The 10 Best Men's Active Base Layers

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This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Everyone knows that the best way to stay warm in winter is by layering. However, if you plan on being out in the cold while exercising, skiing or otherwise exerting yourself, active base layers are much more effective at retaining heat while wicking away moisture than a regular T-shirt or sweatshirt. Their materials also allow superior mobility, so you won't be limited in your athletic endeavors. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve

2. Helly Hansen Tech Crew Top

3. Carhartt Force Classic

Editor's Notes

May 05, 2020:

During this round of updates, while the Tsla Blank Men’s Set, Under Armour Base 2.0, Tac Performance Beaver Falls and Minus33 Midweight Merino Kancamagus were all removed due to availability issues, we also decided on eliminating the Polarmax Men’s Double Bass, feeling that our new selection the Real Essentials Compression Top made a better budget choice for this category. Some our new additions this time around include the Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve – a lightweight model that remains impressively warm, the Carhartt Force Classic – an excellent pair of long underwear to brave cold job sites in, and the Helly Hansen Tech Crew Top – a high-quality option that’s backed by a two-year warranty.

A few things to think about for this category:

Efficacy: This can be tricky to gauge pre-purchase, especially without the benefit of trying your options on before you make a decision. A good active base layer will keep you both warm and dry, and while your wardrobe keeping you too dry isn’t really a concern, overheating due to overdressing is a definite possibility and, indeed, a frequent problem. So, to make matters more difficult, picking the right base layer depends a lot on considering your personal circumstance.

In an apples-to-apples situation, comparing options made of the same material side by side, material weight is one metric you can look at to help gauge how warm a garment will be. For example, the Woolx Heavyweight is made industrious merino wool that weighs 400 grams per square meter, while the Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve weighs only 150 grams per square meter, so you can reasonably expect the Woolx option to be warmer. However, advanced textiles make up much of the modern market, with every company trying to get an edge over each other by finding the fabric that offers the best blend of warmth and wicking, so rarely are you able to simply compare textiles by weight.

Even in the example provided above, the Smartwool option is made up of 87% merino wool wrapped around a 13% nylon core – which makes it difficult to compare it by weight against the 100%-merino wool Woolx model. Use your best judgement to pick a base layer with a fabric that suits your personal needs, emphasising wicking for activities that involve a lot of sweating, or emphasising warmth for activities that involve a lot of standing around in the cold.

Fit: Again, this can be tricky to gauge in the online-shopping space. While some brands are widely known to run a size too big or too small – the Lapasa Thermal Bottoms, for instance, are often considered to be a bit on the small side – other brands do their customers a service by providing detailed charts online to help them find their way. The Helly Hansen Tech Crew Top and Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve are two examples of base layers supported by detailed sizing charts.

Fashion: You can’t go wrong with a simple, solid black look, if the only time you’ll ever put this layer on is underneath five other layers of winter clothing, but with many users using their base layers as their go-to standalone apparel for windy days of sailing, brisk bike commuting, jogging in the fall or even just casual streetwear, it can’t hurt to pick something that looks good.

Many options are available in multiple colors – including the Real Essentials Compression Top and Columbia Omni-Heat, which come in several attractive two-tone options with contrasting stitching – but the Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve does particularly well in this respect, offering 10 vibrant color choices, including three striped patterns. The Icebreaker Men's Oasis sets itself apart from most with its half-zipper and hood, which are as sensible as they are stylish.

October 17, 2018:

Included some premium options that have taken the market by storm — namely, the Woolx Glacier top and heavyweight bottoms. While there are still plenty of inexpensive and effective models on our list, the new options help provide a larger range, from budget-friendly options to expensive premium models

Special Honors

Patagonia Not only is this company known for making some of the best outdoor gear on the market, but their garments are also satisfaction guaranteed for life – although returns occurring more than a year past purchase will be honored with in-store credit in lieu of cash. They'll even donate one percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.

4. Columbia Omni-Heat

This item has been flagged for editorial review and is not available.

5. Icebreaker Men's Oasis

6. WoolX Glacier

This item has been flagged for editorial review and is not available.

7. Woolx Heavyweight

8. Real Essentials Compression Top

9. Meriwool Merino Bottoms

10. Lapasa Thermal Bottoms

Will Rhoda
Last updated by Will Rhoda

After deciding that the pen was mightier than the pliers, Canadian electrical contractor William Rhoda abandoned his career and headed back to college, where he majored in marketing and advertising and won a scholarship along the way to earning a diploma in creative communications. His past career landed him a depth of knowledge in tools and hardware, while his current career schooled him in audio, video and camera equipment. During his leisure time, he’s learned lots about outdoor gear, and years of tiresome backyard maintenance have taught him all about pools and hot tubs. His recreational pursuits include rest, relaxation and revolutionary action, and his roommate’s a hairless cat.

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