To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Best base layers 2023: Layer up for every season from just £45

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.

READ NEXT: These are the best walking shoes to buy right now

The best base layers for men and women in 2023

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

Price: £80 | 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: Pink, purple, black, 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 £85 | 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, grey, navy, red

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: From £20 | 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 Long-sleeve 140 (for men and women): Most versatile base layer top

Price: From £55 | Buy men’s | women’s from Montane

Montane’s Primino 140 tops use an ingenious 140g fabric which blends synthetic Primaloft and natural merino wool yarns, and the result is a lightweight baselayer that’s ideal for spring, autumn and summer sports. The fabric blend is a combination that’s warm, sweat-wicking and faster to dry than 100% merino, and on test we found these tops wicked away sweat really well and stopped odours in their tracks – ideal for multi-day adventures such as wild camping and long-distance hiking. Flatlocked seams work well with backpacks and harnesses, too.

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

Buy women’s now from Montane

Buy men’s now from Montane

5. Under Armour ColdGear Up the Pace top (for men and women): Best base layer for sports

Price: From £42 | Buy men’s | women’s from Under Armour

A firm favourite with gym fans and sporty types, Under Armour’s ColdGear 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 isn’t high, 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 long-sleeved top for men and funnel-neck top for women that both work well for skiing, hiking and winter cycling.

Key specs – Material: Polyester and Elastane; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-XL; Colours: black, navy, pale blue

Buy women’s from Under Armour

Buy men’s from Under Armour

6. Mountain Warehouse CoreDry base layer set for men and women: Best base layer set

Price: £35 | Buy men’s | women’s from Mountainwarehouse

Base layers can be very expensive, but if you’re on a budget Mountain Warehouse is here to come to the rescue – their quality CoreDry set of long-sleeved top and full-length bottoms retails for as little as £35 (regular price still a very reasonable £50). These comfy and super-stretchy inner layers are made with recycled synthetic yarn and have comfortable flatlocked seams ideal for use with a backpack. They’re a touch too thin for winter sports, but ideal for layering under waterproofs for hiking and camping. 

Key specs – Material: Recycled polyester; Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-XXL; Colours: black, blue, navy

Buy now from Mountain Warehouse

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

Price: From £46 | 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

8. Sweaty Betty Ski Jacquard Leggings (for women): Best for stylish skiers

Price: From £80 | Buy now from Sweaty Betty

A cult favourite among fitness bloggers, Sweaty Betty’s retro-looking base layers aren’t just good-looking – they’re also comfortable and warm to wear. These synthetic knitted layers are primarily aimed at skiers, but the seamless design means they won’t dig in anywhere, so they’re ideal for sports and fitness, as well as providing warmth when you’re out and about. We particularly like the high waist and wide waistband of these fun patterned leggings. Our only criticism is that the insides of these thermals are quite delicate – they need gentle washing, and threads can come loose or snarl up if you catch them on jewellery.

Key specs – Material: polyamide Stretch: Yes; Sizes: XS-XL; Colours: navy/cream

Buy now from Sweaty Betty

Read more

Best Buys