Layering while winter camping is critical to staying warm, dry and alive! When the mercury drops, your core body naturally wants to drop too! We are not naturally made to be outside for long periods of time. This is why it’s so important to wear layers made out of the right material. The sole function of the base layer is moisture management.
When you’re hiking, climbing or even setting up camp, you’re bound to work up a sweat. The base layer is intended to wick away that moisture from your skin! If you just let the sweat build up your body, you’re bound to get chilled. When you get chilled, it’s hard to warm up and the risks of hypothermia and frostbite suddenly become very real. In this article we will give you our take on the top 24 base layers for winter camping. For information on mid-layers see our article entitled “Top 29 Mid-Layers For Winter Camping“.
If you’re heading into the back-country to camp under the stars in mid-January, take the Fortress BasePro Neck with you. This well made, durable and versatile base layer is all you need to stay dry while camping, hiking and ice fishing in the great outdoors. Fortress is a Utah based company revolutionizing the way we think about outdoor gear.
The company developed a patented insulation, AERIS, that keeps you warm even if you become fully submerged in water! Even if you don’t fall in an ice hole, this base layer will wick away sweat faster than the winning car at the INDY 500. Because it’s insulated, this is like wearing a base layer and middle layer in one! It’s lightweight, durable and fits close to your skin.
The layer is made with 4-way stretch, so it moves with your body- preventing restriction and early wear and tear in high impact areas. This layer is also breathable so that sweat can move up and away from your body with ease. Pros: wicks away moisture, insulated, keeps you warm when wet, rated for -5 to 70 degrees F, replaces the need for a middle layer, comfortable. Cons: may be too bulky for high intense activities. Price about: $129
The BasePro Pant compliments the BasePro Neck and are designed to be worn together for an ultimate base layer. The BasePro Pant is what you want to be wearing when it’s bone chilling cold outside and you’re craving a mountain adventure. Even if you’re not into scaling peaks, these are great for cold soccer Saturday’s, watching your kids score another goal! Go team! The pants are insulated with AERIS loft in areas prone to getting chilled- quads, knees and the back of your legs.
Because they are insulated, you don’t need a middle layer with these pants! They are lightweight, breathable, durable and incredibly comfortable. With the BasePro rated for -5 to 70 degrees F, you can literally wear these pants all year round. The pants also keep you warm when wet, so you don’t have to worry about sweat bringing you down! Pros: comfortable, AERIS insulation, lightweight, warm when wet, wicks away moisture, breathable, adjustable waist. Cons: higher end of price about range. Price about: $129
The BasePro 1/4 Zip Top allows you the freedom to regulate your body temperature with a simple zipper. The 1/4 zip is great for those who need to cool off without releasing a whole lot of body heat. I imagine this would come in handy when you reach the top of vista in the mountains and you need a breather and a granola bar. This layer is made with AERIS insulation and polyester mesh. It’s rated to keep you dry and warm at -5 to 70 degrees.
The revolutionary material used in this base layer will keep you warm, when you overestimate the depth of that river! Who me? Yes YOU! Even if you don’t fall in a river, you’ll most certainly be wet, but you will still be warm. This layer is really comfortable, moves with your body and is great to wear all season! Pros: insulated, wicks away moisture, can substitute for a middle layer too, warm, great for industrial workers, recreation and survivalists! Cons: bulky. Price about: $140
The SmartWool Merino will give you the confidence to explore, hike, climb and camp anywhere your heart desires. Setting up tent on the edge of snow covered cliff? You got this! The Merino 205 is a quarter zip long sleeve base layer packed with a whooping 100% merino wool! This a medium to heavy weight garment so this is perfect for really cold nights inside the tent. In fact, this is the warmest base layer top SmartWool makes!
It’s comfortable with flat seams to prevent chaffing. This layer also zips at the neck 1/4- making it easy to adjust your temperature depending on the weather and your level of activity! Not only is this the warmest garment, it wicks away moisture-keeping you dry all the time. Pros: 100% merino wool, wicks away moisture, keeps odor away, breathable, seamless construction, medium to heavyweight. Cons: sells out quickly, hard to find. Price about: $100
Going somewhere? Put on pair of SmartWool Merino 250 Bottoms and you’ll be warm and dry no matter where the trail leads you! Like the matching top, these pants are literally the warmest base layer SmartWool makes. They are slim fit-making them a great choice for a base layer. The pants are made with 100% merino wool.
I love these pants because they are naturally warm, wick away moisture like a boss and they are breathable. Seamless design makes these pants exceptionally comfortable to wear all day and all night. You’ll want to wear these to bed inside your tent too! Pros: warm, wicks moisture, slim fit, heavyweight, elastic waist band, made for extreme cold. Cons: may be too warm for intense activity. Price about: $100
Climb into your sleeping bag with this long sleeve base layer on and you’ll be so warm you’ll be dreaming of warm sand and palm trees. The 150 merino is lighter than the 250 as I listed earlier in this article. The 150 is designed for cold weather, but not extreme temperatures into the back-country. You know those summer days where it’s 75 during the day, but the 7,000-foot elevation means it’s going to be chilly at night? This is what you want to have on- not too hot, not too cold. Just right, like your mom’s famous mac and cheese. Just right!
This shirt is made with 87% merino wool and 12 % nylon. The nylon is added for durability- you could camp in these several nights in a row and not worry about odor! Phew. Pros: lightweight, merino wool and nylon blend, slim fit, seamless design for added comfort, breathable. Cons: not intended for sub-zero temperatures. Price about: $80
7. Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Bottoms
This base layer will go where ever you want to go. The top of Mount Blanc? Sure. Trudging through snow to set up camp on the shore of a northern Minnesota lake? Okay, I’ll bring the marshmallows. Seriously, Patagonia knows how to create durable base layers you will wear when Mother Nature puts on a show. These pants are made with polyester, spandex and a special odor control liner to keep you feeling fresh even when you’re on day five of a winter camping adventure.
This base layer features an open-design grid allowing the pants to get close to your skin and keep moisture away! The elastic waistband allows you to move with ease and what the heck, have a few smore’s around the campfire. Pros: durable, last for years, polyester blend wicks away moisture/sweat, comfortable and flat seams reduce chaffing. Cons: limited sizes, sell out quickly. Price about: $90
8. Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck
The Thermal Weight Zip Neck is a great way to ensure you will be warm, even with a blizzard shaking and whipping your tent around. The thermal zip neck is the heaviest weight base layer Patagonia makes. I especially love the elastic thumb holes that keep your sleeves in place and your wrists covered at all times. This is a great layer to sleep in- you won’t wake up with the sleeves pulled up and your arms cold.
The long sleeve is made with polyester which will keep you warm and dry no matter what the weather. The shirt is a slim fit, giving you more options for a middle and outer shell without the bulk. Pros: warm, polyester blend, elastic waist, wicks moisture, slim fit, back of shirt longer for more protection and coverage, thumb loops and seamless comfort. Cons: runs large. Price about: $100
9. Patagonia Thermal Hoody
The thermal hoody is a combination of a ¼ zip and a regular long sleeve shirt. The hood adds extra protection for your head and ears during those chilly winter nights around the campfire and inside your tent. The waffle-like texture makes this shirt extra warm- as it lays directly on your ski and it doesn’t move. It’s made with powerhouse polyester- this means you will be warm and sweat won’t stand a chance to hang out on your arms or lower back.
Elastic thumb holes keep the shirt in place and make it easy to put on the middle layer without the sleeves shifting and scrunching together. Plus, this shirt is designed to fit snug so you can add that down jacket middle layer and feel free to do a cart wheel if that’s your thing. Pros: lightweight and warm, wicks away moisture, keeps odors at bay, hood protects head and neck. Cons: runs large. Price about: $120
Icebreaker Oasis Long Underwear Top is made with a whopping 100% merino wool. All that wool means you will be fully protected from sweat. This means you will be dry and warm at all times- from the campsite to the day hike- this pair of long underwear has you covered- literally. This long john top is lightweight, making it a great option for sleeping in and wearing during intense activities.
The merino wool is really soft, making it oh-so comfortable no matter where you are and no matter what the temperature. Pros: 100% merino wool, soft, comfortable, warm, breathable, moves with your body, slim fit, versatile, seamless design, extra-long sleeves Cons: runs small. Price about: $90
The Oasis Leggings are the perfect match for the Oasis Long Underwear top. With this set, you will be all set to camp during the winter months. Like the top, these leggings are made with 100% merino wool. This means you are guaranteed to stay warm and dry while sleeping and while getting to your favorite campsite. The fit is slim and can be worn alone or as a base layer with a mid-layer on top.
The slim fit allows for more layers to be added as the weather changes. Even with adding layers, you won’t feel restricted because of the slim fit. Pros: warm, 100% merino wool, soft, comfortable, elastic waist, lightweight. Cons: may need another layer when camping in extreme cold. Price about: $90
The merino mid pant is the perfect pair of base layer pants to wear on your next camping adventure. With 100% merino wool wrapped around your legs at all times, you are sure to be warm and dry in the mountains and in the valleys. The flat lock seams make this base layer pant extra comfortable and cozy. These are so comfortable, you may be tempted to wear them everyday of your camping trip.
You may even find yourself wearing them as pajamas. These are designed for extreme cold weather! Pros: made for extreme cold, lightweight, 100% merino wool, breathable and snug fit to keep layer of warm air close to your body. Cons: runs large. Price about: $90
This is the warmest base layer long sleeve shirt Helly Hansen makes. It’s a 2 in 1 base layer- it will keep you dry and it’s insulated to keep body heat close to your body. This garment eliminates the need for a mid-layer. This shirt is perfect for those extra cold nights in the mountains when you are wondering how you ended up there. Don’t go there. These pants keep you warm and make sure you keep a positive attitude during your warm winter camping excursion.
The pants are made with 100% merino wool! That means you will be warm, dry and comfortable no matter what’s going on outside your tent. Pros: 2 in 1 base layer, 100% merino wool, soft, medium weight, comfortable, designed for extreme cold weather conditions. Cons: tags can be scratchy. Price about: $90
14. Icebreaker BODYFITZONE Long Sleeve
This is mid-weight long sleeve shirt packed with merino wool and Lycra for stretch and comfort. Because it’s mid-weight this will be a perfect shirt for cold winter nights under the stars. The long sleeve is also great for high intense training and outdoor adventures. The seams are flat to reduce any chaffing you may encounter while hiking or setting up camp. Pros: 96 % merino wool, Lycra for stretch, breathable, special venting fabric to keep sweat moving away from your body, slim fit. Cons: runs small. Price about: $90
15. Icebreaker BODYZONE Leggings
With the BODYFITZONE leggings, your legs will be warm and dry no matter what happens in the mountains. Weather can change quickly when you’re camping at 5,000 feet. These leggings can adapt quickly too, keeping you warm and dry in a variety of conditions. The leggings are made with 96% merino wool and 4% Lycra.
This unique blend of material means this base layer will move with your body, no matter what you have planned for the day! Plus, the odor resistant material means you can sleep in these leggings and wear them the next day- no one will know! Your secret is safe with us! Pros: 96% merino wool, Lycra for comfort and mobility, keeps moisture away, breathable, warm! Cons: runs small. Price about: $110
16. The North Face Warm Long Sleeve
This polyester base layer will move with you as you try to set up camp, plant those tent stakes and start a campfire in the middle of winter. The long sleeve is lightweight, keeps sweat from setting up camp and keeps you warm all at the same time. This base layer is medium weight, so you know it will keep you warm when the temperature is hovering around freezing.
If it gets any colder, throw on a middle layer and climb into your sleeping bag. The shirt is also breathable so you know all that sweat will have somewhere to go! What’s that smell? It’s not you, because this shirt keeps odor away. Pros: durable, medium weight, polyester, wicks away moisture. Cons: limited sizes. Price about: $50
17. The North Face Men’s Warm Tights
The Warm Winter Tights are a budget friendly way to stay warm while camping in the snow! At about $50, you get a pair of high quality pants that will keep moisture away and allow that nice warm pocket of air to stay close to your skin at all times. The tights are made with a polyester blend designed to keep you warm, dry and free of odor. Pros: warm, stretchy, comfortable, moves with your body. Cons: may be too tight for some builds. Price about: $50
18. Arc’Teryx RHO LT Bottom
If the snow starts to fly and you’re camping in the back-country, climb into your sleeping bag with the Arc’Teryx RHO LT Bottom. With these fleece, lightweight and breathable pants, you’ll be warm no matter what is going on outside your tent. These pants won’t protect you from bears, but they’ll keep you safe from sweat- and that’s pretty cool.
This base layer is designed to keep you warm when you’re resting. The elastic waist means you can move with ease on your next adventure and sleep comfortably under the stars or under a down sleeping bag. Pros: lightweight, polyester blend, warm, fleece lined, keep you dry, medium weight. Cons: due to popularity these pants sell out fast! Price about: $90
19. Arc’Teryx Satoro SV Zip Neck
Want an equally awesome shirt to go with your power pants? This is the long sleeve shirt for you. This shirt is made with 95% wool and 5% elastane for stretch and comfort. Where to begin. This zip neck is the only base layer you’ll need when camping in December.
Wait, why are you camping in December? The experience, that’s why! Experience the soft, warm and incredible comfort this zip neck has to offer. It’s a heavyweight layer designed specifically to keep you warm in extreme cold weather! Think sub zero temperatures and with a 35-mph wind chill.
I’m getting cold just thinking about it. The high wool content will keep you extra warm and dry. Plus, you can wear this shirt for several days in between washes. Yes, no laundry! The close to skin fit keeps a thin pocket of warm air close to your core at all times. Pros: thumb holes to keep wrists covered, high wool content, check pocket, tall collar for neck protection and added warmth, breathable, heavyweight. Cons: expensive. Price about: $160
20. Arc’Teryx Satoro Bottom
This mid-weight base layer is great for longer camping trips into the back-country. These might also be a great layer for tailgate camping in late fall. These pants are created with a revolutionary fabric- a blend of wool and nylon. Basically, every wool fiber is wrapped around a core of nylon. This gives the material more strength, durability and means chaffing is thing of the past-kind of like cassette players- a thing of the past.
This unique blend of material means these pants pull sweat off your body and allow it to evaporate. The pants are made to wear while hiking to camp and sleeping in your tent- they are THAT comfortable. Pros: warm, unique blend of wool and nylon, wicks away moisture, medium weight, breathable, odor resistant. Cons: limited sizes. Price about: $100.
21. REI Co-Op Merino Layer Top
If you’re on a budget and you don’t want to sacrifice quality, you’ve find the right base layer for you. This top is made by REI- a Seattle based outdoor gear clothing store. REI is all about budget and quality. This shirt is made with merino wool, making it exceptionally great at wicking away sweat and keeping you dry. The seamless construction, especially around the shoulders means you won’t have to worry about chaffing while carrying your pack or tent to your favorite campsite.
This is a mid-weight garment- which makes it perfect for those overnight trips into the mountains during late winter. You know, that magical time when spring and winter appear to be battling it out! This shirt very warm and comfortable which means you can wear it during the day and while are snuggled up in your sleeping bag. Pros: Merino wool, stretchy, wicks away moisture, breathable, flat seams to reduce chaffing. Cons: not intended for extreme sub-zero temperatures. Price about: $40
22. REI Co-Op Mid-weight Base Layer
This polyester based layer will keep you warm when the temperature drops. It will also protect you from the harsh rays during the winter months with UPF rating of 50! With this garment you are protected from the sun and the snow all at the same time. This is ideal if you decide to take off your middle layer while sitting around the campfire.
You could even throw on a pair of short over this base layer for added warmth. The polyester wicks away moisture and keeps you dry at all times. These pants also have some stretch to them-so they keep you at base camp and when you are on the move. Pros: polyester, wicks away moisture, budget friendly, sun protective fabric, mid-weight, low bulk. Cons: limited color selection. Price about: $50
23. Outdoor Research Sequence Tights
The Sequence Tights are soft, lightweight and incredibly warm. The next time you plan a winter camping trip, invite this pair of tights to tag along. They won’t complain or gripe about how cold it is. These tights are with you every step of the way. Here’s why: they are made with a polyester and merino wool blend. It’s not just any wool either, these are made with drirelease merino which is designed to dry 4 times faster than 100% merino wool. Pretty cool!
When you are dry, you are warm! If you want to be warm, this is the pair of pants for you! They are so lightweight you won’t want to take them off until you are off the mountain. And that’s okay because wool and polyester block odors- so no one is going to know you’ve been wearing the same base layer for three days. The flat seam design means you won’t have any chaffing to deal with when you finally get a chance to rest your feet at camp. Pros: dries quickly, wicks away moisture, warm, lightweight, comfortable, anti-odor material, slim fit. Cons: limited sizes. Price about: $45
24. Outdoor Research Blackridge Hoody
If you need a hoody that will keep you warm at base camp, this is what you want to be wearing. It’s made with a polyester/merino wool blend designed to keep you warm and wick away moisture fast. The wool used in this hoody is engineered to wick away sweat four times faster than 100% merino wool. So, you don’t have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night in a sweat!
This hoody has you covered. It’s lightweight, comfortable and really soft. According to Outdoor Research, this base layer was made with athletes in mind. Pros: warm, dries quickly, wicks moisture, wool/polyester blend, made for extreme cold, hood. Cons: sells out quickly. Price about: $75
When choosing a base layer, you need to look for wool, polyester, nylon, acrylic or another synthetic material. These materials naturally move sweat off your body! Plus, wool and synthetic materials are also really good at insulating your body. If you’ve been following my blog, you know how I feel about cotton. If you’re a new reader, welcome- let’s talk about cotton. Stay away from cotton at all costs. Cotton is comfortable, but it’s downright dangerous when you’re outside in the bitter cold.
Cotton fiber has a sneaky way of absorbing water/sweat and holding onto it like a wet sponge. If you wear a base-layer made out of cotton, before you know it you’ll be soaked and the clothes will actually draw body heat away from your core.
Many outdoor guides and search/rescue teams will inspect every garment a fellow hiker/rescuer is wearing before they even step foot on the trail. Cotton is not allowed in the mountains- and it seriously could mean the difference between life and death. So, double check those labels before you purchase your base-layer.
The base layer should fit snug against the body, right next to your skin. Not too snug where you can’t move your arms around or naturally move your legs around- just close enough to your skin to wick moisture away and stay comfortable. In addition to wicking away moisture, the base layer also traps a thin layer of warm air close to your skin, keeping you warm and dry no matter what Mother Nature decides to do.
You’ll notice while shopping for a base layer, the garment comes in a variety of weights: lightweight, medium weight and heavy weight. Lightweight is intended for cool temperatures, anything above freezing. Mid-weight is a great choice for temperatures hovering around freezing and you’ll want to grab the heavyweight long johns when it’s below zero.
Keep in mind your activity level too. If you are exerting a lot of energy and climbing to the top of Denali you may want to go with a mid- to lightweight base layer- even though it’s cold. While the weight of the fabric generally means it will keep you warmer, it’s really not as important as what the garment is made out of. Remember, the base layer is for moisture management, not insulation- that’s where the middle layer comes in!
See also our article entitled “Why Does Layering Keep You Warmer In The Winter?”