In the past you had to choose: do I want to be warm while I’m sitting in my duck blind and completely overheated while I’m hiking or paddling my canoe; or do I want to be cold sitting still but not overheat while snowshoeing or however I’m choosing to work up a sweat. And what happens to said sweat?
Changes in textiles and blends reflect the all-conditions scenario when thanks to breathability, waffling, and wicking capabilities of today’s technical fabrics, you can have the best of both worlds: warm on the chairlift and comfortable while skinning out of a ravine. Have a look at our top picks for base layer bottoms and sets from some of the best outdoor clothing brands for your next adventure to stay warm, but not too warm.
Technical Base Layer Sets
Mustang Survival Regulate 175 Base Layer Top & Bottom
Mustang Survival’s new merino-synthetic-blend base layers might be something out of your usual wheelhouse, but no less relevant to your outdoor activities. Part of the Safariland Group family of brands that has been making apparel since 1967, the new collection allows for seamless integration of Mustang’s thermal layers and its outerwear with the flotation and protective equipment they are known for. The new Regulate Base Layers features a blend of Merino wool and synthetic yarns, available in 175-weight or 230-weight long sleeve top and bottom. The outdoor gear and apparel brand’s new base layers feature Fusion Merino, which according to the brand, is a 50/50 blend of wool with the usual polyester found in other brands. And like other Merino blends, they offer warmth, odor resistance and quick-dry comfort.
Tester Comments: “No complaints with this highly technical system.”
Best For: Sailing, off shore fishing
Columbia Arctic Trek Long Sleeve Top & Arctic Trek Tight
One of our all-time favorite and classic brands, Columbia has a whole new collection of base layers for men and women this fall, utilizing Polartec PowerWool, a merino-synthetic blend designed to optimize wicking, breathability, odor resistance and durability. It’s a premium collection for Columbia, who also offers a range of great base layers made from its own proprietary synthetic fabrics. The key pieces you’ll want to check out are the men’s and women's Arctic Trek Long Sleeve Top and men's Arctic Trek Tight.
Tester Comments: “A great addition to the Columbia lineup for cold weather activities.”
Best For: Anything outdoors, snowshoeing, skiing, taking the kids to the park.
Ortovox 105 Ultra Long Sleeve Top & Ultra Short Pants
Only recently available in North America, Ortovox is another European brand of the highest quality, built to perform in alpine environments with a certain kind of Euro flare. Every single garment in the Ortovox line has some wool in it, a cornerstone of their business, utilizing fine Tasmanian Merino wool. Merino is a sustainable source of fiber and insulation that is “odor neutralizing,” moisture and temperature regulating, and soft next to skin. The 105 Ultra Long Sleeve we tested features Tasmanian Merino combined with Nuyarn – the most exclusive yarn offered by Ortovo. Wool fibers are spun around a nylon core to increase warmth from lighter material. In addition, the material is more elastic, stable, and less susceptible to pilling; and in our experience dries faster than conventional Merino.
Tester Comments: “Having Ortovox in your closet will make you want to quit your job and ski all the time.”
Best For: Moving quickly in the mountains, then hanging out at the lodge with your feet on the railing drinking hot chocolate.
Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Pattern Crew and Bottom
Pioneers in the development and modernization of Merino wool for outdoor use, we will never turn down the chance to test new product from Smartwool even after 20 years. It’s a timeless brand with reliable quality and devotion to its customers and craft. While technical base layers is something they’ve always done well, not to mention their mid-layer and fashion-forward outerwear developments in recent years, Smartwool has a few new base layer options to add to the mix. The Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Pattern Crew is a form-fitting piece featuring interlock knit with set-in sleeves. Classically styled and made with 100-percent merino wool, The Smartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 Pattern Bottom is built for comfort and performance with an outstandingly awesome chafe-free waistband.
Tester Comments: “The wide waistband and super fine Merino wool next to your skin are just two of the major standouts of this year’s Smartwool base layers.”
Best For: Snowboarding powder in Steamboat Springs, Colorado where Smartwool is headquartered.
Technical Base Layer Bottoms
Mountain Hardwear 32 Degree Not-So-Tights
The new Mountain Hardwear Men's 32 Degree Not So Tight is not your typical base layer; and in this case that’s a good thing. With a looser fit and dynamic-fitted design, it works as a base layer for backcountry hut trips, winter runs and cross-country skiing, but can also be worn to the bar or store. It has a unique waistband for comfort, a reinforced seat for durability and insulation on chairlifts, and three pockets for convenience. Although it’s really just a basic, heavy-duty stretch fleece, the quality craftsmanship and mountain-lifestyle inspired design by Mountain Hardwear elevates this collection. Also available are the 32 Degree Tights for a snugger fit.
Tester Comments: “Super snuggly and good looking in both the Not-So-Tight and Tight version.”
Best For: Downhill skiing, early morning dog walks.
Stio Basis Power Dry Boxer
New from Jackson Hole’s Stio is the Men’s Basis Power Dry Boxer made with a Polartec PowerDry Bi-Component – a knit blend of wool and polyester to wick moisture, dry quickly and resist odor, as we’ve seen in all brands boasting these super fabrics. In this case the polyester fibers are placed next to the skin for a feel some find more comfortable and certainly more silky, even when compared to the finest Merino. Also available is the Men’s Basis Power Dry Tight, the long-legged version of the boxer, which features an articulated cut for aerobic activity and flatlock seams for comfort.
Tester Comments: “It’s impossible to wear anything from Stio and not want more.”
Best For: Living in.