When it comes to hiking, layering clothes is the key to staying comfortable in the great outdoors. Though high-quality jackets and pants are always a good idea, you should never neglect the most important piece of hiking clothing: your base layer.
A base layer for hiking needs to tick a lot of boxes. For example, you want a base layer that is moisture-wicking, quick-drying, formfitting, and provides excellent temperature regulation. But finding a perfect match can be a real challenge, with so many clothing options on the market. How do you know if a product lives up to its promised quality standard? And how can you be sure the base layer is comfortable enough for all-day wear?
That is exactly why we’ve done the hard work for you, taking the guesswork out of buying the ‘Best Base Layer For Hiking’. Our experts have rounded up our favorite base layers for every type of camping trip, and budget. From high-quality wool base layers that will keep you warm and comfy in cold weather conditions, to ultralight and odor-resistant options that will keep you dry on any backcountry adventure.
We’ve also ensured that the lightweight base layers featured in this overview are available in both a men’s fit and a women’s fit, ensuring there’s a perfect match for every hiker*.
In a hurry? Here’s the test winner after 10 hours of research:
Discover our other favorites below, and upgrade your hiking & backpacking comfort with one of these high-quality base layers:
*Disclaimer: Do note that in this overview, we’re focusing solely on base layer tops, and will not include base layer bottoms. If you’re looking for a base layer bottom, keep an eye on upcoming Outdoor Command posts for reviews of leggings, pants, long underwear and more.
Best Base Layer For Hiking – Overview
Smartwool Merino 250 Wool Active Crew Shirt
The Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew has a slim fit design, allowing for easy layering with other hiking clothes, without feeling bulky. The top itself features a special interlock knit and merino wool shoulder panels, which enhances its comfort even further. The moisture-wicking 100% merino wool used also has great odor-resistant properties, meaning that any hiking sweat is dealt with swiftly, and cleanly!
Other perks of the Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew is that the long-sleeve top has targeted insulation and ventilation, plus features a special flatlock seam construction. This flatlock seam construction is specially designed to minimize chafing, ensuring this top is suited for all-day activewear, without the risk of skin irritation.
Machine-washable merino wool
Quite often wool base layers are not machine-washable, but fortunately, the Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew is. This makes clean-up after a hiking trip a lot easier! The Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew can be machine-washed on a warm, gentle cycle. It’s even can be tumble-dried on low! That said, we would recommend letting it air dry, as merino and tumble dryers can be a recipe for shrunken disaster…
Overall, the Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew is simply a fantastic choice in outdoor gear. This merino base layer ticks all the boxes: it helps wick moisture, has anti-odor properties, is lightweight and slim fit, and adheres to a premium quality standard. If you want a first-class top that will last you for many hiking trips to come, add this long-sleeve crew top to your closet!
The Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew is available in a Men’s version (as listed in this product review) and a Women’s version: available here.
Icebreaker Merino 175 Everyday Merino Wool Base Layer
Do note that though the merino wool used is 100% pure, the actual fabric of the top is a blend of 85% merino wool and 15% synthetic material. This means that this ultralight long-sleeve t-shirt combines the benefits of merino wool, with a high-quality stretchy rib fabric that moves with you. The result is a non-restricting, super comfy base layer that is suited for year-round usage. Whether you need insulation on bad weather days, or a sun-blocker to keep you shielded from harmful UV-rays on sunny days: this great-value wool base layer has got you – and your entire torso – firmly covered.
Ideal for 4-season usage
The long-sleeved Icebreaker 175 Long-Sleeved T-Shirt is finished with forward-set side seams, and a raglan seam construction – preventing chafing or skin irritation. According to its many 5-star reviews, this design can be worn for every kind of outdoor activity. It’s a versatile base layer that should give you plenty of wear. Though not as insulated as the Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew, the Icebreaker 175 Merino Wool Base Layer should still get the job done in most weather conditions. That said, if you’re looking for the warmest base layer: this could be a bit too light for you, but for 4-season usage, it’s an ideal (slim) fit.
The Icebreaker 175 Merino Wool Base Layer is available in a Men’s version (as listed in this product review) and a Women’s version: available here.
Carhartt Force Midweight Classic Thermal Base Layer
The Carhartt Force Midweight Classic uses a ‘RuggedFlex’ construction, which is a fancy term for saying the fabric is stretchy and moves with you. This mid-weight base layer features a classic waffle knit, which helps retain body heat, keeping you warm and cozy in cold weather conditions. The fabric is fast-drying, moisture-wicking, and has also undergone an anti-odor treatment – ensuring unwanted odors are not ‘trapped’.
The mid-weight Force Classic Base Layer comes with smooth, flat-lock seams to prevent chafing. The shirt is also tag-less, meaning no annoying labels to irritate the skin. This synthetic base layer also comes with handy, concealed thumb loops. When taking off, or putting on, another layer, simply hook your thumbs through the loops to keep your base layer firmly in place. Simply, yet clever! Another pro is that the shirt is machine-washable: ideal for quick clean-up when you get home from a hiking trip.
A wide size-range
Another perk is that the Carhartt Force Midweight Classic base layer is available in every kind of size: including options for extra tall hikers. From small to 4XL: there’s a comfy fit for every size requirement. The long-sleeve shirt can also be ordered in 5 different colors, allowing you to mix and match with your outer layers if desired.
Do note that we mostly recommend the Carhartt Force Midweight Tech Thermal Base Layer Long Sleeve Shirt for cold weather conditions, due to its body-heat retaining properties and warm, waffle-knit construction. If you’re looking for a base layer that can also be worn in warm weather, this may be a bit too insulated for you. In this case, we’d advise you to go for an ultralight wool base layer with excellent breathability – such as the previously listed Icebreaker 175 Merino Wool Base Layer – instead.
The affordable Carhartt Force Midweight Tech Thermal Base Layer Long Sleeve Shirt is ready to order via Amazon in a Men’s version (as listed in this product review) and a Women’s version: available here.
Under Armour ColdGear Mock Long Sleeve T-Shirt
If softness and warmth are your key priorities, then you’ll love the Under Armour Men’s ColdGear Compression Mock Long Sleeve T-Shirt. This synthetic base layer is all about keeping you warm and comfortable in cold conditions and is designed to effectively keep the chill under control.
The Under Armour ColdGear Long Sleeve T-Shirt is made of 87% polyester and 13% elastane. The fabric has a special dual-layer construction. The inner layer of the fabric is cozy with a brushed finish. Whilst the exterior layer is smooth and fast-drying. This means the shirt feels soft on the skin, whilst being smooth enough to prevent friction with other mid- and/or outer layers. This base layer is also machine washable, which to us is always a big plus.
The 4-way stretch construction of the Under Armour ColdGear base layer ensures the shirt moves with you, whichever direction you decide to go. The Under Armour ColdGear Long Sleeve T-Shirt will not irritate the skin, not is chafing a risk, thanks to its flat-seamed construction. The fabric of the shirt has also been treated with an anti-odor technology, which aids in preventing the growth of odor-causing microbes. Do note that this doesn’t mean you’ll smell of roses after a long day hiking the backcountry, but the anti-odor technology does help reduce unwanted body fragrances.
A snug, slim fit silhouette
In the product description of this synthetic base layer, the manufacturer does mention ‘compressing’, but according to customer reviews on Amazon, the shirt is merely ‘fitted’, not constricting. That said, you’re looking for a looser fit base layer, this may be a bit too snug for you. And we would advise you to consider the regular-fitted North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck instead.
Overall the Under Armour ColdGear Long Sleeve T-Shirt is highly-praised in Amazon customer reviews, receiving top-marks on comfort, quality, and value. Other hikers confirm the product keeps you properly warm when worn as a base layer, but also comment that it works great on its own as a sporty shirt for casual wear. So, whether you wear it underneath, or for everyone to see, the Under Armour ColdGear Long Sleeve T-Shirt should give you plenty of daily wear!
The highly-rated Under Armour ColdGear Long Sleeve T-Shirt is ready to order via Amazon in a Men’s version (as listed in this product review) and a Women’s version: available here.
The North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck
Though it’s stylish enough to be worn on casual occasions, the North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck comes into its element when you wear it hiking or backpacking. The design comes with plenty of perks for hikers. For example, the silhouette features rolled shoulder seams. These add durability, and won’t irritate the skin when you’re carrying a heavy backpack and its straps are pressing down on the seams.
Another reason we rate this shirt as one of the Best Base Layer for Hiking options is its fabric: FlashDry™ polyester. The North Face describes the fabric as “FlashDry™ fabrics are engineered to accelerate the removal of moisture from the skin and speed up evaporative drying. FlashDry™ enables you to stay drier, more comfortable and outperforming longer in a wide range of weather conditions and environments. FlashDry™ doesn’t add weight or bulk and never washes or wears out.”
UPF-30 sun protection
That’s not all. The North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck also protects against harmful UV-rays. The shirt has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 30, which makes it ideal as a breatheable layer to protect you against skin damage on warm, sunny days.
Do note that the North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck is listed as a regular fit, not a slim fit. According to Amazon reviews, the silhouette is looser than other brand’s base layers. Other hikers who’ve bought the shirt, therefore, recommend sizing down if you prefer a tighter fit. Also good to know, the North Face Hyperlayer is also available in a Hoodie version, and a short-sleeved Crew Neck T-shirt version – for those that prefer a different silhouette, but want to enjoy the same comfort and perks of this base layer style.
The North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck is available in a Men’s version (as listed in this product review) and a Women’s version: available here.
All 5 products on this Best Base Layer For Hiking Overview are a great addition to your outdoor apparel*. Which one is ‘the best’ for you, depends on where and when you plan to wear the hiking base layer. And – of course – how much you’re willing to spend on it. If you want a budget-friendly option that’s soft, comfortable, and that works all 4 seasons, the Under Armour ColdGear Long Sleeve T-Shirt is a top contender. If you’re looking for a top-grade wool base layer, and you don’t mind spending more, consider the highly-rated Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Crew Top. Made of 100% pure merino, its fabric has natural moisture-wicking properties and will keep you warm and dry, even on cold and strenuous hikes. Do you often find yourself hiking in wet conditions, or want a top specifically designed for maximum maneuverability on trails, then the HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck by the North Face could be a perfect fit. This quality base layer is ideal for year-round usage and offers outstanding value-for-money for its first-class. quality standard.
Spoiled for choice? Don’t worry: every base layer on this list is worth the money. We’ve ensured to only include products with high consumer ratings, serving as testimony that they are real-value deals that deliver on quality, comfort, and insulation. Meaning you can’t go wrong regardless of which base layer you pick!
*Disclaimer: In this article, we’ve only highlighted crew neck and mock neck shirts, as we rate these the most universal base layer styles. If you’re looking fora quarter-length zipper base layer and/or half-zip base layer to keep you warm on cold days, we still recommend you to check out the products in this overview on Amazon. Because some of the products listed are also available in different fits/silhouettes including hoodies and more.
If we had to pick a winner, we’d spend our money on the North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck. We think it offers maximum bang for your buck, considering it is suitable for year-round wear. It’s insulated enough to keep you warm in cold weather conditions, but also breathable enough to wear on warmer, sunny days. Plus, with its UPF-30 sun protection, it also keeps you safe and shielded from harmful UV-rays when worn as a sun blocker. Though we’re tempted by the quality of the wool base layers in this overview, we think the North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck simply offers better value-for-money. Plus, it’s special quick-drying synthetic fabric is a big selling point for us, as we often go hiking in rainy conditions.
That said, every item in this overview is worth the investment, and the North Face HyperLayer FC Long Sleeve Crew Neck is merely our personal favorite, not necessary ‘the best’ for every hiker.