Nothing feels worse than being soaking wet and cold on a winter day when you’re out hunting. That is why more and more hunters put an extra amount of attention on their gear, especially the clothes. Base layers have gone a long way from making you uncomfortably warm and sweaty, ultimately spreading your scent in the air for deer to pick up on it. Nowadays, the best base layers for cold weather hunting benefit from advanced material technologies as well as anti-odor and anti-bacterial properties. They’ve also progressed in terms of their heat retention and breathability compared to the synthetic models from a decade ago
The most important thing that you need to look for when buying a base layer is its material. Despite being cheap, synthetic base layers are far worse than merino wool and bamboo ones which have stellar thermal properties combined with excellent breathability. Merino wool models, in particular, perform very well both in sub-zero winter temperatures and on mildly warm early spring days. The next thing you need to look for is comfort and durability. That is also somewhat dependent on the material with synthetic layers taking the edge when it comes to durability and bamboo ones dominating in terms of comfort.
Before we dive deeper into the different base layer features, let’s first take a look at some of the top models for this year and how they stack up against each other…
Base Layers For Hunting Comparison Chart
Best Overall – SITKA Gear Men’s Core Midweight Zip-T Long Sleeve Hunting Shirt
SITKA is without a doubt a true pioneer in cold-weather clothing and their base layers make no exception. Their Core Midweight Long-sleeve tops are made to be lightweight and durable while maintaining your body temperature steady in a variety of climates. The one slight disadvantage that comes with this level of thermal performance is the price tag. Apart from that, this is as good as it gets.
In terms of insulation, this base layer uses bi-component polyester construction mixed with elastane for added flexibility. The synthetic structure will provide great durability combined with great heat insulation.
Typically, synthetic base layers aren’t good at taking your sweat away from the skin but this model uses SITKA’s PrimaLoft technology which maximizes the surface of their fibers, making them better at both heat retention and moisture-wicking. Another thing that helps with taking moisture away is the bi-layer structure I mentioned earlier. This particular combination of materials also works well for noise and scent concealment, which is crucial when hunting deer.
The design of this top is fairly standard with a low-profile crewneck. The sleeves end up with elastic cuffs, just like the waistline. There is strategically placed stitching around the arms and shoulders making it fit tightly but also stretch if needed. That allows you to move freely even with such a compression layer on you. One of the best features of this base layer is that there are a ton of camo options that allow you to match your base layer to the rest of your gear and you can also pick between 10 different sizes from Small to 3XL.
The fit is mostly as expected but I suggest picking one size above yours if you’re somewhere in the middle since there is a good amount of compression on this base layer.
As a whole, the SITKA Gear Core base layers are all packed full of the company’s newest technologies and are ideal for hunting in all sorts of conditions. They will work well in cold weather and won’t make you sweat a ton on the warmer spring days. Even though they are a bit expensive, I think they are priced relatively well based on their practicality and features. If you want something for a much colder climate, I suggest sticking to merino wool base layers.
- Lightweight design
- Very durable
- Comes in seven camo patterns and 10 sizes
- Fit is mostly as expected
- Great at concealing scents and sounds
- Good moisture-wicking properties
- Decent thermal performance
- The synthetic construction simply won’t give you the benefits of merino wool
- Compression can be too tight if the fit isn’t good
Best Budget Set – Meetyoo Men’s Thermal Underwear Set
Lastly, I wanted to include a budget option for those looking for a thermal set (top and bottom) that won’t cut a hole in their pockets. The Meetyoo Thermal Underwear set is a decent alternative to most other compression base layers with the disadvantage of not being warm enough for the coldest day out there. It is fully synthetic and brings all the advantages and disadvantages of polyester-rich clothes.
Let’s start with the good things – it is really durable and will last you quite a while if you treat it properly. On that note, it is also machine washable and can be tumble-dried. Furthermore, thanks to the 92% polyester and 8% spandex mix, it is the tightest fitting base layer here.
That level of compression will work in your favor on warmer days and will also be quite noise-free. It is also extremely lightweight allowing for good amounts of breathability. One more advantage is that it is really easy on the skin, unlike some other cheap synthetic base layers.
While all that is good, there are a few downsides. One of the biggest ones is that it will struggle to keep you dry if you start heating up too much. That is a common disadvantage of most budget synthetic base layers since they aren’t perfect at managing your temperatures and can easily make you break a sweat if it isn’t too cold outside and you’re moving too much. Due to the thinness of the material and lack of scent-insulating layers, you will also be fairly easy to detect at close ranges, so keep that in mind.
Pros and cons aside, this is really the best budget option you can find if you’re hunting in a mildly cold climate and just want an extra layer of protection against the cold. For that price there are hardly any compression base layer tops, not to mention top and bottom combos.
- Very cheap
- Top and bottom set
- Excellent compression
- Decent breathability in normal conditions
- Easy on the skin
- Doesn’t get in the way of your maneuverability
- No 3XL size
- Can quickly overheat you in warmer weather
- Can struggle with moisture if you sweat a lot
EMF-Blocking Set – HECS Hunting Energy Concealing Base Layer
There are two main things that make this HECS Hunting base layer stand out. Firstly, it is the only full base layer bundle on this list – it includes top and bottom base layers as well as a headcover. Secondly, this model uses HECS’ EMF-blocking technology which has raised quite a few eyebrows in the hunting world. Nevertheless, even excluding this concealment technology, this base layer package is ideal for its price, especially if you prefer compression layers as opposed to loose ones.
The whole concept of this base layer is based on your body’s naturally-produced electrical energy. That occurs from everything in our bodies but mostly the heart and the muscles moving. Animals have been known to sense EMF for quite some time now, according to numerous independently conducted researches. Being able to block out the EMF produced by our bodies requires a certain blend of conductive materials. This is exactly what the guys over at HECS have done with their new base layers.
The mix of polyester, carbon fibers and spandex creates an EMF-blocking material that is also compressive and suitable for various climates. While some people won’t like the amount of compression here, it does a good job of keeping the moisture away from your skin. When it comes to warmth, however, it doesn’t perform as well as you’d want it to, especially in sub-zero temperatures.
The package includes a compression top and bottom, as well as a mossy oak headcover. They are quite tight and are relatively noise-free. The quarter-zip neck design and articulated shoulders do add to the comfort and convenience of the top. The bottom has an elastic waistband to keep it in place as well as a fly.
While synthetic base layers have a few disadvantages over wool and bamboo ones, they are typically far easier to maintain. This particular model here is machine washable and can be tumble dried as well. It does pick up odors relatively easily, though, so make sure you wash it at least once a week if you hunt regularly. If you’re sold on the EMF-blocking feature of these base layers, the brand also offers gloves and socks and extends the emf-blocking capabilities of the base layers.
- Fits very well
- Tight and lightweight design
- Suitable for both cold and warm climates
- Decent moisture-wicking capabilities
- Comes with a headband
- Machine washable
- The EMF-blocking technology isn’t fully tested to work as advertised
- A bit expensive
- The hunting results are a mix of positives and negatives
Best for Scent Control – ScentLok ClimaFleece BaseSlayers Midweight Shrit
While some suits will try to reinvent the wheel by trying to block our bodies’ EMF fields, there are others that will take a more traditional approach to stealth. The ScentLok ClimaFleece BaseSlayers Midweight top is one of the, if not the, best models out there at stopping your scent from spreading around. Of course, that isn’t its only standout feature and for this price, there are quite a lot of competitors to compare it to.
The key feature here is the carbon and zeolite integration into the base layer’s fabric. That carbon/zeolite alloy creates a large surface area inside the fabric and acts as a natural barrier to most scents and thanks to its porous nature it will let moisture pass through it while keeping most other particles inside. The half-zippered crew design of this top is extremely practical for colder climates.
There is a lay flat collar adding to the overall comfort. If things get too hot, there is a rear stretch panel in the middle of the back act as flex points and ventilation zone to release most of your body’s excess heat.
If you’re a fan of the BaseSlayers line of products, they offer most of their layers in light, mid, and heavyweight styles which are all suitable for different climates. Personally, I prefer the mid ones since they have the best mix of breathability, flexibility, and comfort. The heavy tops are excellent for cold weather hunting but will make you uncomfortably warm once the winter days begin to warm up. In terms of compression, they are somewhere around the middle of most other models, being slightly looser than some fully synthetic compression layers.
One last feature I want to mention here is the 360-degree mobility stretch panels. These are circles of stretchable fabric around your base layer that will allow for higher mobility without chafing the layer itself too much. ScentLok also provides a ton of other accessories with the same scent-blocking formula used here, including headcovers, bow release gloves, hunting pants, jackets, and others. This top comes in six sizes and three color pattern options, including a Realtree Xcape and Mossy Oak Tera Gila.
- Comes in Realtree Edge camo pattern
- Class-leading scent control
- Excellent for sub-zero temperatures
- Well-balanced compression
- Very quiet
- Allows for easy maneuverability
- Fits as expected
- A little short if you have a longer torso
- Expensive compared to other synthetic base layers
Most Affordable Top – Carhartt Men’s Force Midweight Synthetic Wool Base Layer
Carhartt is a brand known for producing top-tier clothing for all purposes. These base force extremes cold-weather synthetic wool layers are among the best ones when it comes to value. While there are some pants and top combos, I decided to try out their Men’s top since it is one of the cheapest base layers you can get without sacrificing too much in terms of quality.
The design here is fairly simple, with a moderate amount of compression, even though this is a synthetic wool base layer.
The material is fairly lightweight at 5.4 ounces and the blend of 80% Cocona polyester and 20% wool does a wonderful job at keeping you warm. Breathability is also good but there is one pet peeve I have with this base layer – it is a bit tight fitting. So I had to order a size up after realizing that my normal size would be too small for comfort.
There are 10 size options here ranging from Small to 3XL with some sizes having a Tall option for a longer fit around the waistline. In terms of color options, there are three good muted colors, Black, Olive and Navy. Lastly, there is a feature here that often gets overlooked in other models. The flatlock seams that Carhartt has implemented in this base layer are super comfortable and eliminate any chafing you’d typically have with open-seam stitching.
- Best price in its class
- Lightweight construction
- Good synthetic blend
- Comfortable Cocona polyester
- Decent scent-reduction capabilities
- Flatlock seams on the inside
- Not available in camo patterns
- Need to order a size up for comfortable fit
Merino Wool Top – Smartwool Men’s Top Base Layer
In the modern “sea” of synthetic base layers, there still are some well-made merino wool models that will give you the comfort of this premium material combined with all of its benefits. For a little context, Merino wool is on
The Smartwool Men’s Base Layer top is probably the warmest model out of all the ones on this list and it does it through its Merino 250 Wool that the brand uses. What sets this wool apart from the rest is that it is heavier, thicker, and warmer while still maintaining a decent amount of breathability and softness. Unlike other wools, it is also gentle on the skin and won’t cause irritations over long periods of wearing it.
Thanks to the Merino wool, this base layer is also suitable for both warm and cold days. Unfortunately, all that comes at a price, and this particular model gets a heavy-enough price tag that will likely keep people looking for cheaper synthetic alternatives. After all, synthetics are becoming more and more advanced and have the great advantage of being much more durable.
Similar to the Carhartt base layer, there are flatlock seams here which minimize chafing and noise. While this is excellent for hunting, the minimal chafing also makes this base layer a multi-purpose one that can be used by skiers, snowboarders, and mountaineers. You get 8 color and 5 size options here, which is great but there are no big sizes and the base layer itself isn’t very stretchable.
- Excellent breathability and warmth in most types of climates
- Merino 250 Wool is far more gentle on the skin
- Comes in 8 color options
- Great odor-resistance properties
- Flatlock seams
- No 3XL sizes
- Not as durable as synthetic base layers
- Very expensive
Cold Weather Base Layers Buyer’s Guide
Layering your clothes has always been at the heart of keeping your body’s temperature constant during a cold deer hunting day. Not so long ago, there weren’t any specialized base and top layers that had breathable fabrics which both kept you warm and took the excess moisture away from your body. Nowadays, however, modern fabric technologies have allowed companies to create various materials which can all serve a different purpose in multi-layer clothing types of equipment.
Before we dive deeper into the topic, let’s first start with the most important questions here…
What exactly are base layers?
In winter, most hunters typically put layers of clothes on top of each other. The first layer that is the closest to your body is called the base layer. Hunters aren’t the only people that layer up. Mountaineers, people on vacation in cold areas, snowboarders, and skiers also put on a varying number of layers to keep them warm. These base layers typically fit tightly around your body but there are also models that are quite loose. There can also be differences in terms of layer thickness – some are thin and breathable, while others are thicker and more insulating.
In terms of their materials, there are three main types of base layers:
- Merino wool base layers
- Synthetic base layers
- Bamboo base layers
Merino wool base layers
Merino wool is by far the best material that can be used for base layers but it is also the priciest. It has excellent heat retention properties and is excellent both for extremely cold and mildly warm climates thanks to its breathability. The fibers inside the wool create a large surface which helps the layer keep all of your heat close to your body. This material also has a good amount of UV resistance making it even more suitable for cold but sunny days. Apart from the breathability and moisture-wicking properties, this wool has proven anti-bacterial properties which help with odor control which is a crucial aspect for hunters.
Synthetic base layers
Most base layers that are universally used for sports, hunting, and mountaineering, are made out of synthetic materials. Unfortunately, synthetic base layers have a single advantage when it comes to hunting with them – they are more durable. That is where the upsides end, however. Unlike merino wool layers, there is no scent control here. They also rarely have an anti-bacterial coating meaning they will be harder to clean after a long day out hunting.
Bamboo base layers
Bamboo has taken the world by storm with its sustainable and multi-use nature. We’re seeing this material be used in more and more items every year. The newest technologies have allowed bamboo to be mixed with other materials like Lycra, merino wool, and cotton. That allows you to take the best out of both worlds. Base layers that are made out of composite bamboo fibers are tighter than usual, softer, and are an excellent choice for people with sensitive skin.
How to choose the right base layer for hunting
While base layers are fairly simple, there can still be quite a lot of things that you need to look for when choosing one. Those are:
- Materials used
- Fabric weight and durability
- Comfort and warmth
- Antimicrobial features
- Scent control
- Heat and moisture control
Below we will go through these features in detail and discuss their importance when it comes to cold-weather performance and comfort:
As we already discussed based on the type of base layers, there are a few material options you can pick from. Synthetic base layers are extremely popular and typically good enough for the job but they have the least amount of breathability and temperature control out of all the materials out there.
Nevertheless, some polyester and spandex mixes work fairly well to keep you warm and dry. The best part about these materials is that they won’t burn a hole through your pocket and are typically good enough for most conditions, assuming you’re not dealing with really low temperatures. Some brands like Carhartt even make special blends of synthetic fibers mixed with polyester to add an extra bit of breathability to the layer.
Merino wool and bamboo remain the undisputed kinds for body temperature control and moisture-wicking but they are often expensive and are also not very stretchy. Most of the merino wool models are actually quite loose which can create certain issues like the base layer rubbing against your skin too much and causing irritations. Some companies even take things a step further by implementing carbon layers and electrically-conductive materials into their materials making them far better at odor control and far less detectable to animals.
The whole concept behind that is that it blocks the electrical energy our bodies create further concealing you. Whether or not that works is still up for debate but one thing is clear – those base layers are extremely expensive compared to normal ones.
Fabric weight and durability
While fabric weight is important to understand the thickness and density of your base layer, few companies actually provide that data to the end-user. If they do, however, look for anywhere between 4 and 6 ounces for the fabric. Weight is also related to how the fabric has been woven and even indicates the quality of the fabric type. That weight combined with the production quality will also determine the durability of the layer. Durability is important, especially if you’re going to wear that base layer a lot in difficult terrains.
As a whole, this isn’t a part of your gear that you want to change very often so it is best to invest a little more for a well-made model than change cheaper ones regularly.
Comfort and warmth
The comfort of the base layer will be essential to its value over time. Hunters are typically separated into two groups when it comes to how stretched or loose should a base layer be. I personally prefer loose merino wool base layers since they feel as if you’re wearing normal clothes and are easy to wear over longer periods of time.
Compression layers are also good but tend to make you feel colder since they are in full and constant contact with your skin, making you feel any change in the temperature. They are, however, better at regulating moisture and sweat. Looser base layers will make you feel warmer overall but might also make you sweat more if the weather is warmer.
Every base layer needs a worthy addition to it in order to keep you even warmer. That’s why I’ve dedicated a whole guide on cold-weather hunting bibs which are a must-have for any deer hunter that wants to stay warm during the cold hunting days.
Antimicrobial-treated base layers provide a ton of benefits. First of all, they are much easier to wash and maintain in good condition. On top of that, they are also less prone to bad odors if you sweat a lot in them. That makes them excellent for concealment. Unfortunately, most base layers that have such features are top-shelf ones and are very expensive.
The reason why base layers can start emitting scents is that your sweat mixes with odor-causing bacteria in the fabrics. To prevent that, some companies treat their clothes with antimicrobial silver salt which prevents the proliferation of these odor-prone bacteria. This doesn’t mean that base layers without it won’t be able to conceal you. On the contrary, some synthetic blends have naturally odor-resistant constructions that prevent the release of scent from your sweat furthering your stealth efforts.
There are models that have patented carbon embedding scent-control technologies that trap and control scents. As a whole, anything that is actively working against your natural body scents is going to help you in your hunt.
The noise a base layer makes is also something people often overlook but is yet another important factor that some manufacturers take seriously. When looking for scent-control features, also look for noise-control ones and materials that will allow for noise-free maneuverability.
Heat and moisture control
One of the best things I’ve heard a while ago was that base layers aren’t meant to keep you warm but to keep you from getting cold. I think that this sums up their nature perfectly. Various sellers will try to sell you the idea that a base layer will have great thermals when, in fact, there is no such thing. Our bodies lose heat in 4 different ways – conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation. To prevent conduction heat loss, base layers prevent our skin from direct contact with the cold air.
To prevent convection, we typically need windproof and waterproof outer shells that will help keep the chill away from our bodies. Those are ideal in colder climates.
Radiation is prevented by having a thicker base layer. Lastly, evaporation is prevented through the base layer that limits sweat from evaporating from your skin but maximizes the evaporation from the very same material it’s made from. That is the base principle behind breathability – reduce heat loss through sweating while maintaining a maximum amount of moisture evaporation from the material to keep it dry.
Taking all these aspects in mind, base layers are naturally going to vary a lot depending on the climate they are meant for. Cold weather base layers will be thicker and looser to reduce conduction and radiation the most they can. Base layers used in milder weather will be thin and tight in order to keep sweating in check as well as manage conduction better.
The fit of your base layer depends on its elastic properties. In general, if you’re shopping for a compression base layer, look for a model that is a number above your own, unless you’re sure that the model is true to its fit. Looser models (typically made out of wool) will be easier to fit if you choose your own size. Some tops with larger elastic areas between the arms, body, and armpits will be very easy to wear and move around in.
For bottom base layers, these same elastic areas between the thighs are going to make maneuverability far easier. Those areas are typically better in terms of breathability which is just an added benefit since they’re in areas that overheat fast.
Being able to clean and maintain your base layer is going to be crucial to its longevity. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive a model is, the easier it is to machine wash and dry, as well as iron. Cheaper models are most often only able to be hand-washed and hang-dried under certain conditions. To make things easier for you, look for models that are stain-resistant, quick-drying, and most importantly – treated with anti-microbial substances. These are the easiest to wash and are odor-free even when you’re sweating profusely on a daily basis.
If you want to learn more about how to wash your base layers click here to visit my full article on that topic!
The price of your base layer will be primarily determined by the materials, just like everything else in them. Merino wool base layers are typically the more expensive models but there are some synthetic ones that are extremely pricey mostly due to the number of material technologies used in them.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most important benefits that base layers can give you during a cold hunting day…
Benefits and importance of layering
A good base layer is an investment at the same level as a good hunting knife – it can easily be considered essential if you’re often hunting in adverse weather conditions. It brings a ton of advantages to your day out hunting, such as:
- It keeps your temperature in check without overheating you or reducing your core temperature
- It allows you to layer on top of it according to the weather and the terrain in which you’re hunting
- It reduces the noise your other clothes make when moving
- Most good base layers will prevent your scent from spreading around too much keeping you hidden
- Compression base layers are good for your muscles and circulatory system, especially on a long day out
The main reason why base layers are so important is that they provide a key thermal control. That same control wouldn’t otherwise be possible with normal clothes. They are also a good foundation for the rest of your clothing. This allows you to strip the upper layers if the weather warms up. Some modern base layers are also important for keeping you hidden both in terms of your scent and in terms of noises you make while moving.
A few extra tips
Going out hunting in the cold should never be taken lightly, especially if there is heavy snow. As a whole, you should always dress as if it is going to be colder than it actually is, just in case. This is the core principle behind clothes layering – that you can take one layer off if it gets too warm.
Still, here are a few tips that I think are going to add more value to your preparation…
- Keep your clothes bright – In the winter it gets dark early and visibility is often compromised. As much as you need to stay camouflaged, you should opt for a highly-visible top layer that will be easily spotted in case something goes wrong. If you don’t want to get a whole jacket in a reflective color, just use a traditional reflective vest.
- Don’t forget your body’s uncovered parts – Your neck and face are the most exposed to the weather and if you want to protect them, choose a good face mask or hat that will cover most of your head and neck. Scarves also do an excellent job and are quite easy to put on and off. With the face, the important aspect here is to keep your field of vision open instead of reducing it. Your hands and legs will also be more or less exposed to the cold so a good pair of hunting gloves and thermal socks is never a bad idea.
Also, don’t forget about your middle layer which is also responsible for your body’s heat retention. Opt for middle layers made out of wool or goose down, as those are the materials with the best qualities when it comes to keeping the heat where it needs to be.
If you want to learn more about hunting in the snow, head over to my article on that topic!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the warmest base layer for hunting?
One of the warmest base layer materials out there is merino wool. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to has clearly stated that merino wool base layers are just levels above synthetic ones in terms of warmth and breathability.
Should a base layer be tight?
Depending on your preferences, base layers should range from tight to loose but never restrictive. If they are, that will limit your range of movements and potentially put you in some bad spots while you’re out hunting. Also, air acts as an insulator when it gets trapped between the layers, and with too tight of a base layer that will be harder to achieve.
Picking the best base layers for cold weather hunting will be tricky, especially if you don’t have something very specific in mind. As a rule of thumb, merino wool base layers are perfect for most types of weather conditions. If you’re sensitive to wool touching your skin, you can opt for some bamboo base layers which will be tighter but also far softer and easier on your skin.