The 8 Best Base Layers For Extreme Cold: The Ultimate Guide

best base layer for extreme cold


Of all the seasons bestowed upon us, winter is the most brutal. It doesn’t bring the beautiful blossoming flowers of spring, the countless BBQ parties of summer or the colorful leaves of fall.

Instead, this season is characterized by bone-chilling winds, frigid temperatures and flurries of snow.

It’s important to dress appropriately for this season, and that means one thing – layering your clothing!

Now if you want to have the ultimate layering system, then you should start by focusing on the foundation or base layer.

A good base layer is able to keep you warm through insulation, wicks away moisture to keep you dry and has good breathability.

In this article, we’ll look at the best base layer for the extreme cold.

8 Best Base Layers For Extreme Cold

1. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – SmartWool Merino 250 Crew Top

SmartWool Men's Midweight Crew Base Layer Top: Black XL
The SmartWool Merino 250 Crew Top has everything you’d ever want in a base layer.

It feels soft against the skin, has a solid amount of warmth, repels odors and wicks moisture.

It also has UPF 50+ rating, making it suitable for a range of outdoor activities such as biking, running, and hiking.

It is extremely comfortable and will make sure you are warm this winter season.

One of the great things about this crew top is that it is form-fitting, which means it helps lock in and preserve your core temperature.

This might be the best base layer for extreme cold.

2. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – Icebreaker Oasis Crew Shirt

Icebreaker Merino Womens 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Thermal Cold Weather Base Layer Crew Neck T-Shirt, Large, Black
Like most base layers, the Icebreaker Oasis Crew Shirt is also made exclusively from wool, which makes it very soft.

Also, the top fits snugly, making it suitable for activities like skiing and cold-weather hiking.

Considering the variety of colors and designs, it can easily be worn as a standalone piece.

If you have doubts about Icebreaker Oasis, the consider this: it’s comparable with the SmartWool Merino 250. They’re both comfortable, wick moisture and don’t retain any odors.

One of the reasons why the Icebreaker Oasis Crew Shirt is superior is it has a dense weave, which doesn’t disperse heat as effectively as the Smartwool does.

This makes it another top-notch base layer and one worth considering.

3. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – Patagonia Capilene Midweight Long Underwear Top

Patagonia Men's Capilene Midweight Crew - FA17 - Black - X-Large
Choosing a synthetic base layer over one made of merino has a few perks.

The Patagonia Capilene Top is made out of a synthetic base layer, unlike the previous two options on this list.

The main benefit of this is the increased durability that synthetic provides over merino wool.

This base layer has almost the same moisture-wicking abilities and warmth like SmartWool.

Furthermore, this one is much more durable because it is made out of synthetics, meaning it is much likely to last for years to come.

But the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Long Underwear Top does have some issues. It feels fairly comfortable but not as soft as merino wool does.

Also, it’s not odor-resistant. This is not to mean that your top will start to smell if it is not washed frequently.

However, we think the incredible durability overshadows this negative aspect.

4. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – WoolX Glacier Merino Wool Base Layer

WoolX X702 Mens Heavyweight Top with Thumbholes - Charcoal - MED
Although WoolX is not quite as popular as brands like SmartWool or Icebreaker, the WoolX Glacier Merino Wool Base Layer is definitely worth looking into.

This is a heavyweight base layer, so it provides maximum warmth.

Made entirely from merino wool, WoolX Glacier feels soft on the skin and boasts good breathability.

Moreover, this base layer offers a great deal of versatility.

You can use it in a range of settings; from hiking to snowshoeing or casual wear.

There is just one area where WoolX Glacier Merino Wool Base Layer disappoints, and that is it lacks a tailored fit.

This is not the end of the world, and it is a phenomenal base layer for extreme cold.

5. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip-Neck

Arc'teryx Satoro AR Zip Neck LS Men's (Archipelago, Medium)
Arc’teryx is known for infusing cutting-edge technology in its products, and Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip-Neck is the perfect example.

We all love how soft merino wool feels against our skin. But the durability of this material has always been a problem. Arc’teryx attempts to solve this issue by combining nylon and merino wool.

The core of Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip-Neck is made of nylon and then infused with merino fabric.

This way, you have a base layer with next-to-skin comfort of merino, but more durable than pure merino.

This company also placed more emphasis on a couple of features for the Satoro top.

If you look closely, you will see that the cuffs are nicely-tailored and long enough so as to provide warmth over your hands.

We think this is a fantastic, stylish base layer that will keep you warm and last for a long time.

6. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – TSLA Thermal Wintergear Compression Baselayer Top

TSLA Men's Thermal Wintergear Compression Baselayer Long Sleeve Top, Thermal Athletic(yud34) - Black, 3X-Small
The TSLA Thermal Wintergear Compression Baselayer Top is another high-quality base layer top that is definitely worth keeping in mind.

Consisting of 87% polyester and 13% spandex, this top has good heat retention capability, good insulation, and maximum flexibility.

The blend of polyester and spandex enables this base layer to wick moisture quickly and provide optimal air circulation to keep you warm.

These features make the Compression top ideal for any winter outdoor activity: hiking, snowboarding or running.

Better yet, the TSLA Thermal Wintergear Compression Baselayer Top is available in a variety of different styles, and thus you can match it with your existing jacket or pants.

Additionally, it can easily be worn under a jacket, sports jersey or sweatshirt because it is so thin.

7. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – ColdPruf Women’s Basic Long Sleeve Base Layer Top

ColdPruf Women's Basic Active Wear Crew Top, Black, Medium
For many years, Indera Mills has been making thermal clothing that brings the winter season to its knees.

Their Coldpruf brand is a good example of the quality of winterwear made by this textile company.

Made up of 60% combed ringspun cotton and 40% polyester, the ColdPruf Women’s Basic Long Sleeve Base Layer Top strikes a good balance between comfort and durability.

Plus, it has several advanced features that make it unique from typical cotton base layers.

For starters, the manufacturer has incorporated Silvadur Intelligent Freshness.

This is a technology that effectively controls the bacteria that cause unpleasant odors and decay in fabrics.

Also, Indera Mills uses Coldpruf FigurFit technology to provide the wearer with a snug-fitting.

By considering all the important aspects of a base layer, this manufacturer has been able to create an athletic and fitting long sleeve base layer top that will keep you warm while in the extreme cold.

8. Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold – Terramar Women’s Thermasilk Scoop-Neck Top

Terramar Women's Thermasilk Pointelle Scoop (Black, Medium)
Silk is one of those materials that people will never consider when layering clothes. This is because it provides less warmth, does not wick moisture and is less durable.

But this is not to mean that silk is a poor choice for base layers.

Yes, it disappoints in some aspects but it’s also the most comfortable.

Terramar Women’s Thermasilk Scoop-Neck Top is the perfect case in point.

This shirt is made exclusively from filament jersey silk, which is woven from individual strands.

It’s a soft and comfortable base layer that optimizes on silk’s body-insulating capability.

The silk top comes in black or white color and provides a natural stretch for when you want to engage in sporting activities.

Essential Features To Look For When Purchasing Base Layers

best base layer for extreme cold

Base Layer Materials

Merino Wool

Compared to synthetics, merino wool is a great choice of material for base layers for most people.

It’s incredibly soft, resistant to odors and has temperature regulation capabilities.

Generally speaking, merino wool is quite pricey; it costs almost double the price of other options like polyester.  

However, if you take care of your merino base layers, they will last for a long time, thus, saving you money in the long-run.


If you’re looking for an economical base layer, your best bet is to go for clothing made of polyester. 

As we will see later, polyester base layers have a couple of benefits. They are very comfortable and can wick moisture.

The one area where polyester falls short is in odor prevention. Understandably, a lot of buyers care about the odor-resistance of different materials.

If this is an important factor, we recommend sticking to merino wool.

Also, polyester fabrics tend to not be fantastic when it comes to regulating temperature.

Therefore, you should always consider your exact needs before moving forward with a base top.


best base layer for extreme cold

Choosing between merino wool and polyester base layers is not easy. On one hand, you have an expensive material that can wick moisture really well.

On the other hand, you have a cheaper option that feels comfortable and is more durable than merino wool. 

Given the dilemma between the two options, many brands are choosing to use blends.

The idea behind using merino wool and polyester is to take advantage of the best attributes from both fabrics.

Base layers made of blends are the priciest. But for the higher price tag, you’ll be getting warm clothing that ticks all the boxes.


The breathability of a base layer is determined by several factors. These include the quality of material, thickness, and openness of the weave.

Generally, merino wool is the most breathable. Still, there are a few high-quality synthetics that compare fairly well to merino wool.

So if you are buying base layers to wear when undertaking vigorous activities- such as skiing, hiking or winter hunting – it’s better to spend more on superior fabrics like merino or a blend.

Odor Prevention

As we mentioned earlier, merino wool has moisture-wicking capabilities.

The fact that it pulls moisture from your body means there’s less accumulation of sweat, and subsequently, less odor.

If you’re planning a long hiking or camping trip and don’t want to carry too many layers of clothes, you should consider merino apparel.

Such base layers will keep you dry and stink-free.


winter clothes

This is one of the few areas where merino doesn’t shine. Because it’s ultra-soft, it is more susceptible to developing tiny holes over time.

Ultimately, this jeopardizes the performance of the material. Contrary, synthetic base layers last quite long.

As an example, a standard lightweight merino base layer lasts for about two seasons, even by adhering to the strict washing and maintenance rules of merino.

Two seasons is indisputably a short lifespan. Synthetics, on the other hand, can last for four or more seasons.

To get the best of both worlds, some textile manufacturers are combining wool and synthetics.

This boosts the strength of the base layer without compromising on comfort.


If you’re buying a base layer for its warmth, merino wool is a good option. It’s able to trap heat between its fibers; hence, keeping you warm throughout.

Plus, it regulates temperature more efficiently than other options.

This means that oftentimes merino layers are versatile enough to be worn in cold and hot weather.

Another fabric that is good at keeping you warm is silk- thanks to its thin profile. Unfortunately, silk does not have the best breathability.


How heavy a base layer weighs determines just how much warmth it provides. Oftentimes, the heavier the piece of clothing, the more warmth it provides. Here are three main base layer weights:


This is an ultra-thin base layer, which is often worn next to one’s skin.

It’s important that this base layer fits well so that it wicks away moisture while also helping to regulate temperature.


With midweight, you can choose to wear it as a first or second layer. During spring and fall, you can wear them as outer layers.

During winter, they perform well as base layers.

These base layers will provide maximum warmth while also remaining breathable enough for your physical activities.


Often, this one is worn over a lightweight layer and it’s primarily worn for warmth. 

Unlike lightweight base layers, heavyweight is very thick- a factor that inhibits breathability.

If you wear this base layer, you’re likely to start sweating after minimal activity, such as going for a short walk.

For this reason, you should only wear heavyweights in very cold conditions.

What Base Layer Material Should I Use?

Base layers are the first layer of clothing that you wear close to your skin before adding other clothes.

They serve three main functions: they provide warmth, they breathe and wick away moisture.

In our opinion, most top-rated base layers are made of merino wool as it has all three attributes. Plus, it prevents odors from forming.

Nonetheless, there are other fabric options like polyester, silk, and blends.

The good thing about these alternatives is that they tend to be cheaper than merino and last longer.


To determine what base layer works for you, consider the nature of activity you’ll be using it for, weather, and comfort.

If you have the means, you can buy merino wool base layers. But if comfort is your top priority, then silk or polyester-wool blend are better options.

Thank you for reading this article on the best base layer for extreme cold.

We hope you have learned a lot and have enjoyed reading this guide.