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Best Backpacking Base Layers


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This is a gear review of the best backpacking base layers out on the market in 2021.

I don’t know what’s worse. A base layer that doesn’t keep you warm, one that isn’t breathable, or one that doesn’t dry out quickly after a shower of rain. A quality baselayer is the solution.

Below are the best baselayers on the market right now with a handy buyers guide at the end help you learn more about base layers.

Best Backpacking Base Layers 2021

The Best Backpacking Base Layers for 2021 are:

Best Backpacking Base Layer – Overall 2021

Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer

> Made from 87% merino wool
> Merino wool is thermo-regulating
> Merino wool is moisture wicking
> Most customers have made repeat purchases, because as much as they love them so much
> Not much, they are great

The Smartwool Merino 150 base layer is made from 87% merino wool, and 13% nylon. And this gives it some great properties that are just what you need when you are backpacking.

Merino wool is thermo-regulating, which means that it will retain a nice, comfortable temperature, without becoming too hot.  It is also moisture wicking, which is great because this means that it will disperse any sweat that may start to form on your skin.

These baselayer tops are ultra-smooth to the touch and feel great against the skin. They also breathe well, and naturally resist any body odors. 

Overall, these are one of my personal favorite gear items and are the Best Lightweight Merino Base layers for Men and Women.

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Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer

> Made with 100% Merino wool
> Breathable & they lock in heat
> Soft feel against the skin
> Some people say it isn’t as heavy a weight as they were expecting

Now, these Smartwool Merino 250 base layers for Men and Women are made with 100% Merino wool fabric, and that makes them perfect for hiking and backpacking.

They work to lock in heat but are also breathable and work to wick sweat away.

These are comfortable enough to wear all day long. They come as a slim fit, and offer plenty of stretch, so it really serves to enhance your body shape.

They are available in a choice of several different color options, too. All of which are quite dark and very unassuming and understated.

Amazingly, the size that you buy does not affect the price, and neither does the color.

Overall, these are one of the best merino baselayers for backpacking. The hard decision is whether you choose the Merino 150 version mentioned above or the Merino 250 version mentioned here!

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Patagonia Capilene Air Crew

> Made with 51% RWS-certified merino wool
> Together with 49% recycled polyester
> It stretches to allow ease of movement
> Premium product at a premium price

If you’re passionate about the environment, then this is the base layer top for you!

It’s made of 51% RWS-certified merino wool and 49% recycled polyester.

RWS-certified means that it meets the Responsible Wool Standard from farm to fabric which is there to ensure protection for both the animals that supply the wool, and the land that they graze.

The fabric feels really soft against your skin and it stretches to allow movement, eliminating any chafe points. And it’s really nice and warm too.

It’s called an “air crew” because it’s an airy blend of fabrics, made with a special 18.5 micron-gauge yarn.

It’s also really durable and is designed to last. And it provides moisture wicking for when you start to sweat, and it dries out quite quickly too.

It’s available in a choice of 4 different colors. When this article was written the crater blue option was on sale.

Overall, these are a great environmentally responsible baselayer for backpacking.

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Norrona Wool Round Neck Base Layer

> Excellent customer reviews
> Primary fabric is Merino wool
> Thermo-regulating for warmth
> Very few sizes and color options available

Now, this is a base layer that’s had some awesome customer reviews everywhere on the net. And looking into it we could certainly see why.

Its primary fabric is Merino wool, which is known for its thermo-regulating and moisture wicking properties, so not only will it keep you warm, if you do start to sweat, your sweat will be wicked away from your skin and out through the fabric.

It’s available in only a couple of color option and full size ranges.

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Icebreaker Merino Oasis Long Sleeve Crew Top

> There ares 38 different color options
> It’s made from 100% Merino wool
> Thermo-regulating and moisture-wicking
> There’s no size chart available for a precision fit
> Premium product at a premium price

Now, if you want to really change up your look for your backpacking, this is the way to do it, since this base layer is available in a whopping 38 different color options.

Most of these colors are quite understated and subdued, but there are also some bright eye-popping colors in there too. There are some which are one color all over, and others with different colored sleeves or with graphics on the front.

It’s made from 100% Merino wool, which means that it’s both thermo-regulating and moisture-wicking, which means that you will be toasty warm but won’t feel sweaty at all.  This is the only product that is made from 100% New Zealand Merino wool, which adds to the higher price tag.

We also love that it features a drop tail hem to keep you better covered.

And better yet, it’s suitable for a machine wash, and does not have to be washed by hand, or taken to the dry cleaners.

Overall, these are the highest quality merino base layer for backpacking.

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REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long-Sleeve Crew Top

> Bargain, affordable price
> Keeps you cool in the sun
> Keeps you warm in winter
> Not made with Merino wool

If you’ve found the base layers we’ve shown you so far are a little expensive for you, then this may be the better option for you – available for a bargain price.

It’s a slightly looser fit than most other base layers on our shortlist and it stretches for easy movement.

It’s available in several colors this is one of the best budget base layer on the market.

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REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Crew Top

> Its very reasonably priced
> It’s midweight not lightweight
> Wicks away all your sweat
> Not made with Merino wool

This midweight base layer is very reasonably priced. You may even argue that it’s a bargain.

As a midweight base layer it’s a little thicker, and hence warmer than its lightweight counterparts. But you don’t have to worry about getting sweaty while wearing it because the fabric is designed to wick sweat away.

It has a nice smooth outer, and a cosy brushed interior. And there’s a 4-way stretch to it, so you can really move around comfortably.

There’s flat seam construction to reduce bulk and chafing. But better yet, there are also rolled-forward shoulder seams to prevent your backpack straps from chafing you.

It’s available in a nice choice of color options and is one of the best budget options in this review of base layers.

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Macpac Prothermals

> It offers excellent warmth
> It wicks away your sweat
> There’s an elastic waistband
> Best warmth to weight ratio of all the baselayers in this review
> Only available in Australia and New Zealand.

The Macpac Prothermals are made with Polartec Powergrid which offers exceptional warmth to weight. In fact the best of all the base layers in this review. It also uses Polygiene to help reduce body odors.

If you don’t like Merino wool in your base layers, then these are for you.

It’s nice and smooth, with increased stretch so you can really move around as much as you please. It is my current baselayer of choice in Australia and I wear it all winter as my base layer when on early morning runs.

The construction of the Polartec powergrid makes it very breathable and one of the best materials for wicking moisture away from the skin.

There is not much in the way of color choice but overall, this is the best non merino base layer in this review and the warmest base layer for winter in this review. Unfortunately, it is only available in Australia and New Zealand.

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Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew Top

> Loose fitting women’s base layer top
> Durable and designed to really last
> Strategically placed underarm panels
> Limited number of colors and sizes.

If you’re looking for a loose fitting base layer top, this could well be the very one for you.

It features a double-weave construction, and is a midweight garment, so it’s far more durable than its lightweight alternatives, and is designed to really last.

I love the raglan sleeves and the strategically placed underarm panels, since these help provide a full range of motion.

The inside is brushed for softness and warmth, while the outer is nice and smooth, which is perfect for adding other layers on top.

It has a nice stretch to it and it wicks sweat away really well.

Overall, this is a great mid weight base layer for backpacking and traveling.

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Macpac Merino 220 Top Mens

> Made from 100% Merino wool
> It’s thermo-regulating
> It also wicks away sweat
> Only available in Australia and New Zealand.

What I like about this base layer is that it’s made from 100% Merino wool.

It’s thermo-regulating, which means that it will keep you cool in the heat, and cosy and warm when you’re out in the cold. It also wicks away sweat, and is naturally anti-odor. And the fabric feels really soft against your skin. And it is machine washable.

What makes it so great for wearing backpacking is the displaced shoulder seams, which won’t dig in from wearing a backpack.

It’s available in limited color options.

Overall, this is one of the best merino base layers in Australia and New Zealand.

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Other Base Layers

The following items are still being reviewed and will be added soon.

Buyers Guide

As promised, here’s your buying guide. This will walk you through all the key points to think about before you buy. 

Size and Fit

It is important that you get the right size base layers for your frame. Base layers that are too tight will be particularly uncomfortable, and base layers that are too baggy will allow the breeze to get to your skin and make you too cold.

If you are buying online rather than in store, I would strongly recommend that you check out the size charts, and whether the garments are true to size.

Fabric Properties

Now, this should be your second consideration after size and fit. You need fabrics that will keep you comfortable during your backpacking trip, whatever the weather happens to be doing.

This means that the base layers should help to maintain a comfortable temperature by locking in heat. At the same time however, they also have to be breathable, and if necessary, be able to wick away any sweat. And if it can also resist body odor, that’s a great plus, too.


Even when you’re out in the woods, it’s nice to be color coordinated. It’s always a good idea to choose new clothing against how well it goes with what’s already in your wardrobe.

Value for Money 

Now, we would argue that “more affordable” does not necessarily translate to better value for money. Better quality clothing tends to cost more money than lower quality items.

But if you do have to be budget conscious, by all means check prices as you go along.

Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Sydney, Australia.

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