Stay Warm With The Right Base Layer

A good base layer might be the most overlooked piece of gear for cold weather adventures. Experienced skiers, snowboarders, hikers and winter campers will tell you the right base layer can make the difference between a great day in the outdoors and a day you'd rather forget. Here's what you need to know about choosing a base layer.

Key Factors For Choosing a Base Layer



  • Comfort - It's right next to your skin. It should feel comfortable and not itchy.

  • Moisture Wicking - A base layer needs to be able to pull moisture away from your skin to keep you dry.

  • Quick Drying - If you start to over heat it is important that your base layer stays dry. If you become soaked in sweat and the weather turns cold you risk hypothermia.

  • Eliminate swings in body temperature - The right base layer should be able to help keep you warm when you need it but also keep you cool when you're overheating.


Base layers come in many different fabrics. Each of them have their own pluses and minuses. Let's look at the differences in base layer fabrics.

Cotton Base Layers


Cotton is a popular fabric for T-shirts and clothing because it's soft against the skin and is relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, cotton absorbs moisture and dries slowly. This means cotton will feel wet against your skin and it will take a long time to dry. This can potentially put you in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.

Silk Base Layers


Silk is comfortable against the skin, it's really light weight and it wicks moisture effectively. Silk base layers are not as durable as synthetic fabrics and may require special care when washing (always read the care instructions).

Synthetic Base Layers


A synthetic base layer, such as polyester or a polyester blend will wick moisture away from the skin, it's breathable, it's comfortable next to the skin and synthetics are relatively inexpensive.

Merino Wool


Merino Wool is really comfortable against the skin (this isn't your mom's wool sweater). Merino wool can hold up to a third of it's weight in moisture before it feels wet, dries quickly, and is naturally odor resistant. Merino wool base layers are generally more expensive than synthetic or silk base layers and it may require special care when washing.

Click here for more information on choosing the right base layer, layering tips or differences between wool and synthetic base layers.
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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