Whether you’re after the best base layer for men or for women, the concerns are essentially the same. Namely: will it stay dry, keep you warm, and let you do your thing? The secret to all of these is the fabric, and when it comes to the best base layers, there are three main materials to choose from.
First of all, there’s the ubiquitous synthetics such as polyester and polypropylene. These usually offer the best wicking and are incredibly lightweight, which makes them perfect either on their own in warmer temperatures, or layered up with others, without added bulk, over autumn and winter.
The second is merino wool. While hardcore athletes might balk at the idea of wearing wool while working out, especially next to the skin, merino more than overcomes wool’s reputation of being itchy and clammy. It’s light, soft, and incredibly warm, but also has the ability to keep you cool at maximum exertion, making it a good bed for a year-round layer. Its fine fibres offer some absorption, but it does tend to hold on to moisture longer than synthetic base layers — not ideal for very heavy sweaters, although its natural antibacterial properties do keep odour at bay after a hard workout.
Finally, there’s bamboo. A relative newcomer, it’s widely praised for its sustainable nature (it’s incredibly fast growing and, when the time comes, biodegradable) and its soft-on-skin finish, ideal for sensitive skin. It also cuts out an impressive 97.5% of harmful UV rays and creates a less-than-welcoming environment for bacteria. The only problem, thanks to its maverick status, is that there aren’t too many bamboo base layers on the market to choose from — yet.
When picking your base layer, keep in mind its predominant use. If you are always going to wear it for sport, brands like Helly Hansen are more likely to cater for different levels of movement. If you are more of an adventure guy and you base layer will be climbing mountains with you, keep an eye out for brands like Mammut who design outdoor gear with the adventurous in mind.
1. Odlo Evolution Blackcomb
The Blackcomb's no-chafe design offers seamless comfort throughout your workout
Best for: Comfort | Material: 51% polyamide / 38% polyester / 11% elastane
The seamless knitted construction of this top means nothing rubs or chafes, even while utilising a huge range of movement or hiking with a backpack, that notorious culprit for causing discomfort on long walks. Its pitch-perfect mix of synthetic materials render it both breathable and insulated, keeping you warm and dry, and the presence of ODLO’s very own odour-inhibiting fibres mean it can go a long time between washes. The Odlo Evolution Blackcomb base layer is - put simply- the most comfortable base layer for men.
2. Men’s Helly Hansen Warm Ice Crew
For comfortably dry exercising, this is the crew to be seen with
Best for: Warmth | Material: 57% merino wool / 43% polypropylene
Synthetic on the inside, wool on the outside, this technical top packs two layers of effectiveness for a warm, dry, and all-round comfortable workout. With its Lifa (polypropylene) fibres sitting in direct contact with the skin, the top wicks away sweat the moment it appears, using the insulating merino exterior for backup. The inclusion of the temperature-regulating wool also makes this a great year-round layer that guards effectively against biting winds. If you find yourself constantly chilly, even after a gentle workout, this is the base layer for you.
3. Highlander Men's Bamboo 180
An eco-friendly bamboo layer that's touchable, sustainable, and obtainable
Best for: The environmentally friendly | Material: 100% bamboo
Made of eco-friendly, plant-derived bamboo and Tencel, with a touch of elastane for superior stretch, this short sleeve base layer from Highlander looks good, feels good, and does good. It’s incredibly soft to the touch and its natural-origin fibres offer excellent absorption. As such, it feels wonderful worn next to the skin for a super-comfortable hike, even in warmer temperatures. The low-profile flatlock seams also mean you can move in any direction you want without chafing. If you like the idea of comfort levels in the Odlo Evolution Blackcomb but the price is a little steep for you, this is a great value alternative.
4. Aclima Woolnet T-Shirt
A distinctive design, made of the finest merino, to acclimatise to all temperatures
Best for: Temperature regulation | Material: 100% merino wool
Harnessing the natural regulating power of merino wool, the distinctive Aclima Woolnet t-shirt is ultra-adaptable to changes in temperature or level of exertion. Its open-weave mesh construction across the body and arms — with reinforcements along the shoulder joints for pack-carrying — offers the ultimate wicking action, allowing sweat to simply evaporate away from the skin. It’s also incredibly stretchy, making it perfect for the twists and turns of climbing. The temperature regulating qualities of this top definitely makes it the best mens base layer for those who find themselves oscillating from hot to cold on repeat whilst out training or doing sports.
5. Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crew
A good-looking base layer that passes for a t-shirt: now that's what we call an ice breaker
Best for: Best lightweight layer | Material: 100% merino wool
This Icebreaker offering comes in a range of attractive neutrals and a luxurious-feeling 200gm merino construction, letting it pass as a regular t-shirt — ideal for going straight from cooldown to coffee date. Even when it’s not the star player in your workout get-up, its lightweight nature means it performs equally admirably when combined with others on chillier days. Plus, it’s moisture-wicking and odour resistant, so it can go as long as you can and be worn time after time: good news for the laundry-shy!
6. Mammut Go Dry Mens T-Shirt
A quick-drying light and fine t-shirt for hardcore workouts
Best for: Quick-dry | Material: 66% polyester / 34% merino wool
The Mammut Go Dry does exactly what its name claims, and then some. Very light and fine, it’s a great year-round base layer for exercise in all weathers, whether worn on its own or in conjunction with a warmer partner, and it’s incredibly comfortable next to the skin, too. But the real secret to its success is its high-tech waffle structure, which allows superior quick-drying action as well as a range of movement. And it’s all topped off with an antimicrobial treatment to protect against odours.
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