Itchy, bulky, and restrictive base layers for skiing are enough to drive anyone crazy. Add not being warm enough on top of all that, and it’s enough to send you straight off the slopes.
Break a sweat often and prefer thin and breathable layers? Or, do you run cold and always reach for thick and cozy for that extra warmth? Either way, I’ve rounded up quality layers for skiing that aim to make you feel good about your decision.
In this guide, you’ll find the best ski base layers for men and women based on the different types of skiing.
My Review Process
From long hikes in the backcountry to park runs and leisure skiing, I’ve enjoyed being in the mountains and on the snow since I was a kid.
Over the years, I have worked my way through many pieces of ski gear. With each one, I have learned which elements are the warmest, the most comfortable, and the most odor resistant. Trust me, that’s important.
There are many excellent layers for skiing. All are made differently, making sure there is a perfect fit for everyone. This roundup will help you decide which base layer is right for you.
Are you an earn-your-turns kind of skier? Uphill travel in backcountry terrain is challenging, and sweat tends to build quickly. So if that's your outdoor activity of choice, you need something with enough stretch to support your movements and quick-drying so you don’t get cold.
The Black Diamond Solution is the best lightweight base layer for backcountry skiing. This ultra-thin wool and synthetic fabric blend can hold up to 30% of its weight in moisture. That means you’ll stay dry- and stay cool- even when breaking the most intense of sweats. The fabric is the perfect combination of stretchy and form-fitting, too.
The design also hits the mark, with long sleeves and thumb loops for easy layering. Like most merino wool, the price is a bit steep. But its odor-resistant qualities and unbeatable durability make it a top that’ll last several seasons. So if you plan on working hard in the backcountry, the Black Diamond Solution is a base layer you can count on.
Long days skiing in the backcountry often mean sweating away one minute, and shivering the next. That’s why you need a reliable base layer capable of warming you up when extra cold temperatures strike, but also cool you down during peak activity.
With its 100% merino wool material, the Smartwool Merino 250 reigns as the best backcountry base layer for women. The fabric’s insulating layer keeps your core body temperature balanced. All while maintaining breathability and repelling moisture. Neither too thick or too thin, it’s an excellent midweight option.
If your personal preference is a looser top, note that the Smartwool Merino 250 is pretty form-fitting and doesn't leave much wiggle room. You can fix this easily by ordering a size up. Ultimately, it’s one of the most dependable and comfortable base layers you can own. And one that’ll keep up with your performance whether you’re out for a few quick runs or a full day touring on a skin track.
Want to make sure you can cool off when the sweat starts to pool? The Smartwool Merino base layer is a moisture-wicking machine! It’s unmatched when it comes to thermoregulation, which helps keep you warm in cold weather and cool when it's warm.
Some people don’t love the quarter zip. However, I like that I can let air in during high-output activities and zip it up during low-output activities. The zipper comes with a semi-locking slider, making it easily adjustable, too.
Regarding comfort and style, you can’t go wrong with Smartwool. The flatlock seams help eliminate chafing, and offset shoulder seams ensures no weird fabric tucks, even with a pack on. For cross-country adventures, it’s a base layer that will keep up with you, ensuring your focus is on your glide, not your garments.
My pick for the best base layer for female cross-country skiers is the Smartwool Intraknit. The polyester and merino wool blend is perfect for longer nordic trails, but performs equally well during any other extreme cold-weather activity. Be it winter hiking, ice climbing or downhill skiing!
How does it rank on the comfort scale? It’s both lightweight and form-fitting, without restricting movement. That’s a big plus when you’re focused on those long, cross-country strides. I’m also a big fan of its maximized breathability, which allows plenty of ventilation during those uphill climbs.
While the Intraknit is designed for cold weather, I wouldn’t hesitate donning it on warmer days, either. It performs just as well as a stand-alone or with a vest as a lightweight option. Or, pair it with a heavier outer layer on those bitter, below-zero days. It’s this unmatched versatility that makes it the best choice for ladies cruising on cross-country trails.
You can always count on a piece of Patagonia gear to perform well for action-packed outdoor activities. The midweight classic Patagonia Capilene is hard to beat with its 100% recycled polyester material and bulk-free design.
People with extra sensitive skin may find the stitching uncomfortable at times because of the tight fit. Overall, though, the stretchiness of the material provides easy, stress-free movements on snow. The sweat-wicking properties are also top-notch.
You can't beat the price for the quality and durability of Patagonia products. The Capilene is my top pick for male downhill skiers because it’ll keep up when charging those steep downhill lines.
The LÉ Bent merino wool base layer is the best for female downhill skiers. It’s lightweight, soft, and extra stretchy, making it versatile for cold weather conditions and terrains.
This base layer is a midweight option, meaning if you are standing still in cold weather, you might get uncomfortable. However, it’s the perfect piece to add to compliment your pants and other layers for skiing and other outdoor activities.
The shirt offers full coverage and is naturally odor resistant, so you can wear it for multiple days without needing a wash. This is my favorite base layer for downhill ski days when I want to be warm and cozy.
Need something lightweight and comfortable to wear in the park? The men's Icebreaker is a great option to help make your movements effortless.
Other options on the list are warmer. But for movement on a cold winter day, like freestyle skiing, the Icebreaker is hard to beat. The flatlock seams prevent chafing, an underarm gusset provides comfort and mobility, and the offset shoulder seams prevent pack rub. This innovative design is every freestyler's dream.
The Odlo Merino base layer is my top pick for women who like to freestyle. It’s designed for high-output activities like flips or spins.
The snug but stretchy fit makes it comfortable and breathable. They even removed the shoulder seams for more comfort when carrying a pack. That’s key if you have a full day of riding planned or want to venture into backcountry terrain.
While there are only a few color options, you still have the classics: black, blue, and gray tend to match any ski outfit. If you crave a quality top that’ll adjust to your body’s movements as you charge the whole mountain, look no further. The Odlo Merino base layer will perform whether you’re in competition mode, trying to nail a jump, or getting creative in new parts of the mountain.
How Do You Choose The Right Fabric For Your Base Layers?
The type of fabric you choose for your ski clothes makes a difference in how well they protect you and keep you warm. Wool, synthetic fibers, and blends are the best options. Read on to discover one is the right fit for you.
Merino wool is the most popular option when it comes to wool for ski layers. Wool is less durable but has better features for temperature regulation. With UV protection and odor-resistant properties, merino wool is an excellent all-weather choice.
Synthetic base layers are highly durable and moisture-resistant. They don’t regulate hot and cold temperatures or reduce odor as well as wool, but the material is more cost effective. Synthetic fabric layers are wallet-friendly for resort and leisure skiers.
Many layers for skiing are a blend of wool and synthetic materials- the best of both worlds! Blends have the ability to pull moisture from the skin and keep you dry, without skimping on comfort and durability.
What Are The Best Base Layer Brands On The Market?
Have you ever tried to use dry-fit workout shirts or regular cotton long sleeves as base layers? If so, you probably realized that they just don’t thermo-regulate very well, and they won’t keep you warm on those frosty days.
I've learned that purchasing base layers from brands that specialize in winter clothing and ski outerwear is crucial. The following companies know about moisture management and regulating body heat while being active in snow. They’ll give you peace of mind that you’re getting a quality top that’ll hold up on warmer winter days and freezing cold tempertatures alike.
- Black Diamond
- Helly Hansen
How Should The Base Layer Fit?
Base layers for skiing should have a relatively tight fit, easy to tuck into pants or base layer bottoms. If you like a looser fit, I recommend only going one size up. Otherwise, you will lose the moisture-wicking benefits.
Keeping moisture off your skin is the key to staying warm in the snow. Base layer materials are designed to dry quickly. When the fabric touches your skin, it can draw moisture, helping keep you dry and warm.
What Base Layer Thickness Is Best?
Depending on what type of skiing you have on tap for the day, you’ll want to adjust your base layer thickness. Lightweight layers tend to be best for super active outings, while heavier ones are ideal if you’re sticking to the lifts on an extra-cold day.
Read on as I break down other key differences.
Lightweight Base Layers
Lightweight base layers are great for high-intensity activities like nordic or backcountry skiing. But a leisure skier will want to lean towards something a little thicker. Merino wool mid-layers are a great option for body temperature regulation. The material could be more durable, which is why most lightweight options are made with synthetic fibers.
Midweight Base Layers
A midweight option for base layers will provide the most versatility if you do many winter activities. It will give you enough warmth for cold days and low-output activities while also being breathable enough for high-output activities.
The midweight base layer is easy to pair with warmer outer layers for the colder days. On the warmer days, they can stand alone or pair with something thin.
Heavy-Weight Base Layers
You will only need a heavy-weight base layer if you are not very active or in freezing conditions. Too much thickness takes away the breathability of a layer, making it hard for sweat to dry. You can always layer over a lightweight or midweight base layer.
How Much Do Base Layers Cost?
The price of a long-lasting, durable base layer can be steep. Layers for skiing can range from anywhere between $40-$150.
I suggest a middle-of-the-pack option for most people. For more extreme skiers and those who sweat a lot, you will want something with more moisture-wicking properties and a design that will be comfortable through any movement.
On average, I spend around $100 for my base layers. For me, it’s important to invest in quality, and in something that will last for several seasons. I also like to have something that will work for a wide range of activities, be it a ski tour, a downhill race, or a jaunt through the resort grounds.
I recommend the Black Diamond Solution for male backcountry skiers who also do other winter sports. For women looking for a versatile all-mountain option, I would go with the LÉ Bent. A safe bet for affordability and durability for men is the Patagonia Capilene. For women who like to freestyle ski, I suggest the Odlo Merino Baselayer.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.