Best base layers 2022: Layer up for every season from just £42

Sian Lewis
16 Mar 2022

Fend off the cold and stay comfy all year round with our pick of the best base layers for men and women

Base layers are the key to keeping warm and comfortable outdoors – these are the clothes you wear next to your skin, so they’re a crucial layer to get right. A snuggly thermal base layer can be a lifesaver for snow sports or all-weather hiking, and in warmer conditions, sweat-wicking tops and bottoms worn on their own are also ideal for climbing, cycling and other outdoor pursuits.

In short, a good pair of leggings and a matching long-sleeved top can serve you well all year round – and they can help to eke the absolute best performance from all the other layers in your wardrobe, too. It’s well worth investing in a high-quality set – or several sets for longer trips – and in this article, we’ll explain what to look out for and recommend several of our favourite synthetic, bamboo and merino base layers for both men and women.

READ NEXT: Check out our favourite socks for walking and hiking

How to choose the best base layer for you

A good base layer should fit closely to your skin without being restrictive; ideally, it will have some stretch and give, so it clings to your body when you move, keeping the warmth in. When you try on leggings and tops, check that you can move your arms and legs freely, with no baggy space for cold air to get in. In particular, look for snug cuffs on arms and ankles; we always look for a wide, comfortable waistband on leggings too. If you’re taller or shorter than average, remember to check the lengths of sleeves and trouser legs.

What material should I look for?

Base layers are usually made from either synthetic materials – such as polyester or a polyester blend – or natural materials such as merino wool. The advantages of polyester are that it’s very light and quick to dry, and it can be quite cheap.

Merino wool (either 100% merino or a stretchier blend) tends to be pricier, but it’s naturally antibacterial, and can be better at wicking away sweat, so it typically doesn’t need washing so often – perfect if you’re planning an extended camping trip that will take you away from showers and washing machines for a few days.

Wool base layers can be slightly itchy, however, so they’re definitely worth trying on in person to check before you buy. You may also find that a merino blend will have more stretch than pure wool. A third, relatively new option, is bamboo base layers, which are also antibacterial and often wonderfully soft to wear.

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The best base layers for men and women in 2022

1. Odlo Blackcomb ECO with face mask: Best all-round base layer

Price: £64 | Buy men’s | women’s from Odlo

We’ve put Blackcomb base layers through months of outdoor adventures, and they’ve never let us down. These soft synthetic garments are comfortable and form-fitting (yet still flattering), with a ribbed shape that stays put all day – and they’re so light it barely feels like you’re wearing anything at all.

They’ll keep you snug in snow, but are breathable and comfortable enough to wear alone, and they’re durable too: we’ve washed them multiple times and they always come out looking and performing like new.

Versions are available both with and without high necks, and we like this facemask variant which has a built-in mask to provide added protection from the cold.

Key specs – Material: Various; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-XL; Colours: Blue, grey, green

Buy men’s from OdloBuy women’s from Odlo

2. Icebreaker Merino 200 Oasis Thermal leggings for men and women: Best base layer leggings

Price: From £59 | Buy men’s | women’s from Icebreaker

Keep the bottom half of your body super snug in these brilliant merino tights. We love wearing these Icebreaker leggings as a base layer for walking and skiing – the 100% merino wool construction means that they’re delightfully warm, highly breathable and there’s enough figure-hugging stretch to stop them bunching up.

The jersey material is pleasingly comfy – you can even sleep in these leggings on a winter camping trip. Unlike synthetic bottoms, these merino leggings have a soft, natural feel against the skin. These are firmly in the ‘underwear’ rather than the ‘leggings’ camp – it’s a pity they are too thin and see-through to work alone as workout bottoms, but as breathable long johns they’re a great quality choice.

Key specs – Material: Merino; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-XL; Colours: Black

Buy men’s from Icebreaker Buy women's from Icebreaker

3. Finisterre Vela bamboo base layers (for women) and Bora bamboo base layers (for men): Best casual base layers

Price: £50 | Buy men's | women's from Finisterre

Cornish brand Finisterre makes great quality outdoor kit in nature-inspired colours, and its new bamboo range of base layers are stand-out pieces.

We love these soft neutral tops and bottoms for men and women because, unlike sportier-looking base layers, they work well for both casual day-to-day clothing and active adventures. The tops, in particular, look great with jeans when you aren’t out hiking, making Finisterre’s offerings good value for money – and that versatility is particularly welcome when you’re travelling light.

These bamboo layers are stretchy but quite tight-fitting, so you may want to pick a size up if you like a boxier fit. Merino sets are also available if you’re after something for cold weather.

Key specs – Material: Bamboo; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: 8-16 / XS-XL; Colours: Various

Buy men's from FinisterreBuy women's from Finisterre

4. Montane Primino 140 (for men and women): Most versatile base layer

Price: From £50 | Buy now from Montane

Clever Montane offers two lines of base layers – 140 and 220, named after their respective weights. These lighter 140g pieces are ideal for summer sports, while their heavier counterparts are more suited to snow sports and winter hiking. You can choose from a range of tasteful colours, and long and short sleeve styles, as well as liner gloves, buffs and underwear; it’s hard to resist building up an entire wardrobe! We particularly love the mix of merino wool and stretchy warm PrimaLoft – a combination that’s warm, sweat-wicking and faster to dry than 100% merino.

Key specs – Material: Merino wool and PrimaLoft; Stretch: No; Sizes: S-XXL; Colours: Black, blue, red

Buy now from Montane

5. Under Armour Cold Gear Base 4.0 Crew top (for men and women): Best base layer for sports

Price: From £65 | Buy men's | women's from Under Armour

A firm favourite with gym fans and sporty types, Under Armour’s Cold Gear range is designed for use in the winter months, and can be relied on when temperatures drop.. A simple, slick design and a beautiful fit make them a joy to wear, and we found the great stretch from the Elastene was ideal for more vigorous activities. What’s more, even though the price is low, of all the base layers we’ve tested, these proved the fastest to dry, and the best at wicking away sweat. Perfect for anyone who likes to get really active in the great outdoors. Our pick of the range is the simple but effective Base 4.0 Crew, a long-sleeved top that works well for skiing, hiking and winter cycling. Perfect for anyone who likes to get really active in the great outdoors in any weather.

Key specs – Material: Polyester and Elastane; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-XL; Colours: Various

Buy women's from Under Armour

Buy men's from Under Armour

6. BAM bamboo zip neck base layer (for women): Best for the back-country

Price: From £42 | Buy now from Bamboo Clothing

Ultra-comfy, organic and highly breathable, bamboo is a fantastic material for sportswear. And BAM’s base layers, with their comfy crew necks and thumbholes, aren’t just comfortable – they’re smart enough to wear as regular tops and leggings, not to mention great value for money.

These tops are supremely comfortable and almost disappear once you have them on, regardless of whether you’re walking, climbing, skiing or cycling. We also love the thumb holes which are handy if you’re wearing gloves on top.

Effective antibacterial properties make bamboo a treat for camping or back-country expeditions: you can hike for days in this zip-neck base layer without offending the noses of your hiking companions.

Key specs – Material: Bamboo; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: 8-16; Colours: Black, yellow, pink, blue

Buy now from Bamboo Clothing

7. Mountain Warehouse merino base layer set for men and women: Best base layer set

Price: £50 | Buy now from Mountain Warehouse

Merino wool really is a bit of a wonder material for base layers – it’s naturally warm but breathable and it wicks away sweat, so it’s perfect if you’re getting active.

It can be expensive, but Mountain Warehouse have a great set available that doesn’t break the bank and that includes a merino crew top and long-sleeved leggings for just £50. A women’s set isn’t currently available to buy together, but you can buy the same pieces individually for £60, which is still excellent value.

The 50% merino construction of these designs means that they naturally resist odours – ideal if you’re camping or skiing in the backcountry for days at a time – and are soft and comfy against the skin, unlike other wool base layers which can feel scratchy.

Key specs – Material: Merino wool; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-3XL; Colours: black, grey, khaki, navy

Buy now from Mountain Warehouse

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