of REI brand kid base layer pants for myself on clearance and I like the fit and feel of those better than my more expensive Smartwool bottoms.TMM Team Member Cait
Of all the synthetic blend options available Akova’s foundation kids base layer seem to be the most loved by the team for the older kids. Their foundation base layer top and bottom come in sizes small to extra large.
Akova is a company that cuts out the middle man and sells direct to you. Their model is designed to get parents quality gear while avoiding the retail markup.
Akova love that their base layers are moisture wicking, quick drying and have 4-way stretch and hideaway thumb holes. Akova base layers are a little thicker material that can also work as a mid layer. Amelia’s kids prefer them layered with Iksplor for the best base layers for skiing.
Some things to keep in mind are that the large and extra large pants run quite wide in the waist.
A bonus of the more relaxed fit and style is that you can layer them over top of a thin base layer on super cold days.
Amelia’s girls wear them as their daily leggings too.
Quick Stats: Akova
- MSRP Price: $40.00/top & $34.00/bottoms
- Fabric: 87% Polyester, 13% Spandex
- Size: (Sm-XL)
(5% off sale prices and 20% off any order at full price – not including Outlet and Renewed items that are already discounted.)
Budget Base Layer Options
The best budget option seems to be 32 Degrees sold seasonally at Costco and Amazon. I was able to snag these synthetic base layers for multiple kids for less than $15/pair.
Quick Stats: 32 Degrees
- MSRP Price: $9.99 (website), variable pricing depending on where they are purchased
- Fabric: 40% polyester, 30% acrylic, 22% rayon, 4% spandex
- Size: XS-M
My daughter has a definite sensory preference toward synthetic materials so she wears Columbia Omniheat base layers on really cold days or the 32 Degree brand when it’s not so bad out.Elaine, TMM Team Member
These base layers are a lighter weight Merino wool blend, perfect for warmer weather or aerobic activities. Don’t size up, order your current clothing size.
Quick Stats: Mountain Warehouse
- MSRP Price: $29.99/top & $29.99/bottoms – but they are ALWAYS running a sale.
- Fabric: 70% Merino Wool, 30% Polyester
- Size: 2T to Youth 13-14
These base layers are much thinner than most others we have tried and I worry about the longevity, but for the price it was worth a shot! I grabbed some around black Friday for half off.TMM Team Member Jami
Caring for Your Base Layers
Keeping your base layers 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.
Due to the natural odor resistant properties of merino, your merino pieces can go quite a while without a washing. They do NOT need a wash after every wear. TMM Team Member Jami only does a wool clothing load every couple weeks, depending on use (and that’s even on her sweaty running Merino!).
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 tip-top shape. Check out Nikwax Wool Wash to keep your wool fresh. Most Merino pieces listed (except Ella’s Wool) can also be tumble dried on low.
About once a month, I gather all the Merino I can find in the house and wash with Nikwax Wool Wash. It comes out smelling fresh and its nice and soft after drying.TMM Team Member Jami
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, might get 2 wears out of an item if not sweaty. 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. Base wash helps clean and deodorize synthetic base layers.
Most synthetics can be tumble dried on low, but air drying is best for some pieces.
Base Layers for Kids
Base layers will be a game changer for your kids if they aren’t already using them.
If they are using them and don’t love them or avoid wearing them then it might be worth trying another brand to get a fit, fabric, or style that works better.
As a team we speak from experience that warmth truly comes from the inside out and warm kids will stay and play longer outside with less complaining.
Any great base layers we missed? Please share, we would love to try out your favorite and add to our review!
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Best Base Layers for Kids
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