Whether you live in a cold climate, plan on taking a trip to a chilly destination or just like to be prepared for the winter months, wearing a base layer is one of the surest ways to keep warm. They’re thin, insulated pants and long-sleeve shirts that don’t add uncomfortable bulk underneath your main bottoms and tops. Some come in top and bottom pairs, but most clothing companies separate the two.
The best men’s base layer is the Helly-Hansen HH LIFA Crew Baselayer Top. It is a little on the costly side, but it is breathable and thin without sacrificing warmth.
Most men’s base layers are blends of one majority material to provide warmth and a small amount of stretchy material for fit and function. However, some top-dollar layers might be made entirely of one material. The most commonly used majority materials are polyester, nylon, acrylic and rayon. High-end layers may use polypropylene. Cotton is occasionally used as well, though rarely. The stretchy material is usually elastane, which is also known as Lycra or spandex.
Men’s base layers go by the same sizing standards as most clothing. Some base layers come in big and tall options. The complication comes from the elasticity of most base layers. This means a shirt that’s normally your size may restrict your body to the point of discomfort. Most brands also use different sleeve and pant leg lengths than a similarly sized option from a different brand. All of which to say, you’ll likely need to try on multiple base layers before you find a comfortable fit.
Men’s base layer weights are closely tied to the degree of heat retention they provide. Lightweight layers provide minimal retention, making them best for cool morning runs and the like. Heavyweight layers are thick enough to trap a huge amount of body heat and keep you warm in frigid environments. Medium-weight layers have the widest range of weights and heat retention. Weather conditions between cool and frigid will be covered here, but you may need to shop for a while to find the perfect weight.
To facilitate maximum heat retention, most men’s base layers have highly elastic cuffs and collars to prevent body heat from escaping through these weak points. The goal is to be snug enough that the cuff won’t be pulled away during average movement but not tight enough to constrict. You’ll also want to look for thin cuffs — if they're too thick, they’ll make your outer layers feel bunched and uncomfortable.
The cheapest men’s base layers cost no more than $20, though their effectiveness may be questionable. The priciest options start at $60 and can exceed $100 in some cases. Most men’s base layers cost between $30-$50.
A. Many additional articles of clothing can be worn to increase your comfort in cold weather. Starting at the top and moving down:
A. Most men’s base layers last up to three years, even with regular use. Once they start to be noticeably stretched or develop any holes or thin sections, it’s time to consider a replacement. Don't bother with repairs, as the stretchy construction of most base layers is impossible to fix once stretched or torn.
A. Most men’s base layers require special care when washing to prevent damage. For many, this means machine-washing in cold water with bleach-free detergent and no fabric softeners. Most base layers, even machine-washable ones, shouldn't be machine-dried.
What you need to know: This top is warm and stylish, and it comes from an excellent brand.
What you’ll love: It’s entirely polypropylene with high degrees of breathability, flexibility and warmth retention. It comes from Scandinavia. It feels ultra-light on the body at only 0.3 pounds and uses flatlock seams for comfort. It’s available in black and two shades of white.
What you should consider: It’s among the priciest tops. The zebra-stripe accents can be too much for some consumers. Some consumers found them to run small, so it is best to purchase a size up.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This bottom layer piece is effective for a low price.
What you’ll love: It’s made of 88% woven polyester with 12% Spandex for compression and fit. It dries quickly and wicks moisture. Plus, mesh inner legs allow for maximum breathability, which make these well-suited for runners. It is machine-washable and comes in black or gray.
What you should consider: With a low cost and mesh on the inner leg comes low heat retention, and some consumers found the compression to be too strong.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This shirt traps body heat to keep the wearer warm in cool weather.
What you’ll love: It comes in sizes small to 3XL. It has four-way stretch construction and a soft interior for maximum comfort in any direction. Light and breathable, this top dries quickly and wicks moisture.
What you should consider: This top is also among the priciest picks. It runs a little small, so make sure to order a size up. Additionally, it has minimal heat retention.
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Jordan C. Woika writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.