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Men: We Found Your New Favorite Base Layers

If you buy the right one, it can be one of the only tops you need for the entire winter season

If you buy the right one, it can be one of the only tops you need for the entire winter season. (Photo: Sarah Jackson)
baselayers

I wear a long-sleeved, lightweight base layer six days a week during the winter. And it isn’t uncommon for me to wear the same one for all six days. Why? The right one will work for any activity. I run in them, ski in them, sleep in them, snow-camp in them, and watch movies while putting off Gear Guy deadlines in them. I have tested more than a hundred base layers over the past seven years while working for Outside. I firmly believe that if you buy the right one, and layer correctly, it can be one of the only tops you need for the entire season. I put five of my favorites in a head-to-head test to determine which was the best, but I also listed what the runner-ups excel at, so you can pick whichever one works for you. 

The Test

  • Comfort: I slept in and worked a full day at my desk in each of the shirts.
  • Exercise: I performed a 25-minute high-intensity stair-machine or inclined-treadmill workout in each shirt to guarantee that I fully sweat through them. Then I performed a circuit of push-ups, sit-ups, planks, curls, and triceps presses to gauge how well the shirts moved when sweaty. 
  • Skiing: During the ski-touring portion of this test, conditions ranged from a sub-20-degree blizzard to the high thirties and sunny. I skied for at least a half day in each of these tops and took notes. I also put them to a resort test on my local hill, Mount Ashland, in Oregon. I skied the same four runs in each of the tops. Conditions were a continuous light snow, about 28 degrees, with winds of 10 to 13 miles per hour. I took notes in Mount Ashland’s locker room between the sets. 
  • Moisture Movement: I soaked each shirt in a large bowl of water for 15 seconds, removed it and held it by a sleeve for another 15 seconds (to let water slough off), and the weighed each with a kitchen scale. Finally, I hung each up and weighed it every 20 minutes for an hour to see how rapidly it shed moisture.
  • Everyday Use: I compared comfort, fit, and how technical the shirts looked overall.

The Results

baselayers
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)

The Winner: Stio Basis Power Wool Crew Neck ($109) 

  • Comfort: 4.5
  • Exercise: 5
  • Skiing: 4.5
  • Moisture Movement: 5
  • Everyday Use: 5

I was blown away by how well this Power Wool top balanced the often conflicting benefits of warmth and breathability. The tiny grid of loft on its interior stored just enough heat to deliver a perfect thermal bump—noted during a lift ride with 15-mile-per-hour winds, temperatures in the mid-twenties, and open vents on my ski jacket. But I also didn’t start sweating prematurely on the stair machine. It was damned comfortable for a piece with wool in it. I have a very low tolerance for scratchiness against my skin (one of the reasons I often choose synthetics with my personal base layers), but this wool-synthetic blend showed absolutely no sign of itchiness. In terms of comfort and performance, it was pretty close with the Patagonia version I tested but edged it out because I felt more comfortable wearing it with jeans to a coffee shop, thanks to its muted look. I couldn’t wear it on date night, but it felt like a more casual piece of clothing than core gear.

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baselayers
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)

Best for High-Output Activities: Patagonia Cap Cool Lightweight Crew ($55)

  • Comfort: 5
  • Exercise: 5
  • Skiing: 4
  • Moisture Movement: 5
  • Everyday Use: 3

I foresee myself using this top for high-output pursuits more than the others on this list (everything except resort skiing). My body temperature runs high (I’m usually a hot sweaty mess), and it breathed better than any of the competitors. It felt fine as I worked out in a full sweat, and it pulled moisture off my body like a champ on the skin track. It was fantastically silky on my skin both in bed and on the gym mat. That smooth exterior made it layer quite nicely as well. It’s also the second least expensive on this list. The only reason it missed the win is because it’s too technical looking for day-to-day wear and borderline see-through in parts. 

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baselayers
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)

Best for Skiing: The North Face Winter Warm Gridded Long-Sleeve ($50) 

  • Comfort: 4
  • Exercise: 3
  • Skiing: 5
  • Moisture Movement: 3.5
  • Everyday Use: 4

This is one of my favorite ski-specific tops ever. Credit the just-right amount of insulation from the supersoft dots of loft and channels of lighter material that drop heat. That design, coupled with an extremely breathable and stretchy back panel—it is see-through when you put it up to the light—poured out heat when I opened my jacket and made this top absolutely fantastic for skiing in temperatures from the low twenties to the high thirties. Its insulation didn’t serve it well in the gym, though, where I overheated extremely quickly. If this test were aimed at finding the best skiing layer, this one would have taken the win.

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baselayers
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)

Best for Going from the T-Bar to the Town Bar: Houdini Activist Crew ($110)

  • Comfort: 2
  • Exercise: 3.5
  • Skiing: 4
  • Moisture Movement: 3
  • Everyday Use: 5

The Activist looks like a fashion piece. Its cut, plus the matte merino and Tencel finish, makes it look nicer than the vast majority of shirts in my closet. If I were in a situation where I had to go directly from the skin track to a meeting, and didn’t have time to change, this shirt would totally work for that. Those nice looks did not do it any favors in other departments—it was the least comfortable in the test—but it did ski extremely well. It layered effortlessly and was quite breathable in spite of its fancy design.

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baselayers
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)

Best for Hut Trips: Norrøna Equaliser ($79)

  • Comfort: 3
  • Exercise: 4
  • Skiing: 4
  • Moisture Movement: 4
  • Everyday Use: 3

The Equaliser’s merino-wool and polyester blend made it the slightest bit scratchy, which didn’t help when I was going to sleep, but that discomfort disappeared halfway through my first ski run. That little bit of itchiness and the top’s highly technical look is why it landed so far down this list. But it moved moisture efficiently for a wool product, and the warmth-to-weight ratio was remarkable—the shirt was great while skiing in the high twenties, despite its light weight. It also performed extremely well during push-ups and curls while soaked in sweat. The odor-fighting nature of wool, along with this top’s heating efficiency, will make it a top pick for me when I go snow camping or on a hut trip this winter. 

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Filed To: Base LayerSkinPatagoniaSkiingCampingCasualClothing and Apparel
Lead Photo: Sarah Jackson

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