Best Base Layer for Cold Weather Hunting
When you are out in the field during the winter, staying warm should be of top priority. There is nothing worse than heading out to go hunting and having to call it a day early because you are freezing up. This should never happen as long as you head out the door prepared and ready for the weather that lay ahead.
As they say, there is no such thing as bad weather – there is only bad clothing!
The best way to stay warm in the winter while doing any outdoor activity is by layering up your clothes effectively. As the temperature drops throughout the year, your layers should increase (to some extent). The best way to layer up for cold autumn and winter hunting is by first putting on a high-quality base layer, then wearing a fleece layer over the top, and finally finishing it off with an outer shell (winter pants and jacket).
Every part of your layering system serves a purpose and they should all work together to keep you warm, dry, and sweat-free. When you think of houses, without a good foundation the rest of the building would crumble, and it is exactly the same with your clothing layers. Without a good base layer foundation, the rest of your clothing will struggle to keep the heat in and the cold out!
In this article, we will be looking at the features of a good base layer for cold weather hunting, why they are so important, and why they keep you so warm. We also have 2 reviews of the best base layers on the market for the hunter that wants to head out in the winter months. Both of these base layers are for the hunter that wants the strongest, best-performing foundation to build the rest of their cold-weather outfit on. There is one Synthetic option for the highly active cold-weather hunter and one merino option for the hunter that wants the best base layer for extreme cold! Enjoy!
Why are Base Layers so Good at Keeping You Warm?
Base layers sit close to the skin and should feel tight around your body, almost like a “second skin”. They are designed to trap your body heat and provide a layer of warmth while wicking away moisture build-up from perspiration. There are many different styles of base layers, but they are all designed for the same purpose, keeping you warm while wicking away sweat during cold weather activities.
Wearing a base layer alone is not going to keep you warm of course, but what it does do is prevent you from getting cold. Rather than a base layer being insulative like a fleece layer, it is purely designed to sit tight to the skin and help you hold on to your body heat. Without a fleece layer over the top, you would quickly get cold because base layers do not hold heat by themselves. They are more of a second skin that helps your body hold its heat while allowing your body to breathe and disperse moisture naturally.
When you place a fleece layer over your base layer it provides insulation from the cold outside temperatures. The warm air sits within the gap between the fleece and base layer, creating a warm environment with your body inside. Similar to a duel layer tent, this air gap prevents the inner tent (or your body in this situation) from developing condensation – sweat when referring to clothing layers. The base layer allows our body to heat up and perspire as normal and provides a barrier from insulative layers, so you stay as sweat-free as possible during outdoor activities in the cold. Simple!
What are the Features of a Good Base Layer for Hunting?
The best base layers are made from either synthetic fibers or high-quality merino wool. A base layer should not be made with cotton in its fabric as it clings to moisture and can hold on to it for a long time. Cotton base layers make you sweat and the damp quickly lowers your body temperature when out in freezing conditions.
Synthetic base layers are quick-drying and completely breathable which gives them excellent wicking qualities. These base layers are generally the cheapest to purchase and they are machine washable without damaging the integrity of the clothing. They are lightweight and highly flexible which makes them perfect for strenuous outdoor activities and maneuvering your body easily when climbing up to your tree stand, crawling into a hide, or stalking deer.
Merino base layers are a natural option that provides a thermal factor to your clothing. They keep you warmer than synthetic base layers and they regulate your body temperature much better, in the same way that the wool does with the sheep. Merino fabrics ensure you stay warm in the cold without overheating and they help to regulate your body heat if you start exerting yourself to the point of perspiration.
Merino products are also anti-bacterial meaning that if you do sweat, they do not hold on to bad odors for a long period of time. Merino is also the perfect option for people who have sensitive skin because the fibers are non-abrasive, and the antibacterial properties help reduce irritation. The only problem with merino base layers is that you will have to wash them on a low temperature or wash them by hand to avoid ruining the integrity of the clothing. Washing problems aside, a merino wool base layer is the best option for the winter hunter that is hunting in extreme cold and its advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
There are also base layers available that feature both synthetic and natural fibers. These products have both the benefits of the synthetic and merino base layers, but also carry the disadvantages of both.
Best Synthetic Base Layer Combo: The Arc’teryx Rho AR Upper & Arc’teryx Rho AR Bottom
The Arc’teryx Rho AR Upper is a long-sleeved base layer top that helps fight off the cold and keep your body heat in. It is constructed from synthetic fleece textiles that have thermal values as well as excellent moisture management properties. This base under-shirt is highly breathable and has a tight flexible fit that moves perfectly with the body to the point where you may even forget you are wearing it! Overall, the Arc’teryx Upper is a high-performance synthetic base layer that will fend off the cold, ensure your body heat stays in, and aid in wicking sweat during intense hunts.
The Arc’teryx Rho AR Bottoms are made with the same great synthetic fleece fibers as the upper. They fit perfectly, keep you warm, and are highly breathable. Even if you are climbing mountains to find your quarry, you can guarantee that these base layer pants will keep you warm without collecting sweat as you walk. Overall, this Arc’teryx bottom is the perfect partner for the Rho Upper. This combo is guaranteed to hold your body heat without collecting moisture and it provides a strong, resistant, and high-performance synthetic foundation to build-up layers on.
- This combo is fully machine washable
- Excellent moisture-wicking qualities
- Great at fending off the cold
- Highly flexible
- Quick-drying, even when hung outside after a day in the cold
- Some sizes in the bottoms come up big so check the size sheet before purchase
Overall, this combo provides lasting comfort that acts as a second skin to hold heat close to your body and keep the cold out. This is the perfect base layer combo for the active hunter that puts in the miles during winter and wants something that can be thrown in the washing machine after.
Best Merino Base Layer Combo for Extreme Cold: Helly-Hansen LIFA Merino Base Layer Upper & Helly-Hanson LIFA Merino Base layer Bottom
The Helly-Hansen LIFA Merino Upper uses 100% merino fabric in its design. This is a beautiful base layer and it almost seems a shame to wear it underneath all your other clothes. Even though it looks nice it isn’t made for that, it is made to perform as a heat-trapping, moisture-wicking base layer for outdoor activities during the depths of winter. The merino wool performs as you would expect, and it keeps you comfortably warm while wicking moisture effectively from your body to the outside of the fabric where it can disperse.
Overall, this merino upper is the best natural base layer top on the market, and it is perfect for the hunter that is heading out into extreme conditions, or hunts from stands and hides all day in the cold. It stretches well and doesn’t restrict movement and although you can’t throw it in the washing machine with all your other clothes, with a bit of care it is easily washed at low temperatures or hand washed.
The Helly-Hansen LIFA Merino Bottom is made in the same way as the upper. These pants have excellent thermal qualities and while keeping you warm, they help regulate your body temperature and moisture levels. Combining these with the merino upper gives you the best possible base layer for extended periods in the cold while you are hunting from a stationary position, or when you are out stalking in intensely low temperatures.
- Great thermal qualities
- 100% merino
- Antibacterial fibers
- Highly-breathable with great moisture-wicking qualities
- Excellent in extremely cold conditions
- Takes a bit more looking after to keep it fresh
- Can’t throw it in the washing machine with the rest of your kit
Overall, this merino combo from Helly-Hansen is the best of the best in natural base layer technology. Wearing this base layer will provide the hunter with all-day comfort and protection from the cold in even the most extreme winter conditions.