Layering: How to Choose Base Layers

The success of any cold weather layering system depends on the base layer. As the next to skin layer, your base layer or long underwear needs to feel comfortable against the skin, wick moisture away and dry quickly. Follow the below advice on how to choose base layers.

Wicking Base Layers

It sounds funny to say your clothing needs to wick moisture away but that is exactly what a base layer needs to do. Much like how a candle wick pulls the fuel to the flame, your base layer should pull sweat and moisture away from your skin. The moisture will pass through the fabric where it can dry faster keeping you feeling dry and comfortable.

Why Base Layers Matter

If you wear layers that don't wick away moisture, such as cotton, you'll feel humid and wet under the outer layers. In warm weather, that humidity will feel disgusting and uncomfortable. In cold and windy weather, a wet base layer can lead to life threatening conditions.

A moisture wicking base layer will:

  • Keep you feeling comfortable all afternoon by eliminating dramatic swings in body temperature.

  • Keep you from feeling wet or clammy.

  • Provide a soft and comfortable layer next to your skin

What Fabrics Make the Best Next to Skin Layers?

  • Synthetics: 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.

  • Silk: Effective wicking and insulating fabric that's comfortable and lightweight, but not as durable as polyester-based fabrics. Silk may also require special care (see care label).

  • Merino Wool: soft and comfortable to the touch, 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 is a little more expensive and may require some special care when washing and drying.

For more details on the benefits of Synthetic and Merino Wool Base Layers click here: Wool vs. Synthetic. Or visit our Layering Buying Guide for more information on layering for the outdoors.
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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