Not all base layers will fit all conditions.
There is a big difference in temperature between going skiing at the beginning of January or in mid-April. And there’s an even bigger difference in temperature between going skiing in cold Trysil in Norway and going skiing in sunny Serre Chevalier in France.
So I thought, I would make a short guide to base layers for different conditions and include some trusted recommendations as well.
Base layers for skiing quick guide
The base layer is the clothing you put on first, and it usually consists of a top and pants. However, you can also get one-piece (or onesies) base layers if you prefer, they are just not as common.
Base layers are designed to wick away sweat from your body. When you stay dry, you stay warm.
How should a base layer fit?
The base layer needs to have a tight (or athletic) fit against your skin.
A base layer has to lay against your body to pick up moisture and wick it away from your body and into the mid layer and shell.
If the base layer is to lose it simply won’t be able to transfer the moisture away from your skin.
What is the wicking effect?
A base layer should always have a wicking effect.
Avoid cotton at any cost! Even though cotton is warm, cotton will absorb and hold on to moisture instead of wicking it away. In cold temperatures, the wet cotton will get cooled and as a result cool your body temperature as well, which can be dangerous.
What are base layers made from?
Recommended base layers for skiing are either made from synthetic materials or merino wool. It is not uncommon to see base layers (even those made with merino wool) made from a blend of different materials.
Both types of base layers have pros and cons. They also work in different ways, which I’ll describe below.
Base layers made from synthetic materials
Base layers made from synthetic materials are light-weight, good at wicking away sweat, and quick drying. They are often made from a hybrid of polyamide, polyester, nylon, elastane or similar materials.
Compared to wool they offer little odor control (have a tendency to stink!). They are also slower, when it comes to regulating temperature.
I’ve found, that cheaper types of base layers have a bad fit and tend to shrink when machine-washed (which ruins the fit even further). In my experience, they also have a tendency to get itchy and become static.
Synthetic base layers are often cheaper, than base layers made from wool.
Base layers made from merino wool
Base layers made from merino wool are lightweight, offers excellent odor protection, and is soft on the skin.
Merino wool is grown by merino sheep, which live in icy conditions in New Zealand, and is thinner and softer than regular wool.
The reason merino wool doesn’t stink is that of the lanolin and keratin wax in the wool, which is naturally produced by sheep. These give the merino wool antibacterial properties, which makes it possible to wear a merino wool base layer for a whole week of skiing, without the need for
Merino wool doesn’t have the same wicking abilities as synthetic materials. Instead, merino wool relies on absorbing sweat, but it does so while maintaining its breathability and temperature regulation abilities at the same time (as opposed to cotton).
Merino wool fibers are porous and trap moisture vapor inside. Synthetic materials transport sweat as a liquid, which means that your body has to heat it to evaporate it, which can make you feel clammy. Merino wool skips this step by trapping the moisture when it is still vapored. In fact, merino wool can trap up to 30% of its weight in moisture and still feel dry on your skin.
Merino wool has a natural insulating effect because the wool will crimp and trap dead air, which in turn acts as a buffer against the cold.
As your body temperature rises, the moisture trapped within the fibers of merino wool will start to evaporate, and the dead air will starts to cool. It is because of this, that merino wool is so good at keeping you warm and dry at the same time.
And the thicker or more heavy-weight (more on that in a moment) a base layer you choose, the worse the wicking abilities become.
Merino wool also provides natural UV protection.
Merino wool baselayers are made from sustainable materials, and is biodegradable.
Base layers made from merino wool are more expensive than base layers made from synthetic materials though. And they are also heavier.
I must admit, that I had my doubts when I first heard of merino wool. My prior experience with wool up to that point had been, that it was itchy, warm and uncomfortable to wear.
But merino wool is none of those things. It doesn’t itch, and it is very soft on the skin. I also love the fact, that it doesn’t stink after a day of skiing.
Base layers and weight classes
Base layers for skiing are usually classified into three weight classes: lightweight, mid-weight, and heavyweight. The weight classes are measured in grams/m2 fabric weight. The higher number of grams per square meter, the warmer the base layer is.
Lightweight insulation usually ranges from 170-200 grams. These are good at the end of the season in Marts or April when it is balmy. If you pair them with a warm mid-layer, softshell or 3-in-1 jacket, you can also wear them earlier in the season. I would not recommend these for cold or icy conditions though.
Mid-weight insulation usually ranges from 200-300 grams. This weight class is the most versatile when it comes to recreational skiing. When I go skiing in the Alps early or mid-season, this is the base layer weight class, I usually bring.
Heavyweight insulation is anything from 300 grams and up. If I go skiing in Norway or Sweden in early or mid-season, this is definitely the type of base layers, I’ll bring. Heavyweight insulation is sometimes worn as an extra layer of insulation on top of e.g. a lightweight base layer.
A quick tip on base layer pants
When you’re shopping for base layer pants, don’t look for the full-length version. Instead, see if you can find a 3/4-length version, which matches the base layer top.
You don’t want the pants to go into the ski boots, because that can cause a lot of sore skin from chafing and they’ll conflict with your ski socks. And baselayers are usually so tight, that you just can’t pull them up over your calf.
I love 3/4-length base layer pants because they stop right above the ski boots.
Recommended base layers for skiing
So let’s have a look at some brands of base layers, that I trust to do the job of keeping me warm on the slopes.
When possible, I’ve included the pants as well.
SmartWool NTS Mid 250 Baselayer is made from 100% merino wool and is in the mid-weight insulation category with 250g/m2. It has flatlock seams, which eliminates chafing.
The SmartWool NTS Mid 250 Baselayer top is available in two versions – one with a crew neck and one with a 1/4 zip down the front. Both versions are available for women and men.
I especially like the length of the arms on this one, since a lot of athletic fits tops, I’ve tried, have suffered from being too short in the arms. I haven’t had this problem with this one.
Another brand I trust to keep me warm is Icebreaker. The Icebreaker Merino Oasis Midweight Base Layer is made from 100% merino wool at 200g/m2. Thus it is a bit lighter and cooler than the SmartWool mentioned above. I would still classify it as a mid-weight mid-season base layer for most – except the very cold – resorts.
If you have a warm mid-layer or insulated jacket, and you find the 250g option a tad to warm, this might be what you’re looking for instead. This specific model comes with a zip neck collar for temperature regulation and flatlock seams. It also has nice long sleeves which goes nicely together with the athletic fit.
WoolX makes the heavyweight champion of base layers. This is the type of base layer I’ll bring when I go skiing early or mid-season in Sweden or Norway.
This base layer is made from 100% merino wool at 400g/m2 and is an excellent choice when the temperature reaches temperatures between -20 to -30 degrees Celsius (-4 to -22 degrees Fahrenheit).
Below you can find a zip and crew neck version for men, and the crew neck version for women. For some reason, I was unable to track down the women’s zip version. I also haven’t been able to track down a 3/4-version of the pants, and I won’t recommend any just for the sake of recommending something. Instead, you could go with the 250 SmartWool pants mentioned above.
Helly Hansen is another brand, that I trust, and the
This particular base layer is the light weight version, which is excellent as a late season base layer, or a mid-season base layer combined with a good insulating mid-layer or ski jacket.
The Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe series is a synthetic base layer top made from polypropylene. It has excellent wicking properties and best of all, I don’t find it itchy like some of the cheaper alternatives on the market.
One-piece base layers won’t cause any chafing around the hips, which can sometimes happen because of the double fabric and elastic waistbands from both top and pants clashing with each other. You’re also free from the top creeping up your back.
One-piece base layers are a great way to keep warm, but they are not as versatile as a set consisting of a top and bottoms. E.g., you can’t match a 400g/m2 top with 250g/m2 bottoms.
If you prefer one-piece base layers (or onesies), I would again recommend a base layer from SmartWool.
The SmartWool Merino 250 Baselayer One-Piece is a midweight one-piece base layer made from 100% merino wool at 250g/m2. It comes with a close-fit hood, thumbholes, and a zippered drop tail (front zip closure) for nature breaks.
I hope you’ll find this information useful, when you’re shopping for your next base layer.
What is your favorite brand of base layers and why? If you got a good tip for an excellent base layer, please share in the comments.
Happy skiing and keep warm and dry 🙂