Looking for the Best Base Layer for Backpacking? Let’s Get After It…

One of the key rules of doing anything outdoors is layers, layers, layers! Not only do the individual layers provide strategic wind, sun, and moisture blocking they allow you to remove or add them to accommodate the changing conditions.

Determining the best base layer for backpacking is where things can get your expedition off to a great start!

Top 5 base layers for backpacking


Top pick

Smartwool Merino 250 Pocket Crew

Merino wool is naturally a great base layer because it combines breathability and regulation of body temperature by wicking away moisture. The wool resists odors even when worn every day so you can… Read More on Amazon

Buying Options


Smartwool Merino 250 Crew

Smartwool Men’s Base Layer Top
Merino wool is naturally a great base layer because it combines breathability and regulation of body temperature by wicking away moisture. The wool resists odors even when worn every day so you can camp, hike, and do all of the great outdoor activities to your heart’s content with these in your wardrobe without taking time out to wash them!

The wool creates a durable base layer that keeps you warm in the winter and can be transitioned to warmer weather activities and keep you dry and comfortable. While the wool wicks away moisture and sweat from your skin, it does take a long time to dry once it gets saturated.
So even if your backpacking trip is long and cool, you’ll be able to start right with the Smartwool Crew as a base layer. Even when hiking long distances and for several days, you’ll be able to keep this base layer on without catching cold or stinking too much!


• Resists odor
• Versatile
• Cozy and extremely warm
• Regulates temperature well


• Can become baggy after multiple washes
• Not very durable
• Can run a bit large

Outdoor Research Echo L/S

Designed with sweat in mind, this base layer is very breathable and lightweight making it an ideal choice for the start of your backpacking wardrobe. Including a UPF 15 rating, this shirt will keep your skins safe from the sun and extends the life of your shirt!

A lightweight and easily packable shirt, the Echo will keep you dry and comfortable during the winter and out of the sun in the summer. While wicking moisture away from your skin, this shirt dries quickly and OdorFresh technology keeps it from stinking no matter how much you wear it.

Fitted and durable, it sits close to your skin to allow for more comfortable layers being added to accommodate the conditions you may find yourself in. While it may not be as warm as other layers or materials that are on the market, this shirt is easy to pack, lightweight yet tough, and will keep you dry and comfortable as you head out.


• Lightweight and durable
• UPF 15 protection
• Designed for high-intensity activities
• Very affordable


• Not very warm overall

Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Lightweight

A 3-season shirt that may find your way into your regular wardrobe too!
This is a very lightweight layer that won’t stand up to the cold alone but will give you a fantastic base through several seasons of hikes. Layering it with several other shirts will keep you warm and dry in the cooler months.

But for backpacking it works great, doing double duty as a sun shirt for those long days out on the trail as well as being breathable and durable. While being very light this allows for it to keep moisture off your skin and contributes to keeping you cool for those high-intensity activities.

A relaxed fit shirt with a limited selection of colors for a base layer this shirt will serve you well! While slightly more expensive than others it does the job and then some.


• Extremely lightweight
• Relaxed and airy fit
• Affordable
• Breathable and works as a sun shirt


• Not very warm
• Thin material can tear more easily

Patagonia Capilene Air Crew

This shirt might be a little too comfortable! You may not want to leave your house!
Cozy, warm, and able to keep you cool as you layer up for your backpacking trip, this shirt does it all. Designed with Merino Wool and polyester this shirt keeps the weight down which is ideal as you want to carefully measure and keep track of how much weight you take in your pack on your next adventure.

Breathable and durable with no seams that can irritate and chafe this shirt will allow you to layer or wear independently and maintain a full range of motion.

Despite everything that makes this shirt a great base layer it can be more delicate than other shirts and may not stand up to the rigors of the trail. While cozy, warm, and breathable the price tag is steep for this shirt as well.


• Very comfortable and warm
• Low weight for the warmth offered
• Very breathable


• Expensive
• Not as durable as others

Icebreaker 200 Oasis

Another 100% Merino wool beauty that will work for all 4-seasons and keep you cozy throughout your next backpacking adventure!
A fitted shirt that sits comfortably and close to the skin makes this an ideal base layer. Breaking this shirt may require some minimal itching with the material but once broken in it retains its shape over multiple uses.

Stretchy and durable, this shirt keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter as a base layer for any of your high-intensity activities in all kinds of weather. Like other Merino wool products, it can take quite a while to get it dried out once saturated with moisture but will wick away sweat without a problem.


• Comfortable and lightweight
• Breathable and versatile
• Odor resistant


• Heavy when wet
• Expensive

Frequently Asked Questions

Maybe you’re just setting out on your backpacking base layer adventure or maybe you’re in the market for new base layers after your old ones have just worn out from too much love and use! Either way, let’s ask some pressing questions and get shopping!

• What do I need to consider for base layers?

◦ Choose a material, weight, and fit factors as you’re shopping for a base layer! Whether you choose natural or synthetic materials, choose something that fits your activity and doesn’t irritate your skin. You can choose between lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight each of which progressively adds more warmth and weight to your base layer. And lastly, you want to choose your fit factor: skin-tight, fitted, and loose or relaxed which can affect how the clothes wick away moisture from your skin.

• Should I carry extra base layers while backpacking?

◦ Yes! Carrying an extra set allows you to have one specifically for the trail and one for being in camp. If you’re an ultra-lightweight backpacker you can get by with just one set to alleviate the weight you’ll be carrying but having an extra set is always a good idea!

• Does a base layer need to include socks?

◦ Absolutely! You’ll need to carefully think through the type of socks you want to wear when out backpacking and consider it a crucial part of your base layering. Choose socks that will also wick away moisture from your feet to keep them from blistering or chafing as you hike!
Let’s hit the trail!

As you’re getting ready to head out on a backpacking trip you’ll want to make sure everything is in order and that includes your base layer. In addition to being comfortable, you want your base layer to be moisture-wicking, cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and lightweight.
And the winner of our countdown is Smartwool Merino 250 Crew! Warm, moisture-wicking, and a great base layer the Smartwool Crew is a great addition to your base layer wardrobe. In addition to keeping you warm or cool, it’s also odor resistant so you can keep wearing this base layer for several days and not annoy your backpacking partners!

So now that you’ve got your base layers sorted out, let’s hit the trail!

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