Choosing the Right Cold Weather Base Layer

Staying warm and cozy in cold weather all starts with the base layer. Sure your jacket does the heavy lifting, but a good base layer can keep you comfortable while a bad one can leave you miserable. So how do you choose the right cold weather base layer? Here’s some information to consider when choosing a base layer for cold weather.

Why are cold weather base layers important?

A good jacket can make up for a bad base layer if you’re walking from your front door to the mail box, but for hiking, backpacking, climbing, cycling, or doing anything outdoors in the cold, you need a solid, reliable base layer.

Your base layer provides three main things.


The most obvious advantage to a base layer is extra warmth. You’ll feel this right away when you pull on your long sleeve base layer and leggings.

Moisture management

You won’t appreciate the wicking properties of a long base layer unless you work up a sweat. However, moisture management may be the most important thing your base layer does.

Wicking layers pull moisture from your body to the outside of the garment. This makes it easier for moisture to evaporate, leaving your skin dry and preventing chills.


Base layers are typically more comfortable against your skin than a shell or middle layer. Any extra source of comfort is worth its weight in gold when you’re out in cold weather.

What materials are best for cold weather base layers?

There are three main materials to look for when choosing a cold weather base layer, and one material to avoid.

Merino wool

Merino wool is a natural fiber that provides great temperature regulation. It’s perfect for the cold, but it won’t leave you sweating if you step indoors.  It also insulates when wet, is antimicrobial, and effectively wicks away moisture.


There’s a lot of variation when it comes to synthetic fibers. Generally speaking, synthetic blends – such as polypropylene – do a good job of insulating when wet, and are great at wicking away moisture. Synthetic base layers are also typically less expensive than wool or silk base layers.


Silk base layers provide ample warmth, but they aren’t as good at breathing or wicking away moisture as merino wool or synthetic cold weather base layers. They’re usually more affordable than wool, but more expensive than synthetic base layers.


Steer clear of cotton in cold weather. Cotton base layers are fine in very hot, arid conditions, but when cotton absorbs moisture – which it does quite effectively – it loses its insulating properties, and takes forever to dry. Wearing cotton in cold, wet conditions is an open invitation for hypothermia.

Things to consider when choosing a base layer

There are lots of things to consider when choosing a base layer. Don’t make a decision on materials alone.

Base layers come in different weights.

  • What type of activity are you doing?
  • How long will you be outside?
  • Do you get cold easily?

It’s a good idea to feel a base layer in person to avoid any surprises out on the trail. Stop by Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters in Fayetteville, Arkansas to check out our selection of cold weather base layers.

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