About Base Layers when Hiking

The base layer is clothing layer you wear next to your skin, often as part of layering system and it is your first line of defence. A layering system delivers temperature control and comfort – warmth gets trapped in the layers, which can then be removed if you’re working hard. The base layer also is designed to pull sweat away from the skin, which is known as “wicking”. Synthetic and Merino wool base layer fabric types are two most popular and common.

Synthetic Base Layers

Synthetic baselayers are usually made of polyester or polyester blends. Some blends include high percentages of nylon, a little spandex or elastin. Polyester base layers are quick drying, lightweight and they will wick away moisture from the skin to keep you dry during your activities.


  • High wicking ability
  • Lightweight
  • Quick drying
  • Feels good against skin
  • Easy to care for
  • Cheaper than Merino wool base layers


  • Not as warm as Merino wool base layers
  • Not antibacterial

Merino Wool Base Layers

Merino wool has a much smoother final finish than a standard sheep’s wool, and the fibres are non abrasive and ideal for people with sensitive skin. Merino wool helps to regulate body temperature, the tiny air pockets in the wool help to draw away excess heat from the body which prevents you overheating when you do prolonged vigorous exercise. They also work to retain heat within the fibres to keep you warm if the weather changes as merino wool base layers will retain heat and their thermal properties even when wet. They also have natural UV resistance which is ideal for cold but sunny ski resorts.


  • Lightweight
  • Warmer than synthetic base layers
  • Feels good against skin
  • Retains thermal properties even when wet
  • Naturally antibacterial
  • Natural fibre is generally welcomed by environmentalists


  • Not as good sweat wicking properties as synthetic base layers
  • More expensive than synthetic base layers
  • Slower to dry than synthetic base layers
  • May shrink when washed

Silk Base Layers

Silk baselayers are usually chemically treated or modified to enhance wicking ability.


  • Very good against the skin
  • Good wicking properties
  • Lightweight
  • Quick drying
  •  Natural fibre


  •  Expensive
  • Not very durable
  • Has tendency to stretch
  • Not easy to care for

Bamboo Base Layers

Bamboo base layers are made from bamboo extracts sometimes combined with fibres such as cotton, Lycra and even merino wool. A bamboo base layer will be a tighter fit than a 100% merino wool base layer and hold their shape better. The super soft base layers are also ideal for those with sensitive skin who find wool irritates them. Bamboo is a performance fabric, able to dry off quickly and to wick away odors and bacteria.


  •  Usually durable
  • Good against the skin
  • Good wicking properties
  • Antibacterial
  • Cheaper than merino
  • Close fit
  • Anti static
  • Eco friendly


  • Not widely available
  • Performance vary between brands

Base Layer Fit

When choosing your base layer look first for male and female specific fits, base layer should fit you neatly. Make sure the arm and body length is long enough to eliminate gaps where the skin might be vulnerable to the cold air and wind. High collar is good for colder conditions as well as to keep your neck warm, also the neck zip can help to control your body temperature. If you have a sensitive skin, better to choose base layers with fever seams.

Choosing Base Layer Weight

Microweight – For mild to cool conditions.

Lightweight – For cool to moderate cold conditions.

Midweight – For moderate cold to cold conditions.

Heavyweight – For very cold and windy conditions.

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