Base layers – the secret to hiking in comfort


base layer

Hiking is a great way to spend your free time and be active. It can also be a really good workout! But it can also be pretty uncomfortable for beginners, especially if ill-prepared when hiking in the winter or a day with a high wind-chill factor. So let’s take a look at base layers – the secret to hiking in comfort.

Wearing the right base layer can make a huge difference in your comfort on those cold winter days. It’s important to have moisture wicking fabric that will quickly evaporate any sweat or water you encounter while out and about so you stay dry no matter what.

The Layering System

The secret to keeping warm when hiking in cold weather is The Layering System. I go into more detail in this post here but very basically The Layering System involves wearing different levels of clothing, one on top of the other, to enable you to keep warm. It’s easy to remove or add layers if you find yourself warm or suddenly get cold – perhaps when climbing to the summit of a mountain.

What is a base layer? How does a base layer work?

In the simplest terms, a base layer is what you wear closest to your skin. Base layers are designed for quick evaporation of sweat and moisture from your body so that it can dry more quickly than if left on its own without any protection. If you are out in the cold and your clothes next to your skin are wet with moisture, this will steal body heat, then you can quickly find that you are troubled with hypothermia. That’s why material such as cotton is no good – it soaks up moisture.

Sweating is a natural process of exercising, it’s an obvious sign that you are working your body, but you need a base layer that transfers sweat away from your body, leaving your skin drier.

What materials are best for base layers?

Obviously you want your base layer to be made of material that wicks away moisture and sweat from your skin. If you are looking for natural materials, then you would want to buy a base layer made from wool, merino wool or bamboo. These are generally warmer and softer, and naturally help you smell nicer as well as being naturally antibacterial.

Alternatively, look for synthetic materials such as polyester and polyamide. These are generally cheaper to buy and more lightweight, but unfortunately not so warm. Therefore you may consider a natural material in winter and a synthetic material in summer.

Of course, manufacturers have started to combine the two and use a mix of part natural and part man made fibres to get the best of both worlds.

Should a base layer be tight?

A base layer should fit snugly to the body, with no gaps around the neck or wrists for heat to escape. But they should not be too tight to your body, as this will be uncomfortable, and you need to be able to move when climbing or scrambling. If the fit is too loose, you risk cold air blowing around inside.

You should also look for a base layer that has a decent length – and that includes the sleeves. You don’t want to be clambering over a style and find that your base layer has ridden up, exposing your skin to the elements.

When selecting a base layer to buy, don’t opt for a size smaller to ensure it fits snug, they will be cut to suit and so go for your natural size.

Washing your base layer

When you read the washing and care instructions you may find that many manufacturers recommend using special detergent designed especially for the purpose of removing sweat and body odours. Whilst this may be a bit of a nuisance, a good product like NikWax Base Wash will help prolong the life and freshness of your base layer.

Selection of Base Layers

Here’s a selection of Base Layers that you can buy in 2021. I’ll do a full post with reviews for you soon but for now you may wish to check these out:

Budget – Montane Dart Long Sleeve

As you can see the Montane Dart Long Sleeve base layer is available for both men and women, in round neck and a zip neck version. It comes in a variety of colours and is one of the most comfortable tops in the budget range.

Pros
  • Comfortable fit
  • Breathable
  • Great value for money
Cons
  • Not very warm
  • Not great at wicking

Alternative option – Berghaus Tech 2 Long Sleeve Crew.

Mid-range – Columbia Stretch Base Layer Long Sleeve Half-Zip

The Columbia Stretch Base Layer Long Sleeve also comes in crew neck and half zip options for both men and women. It’s a warm and breathable base layer.

Pros
  • Warm due to Omni-Heat Reflective dots
  • Breathable
  • Good fit
Cons
  • Too hot for summer wear
  • Less comfortable than some others

Alternative option – Helly Hansen LIFA Active Crew

Top of the range – Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer Long Sleeve

The Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer Long Sleeved shirt comes in both men’s and women’s crew and quarter zip neck. Made from 88% Merino wool it is the ultimate in breathability and comfort.

Pros
  • Excellent technical performance
  • Comfort
  • Versatile
Cons
  • Very expensive

Alternative option – EDZ Merino Base Layer 260g

Conclusion – Base Layers: The Secret To Hiking In Comfort

So in this article we’ve looked at what a base layer is, why it’s so important in keeping you comfortable when hiking, by wicking away moisture and regulating heat, and also taken a brief look at a few options in budget, mid and top of the range. I hope this helps you understand the importance of base layers and with your buying decisions.

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