Ok gals, it’s time to talk layers. Specifically, the best base layers for women. You can have the warmest hiking jacket and pants to match, but without the right base layers on, you might as well forget it – you’re still gonna be cold.
Base layers are essential when it comes to suiting up for cold weather hiking. Not only do they keep you warm, but they also regulate body temperature and wick away moisture when you start to break a sweat. So if you plan on hiking anywhere where temperatures plummet, you bet you’ll want to wear the best base layers you can find.
Finding the best of the best, however, is another story. With different fits, fabrics, and weights, finding the right base layers for you and your comfort level is challenging. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ll go over what to look for as well as provide our top recommendations for the best base layers for women so you can suit up and get trekking.
For more of our top hiking gear recommendations, check out the Best Base Layers.
Quick Answer – The Best Base Layers for WomenKari Traa Rose Half-ZipView at REISmartwool Merino 250View at REISmartwool Merino 250 BottomsView at REIIcebreaker 200 OasisView at REIPatagonia Capilene AirView at REIIcebreaker 200 Oasis LeggingsView at REIREI Co-op Merino MidweightView at REIREI Co-op Merino Midweight TightsView at REIArc’teryx Rho LTView at REIOdlo Performance LightView at REI
Comparison Table – Best Base Layer for WomenPictureNameStyleInsulationMoisture WickingPriceRating-Kari Traa Rose Half-ZipHalf-zip Mock-neck TopMidweightYes$$4.4Smartwool Merino 250Quarter-zip Mock-neck TopMidweightYes$$4.5Smartwool Merino 250 BottomsForm-fitting BottomsMidweightYes$$4.2Icebreaker 200 OasisCrew-neck TopMidweightYes$$4.7Patagonia Capilene AirCrew-neck TopLightweightYes$$4.9Icebreaker 200 Oasis LeggingsForm-fitting BottomsMidweightYes$$4.8REI Co-op Merino MidweightCrew-neck TopMidweightYes$4.4REI Co-op Merino Midweight TightsForm-fitting BottomsMidweightYes$4.4Arc’teryx Rho LTPartial Zip Mock-neck TopLightweightYes$$$4.2Odlo Performance LightCrew-neck TopLightweightYes$5.0PictureNameStyleInsulationMoisture WickingPriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.
Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.Reviews – The Best Women’s Base LayersKari Traa Rose Half-ZipSpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Half-zip Mock-neck TopUPF: N/AMoisture Wicking: YesFeaturesFun DesignBreathableSoftBEST FOR: STEADY-PACED HIKERS
Fun and flattering, Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip speaks to a women’s curves and their need to stay warm. This mock-neck style top features next-to-skin comfort with plenty of insulation to go along with it.
On a chilly day, zip up the front half-zip to the top of the collar and stay toasty. As you get into your steady trail groove, you can unzip for additional ventilation. Should you really find yourself exuding some energy, the naturally moisture-wicking wool and thinner side panels will eliminate the feeling of being stifled by allowing your skin to breathe. If you’re the stylish type who sets a steady tempo, you’ll dig what the Kari Traa Rose Half-Zip has in store for you.
View at REIView at AmazonSmartwool Merino 250SpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Quarter-zip Mock-neck TopUPF: 50+Moisture Wicking: YesFeaturesComfortableExcellent Sun ProtectionWarmBEST FOR: COLD, SUNNY HIKES
Since the Merino 250 Quarter Zip was introduced it has been a favorite base layer for a range of activities and you bet at the top of that list is hiking. Comprised of naturally odor-resistant and moisture-wicking merino wool, the Merino 250 Quarter Zip is warm when you’re cold and breathable when you start to work up a sweat.
The mock-collar protects your neck from the chill while the front quarter-zip offers additional ventilation when you start to warm up. Toss on your day pack and enjoy your hike chafe-free thanks to the seamless shoulder panels. The Smartwool 250 Merino Quarter-Zip also boasts a high UPF rating so you’ll have incredible sun protection.
View at REIView at AmazonSmartwool Merino 250 BottomsSpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Form-fitting BottomsUPF: 50+Moisture Wicking: YesFeaturesExcellent Sun ProtectionChafe-FreeComfortable In Varying WeatherBEST FOR: PAJAMA-LIKE COMFORT
Slip into the Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms and you’ll feel like you just put on your favorite pair of skinny jeans. Super soft and chafe-free, the Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms are designed to maximize your comfort level while tailoring to your curves.
Made from merino wool, this bottom base layer does well at regulating body temperature both in colder and warmer climates. You’ll find the midweight insulation is superb for hiking on more frigid days while still fitting snug under your hiking pants without causing unwanted bulk. The waistline, however, rides on the low side. If you prefer high-waisted pants, you may want to consider another option.
View at REIView at AmazonIcebreaker 200 OasisSpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Crew-neck TopUPF: 20Moisture Wicking: YesFeaturesSuper SoftIncredibly ComfortableBreathableBEST FOR: EVERYDAY USE TOP LAYER
The Icebreaker 200 Oasis Crew is a solid go-to for an everyday base layer. Put on this snug-fitting base layer and you’ll find this top to be soft, breathable, and comfortable. The merino wool will suit you well in maintaining proper body heat while the sleeves are designed for increased mobility. Pair that with the natural odor-resistant and moisture-wicking capability of the wool and you have a recipe for the perfect hiking companion.
Designed for the avid hiker, the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Crew is great for year-round use. However, if you’re looking to hike in some seriously harsh winter weather, you’ll want a warmer base layer.
View at REIView at AmazonPatagonia Capilene AirSpecsInsulation: LightweightMaterial: Merino Wool and Recycled Capilene PolyesterStyle: Crew-neck TopUPF: N/AMoisture Wicking: YesFeaturesChafe-freeQuick-dryingOdor-resistantBEST FOR: VERY ACTIVE HIKERS
If the cold doesn’t stop you from jumping into a heart-pumping trek, you’ll be excited to see what the Patagonia Capilene Air has in store for you. Perspiration is no match for this lightweight crew-neck top thanks to the wool and synthetic blend.
As the cold does it’s best to nip at your core, the super soft wool keeps you incredibly warm while maintaining excellent breathability. Meanwhile, the recycled polyester ramps up the wicking and quick-drying power of the knitted blend. The Patagonia Capilene Air will suit you well if you love to get a good sweat in. However, the knit fabric may not be the most durable when it comes to snags or tears so it’s best to stay on the trail – no bushwhacking or route finding in this top!
View at REIView at BackcountryIcebreaker 200 Oasis LeggingsSpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Form-fitting BottomsUPF: 20Moisture Wicking: YesFeaturesGreat Mobility ComfortableBreathableOdor-resistantBEST FOR: EVERYDAY USE BOTTOMS
The last thing you want on a hike is your bottom base layer constricting your movement and weighing you down. Enter the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Leggings. Thermoregulating and exceptionally mobile, the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Leggings are a great go-to bottom layer for a range of hikes.
Along with warmth and unrestricted movement, you’ll also enjoy next to skin comfort with the soft and breathable merino wool. You’ll also have some good sun protection with the UPF 20+ rating. Versatile and comfy, the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Leggings are the cold weather piece in your collection you’ll be turning to time and time again.
View at REIView at AmazonREI Co-op Merino MidweightSpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Crew-neck TopUPF: N/AMoisture Wicking: YesFeaturesExcellent Arm MobilitySoft And Comfy FitEfficient BreathabilityBEST FOR: HIKING ON A BUDGET
The REI Co-op line is known for pumping out some quality products that fit nicely into the budget. The REI Co-op Merino Midweight is no exception. Sporting a looser fit, the REI Co-op Merino Midweight is a terrific option for a chilly day.
This crew-neck top is made from ultrafine merino wool so it’s soft to the touch without all the annoying itch. The flat seams are also much appreciated as they eliminate chafing that could otherwise be caused by friction between other layers or your pack.
Warm and light, this top is an excellent option for hiking in mild to cold weather. However, for rugged hikes where you need exceptional breathability and abrasion-resistant material, it may be better to go with another option.
View at REIREI Co-op Merino Midweight TightsSpecsInsulation: MidweightMaterial: Merino WoolStyle: Form-fitting BottomsUPF: N/AMoisture Wicking: YesFeaturesGreat MobilityAffordableWarmBEST FOR: WARM BOTTOMS ON A BUDGET
If you’re digging what the REI Co-op Merino Midweight top has going for it, you should really check out the corresponding bottoms. The REI Co-op Merino Midweight Tights are a great value for those who aren’t looking to splurge.
Test these wool tights out on the trail in brisk weather and you’ll find yourself warm with ample range of motion. Pick up the pace and the wool will naturally wick your sweat away. While these tight are great for the price, they may not be as durable as other options. Also, due to the ultrafine merino wool, the REI Co-op Merino Midweight Tights may be lighter than the insulation suggests. However, if you’re shopping on a budget and are more of a casual cold weather hiker, these tights should suit you just fine.
View at REIArc’teryx Rho LTSpecsInsulation: LightweightMaterial: Polyester And ElastaneStyle: Partial Zip Mock-neck TopUPF: N/AMoisture Wicking: YesFeaturesExcellent Range Of MotionHigh CollarGreat FitArm Zip PocketBEST FOR: SNOWY HIKES
If you’re the adventurous type in need of a base layer to match, you’ll want to consider the Arc’teryx RHO LT. This partial zip mock-neck top exudes heat with exceptional thermoregulation that’s begging to be worn in the backcountry.
Superior in quality, the Arc’teryx RHO LT has just about everything going for it. This base layer is durable, comfortable, warm, flattering, and even has a stash pocket on the sleeve. Slip into this base layer and you’ll feel liberated rather than weighed down thanks to the lightweight insulation. The downside? This base layer does fit tighter than some and may not be the most breathable on the list. It’s also very pricey. That said, if you’re looking for exceptional quality with the warmth to match, you’ll find it here.
View at REIView at AmazonOdlo Performance LightSpecsInsulation: LightweightMaterial: Polyester/Polyamide/ElastaneStyle: Crew-neck TopUPF: N/AMoisture Wicking: YesFeaturesSuper LightGood VentilationGreat Range Of MotionBEST FOR: MILD CONDITIONS
When it’s just a little too cold not to wear a base layer, throw on the Odlo Performance Light Crew. Super light and thin, the Odlo Performance Light Crew has just the right amount of warmth without going overboard.
The Odlo Performance Light Crew adapts to your body temperature as you focus on your activity intensity level. With ventilation zones strategically placed throughout the top, you’ll find this shirt breathable when you really start to challenge yourself. Although this top hugs every part of your curves, it won’t restrict your range of motion which is a must when the trail gets tricky. Although, if you’re not a fan of tight tops or need a warmer layer, we suggest one of the other options.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING BASE LAYERS FOR WOMEN
One of the most important factors you need to consider when choosing base layers is weight. The three different weight categories are:
Base layers made from lighter, thinner fabric that’s made for mild to cool temperatures.
Base layers designed for cold temperatures and best used during moderate activity.
Base layers meant for the coldest, harshest conditions. They’ll be thicker than the other layers and less moisture wicking.
Relaxed or form-fitting, every lady wants to feel good in how their clothes fit. That said, base layers can be tricky. Too tight and you may find yourself needing to make constant re-adjustments or encountering a restricted range of motion. On the other hand, if your base layers are too loose, they’ll let too much heat escape which is precisely the opposite of their purpose! Find layers that are snug enough to comfortably layer under your mid and outer layers without letting heat escape. Check out our guide on What to Hear Hiking for more tips and considerations.
There’s an art to layering and it goes like this: base layer, mid-layer, outer layer. Combined, these three layers are your best defense against the cold. So that means you want to make sure at the core of your defense is the best layer up to the challenge.
Choose a base layer that can fit comfortably under the other two layers while providing enough warmth to match the intensity and temperature of your hike. Then, you can take off the other layers and toss them on as needed without losing your core heat.
Nobody likes feeling stifled by their clothes when hiking. Before you choose a base layer, make sure the breathability matches your level of activity. If you’re a fast and swift hiker, you’ll be working up a sweat, so more breathable materials will be your friend. If you’re just planning on taking a stroll through a wintery wonderland, then it might be in your best interest to choose a heavier weight base layer, to keep you warm while you’re moving slowly through the cold wilderness.
SYNTHETIC VERSUS WOOL
The two main types of materials you’ll encounter when purchasing a base layer are synthetic and wool. Here’s the difference:
Wool is naturally moisture-wicking, breathable, odor-resistant, and thermoregulating. The drawback is that it often comes at a hefty price.
Synthetic base layers can range in materials with polyester, nylon, and blends being the most popular. These are quick-drying, durable, and typically less expensive.
Whether you decide to go with wool base layers or synthetic is totally up to you. It may be worthwhile trying out some layers made of both types to get a feel for what you prefer and then make your decision once you know what you like.
The UPF rating is a sun protection rating that clothing manufacturers assign to a garment to communicate how well it blocks out the sun. A UPF of 50+ is the highest rating you’ll come across, meaning it blocks out the most harmful UV rays.
Merino Wool is the most common type of wool you’ll encounter in outdoor apparel. It’s coveted for being moisture-wicking, breathable, durable, quick-drying, great for sun protection, and less itchy than other wool. It’s also incredibly thermoregulating which means it helps you maintain your core temperature in warm and cold weather.
Polyester is a synthetic material that is durable and hydrophobic.
Capilene Polyester is a synthetic, proprietary material made by Patagonia. This material is moisture-wicking, breathable, and temperature regulating.
For more of our top hiking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles:
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