Best ski base layer 2020: Cosy but breathable base layers

One of the best base layers is vital to keep you the right temperature on the slopes

best ski base layer: SmartWool base layer
(Image credit: SmartWool)

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.

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…).

best ski base layer: SmartWool Merino 250 1/4 zip

(Image credit: SmartWool)

1. SmartWool Merino 250 1/4 zip

The best all-round base layer

Specifications
Material: Merino wool
Zip neck: Yes
Flatlock seams: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fast wicking, breathable merino +Men's and women's versions+Versatile
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Not the lightest base layer

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.

best ski base layer: Paramo Grid Technic

(Image credit: Paramo)

2. Paramo Grid Technic

The best premium base layer

Specifications
Material: Parameta G directional polyester
Zip neck: Yes
Flatlock seams: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Can also be used as a lightweight mid-layer+Men's and women's versions+Fair Trade credentials
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy and bulky for a base layer

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.

best ski base layer: Finisterre Bora short-sleeve T-shirt

(Image credit: Finisterre)

3. Finisterre Bora short-sleeve T-shirt

The best budget base layer

Specifications
Material: Bamboo/organic cotton mix
Zip neck: No
Flatlock seams: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fast wicking fabric+Naturally breathable+Great eco credentials
Reasons to avoid
-Not as warm as long sleeve tops-Won't keep your arms warm

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.

best ski base layer: Picture Organic Clothing Nangha top

(Image credit: Picture Organic Clothing)

4. Picture Organic Clothing Nangha top

The best mix and match base layer

Specifications
Material: Recycled polyester
Zip neck: No
Flatlock seams: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Recycled materials+Feels great against your skin+Looks good
Reasons to avoid
-Large logo/patterned fabric won't appeal to everyone

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.

best ski base layer: Picture Organic Clothing Lhotse ski tights

(Image credit: Picture Organic Clothing)

5. Picture Organic Clothing Lhotse ski tights

The best base layer for your legs

Specifications
Material: Recycled polyester
Zip neck: N/A
Flatlock seams: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fast wicking fabric+Odour resistant+Super-comfy+Choice of plain or patterned
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively pricey-Large logo won't appeal to everyone

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…?