The best hiking and running base layers

Set yourself up for success with the perfect base layer for your running or hiking
Best hiking and running base layers

When it comes to besting the elements while running and hiking, a quality base layer is the ultimate ally. That’s especially true when you’re heading out in cold weather, but don’t sleep on the benefits of a base layer when it’s sunny out, because the right kind of material can help you keep you cool even as the mercury rises.

The main choice to make with your base layer is whether you want a synthetic one or one made with a natural fabric like merino wool. The former are usually cheaper, dry rapidly and can be designed for hot or cold weather, but often tend to smell after one use, though there are now odour-resistant synthetic fabrics.

For its part, merino wool naturally resists odours, offers good temperature regulation in both hot and cold conditions depending on the weight of the material, and is more comfortable to wear, but takes longer to dry and will hit your wallet harder.

If you’re looking to buy a running base layer you’ll want a lightweight, fitted layer that will wick sweat away so you don’t get clammy during exercise. For hiking the fit can be a little looser and you’ll probably value more warmth and odour resistance so you can use the top for several days in a row.

Below you’ll find a range of base layers to suit both runners and hikers in all conditions.

The best all-round running base layer

Ashmei Long Sleeve Baselayer

Buy now: Ashmei (UK) Ashmei (US) | $84

The best hiking and running base layers

This is a special bit of kit, with the magic of the Ashmei base layer coming from the Merino + Carbon fabric used, which is a mix of merino wool and 37.5 polyester. The 37.5 in the latter represents the temperature the base layer is designed to keep your body at in all conditions. Whether it’s cooling you on a hot day or keeping you warm in the cold, this base layer keeps you comfortable at all times.

The soft fabric also helps on that front, and the close fit allows you to move freely during your run. However, it’s not so fitted that it can only be worn as a base layer – you can use this top by itself if conditions suit.

You can also use it multiple times without worrying about having to wash it, due the natural odour resistance of merino wool. Make sure you hang it out to dry between runs and you’ll be able to go for weeks between washes, which is good, because you’ll want to be very careful about not shrinking this beauty inadvertently – cool wash only, and keep it well clear of the dryer.

The only downside is the $84 price, but given that you can wear the Ashmei base layer in all conditions and don’t even have to worry about washing it that much, we reckon it provides value for money.

The best running base layers for the cold

Gore Windstopper Base Layer Long Sleeve

Buy now: Gore Wear (UK) / Gore Wear (US) / Amazon | $79.99

The best hiking and running base layers

Nothing ruins a run quite as effectively as a freezing headwind – that is unless you’re wearing this base layer, which has wind-resistant fabric all over the front along plus over your kidneys to protect your core and keep you warm even as you face down a gale.

The Windstopper base layer is particularly great for runners who fear overheating by putting on a running jacket during winter, because it’s lightweight and breathable despite offering water resistance alongside its wind-blocking properties. Pop it on under a t-shirt and you’ll feel confident tackling runs even as the temperature drops to low single digits.

Unsurprisingly, it's not so good in warmer weather and we reckon Gore’s temperature range of 5-15° is a little out of whack on the high end – you’ll likely find yourself overheating if you wear this base layer when it’s above 10 degrees. For runs in sub-10° conditions, however, it’s a godsend, especially when you’re trying to convince yourself to run into the wind.

Gore also makes a turtleneck version of the Windstopper base layer, and for those who fancy less fabric, there are t-shirt and sleeveless options as well.

Under Armour ColdGear Armour Compression Crew

Buy now: Under Armour (US) / Amazon | $49.99

The best hiking and running base layers

Under Armour made its name on the strength of its lightweight, stretchy base layers, and it still makes some of the best in the business for all kinds of sport in all kinds of weather. The ColdGear top is designed to keep you warm on chilly days, with a brushed interior that is snug on the skin while wicking sweat away to keep you dry and comfortable.

No matter how sweaty your run is, the polyester/elastane top will dry in a flash after you’re finished, and the second-skin fit is tight enough that you can slip it under any other layers you need to combat the elements.

Although this is a top best used on chilly days, its moisture-management properties are good enough that you shouldn't become uncomfortably hot wearing it in milder conditions, though Under Armour’s HeatGear fabric base layer is a better bet when running in the sun.

The best running base layer for hot weather

Adidas Alphaskin Sport Tee

Buy now: adidas (UK) / adidas (US) / Amazon | $30

The best hiking and running base layers

It might seem counterintuitive to slip on another layer in order to keep cool on warm days, but the Climacool fabric used in this tee is exactly what you need next to your skin to avoid overheating. It wicks sweat away at a furious pace so you remain dry and comfortable even running flat out in hot weather, and it offers UPF 50+ protection from UV rays, something worth considering in a top you’re going to use predominantly on sunny days.

The Adidas Alphaskin range, which also includes long sleeve tops and tights, has a compression fit that offers some support to your muscles but also allows you to move freely. When worn under other, looser layers, this top will also protect your skin from rubbing and reduce the risk of chafing during your run.

The Alphaskin top also uses Polygiene’s anti-odour tech in the fabric, which in our experience has proven close to miraculous in keeping clothes smell-free even after multiple uses.


The best hiking base layers

Helly Hansen Lifa Active Crew

Buy now: Helly Hansen (UK) / Helly Hansen(US) / Amazon | From $55

The best hiking and running base layers

Norwegian brand Helly Hansen knows its base layers, to the point where the best way to navigate the massive range of options it offers is through the ‘Find A Base Layer’ feature on its website, which will help match you up with the one best suited to your activities.
The standard Lifa is the Helly Hansen classic, but unless you’re taking your hike at a very leisurely pace, you’ll benefit from opting for the lighter weight Lifa Active instead.
It’s still a warm base layer, and until the temperature hits single digits you might find that you can wear it by itself, but the sweat-wicking properties of the lightweight fabric mean that you won’t overheat even as you push yourself up a steep hill.
The top is cut for a fairly loose fit, which is comfortable to wear all day long. And indeed all night long too, if you cannot face the chill of taking your base layer off before jumping in your sleeping bag.

Icebreaker 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe

Buy now: Icebreaker (UK) / Icebreaker (US) / Amazon | From $95

The best hiking and running base layers

Kiwi brand Icebreaker offers a tremendous range of merino wool base layers, which are divided up by the weight of the wool used. The website even has a matchmaker service that pairs you with the ideal base layer based on the activity you’ll be using it for and the climate you’ll be using it in.

However, for most of us the conditions you’ll be using the top in are likely to vary, so if you’re looking for a hiking base layer that will suit in a variety of situations, opt for the 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe. The top is lightweight enough that you won’t overheat on fast hikes, but has enough heft to it that you’ll stay snug on stately saunters as well.

The top is made from 100% merino wool, which means it’s beautifully soft on the skin and boasts excellent odour resistance – you’ll have no need to pack any other base layers for multi-day hikes.

Patagonia Capilene Air Crew

Buy now: Patagonia (UK) / Patagonia (US) / Amazon | From $120

The best hiking and running base layers

This versatile base layer has a loose fit that means you can also use it as a mid layer or jumper, or wear it by itself if conditions suit. The fabric is a mix of 51% merino wool and 49% recycled polyester, which you’ll be pleased to hear results in you getting the benefits of both, rather than the opposite.

By that we mean the top is lightweight and dries rapidly, but it retains the softness of merino, along with some of its natural odour-resistance, though will need washing more regularly than a 100% merino top if you want to avoid your hiking buddies giving you funny looks.

The mix of polyester with a lightweight 190g merino wool means that the Air Crew is great in milder conditions, but it’s still warm enough for frosty expeditions, and it has an entirely seam-free design, which cuts the risk of you suffering any chafing on long hikes.

Montane PRIMINO 220 Long Sleeve T-Shirt

Buy now: Montane (UK) | £80

The best hiking and running base layers

There’s all sorts of fancy stuff going on the fabric for this base layer, but just in case you’re not the kind of person who enjoys in-depth discussions of proprietary fabric tech, we’ll first just say that this is a supremely warm option that’s also sweat-wicking and odour-resistant.

The Primino fabric is a mix of 50% merino wool, 25% PrimaLoft yarns and 25% polyester, and it’s treated with Polygiene’s anti-odour tech to add to the merino’s natural smell resistance. PrimaLoft is primarily known for making terrific lightweight insulation for things like down jackets and sleeping bags, but its yarn is almost as impressive, with excellent moisture-management properties and a soft feel that’s a pleasure to wear next to the skin.

It’s winning combo for a base layer that’ll be the first thing you put on and last thing you’ll take off on hikes in cold conditions, and it also works as a top you can wear by itself when the weather is milder.

BAM Force Bamboo Base Layer

Buy now: Bamboo Clothing (UK) | £50

The best hiking and running base layers

While the many qualities of merino wool are well-known among outdoor activity enthusiasts, bamboo fabric is not so established. That’s a situation that’s likely to change, however, because bamboo clothing offers many of the same benefits as merino while being even softer, so those who might find that even the finest wools irritate their skin should give bamboo a go.

Bamboo fabric is sweat-wicking, odour-resistant and breathable, making it great for hiking, and there’s an added bonus in its sustainability, because bamboo grows ridiculously quickly and doesn’t require much water or any pesticides or fertilisers. As long as pandas don’t suddenly overrun the earth, and given their apparent disinterest in procreation that seems unlikely, bamboo is far more sustainable than materials like cotton.

The Force Bamboo top is smart enough to wear without any other layers over it, but excels as a base in cold conditions, with the thumb loops on the sleeves helping to make you feel extra cozy. However, although it is odour-resistant it might not be the best pick for multi-day hiking, especially in wet spots, because it doesn’t dry that quickly and no-one likes to pull on a damp top first thing in the morning.

Tags:    Running    Trekking
Tagged    Running    Trekking