If you aren’t properly layering in the backcountry, by definition you’re doing it wrong. Gotta have a warm, dry foundation to build on, no matter how big and puffy that down jacket may be. They may not be the most exciting piece of gear in your wardrobe, but baselayers are crucially important. We’ve worn a warehouse full of them this winter and boiled our favorites, both men’s and women’s, down to these numbers.
Nondescript baselayers are just fine. After all, they spend most of their time underneath layers of outerwear, getting sweat on. But “just fine” doesn’t have me delayering as soon as I get to aprés, putting off my post-ski shower to lounge around in my long johns, and wearing them just about everywhere–skiing, of course, but hiking, biking, to and from yoga, and around town. That’s why the new baselayers from Wild Rye, a young company founded by badass outdoorswomen for badass outdoorswomen, are my new favorites. Don’t be misled by the cuteness, though: the technical elements are super dialed, too.
The flattering Penny Raglan ($109) is made of the softest merino blend (merino wool mixed with nylon) I’ve ever worn, and the scoop neck isn’t just for looks–it allows for critical heat-dumping when you unzip your over-layers. I worried about maintaining heat in cold weather with the extra skin showing, but didn’t notice a difference from my crew-neck undershirts (particularly if you ski with a buff). It’s great on the up and the down, wicking sweat efficiently and keeping you warm even when its damp, and super lightweight, making for easy layering and packing. Wild Rye sizes run from 0-12, to accommodate a wider range of body types, so shop according to your dress size. I’m 5’6″ and comfortably wear a medium in most activewear, and a 6 was a perfect fit.
The KT Legging’s ($99) creative seam placement and polka-dot waistband keep things cute, and thoughtful details–like low-profile waistband and cuffs great for layering underneath slimmer-fitting pants and a cropped length perfect for ski socks and boots–make them an ideal ski legging. A note on sizing: long-legged ladies might want to consider sizing up to avoid a gap between the leggings and your ski socks. Made of the same blend as the raglan, they’re great at keeping you cool when you’re working hard and warm when the wind picks up. Perfect for a day of touring or ripping resort laps, Wild Rye’s long johns are a seamless blend of style and performance, because hardcore mountain athletes like to look good too.
I’m of two minds when it comes to baselayers. Personally, I often find merino wool layers to be a bit warmer than similar-weight synthetic layers, but synthetics seem to deal with moisture better. So I’ll often wear wool layers if I know I’m going to be cold and relatively stationary, and synthetic if I expect to be moving a ton. Wool usually smells better if I’ve been exercising in it, but I’ll sacrifice a little odor for being dry and comfortable any day. That said, here are my two favorite baselayers from this winter.
The Duckworth Maverick Snorkel Hoody ($119.95) has been my go-to for really cold temps when I’m not going to be massively exerting myself. Easy snowshoeing, maybe a flat-ground nordic skiing sesh, or hiking on chilly days. It’s warm, but very light, with a snug-fitting hood and a merino wool that feels pretty dang luxurious against the skin. Has a short chest zipper that you don’t notice while wearing, and thumb holes to help the cuffs cover the backs of your hands. There are seams, obviously, but I don’t recall ever noticing them while wearing. Duckworth wool is grown in Montana and spun in textile mills in the Carolinas, so it’s all USA-made, which is a great bonus.
When I know I’m going to be sweating (and swearing) in cold weather, I’ve consistently worn the Helly Hansen Active Flow baselayers. I can sweat as much as my heart desires and these things dry in an instant. I can get caught in the rain without a shell, and if I strip these off and hang them indoors they’re dry in no time. The top is a half-zip (but no hood) and very comfortable. Vents excess heat with no problem and keeps me plenty warm when temps drop below freezing (though prob not quite as warm as wool). The pants fit great and provide the same thermos-like heat regulation. Plus, you can accidentally toss these into the dryer without fear of them shrinking like wool. Some of them are a little loud, color-wise, like lots of HH apparel, but they’re baselayers. Their main function is warmth, though it’s kinda fun to feel like you’re a superhero costume…sometimes.
WE LOVE THESE BASELAYERS TOO
For a supremely comfy and incredibly warm baselayer top, it’d be hard to beat the Arc’teryx Satoro AR Zip. Probably the warmest of the bunch, and featuring a zippered front pocket, they’re practically midlayers.
Patagonia’s Capilene baselayers are warm, lightweight, super comfortable, and can take a beating.
Smartwool’s range of merino wool baselayers are incredibly soft and often pretty cool looking, with prices that are pretty comparable to Duckworth.