Best Base Layer For Hunting
Some days, hunting can be hard enough without being cold, wet, and miserable. Too often, I have seen that the less experienced members of my hunting groups have to head to camp early because they were unprepared and not dressed properly for the cold weather.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime because you had the wrong hunting clothing on and couldn’t stay out in the field and let the big one get away. Make sure you have the best base layer for hunting and are ready to take the shot, while your friends shiver in the cold weather.
What Is The Best Base Layer Material?
Merino Wool is the best overall base layer material for next to skin hunting base layers. Its ability to thermoregulate over a wide array of conditions as well as its ability to breathe, stay warm when wet, and reduce body odor, make it the number one choice for your seriously cold weather hunting base layer.
If you are hunting in Texas in the fall then choosing a specific base layer isn’t nearly as critical as if you are hunting late season moose in Alaska. Growing up on the prairies of Alberta, Canada I have spent more than my fair share of time in serious sub-zero temperatures.
After freezing my way through my youth wearing cotton, silk, polyester synthetics, and anything else I could get my hands on, I have come to rely on my high-quality merino wool base layer to keep me happy and hunting, when others are shivering their way back to camp.
Best Overall Base Layer For Cold Weather Hunting
Smartwool Men's Base Layer Top - Merino 250 Wool Active Crew
The best overall base layer for cold weather hunting I have used is the Smartwool Men’s Base Layer Top in the 250 wool active crew style. I have used a lot of different merino wool base layers over the years but this specific style tends to fit me the best and has lasted a really long time.
Smartwool is one of the leading brands in merino wool clothing and while they are not a hunting specific brand their products are high quality and perform in tough conditions. Smartwool has been focused on making wool clothing of various types for almost 30 years. Over that time they have gained a strong customer following and have become one of the premier merino wool clothing companies in the world.
The merino 250 wool active base layer set is made from 250 g/m2 merino wool and features an interlock knit design and flatlock seams to keep you comfortable and warm all day long on your next hunting trip. You can also get other weights of Smartwool Merino Baselayers for warmer or colder weather but I like the 250 weight for a great overall layer for many common hunting temperatures.
The Smartwool men’s 250 wool active crew is one of the best base layers for hunting that I have ever used. They have great odor control, excellent moisture wicking abilities, and is the right base layer for me. Every hunting trip I go on I have one or two sets of this gear in my bag.
While the manufacturer says that you can wash their gear in warm water and tumble dry on low my first set pilled up pretty badly after the first season of wear. It doesn’t really change the function of the fabric but you can definitely feel the larger pills in places like where your hunting pack straps or rifle sling rub on your shoulders. My wife said the pilling didn’t look very good either but none of the deer or elk I was tracking ever cared about that!
Some tips I learned to help care for merino wool fabrics like this is to turn your shirts and bottoms inside out before washing and I now like to hang them to dry them. It takes a little more care and attention than a typical cotton shirt but it makes them last way longer.
Best Base Layer For Extreme Cold Hunting
Minus 33 Merino Wool Kobuk And Katmai Expedition Base Layer 400 gsm Merino
If you are looking for the warmest base layer for hunting, then this one is for you. Crafted with 400 g/m2 merino wool this is sure to keep you warm on the coldest days. The combination of the Katmai bottoms with the Kobuk 1/4 zip top is an extremely versatile pairing.
Unlike lightweight and midweight base layers, I recommend sizing this set up a little bit and wearing it a little bit looser than you would a lighter weight base layer. This allows the heavier fabric to trap a little more warm air next to your skin as well as let you move a bit better with the thicker material.
Additionally, another way to utilize the great thermal capabilities of this heavyweight set would be to wear them as a mid-layer combined with one of the closer fitting base layers we recommend here.
This set comes with all the normal features you would expect in a high-quality heavyweight base layer. Flatlock seams for comfortable fit and durability, tagless construction to avoid itchy spots, 18.5-micron merino wool for next to skin comfort, and sizes from XS to 3XL to fit everyone.
The Kobuk top also comes with thumb holes in the sleeves to make sure it doesn’t bunch up under your other layers and helps keep your blood warm as it circulates down into your fingertips. Couple this with the 1/4 zip mock neck which allows you to get a bit of venting if you get too warm without having to take it off.
Like all Minus33 products, these heavyweight base layers come with a 1-year warranty against manufacturer defects and a 30 day, 100% refund guarantee.
Best Scent Control Base Layer
Scentlok Baseslayers AMP Heavy Weight Top
The Scentlok AMP line is made from some of the best high-tech scent blocking technologies available today. With multiple layers and types of carbon alloy technology, fusix technology, carbon alloy fusix, and antimicrobial treatment, the only way you could smell less would be if you were sealed in plastic.
The baseslayers (Yes, BaseSLAYERS)AMP series is available in lightweight, mid, and heavyweight versions for use in all kinds of different hunting weather. I haven’t used this specific model of Scentlok but their other products I have used were high quality and worked pretty well to keep my odor down. (At least that is what my wife told me after a hard days hunt)
As with any scent control fabrics, the less you wash them, the longer they will maintain their odor absorbing capabilities. Scentlok recommends their Muddy or Bloody rule to determine when to wash their gear. Unless it is seriously muddy or bloody from your hunt then you probably shouldn’t wash it.
Additionally, like other scent control fabrics, it is recommended you store your Scentlok gear in airtight packages. I like to use the same vacuum sealer bags I store processed meat in and seal them up after the season ends.
To reactivate your scent control base layer you can place it in your normal clothes dryer on high heat for about 40 minutes. I recommend that you wash and dry something fluffy like towels with a scent-free sports wash before washing and drying/reactivating your carbon-filled fabrics.
Lastly, it is recommended that you do not use any liquid sprays or cover scents with activated carbon filled fabrics. These sprays and scent can fill and block the tiny pores in the carbon and make them lose their effectiveness faster than they would without them.
Best Budget Base Layer
MERIWOOL Men's Base Layer - 100% Merino Wool Midweight Long Sleeve Thermal Shirt
The Meriwool merino wool base layer is a great cost-effective way to get into a decent merino wool base layer without breaking the bank. Like the Smartwool brand that made our best overall base layer recommendation, the Meriwool version is made from an 18.5 micron 250g/m2 merino wool fabric.
The biggest difference between this Meriwool version and the Smartwool brand is that the Meriwool does not have flatlock seams so it may chafe a bit under your pack straps or rifle sling. Additionally, some product reviews I have read say that the sizing can be inconsistent and sometimes they fit slightly large and other times they fit slightly small.
Lastly, many users have reported that the Meriwool brand merino wool base layer shirts can shrink more than some other brands when they are washed. This might not be a problem if you get one that starts out fitting a little bit large but if you get one that fits a bit small from the start then it could end up shrinking enough that it would not work for you anymore.
This could be partly due to the fact that Meriwool recommends hand washing and laying flat to dry while most of the other products in our list can be machine washed on the gentle cycle.
Fortunately, Meriwool offers a 30-day hassle-free refund or exchange as well as a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty against material defects.
Best Camo Base Layer
Sitka Men's Merino Core 1 Long Sleeve Zip Tee
Sitka makes some of the best high-end hunting clothing on the market today. Many of their products are unmatched in the quality and performance that hardcore hunters need.
Their Merino Core line is a mixture of merino wool spun around a nylon core to provide the warmth and wicking properties of merino with the strength and stretch of nylon. This fabric combination helps provide a high heat to weight ratio and adds to the overall durability and longevity of your clothing.
While this merino wool base layer set in the most expensive product on our list they come with a permanent polygiene technology that neutralizes odors caused by sweat and helps to stay undetected by your prey’s nose.
Sitka’s optifade camouflage pattern works by tricking animals’ eyes and helping you blend into the natural background. This can be extremely effective for those early fall high elevation elk hunts where it might be well below freezing when you leave camp in the morning but warm enough you are stripped down to your base layer in the afternoon.
Best Lightweight Base Layer
Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Max Half-Zip Base Layer Top
Helly Hansen makes all kinds of extreme outdoor gear. They are very well known in the skiing, mountaineering, and backcountry hiking crowds. While not as well known to many hunters, they make a great quality gear that I have used for many years.
Their new Lifa Merino base layer material is one of the best base layers for dramatic temperature swings. They use a proprietary technique that bonds the merino wool with polypropylene which adds to their overall durability and moisture-wicking properties. This is a great product for someone who wants the warmth of natural wool fibers with the durability and stretch of synthetic base layers.
Helly Hansen has a great warranty and almost every one of their products I have used over the years have performed flawlessly and held up to a lot of use (and abuse).
Best Alpaca Base Layer
Arms Of Andes Alpaca Base Layer
The men’s Alpaca wool base layer from Arms Of Andes is one of my favorite cold weather hunting base layers I own. Not only is it lightweight and extremely warm, but it is also one of the softest base layer materials I have worn.
Alpaca wool is naturally anti-bacterial and odor resistant which makes it great for long-distance backpack hunts. It wicks sweat as good or better than merino and also absorbs less moisture than merino when it gets wet.
Alpaca fibers are naturally hollow which allows them to trap air within the fiber itself and some tests have shown that Alpaca can be up to 5 times warmer than merino in similar weights of fabric. This 230 g/m2 fabric is a perfect medium weight for many weather conditions.
The main drawbacks of Alpaca base layers are that they tend to cost a bit more than merino, they are not as elastic as merino, and some lower grades of alpaca fabrics do not last as long as merino. That said, the Arms Of Andes fabric has held up well for me over the last 2 hunting seasons.
Hunting Base Layers Frequently Asked Questions
How Tight Should My Base Layer Be?
Your base layer should be snug fitting and in close contact with your skin. In order to properly wick moisture away from the body as well as keep the first layer of warm air trapped next to your body the material itself must be snug fitting.
That said, your base layer is not like an athletic compression layer. It should not be so tight as to be difficult to get on. If it is too tight then it can restrict circulation as well as stretch the fabric too thin and actually reduce its warm air trapping capabilities.
Can You Wear A Base Layer On Its Own?
Yes, you can wear a base layer on its own. One of the great things about a proper layering system is that you can add or take off layers as temperature changes or your activity level change. This is especially useful when you are hiking hard and helps your base layer shed excess moisture and keep your body dry.
I tend to run hot when hiking, especially when tracking through thick bush, uphill, and carrying a backpack and a rifle. I often strap my coat to my pack when hiking hard and it is not uncommon to see a large cloud of steam escaping from my base layer and drifting up in the cold air.
Which Is Warmer, Merino Or Cashmere?
Cashmere is warmer than merino. Some studies say cashmere is seven to eight times warmer than a comparable weight of merino wool fabric. With that said, the properties of cashmere do not make it a good base layer material.
Cashmere is much softer and has more loft than merino which makes it warmer but it is also not even close to as strong and does not hold up well to abrasion. Cashmere is also not easy to care for and wash and can really start to stink when it gets sweaty and wet.
Is Silk Or Wool A Better Base Layer?
For hunters, especially in cold climates, wool is a much better base layer than silk. Wool resists moisture and still feels warm next to your skin even when it is wet. Silk tends to absorb moisture and can feel cold and clammy when damp.
Conversely, silk makes a great base layer for warm climate hunting. The main drawback with silk as a warm-weather base layer is that it does not stretch easily and can limit mobility if it is too tight. There are much better synthetic fabrics on the market today for a warm weather hunting base layer.
What Is The Warmest Base Layer?
The warmest base layer for hunting is a heavyweight merino wool material. See our recommendation above for the Minus33 Merino Wool Katmai Expedition Base Layer 400 gsm. This is one of the best heavyweight merino wool base layers I have tried.
While this may not be the best option for high mobility hunts where you may be hiking long distances, it is a great choice for stand hunting or extremely cold weather.
Lightweight VS Heavyweight Merino Wool Base Layer
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when choosing a base layer for hunting is that they choose the wrong material weight. It is usually better to keep your base layer in a midweight merino wool and supplement it with an extra sweater, fleece, or down puffy jacket, especially if you are going to be hiking while hunting.
If you are stand hunting or tend to run extremely cold then you may want to go for a heavyweight material but more often than not, a midweight material provides more options and the ability to layer up or down as the situation requires.
How Should I Wash My Base Layer?
Most synthetic base layers are machine washable and many of the best merino wool options are machine washable as well. With that said, if you want your wool base layer to last as long as possible you could always hand wash them and lay them flat or hang them to dry.
Wool base layers are naturally odor resistant and do not need to be washed as often as synthetic base layers. Any good base layer should provide you with many seasons of hunting while keeping you warm in extreme cold weather.
What Other Layers Should My Layering System Have?
For the best hunting experience I always rely upon a solid insulation system comprised of a moisture wicking merino wool top with a drop tail hem and a comparable bottom to help keep my body temperature regulated in the extreme cold. My tops must have flat lock seams for the shoulder seams and often have separate shoulder panels.
My second layer usually comprises a wool mid layer long sleeve shirt for maximum heat retention. This keep my body heat close to my core while still allowing me to peel it off while hunting if needed.
On top of this, if I expect extreme cold or will be sitting still in a tree stand or ground blind then I make sure to have a well insulated top layer that can also protect me from rain, snow, and wind.
Often, I will also keep a lightweight down puffy jacket in my pack as another component of my layering system. This can be used to supplement your mid layer and keep your body temperature up to stay warm even in the coldest conditions.
Best Base Layer For Cold Weather Hunting Conclusion
Technical fabrics and innovations in hunting clothing have really changed the hunting gear I have worn over the years. Adding a high-quality base layer under your other cold weather hunting clothing can make the difference between shivering all day and going home early or staying focused and performing like the true predator we are.
The products recommended above are some of the best base layers for hunting and can help keep you warm and performing at your peak in all kinds of cold weather conditions.