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Best Base Layers for Hiking

Best Base Layers for Hiking

When it comes to hiking, a good base layer can make all the difference when it comes to just going on a hike, and loving every moment on your adventure. But with so many options on the market, how do you know which one to choose? In this article, we explore the best base layers for hiking and what makes them stand out. From essential features to consider to materials, fit and comfort, we’ll guide you through the process of selecting the perfect base layer for your next hike.

The Importance of Base Layers

You've no doubt heard that baselayers are critical for hikers, especially in cold or unpredictable weather. Still, this layer is often neglected and the importance of base layers can be often overlooked. This section dives deep into what exactly baselayers are, why they're important and how to maximize their benefits with proper layering.

What Are Base Layers?

A base layer is an essential part of any outdoor apparel system. These are the garments that are worn next to the skin, providing a foundation of warmth and moisture management. Base layers are designed to wick away sweat and moisture from the body, keeping you dry and comfortable during physical activity. They also provide thermal insulation, helping to retain body heat in cold conditions.

Base layers are made from synthetic materials such as polyester or natural fibers like merino wool, which offer excellent moisture-wicking properties and quick-drying capabilities. They come in different weights and thicknesses, allowing for layering according to the weather conditions and activity level.

Why Are They Important on Hikes?

Base layers are essential on hikes because they help regulate body temperature and keep you comfortable throughout your trek. The main function of a base layer is to wick away moisture from your body, ensuring that sweat is pulled away from your skin and evaporates quickly. This is crucial as wet base layers skin can lead to discomfort, chafing and even hypothermia in cold weather conditions.

Additionally, base layers provide insulation, trapping warm air close to your body to keep you warm in colder climates. They also help to prevent odors by limiting the build-up of bacteria on your skin. Overall, base layers are a fundamental piece of outdoor clothing that plays a significant role in maintaining your comfort and allowing you to enjoy your hike, all the way from trailhead to mountain top.

How Should You Layer When Hiking?

When it comes to layering for hiking, it's important to keep in mind the three main layers: base layers, mid-layers and outer layers.

Base layers are worn next to the skin and should be made of moisture-wicking materials like merino wool or synthetic fabrics, as they help regulate body temperature and keep you dry. They also provide a comfortable and snug fit to reduce chafing and retain heat.

Mid-layers or insulating layers are meant to provide insulation and warmth, so opt for fleece jackets or down vests that can be easily added or removed depending on the weather.

Finally, outer layers or shell layers serve as protection against wind, rain, or snow. Waterproof and breathable jackets are ideal, and it's best to choose ones with pit zips for added ventilation. Layering properly ensures flexibility and adaptability during hikes as you can add or remove layers based on the conditions, allowing you to stay comfortable and protected throughout your adventure.

Essential Features to Consider in Base Layers

When choosing the perfect base layer for outdoor activities, it's important to consider several key factors that contribute to the overall comfort and performance of your outdoor gear. Let's take a closer look at these factors, including material, fit, breathability and moisture control.

Material

Base layers are typically made from a variety of materials, each with its unique benefits and differences, allowing you to choose a base layer that fits your personal needs. The most common materials are merino wool, synthetic materials and blends of both. Let's explore the characteristics and advantages of these materials.

Merino Wool

Merino wool baselayers have long been popular among outdoor enthusiasts for their excellent warmth, breathability and comfort. Derived from merino sheep, this natural fiber boasts high odor resistance and superior moisture control, making it an excellent choice for extended adventures with limited opportunities to wash your gear. These qualities not only help prevent dreaded body odor but also provide sun protection for those long days spent outdoors. You can find out a garment's sun protection capabilities by looking at UPF ratings (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).

While merino wool tends to be more expensive than its synthetic counterparts, many users find the added benefits worth the investment.

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic baselayers are often made from polyester, nylon or polypropylene, offering a more budget-friendly alternative to merino wool without sacrificing essential performance features. These materials excel at wicking moisture away from the body, ensuring that sweat evaporates quickly and does not linger on your skin, leading to discomfort and chills.

Synthetic materials also exhibit improved durability over their natural counterparts, making them ideal for sports with constant movement like skiing and snowboarding.

Blends

Blends of merino wool and synthetic materials offer the best of both worlds, providing a balance between the luxurious comfort of merino wool and the durability and affordability of synthetics. These lightweight baselayers often combine polyester and merino wool to create a fabric that delivers impressive wicking moisture capabilities, odor resistance and superior softness. If you're seeking a versatile and high-performance base layer without breaking the bank, a blend may be the perfect option for you.

Fit and Comfort

When shopping for base layers, it's essential to consider the fit and comfort. A top-quality base layer should fit snugly against your skin to facilitate effective moisture transfer, without feeling restrictive or uncomfortable. Aside from sizing, pay attention to elements like thumb loops and neck versions, as these can affect overall comfort and functionality.

If you're in search of a crew neck option, consider the sleeve crew, which offers a comfortable and versatile design. Alternatively, a turtleneck style like the neck version may be ideal for those searching for additional warmth and coverage on colder days. Remember, your comfort is the most important factor in what type of base layer you buy—don't hesitate to try on various sizes, styles and materials to find the perfect base layer for your specific needs.

Breathability and Moisture Control

Breathability and moisture control are arguably the two most critical factors when selecting a base layer. A high-quality base layer should keep you comfortable and dry, allowing perspiration to escape while trapping warm air to maintain your body's optimal temperature. The material should also be quick-drying to prevent the fabric from becoming heavy and waterlogged during intense activities, such as skiing or snowboarding.

When selecting your base layer, prioritize fabrics that perform well in these areas, such as merino wool, synthetic materials or blends for optimal breathability, moisture wicking and quick-drying capabilities. A highly breathable base layer like a lightweight baselayer will have additional features that further enhance moisture control, such as mesh panels for targeted ventilation or a chest pocket to store small essentials.

Weight

When it comes to choosing the right baselayer for your outdoor adventures, it's essential to consider the weight of the garment. Baselayers come in three basic weight categories: lightweight, midweight and heavyweight. Each weight has its own distinct benefits and characteristics, making it crucial to understand the differences before making a choice.

Lightweight Baselayers

Lightweight baselayers are designed for high-intensity activities or warm conditions. They are constructed with thin and breathable fabrics that offer excellent moisture wicking properties. The benefits of a lightweight layer include:

  • Breathability: Lighter baselayers allow for maximum airflow, helping to regulate body temperature during physical exertion in hot conditions.
  • Quick-drying: The thin fabric of a lightweight baselayer dries rapidly, making them suitable for activities that require constant movement and sweat accumulation.
  • Versatility: Due to their lightweight nature, these baselayers can easily be layered with other garments, adding warmth when required.
  • Packability: Their compact and lightweight design makes it easy to pack them for travel or outdoor adventures.

Midweight Baselayers

Midweight baselayers strike a balance between warmth and breathability, making them ideal for a wide range of activities and changing weather conditions. The benefits of a midweight layer include:

  • Versatility: Midweight baselayers are perfect for cooler temperatures, offering sufficient warmth without overheating during moderate activity levels.
  • Comfort: The slightly thicker fabric of midweight baselayers provides a soft and cozy feel against the skin.
  • Moisture-wicking: These baselayers effectively wick away moisture from the body, keeping you dry and comfortable for extended periods.
  • Efficiency: Midweight baselayers provide a good level of insulation while reducing the need for additional layers, making them suitable for backpacking or multi-day trips.

Heavyweight Baselayers

Heavyweight baselayers are designed to provide maximum warmth and insulation during cold weather conditions or low-intensity activities. The benefits of a heavyweight layer include:

  • Enhanced insulation: The thicker fabric of heavier baselayers provides excellent heat retention, making them perfect for sub-zero temperatures or static activities like ice fishing or camping.
  • Moisture management: Despite their thickness, heavyweight baselayers still offer efficient moisture-wicking properties, ensuring that sweat is quickly moved away from the body, preventing chilling.
  • Durability: Due to their higher fabric density, heavyweight baselayers are often more resistant to wear and tear compared to their lighter counterparts.
  • Standalone functionality: Heavier baselayers can be worn as standalone tops in milder conditions or as a mid-layer for added warmth.

When choosing between lightweight, midweight and heavyweight baselayers, it's important to consider the intended activity, weather conditions and personal preferences. It's worth noting that individual comfort levels may vary, so it's always a good idea to try different weights to determine what works best for you.

Additional Features

Extra features can provide enhanced comfort and convenience, leading to improved outdoor experiences. For example, crew neck and zip neck baselayers often include thumb loops to help your sleeves stay in place and provide expanded coverage. Flatlock seams provide protection for your stitching that extends the lifespan of your clothing while reducing the risk of chafing.

Stio Hiking Base Layers

When considering base layers for hiking, turn to Stio. We offer a wide range of options designed to meet the unique demands of your favorite outdoor activities, including mountain biking, hiking, camping and skiing. Whether you need lightweight layers designed for breathability and quick-drying performance or midweight options for increased warmth, our high-quality garments showcase the essential features highlighted in this guide.

By considering essential aspects like materials, fit and comfort, breathability and moisture control in your base layer selection, you'll ensure that your base layer works with you rather than against you during your outdoor pursuits. Be it a classic thermal wool crew, a durable synthetic insulated kni, acker or a versatile blend front zip neck, we can provide the ideal base layer for your journey. The right layers hold the key to a comfortable and enjoyable outdoor experience.

Our Top Picks

Basis® Seamless Tech Crew

The Stio Basis® Seamless Tech Crew is a high-performance base layer that is made from a blend of merino wool and synthetic fibers. The merino wool provides warmth and resists odors, while the synthetic fiber wicks moisture away from the body. The crew neck design provides a comfortable fit, and the addition of flatlock seams reduces chafing when you're on the move. This base layer is perfect for a variety of activities, including hiking, backpacking, skiing and snowboarding.

Basis Power Wool™ Zip Neck

Our Basis Power Wool™ Zip Neck is a durable base layer made from a bi-component knit, which combines the distinct advantages of natural and synthetic fibers. The interior is made with merino wool, which is naturally odor-resistant, moisture-wicking and warm even when wet. The exterior is made with a synthetic fiber that helps to reduce dry times and enhance durability.

The zip neck features a relaxed-fit design that provides a comfortable range of motion and flatlock seams to prevent chafing. With exceptional comfort and performance technology, you can wear this base layer anywhere, from a weekend mountain biking trip to an evening out with friends.

Basis® Seamless Tech Tight

The Stio Basis® Seamless Tech Tight offers maximum comfort and ease of layering. This base layer is constructed from a synthetic fiber and merino wool blend. The merino wool offers warmth, wicks moisture and fights odors, while the synthetic fibers provide strength, durability and longevity. Our construction technique enhances the stretch, airflow and breathability of these leggings, making them perfect for high-intensity activities like long runs, uphill skis or challenging bike trails. The snug design also ensures a comfortable fit, and the flatlock seams help to prevent chafing.

Basis Power Wool™ Tight

Stio's Basis Power Wool™ Tight is a versatile and high-performance garment. Made with a blend of Merino wool and recycled polyester, these tights offer exceptional warmth, moisture-wicking properties and breathability. The fabric mix provides a comfortable and form-fitting fit that allows for a wide range of motion.

The wide waistband of the tights ensures a secure and comfortable fit, while the gusseted crotch enhances mobility and reduces irritation. With flatlock seams and a seamless inner leg, these tights minimize chafing and maximize comfort during prolonged activities. Whether it's hiking, skiing or simply running errands around town, these tights offer a reliable and durable option for outdoor enthusiasts seeking both style and performance in their baselayer apparel.

When you're ready to take on your next hiking trail, shop our men's baselayer and women's baselayer collections.

How to Care for Your Base Layers

Proper care for your base layers not only improves their longevity but also keeps them functioning effectively. The following tips will help you optimize your baselayer tops and bottoms for moisture wicking, preventing odors and overall durability.

Washing Instructions

When caring for your synthetic baselayer or merino wool baselayers, it is vital to follow specific washing instructions to keep them in top condition. Incorrect washing can damage the fibers, harm moisture wicking capabilities and decrease odor resistance.

  1. Always read and follow the manufacturer's washing instructions for your specific base layers. If your merino baselayer has a label stating to wash in cold water, make sure to adhere to that guideline.
  2. Consider using a gentle detergent for washing your base layers. Harsh chemicals in some common detergents can deteriorate the fabric and decrease the effectiveness of the sun protection and moisture wicking properties of your baselayers.
  3. Whenever possible, wash your base layers on the gentle or delicate cycle on your washing machine. The reduced agitation will help maintain fabric integrity and reduce pilling on your garments.
  4. To avoid body odor and preserve odor prevention properties, wash your base layers inside-out. It will expose the interior of the garment where most sweat and bacteria are trapped, ensuring a thorough cleaning.
  5. If hand-washing merino wool or a sensitive synthetic baselayer, make sure to use cold or lukewarm water and avoid wringing out the garment. Gently squeeze out the excess water or wrap it in a dry towel to prevent stretching or damage.

Drying and Storage Tips

Proper drying and storage are essential to preserving the functionality and lifespan of your base layers. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Unless otherwise indicated on the garment's label, it's best to air dry all of your baselayers, no matter what the material. Using a tumble dryer can shrink or damage the fibers, impacting their overall fit and ability to wick moisture.
  2. For added sun protection, store your baselayers away from direct sunlight, which can fade and weaken the fabric over time.
  3. Hang your base layers in a cool, dry environment to protect them from moisture, which could promote the growth of mold or mildew. Avoid storing items like neck versions and merino baselayers in damp areas, such as basements or garages.
  4. Keep heavier garments, such as heavyweight and midweight baselayers, stored separately to avoid crushing your lightweight baselayer pieces. This will help maintain their shape and structure over time.
  5. Consider using padded or wooden hangers for your baselayer apparel to preserve its shape and deter wrinkles.

Making Necessary Repairs

While merino wool and synthetic baselayers are durable and reliable materials for hikes, they are still susceptible to damage over time and may need to be fixed. Common repairs include rips, tears and loose threads.

To fix these issues, start by cleaning the damaged area and removing any loose threads. For small rips or tears, you can use a needle and thread to carefully sew the edges back together, ensuring to use a strong and durable thread. For larger or more significant damage, consider using a fabric patch or iron-on adhesive to reinforce the area and prevent further unraveling. If you come across loose threads, they can be simply trimmed close to the fabric surface to avoid snagging or unraveling. Regularly inspecting and promptly repairing baselayers can help extend their lifespan and keep them in good condition for longer.

FAQs About Hiking Base Layers

Are thumb loops necessary on base layers, or just a preference?

Thumb loops are not essential, but they provide additional coverage and keep your sleeves in place by preventing them from rolling up when layering. When it comes to getting base layers with thumb loops, the choice is a matter of personal preference.

Is a merino wool or synthetic baselayer better for odor prevention?

Both merino wool and synthetic baselayers offer odor resistance; however, merino wool is generally considered superior in this regard. It contains natural anti-bacterial properties that help limit the growth of odor-causing bacteria. That said, some high-quality synthetic baselayers, like outdoor research's long sleeve crew, come with built-in odor prevention technology that performs just as well.

Should I choose a base layer with a chest pocket?

The decision to choose a base layer with a chest pocket will depend on your needs and preferences. Some may find this additional pocket useful for quick access to small items, while others may see it as unnecessary fabric weight. Ultimately, consider your intended activities and personal requirements when making your choice.

How can I find the perfect base layer for me?

Finding the perfect base layer for yourself requires considering several key factors. First, assess your specific needs and preferences. Consider the climate and activities you'll be engaging in while wearing the base layer. Determine whether you prefer a lightweight or heavyweight option, as well as the level of insulation and breathability you desire.

Next, research different materials like merino wool and synthetic blends, considering their moisture-wicking capabilities, odor control and comfort levels. Read reviews, seek recommendations from outdoor enthusiasts and consider trying different brands and sizes to ensure the perfect fit. Lastly, consider your budget, as base layers can vary in price. By carefully evaluating these factors, you can find the ideal base layer that meets your specific requirements and ensures optimal comfort during your activities.

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