Investing in one of the best base ski layers can make a huge difference to your comfort levels on the slopes. It's a plain and simple piece of clothing, but it's also probably the most important part of any layering system.
Since it lies next to your skin, any ski base layer obviously needs to be soft and warm. It should be made from a wicking material like merino (such as the Smartwool Merino 250) or a blend of wicking, eco-friendly fabrics like the Picture Lhotse leggings and Nangha top, which will ensure you don't become damp from sweating. All of the garments in our guide also use fabrics that don't retain odours, allowing you to wear them for days at time without smelling like a runny cheese – especially useful if you're into multi-day backcountry adventures.
Our guide to the best ski base layers includes both tops and bottoms, and all are designed specifically to wear on the slopes. For less specialised options, head to our general guide to the best base layers. Complete your outfit with one of the best ski jackets and a pair of the best ski pants.
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How to choose the best base layer for you
Decide on whether you prefer a natural or synthetic fabric, more on the basis of feel than ecological considerations as most reputable manufacturers will use fabrics that are as eco-friendly as possible.
Whatever fabric you go for it's essential that it has good wicking qualities – this enables the individual fibres in the material to transport moisture away from your body (and ideally out through your breathable outer garments) so you don't end up bathed in sweat – especially important for high energy activities such as ski touring. Not only is this uncomfortable, but when you stop exercising any moisture held in your base layer will become cold and in extreme conditions can even contribute to hypothermia.
Also look for fabrics that have anti-microbial and/or anti-odour treatment for obvious reasons given that base layers are worn next to your skin.
Fit should be snug but not too tight; you want your base layer to move with you comfortably rather than restricting movement due to being too tight, whilst if it's too loose it can ruck up and become uncomfortable.
And finally, think about how your base layers look since once the action on the mountain is over you may find yourself in a bar where you presumably want to look reasonably stylish once you warm up and decide to strip down to your skivvies (this doesn't necessarily apply to your bottom half…).
The best ski base layers, ranked
Winter sports are all about layering so it's important you don't begin with a base layer so warm that you can't adapt to conditions. Cue the lightweight Artilect A/SYS-1 Flatiron 185 Crew LS, which at 185 gsm is relatively thin, so perfectly built for being active in cold conditions. It's made mostly from super-smooth merino wool, with panels of ultrathin Nuyarn fabric from wrist to flank via that vital underarm zone. That makes this base layer feel particularly sleek when skiing, with Nuyarn a lightweight yet strong fabric that's studded with tiny eyelets to make it breathable. As a bonus you also get optional thumb loops in the wrists to minimise gaps and maximise warmth.
The Smartwool Merino 250 looks great and not only works brilliantly as a base layer but it also looks stylish enough to wear as an all-purpose next-to-skin garment. Manufactured from soft, thermo-regulating merino wool it has a pretty slim fit to allow as much merino as possible to contact your skin and do its warm and wicking work, whilst low-profile, non-chafing seams add to the comfort factor. A zipped neck and low collar also help you to regulate your temperature as well as adding a touch of style to a base layer that you’ll find yourself slipping on year-round for everything from skiing to nipping down the pub.
Sometimes, Merino wool can be a touch itchy. Not so with the Falke Trend base layer, which is the softest ski base layer we've tried. The fit is clingy but super stretchy, so you'll be able to move completely freely. It's also pleasingly long in the arm and body, so you won't end up with a gap for drafts to get in. The merino wool content should help regulate moisture as well as keeping you warm, which is a good thing because this isn't the thickest option in our list. It's not the most important thing, but we're also big fans of the sporty cut, with low turtleneck, and contrast detailing. We're not totally sure why Falke has added an L and R to the outside wrists, but we guess it'll be helpful for anyone who's not clear on their left and right. There's also a women's version.
The Paramo Grid Technic helps to reduce the number of layers you need by offering insulation when worn with a windproof or waterproof outer layer and cooling when exposed to the wind. It does this by using fleecy grid squares in the material which, when covered by a windproof shell trap air and provide excellent insulation, but when uncovered the gaps between the grid allow moving air to go straight to the skin, promoting cooling, making the Grid Technic an especially good option for ski tourers and backcountry aficionados. In addition, stretch fabric for comfort, a zipped neck for additional temperature control, thumb loops and plain good looks make the Paramo Grid Technic well worth checking out.
Going for a long lunch and a generously long après ski is what makes hitting the slopes each winter so much fun. But do you really have to spend your leisure time in a dorky-looking tight base-layer? The men's Yardang Shirt is unique in being a performance base-layer that's also a shirt good looking enough to wear away from the slopes. The only full button-up long-sleeve overshirt that's also a base layer, it's made from a blend of merino wool and yak wool from the Himalayas, which produces an impressive softness against the skin.
It's got everything a button-up shirt should have, from a small button-fastened chest pocket to a standard-looking collar, though the latter itself buttons-up to create a neck warmer. It's warm and so conformable that you'll probably wear it when you're not skiing, which makes it a great option for travelling light. There are a few different options in this range, in different styles, if the full button-up style isn't for you.
The chances are you use a neck warmer when skiing to help keep the wind chill at bay. Who doesn't? But if you're always going to wear such a garment then you could just have it built into your base layer. That's the thinking behind this men's mid-weight hoodie from Helly Hansen, which combines a standard base layer with a hood that has a particularly high collar. There's no zip so if you do overheat there's no way out, though its torso uses a 100% merino wool layer that successfully wicks away moisture. On the shoulders, wrists and on the insides of the arms you'll find Helly Hansen's LIFA Stay Warm fabric to help you stay cool.
The Finisterre Bora isn't the warmest of the base layers we tested, but as a super-comfortable, year-round item it's a great option. The relative lack of warmth comes from it having short sleeves, of course, but on the other hand this along with the non-technical look means you can wear it just as readily in the middle of summer as in the middle of winter. The Bora is manufactured from a mix of 68% bamboo viscose/28% organic cotton/4% elastane and as such is naturally breathable, temperature regulating, anti-bacterial and moisture wicking as well as being a lighter, vegan alternative to merino wool that is also sustainable. Add to that an ergonomic cut with flatlock seams for chafe-free, free moving comfort and the Bora is well worth checking out.
Picture makes a big thing about designing outdoor gear with as near as possible to a 100 per cent eco-friendly approach, and the Nangha is no exception. It's manufactured from a mix of organic, bio-sourced and recycled materials and feels very soft and cosy against bare skin, whilst chafe-free flatlock seams and stretchy fabric further add to the comfort factor. The fabric is both moisture wicking and quick drying and comes with anti-microbial treatment to prevent odours, and nice little touches such as thumbhole cuffs to keep your hands that bit warmer all add up to a top-quality top; and it matches nicely with the Lhotse leggings.
If you want to make a statement with your skiwear, head to Dope Snow, which has a range of cool base layer tops and bottoms to choose from. Our pick for the top is the Snuggle 2X-UP, which has matching ski tights available, if you want to coordinate. This is a sweatshirt style layer, so it's not super tight fitting. It's also not the warmest in our list, but the inside is made of a lovely soft brushed fabric, and the deep funnel neck with fleece lining does keep the chill out well (note: that's only on the women's version – the men's cut has a lower neckline).
The Lhotse leggings go well with Picture's Nangha top and are made out of the same eco-friendly materials, which feature a high performance recycle polyester blend of hydrophilic and hydrophobic fibres for excellent wicking. In addition, and as with the Nangha, the fabric has been treated with what Picture call ‘Dry Feel', which does exactly that – it creates a long-lasting dry feel to the fabric thanks to a treatment which helps the fibres in the material maintain freshness and repel odours. There's the option of a plain or printed design, not that it matters much given that they're under your ski pants, but who knows when you might find it necessary to reveal your underwear…?