Insulate and Regulate: Men’s Base Layers

Words by John Caldwell 

Base layers. Definitely not the most flashy or exciting items in your mountain action quiver, but always highly important. When facing the elements for an epic all-day lap fest or sneaking out of the office early for a few sweet runs before the lifts close, you always need long underwear that will help keep you at that optimum temperature. It’s all about pieces that fit, insulate, and breathe well in equal measure. It’s also all about being able to wear athletic clothing built for performance in extreme conditions while simultaneously feeling like you’re wearing super comfy pajamas that can handle as much après action as ski action. Base Layer technology has certainly come a long way over the course of mountain sports history. Below are our picks for the best men’s and women’s base layers currently on the market from six of our favorite brands. Hey Marty McFly, the future is now.

1. Corbeaux Chinook Hoody + Centennial ¾ Pant

Coming out of Colorado, Corbeaux was founded in 2014 by dynamic husband-and-wife duo Adam Moszynski and Darcy Conover. Being sponsored skiers and mountaineers themselves, Adam and Darcy created a company that focuses only on producing the best base layers possible with the knowledge and testing that only professional mountain athletes can bring to the table. When I pulled the Chinook Hoody out of the bag I immediately noticed the silky-smooth texture of this lightweight material. This piece utilizes Corbeaux’s Peached Recycled Polyester technology which combines 84% recycled polyester and 16% spandex. The inclusion of spandex allows for extra durability, more warmth, and 4-way stretch capabilities. While merino is undoubtedly comfortable on the skin, Corbeaux’s unique materials are second to none when it comes to this category. On the performance side of things the Chinook also delivers remarkably well. We tested in cold, wet weather and the material provided excellent moisture management during a particularly deep shred session in the trees and then quick-drying on the ride up the chair. We also like how the cut of this piece is looser than most base layer tops. This allows it to be more comfy and versatile with the ability to add a thinner layer underneath. The Chinook Hoody also features a loop to conveniently feed your headphones through and a watch window on the left wrist for checking your altimeter or heart monitor. The Centennial ¾ Pant also features the silky-smoothness of Peached Recycled Polyester. The ¾ length is perfect for when you’re wearing boots and/or knee-high socks. This eliminates the bunching of material at the knee which is all too common with long underwear. Corbeaux is bringing a welcome change-up to the base layer game. The proof is in the product. $134 + $98 MSRP  Click here for more info

2. Helly Hansen Wool ½ Zip Top + Wool Pant

Ah yes, the tried and true brilliance of merino wool. The next-to-skin comfort and insulating abilities of this material continue to be unparalleled. Both the HH wool top and pant are made of 100% merino. Helly Hansen recommends their wool long underwear for colder weather, so it pairs well with lighter layers. It’s not our top choice for a particularly long off-piste ripper, but on the cold, windy days we see in early winter, it’s a good bet you’ll need a layer like this. Flat lock stitching enables a static-free full range of movement and the ½ zip front is very handy for quick temperature regulation. All of these details follow suit for the pant. A big plus is how thin and smooth the fabric is while simultaneously being very warm. This is the best of both worlds. And if you’re looking for a base layer combo that is ultra-light and even more breathable, check out the HH Active line. These pieces are made with the HH’s original Lifa® and Lifa Flow® mesh materials that produce the best in moisture-wicking performance. $100 + $90 MSRP  Click here for more info

3. Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Pattern Crew + NTS Mid 250 Bottom

Smartwool’s Mid 250 line is their warmest of all of their current base layer models. The 100% merino wool material is astonishingly light, soft, and stretchy. The latest version of these pieces is even more refined with a new chafe-free seam construction and panels that add support when you’re recreating with a pack on your back. Most will find wearing this as a single layer underneath a thick down jacket will keep them warm even on ultra-cold days during the winter months. The Mid 250 bottoms also feature flatlock stitching for seamless movement. Also good to know is that this top and bottom combination is one of the most breathable all-merino offerings on the market. And for those warmer days and milder seasons, go with the Merino 150 Pattern Short Sleeve t-shirt. This is a year-round base layer for all mountain activities that features Smartwool’s Core Spun® technology. Core Spun® is merino wrapped around a nylon core for excellent durability without sacrificing for comfort and performance. To top it all off, this particular version of Mid 250 Pattern Crew earns major style points with a great horizontal line pattern and green on grey/green color scheme. $105 + $95 MSRP  Click here for more info

4. Icebreaker Tech Top Long Sleeve Half Zip + Apex Leggings

Icebreaker offers three levels of thickness for both their tops and tights. Go with the medium level Tech Top and Apex leggings if you want all-activity layers that will perform brilliantly in any conditions that are thrown your way. The Tech Top is made from soft and breathable 260-gram pure merino wool. Despite being smooth and sleek, this piece will keep your core toasty even on those extreme low-temperature days or nights. The Tech Top is made for moving comfortably with offset shoulder seams and forward set side seams that reduce chafing when wearing a pack or simply hauling ass. The material is also odor resistant, which lets you sip a cold one at the bar without scaring away that cute snowbunny after a particularly taxing day on the hill. And the half zip design allows for excellent temperature modulation when your effort level and the temperatures are constantly changing. The Apex leggings are made from the same material as the Tech Top, are built with flatlock seams for seamless movement, and also feature natural odor prevention. $120 + $110 MSRP  Click here for more info

5. Stio Basis Power Dry Zip Neck + Basis Power Dry Tight

Stio bills the Basis Power Dry top as the ultimate wicking insulation garment for everything from backcountry skiing missions to trail running adventures and peak-bagging odysseys. Stio blends wool and polyester to combine to produce the ultimate moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and durable material. Flatlock seams ensure maximum efficiency when moving and the MaxVent zipper allows for superb modulation of cold air intake. The Basis Power Dry Tight is the perfect complement to add to this for covering the legs. The volume is midweight but the warmth will get your limbs through the harshest of harsh winter days. And the edition of polyester woven into wool will have you getting a ridiculous amount of mileage out of a single pair of these tights. $76.30 + $62.30 MSRP  Click here for more info

6. Voormi Thermal II Baselayer Top + Full Length Thermal II Bottoms

Voormi advertises the Thermal II Baselayer Top as a must-have piece for the four season quiver, and with good reason. This top comes in a slim, athletic fit and is made with 100% precision blended wool. It looks amazing sharp for a base layer, so sharp that you can easily wear it as outerwear. The Thermal II has a quarter length zip that allows you to swiftly modulate how much cold air you want to take in. This top was also named “Warmest Winter Baselayer” by Backpacker Magazine. Pair this top with the Full Length Thermal II Bottoms which also feature the precision blended wool combination. These bottoms are billed as the ultimate in three-season insulation for the limbs with all of the wicking and anti-odor technology that is needed. Voormi products are made in the USA exclusively from Rocky Mountain Highcountry Wool. $129 + $119 MSRP  Click here for more info