The Best Women’s Base Layers and Thermal Underwear

In our quest to find the best women’s base-layer top and bottom, we sent seven rebounds ski, running, rock climbing, cottage lounging, and more in 18 women’s tops and 17 bottoms for four months. The flattering and odor-resistant Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer Pattern Long Sleeve managed it all, while the comfy Arc’teryx Rho LT Bottom’d the best fit of any johns we attempted.

The Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer Pattern Long Sleeve is an all round workhorse base layer: It fits great, remains in place, wicks while you’re working, and warms if you’re taking a break. What distinguished this shirt from other base layers in our test, though, was its fit and comfort. Our lankiest testers applauded its extended sleeve and shirt length, which retained their wrists and backs covered. Testers also enjoyed the top’s pinch-free, flattering design. The microweight fabric–made from merino wool fibers wrapped around a nylon core–was particularly soft, non-itchy, and durable compared with the contest. Despite having perhaps the lightest-weight cloth we analyzed (in 150 grams/m2), the Smartwool Merino 150 kept us insulated in each temperature, and was beloved one of our weight-conscious traveling and backpacking testers.

Because the top was so sparse, in our tests it felt much more breathable (and dried rapidly) than other, similar wool layers. Heat and vapor were able to escape quickly during movement, particularly in contrast with the Hot Chillys and Duofold base layers we tested. Testers noted that after autumn path runs in Colorado or long, steep climbs in Southern California’s mountains, the Smartwool top breathed well and evil off perspiration, drying with uncharacteristic speed for a wool base layer. Because it breathed so effectively and provided UPF 30 protection, testers were able to wear this base layer as sun protection together with the sleeves rolled down on warmer days. It performed equally nicely layered under jackets for skiing in Colorado, and it stayed warm as it got wet in the moist Pacific Northwest.

The Cuddl Duds FlexFit Long Sleeve Crew is a attractive foundation layer that fits similarly to the favorite Lululemon Swiftly Tech Long Sleeve Crew–a perennial ath-leisure activewear top–at half the price. Our testers loved the longer shirt span, but the Cuddl Duds shirt’s best feature is its own long sleeves, which go beyond the back of the hands and include (bonus!) thumbholes. In our tests, the stretchy, velvet-soft fabric kept the shirt from riding up during motion and made this top ultra-comfortable. However, the lightweight fabric of the Cuddl Duds was not as warm as that of other layers, especially when it became moist from rain or perspiration. Multiday backpackers and Trainers who didn’t wash it after one wear complained of odor, too. It’s a fantastic alternative for non-overnight tasks like day hikes or a day of climbing.

The Paradox Women’s 1/4 Zip Top Base Layer is special. It wicks, it warms, and it has a touch of merino in a fraction of the expense of the competition. This long-lasting mostly polyester blend is made from a thicker and thicker fabric than our other selections, but it functioned while we were course running and backpacking to keep us warm in warm, dry climates. The biggest complaint was odor–it held to stink after a day of sweating, unlike other shirts in our evaluation group. It is not quite as breathable as the Smartwool along with other wool tops, and it takes longer to wash. And we did not adore its outdoor-athletic style since it did not translate to casual settings. But after our experience testing tops we think Paradox might be among the best-kept budget secrets in the outdoors world, and if the design and match work for youpersonally, this shirt is an unrivaled performance deal.

The Arc’teryx Rho LT Bottom is everything a pair of base-layer bottoms must be: tender, pliable, elastic, and resistant to shimmying down through action. This set doesn’t stick or rub when layered beneath trousers, and best of all, it may work on its own since it is not see-through and has a flattering fit. The thick waistband stays up without digging into your belly or rolling over uncomfortably, and the cloth is soft and stretchy with no plasticky feeling of other synthetic base layers. These bottoms are so comfy that when you get home from a day of drama in the cold, you won’t want to take them off. Note that this is the first time we’ve recommended a piece of Arc’teryx gear; usually the organization’s things are too technical to be best for many people. But up until now, all of the bottoms we have tried have had flaws, and this pair–it just doesn’t. We found it really worth the cost for the match. We had to put it from our testers. They really, really didn’t want to give it all back.

The synthetic Hot Chillys Women’s Micro-Elite Chamois Tight almost mirrors the Arc’teryx Rho LT Bottom’s capacity to proceed with you throughout the day, for about $20 less in this writing. These Hot Chillys tights are not as stretchy and don’t fit as well as the Arc’teryx bottoms, but they don’t ride up or down, which is more than we could say for almost every set of women’s bottoms we have tried over the past couple of years.

The workhorse of all base-layer bottoms, the Icebreaker BodyfitZone Zone Leggings were among the best of the bunch in our tests. We liked the fit, the mobility, and most of all, the breathability of this pair of bottoms. Additionally, merino wool has natural anti-odor capabilities–and for us, it worked. The disadvantage: Merino can be expensive, this pair isn’t too flattering, and it wears much more like long underwear than the opaque legging.

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