How to choose cold weather gear for layering

Torah Bright in her Roxy base layers. Photo courtesy of Roxy.com
Torah Bright in her Roxy base layers; photo courtesy of Roxy.com

When it comes to dressing for the cold, we like to praise our puffy coats and insulated snow pants. But the cold weather gear you put directly on your skin, or the base layer, deserves its own round of applause—choose it well and it'll be your first and best line of defense against the chill.

The main job of the base layer is to wick moisture—mainly sweat—away from your skin and transfer it to the outside of the fabric, where it can evaporate through the rest of your layers (this is also why it's crucial that your insulating and shell layers have great breathability). This helps you regulate body temperature, keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter. In the event that your base layer does get wet, it'll dry more rapidly, too.

Cotton has no place next to your skin. It holds onto moisture and can cause a chill that just won't quit. If you've ever worn a cotton T-shirt under a rain jacket or been stuck in soggy denim after a downpour, you'll never make that mistake again. Instead, opt for underwear, sports bras, socks, shirts, leggings, or long underwear made from Merino wool, synthetic fabrics like polyester, or even silk. For winter activities, these pieces should fit snuggly against your body—if they aren't touching your skin, they can't wick away sweat. Here are a few great options on the market now:

Underwear

cold weather gear
Cold weather gear: Ibex Balance Brief

Ibex Balance Brief. MSRP $30, featheredfriends.com.

Sports bra

Cold weather gear: Power sports bra
Cold weather gear: Power sports bra

Power sports bra. MSRP $48, roxy.com.

Socks

cold weather gear
Cold weather gear: Darn Tough Merino Wool Mico Crew cushion hiking sock

Darn Tough Merino Wool Mico Crew cushion hiking sock. MSRP $18.95, backcountry.com.

Bottoms

Cold weather gear: Burton and RedRam bottoms
Cold weather gear: Burton and RedRam bottoms

Burton Midweight pant baselayer bottoms. MSRP $44.95, evo.com.

RedRam by Icebreaker Merino wool base layer leggings for women. MSRP $39.95, sierratradingpost.com.

Tops

Cold weather gear: Top Out and Pursuit LS tops
Cold weather gear: Top Out and Pursuit LS tops

Men's Top Out wool crew. MSRP $90, dakine.com.

365 Pursuit LS layer top. MSRP $54, oneillclothing.com.

Full suits

Cold weather gear: Patagonia and Air Blaster full suits
Cold weather gear: Patagonia and Air Blaster full suits

Air Blaster women's ninja suit. MSRP $109.95, skis.com.

Patagonia Men's Capilene 4 Baselayer Expedition weight one-piece suit. MSRP $199, patagonia.com.

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