Baselayers group test

Peter MacfarlaneBase layers are something you have to get right to help make sure you’re comfortable and still smiling at the end of a long day on the hill. However, if you’re looking for something new, the proliferation of fabrics and styles claiming all sorts of outlandish benefits at scary prices might make you cling on to that holey and bobbled old crew neck for a little longer. But the news is actually good, current baselayer fabrics perform well at moisture management, odour control is something that is improving all the time in synthetic fabrics and you can get the performance you’re after in a slim fitting athletic style or a more casual style so that you don’t feel conspicuous off the hill.

I’ve covered a good range of models for this review but the common theme is a lighter weight fabric. This is what I prefer in winter when a lot of the testing was done, as lighter fabric layers well and dries faster meaning all the base layers here good for the warmer months as well.

I’ve included a selection of technical boxer shorts which I think are vital bits of kit especially on longer walk or if you’re out on a multi-day trip.

All sizes tested were size large, apart from the women’s fit so all comments about sizing or fit are regarding an average large fit. I’ve included the weights to help give an idea of how the base layers will feel, but still handy to know if you want to carry a spare on a back pack.

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Short Sleeve

Alpkit Koulin Tech-Talpkit men's

Women’s version available

Alpkit have just launched a range of base layers and the Koulin tee comes in a waffle patterned polyester fabric. It’s a light fabric so good for sweaty activities like running and biking and has a good length to the body to keep you covered whatever angle you find yourself at. It dries well after a soaking and feels soft against the skin. Odour management is average, but it washes fresh and at this price it’s a throw-on and abuse tech-top. The fit is neat but not tight, so it layers okay and doesn’t look too odd for casual wear either. If the big printed logo isn’t your thing, there are plain options too.

Alpkit Kepler Short Sleevealpkit girls

Men’s version available

The Kepler comes in 160 weight merino which is a good all-round weight as it balances the excellent odour eating qualities of merino but give you a faster drying time when the fabric wets out with exertion, something easily done with merino. The cut if form fitting but not tight with quite long sleeves for a tee which will keep the sun off on the trail. The finish is good with neat flatlocked seams and the fabric itself is soft to the touch and stretchy but keeps its shape well when in use and after repeated washes.

Haglofs Intense Teehaglofs

Women’s version available

The printing on this tee makes it look like merchandising or casual wear but the cut and fabric are very much technical with a neat cut which layers well, a long body and slim sleeves. The fabric is polyester which wicks and dries well and also has a nice cool feel against the skin. The flatlocked seams are well placed and a gentle stretch in the fabric makes this a very good active shirt. It has an anti-odour treatment which seems to work well and hasn’t diminished with repeated washes.

Odlo Revolution Light Baselayer Shirtodlo

Women’s version available

This plain looking tee is very well cut for active use with a slim fit that layers very well. The noticeable centre seam across the front splits the shirt and seems to help keep both the shirt itself in shape and the very long body in place and tucked in to your trousers (if you like to do that!). All the seams are soft and well finished with a relaxed neckline which I like.
The fabric is a blend of merino and polyester which mixes all the best elements of both to gives a good general performance with odour control and faster drying. The Odlo feels like a traditional base layer but the fabric is very much of today.

Rab Meco 120 Short Sleeve Teerab

Women’s version available

The Meco is a slimmer fitting tee with longer sleeves and a nicely long body. The great fit is complimented by good stretch and soft flatlocked seams. The fabric is a mix of merino and polyester in a very light 120 grade which wicks and dries very fast and still has good odour management properties. The Rab layers very well indeed and although the fabric isn’t the softest against the skin the first time you pull it on, through use and washing it’s improved and it’s a good performer.

Sherpa Hero S/S Teesherpa

Women’s version available

The Hero is regular fitting t-shirt in a poly-cotton fabric so it feels just like a regular t-shirt and looks great with jeans. The fabric and construction are good though, I’ve worn this on jaunts up my local hills and on patrol on my ranger duties and it performs well with decent sweat management and the soft seams make for good comfort. The relaxed fit means it doesn’t layer so well for bigger hill days making the Hero a better choice for days out where you want a bit of outdoor performance from your gear but don’t want to dress like a mountaineer.

Smartwool Men’s NTS Micro 150 Combo Teesmartwool

Women’s version available

The Micro comes in a lightweight 150 merino which feels instantly pleasant to wear and has the expected properties of odour resistance and wicking performance with decent drying time due to the lighter weight fabric. The cut is slightly relaxed and the good stretch in the fabric gives you great freedom of movement. That more casual cut along with the body being a bit shorter than most made the Micro not ideal for using with a rucksack waist belt, so it has seen more casual use than hill days.

Wild Stripes Duet Base Layer Shortywild stripes


Nothing looks quite like the Shorty, but there is more going on beyond the stripes. The fit is slim with neat sleeves and a very long body. There is a huge amount of stretch and freedom of movement is superb with no lifting of the hem at all. Construction is very simple and the seams are soft and have caused me no discomfort despite not being flatlocked. The fabric is polypropylene which wicks very fast and dries very fast, in my experience probably the fastest in this test. It has no anti odour treatment but I’ve worn the fabric for three or four days and it’s been bearable, even for my companions. When you get home you can hot wash it unlike most base layers, so you can keep your Shorty fresh.

X-Bionic Energizer Summerlight SS Topx bionic

Women’s version available

When you pull this shirt on you can feel it squeeze you here and there as the different fabric zones settle into your shape. It’s an odd sensation but once you’re on the move you soon don’t feel it and the Summerlight works very well. I find there’s a gentle warmth from it all the time, but not one that overheats me, in fact the tee works across a big range of temperatures and does keep me dry no matter how much I sweat, all those little knitted vents do seem to work. The fit of the polyester/elastane/nylon fabric tee is skin tight, there is no hiding your physique in this. I think the fit and design do make it better for athletic types who would properly get the benefit from the technology built into it, but it does work well on my shape too.

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Long Sleeves

EDZ 200g Merino Wool Zip Neck Topedz

Women’s version available

EDZ use 200 weight merino on their zip neck which I can wear on all but the hottest days making the shirt an all–rounder with the heavier fabric having better odour eating qualities over the lighter weights in my experience too. The cut is neat with slim arms so the zip neck layers very well. There’s enough stretch so that the sleeves will pull up to your elbow and the long arms have very good thumbloops which when used cover my hand almost to the middle of my fingers which I love. The collar is high to keep off draughts and sunlight and the zip is a decent length for ventilation. The body could be a little longer for me as I like the extra coverage, but shoulder movement is superb so the hem doesn’t budge when I lift my arms. The fabric washes well and although not super soft when new it softens up with use and is comfy over several days’ constant wear.

Falke Longsleeved Shirt Athleticfalke

Women’s version available

The shirt is very soft and very stretchy, it molds to your shape when you pull it on. There’s some gentle squeezing but it’s less pronounced than on the X-Bionic shirt. The mix of polyester/elastane/nylon is skintight but it doesn’t feel restrictive, arm movement is free and it’s comfy to wear all day. The sleeves are long as is the body and the fabric is lighter here and there to try and accelerate moisture movement. It wicks and dries well with an anti-bacterial treatment in the fabric treatment to help deal with odour. This seems to work okay and hasn’t diminished with washing so far. The athletic slim look and fit might be the decider for most folk though.

Icebreaker Oasis Long Sleeve Crewicebreaker

Women’s version available

The Oasis is a classic design and the current 200 weight merino fabric keeps its shape over long term use better than it did before. The cut is neat but not tight so the Oasis layers very well but still looks fine worn off the hill making it genuinely versatile, especially for extended wear on trips away from home with the better odour management of the slightly heavier merino. The neck line is a little relaxed but not loose, the sleeves are long as is the body where there’s a drop tail to make sure you keep covered. It’s simple and effective.

La Sportiva Atmosphere Long Sleeve (Autumn 2015 for version featured)la sportiva

Women’s version available

I got the Atmoshere to test towards the end of winter where it excelled as an all-day base layer and as camp wear. It’s soft and stretchy with a slim fit, the body is seamless and the minimal seams elsewhere are flatlocked. The nylon/polypropylene/elastane fabric is zoned with lighter areas to help with moisture management and drying and the shirt is anti-odour treated which does seem to work as I’ve had this on for days at a time without even taking it off. Arm movement is completely free, the body and arms are long and the cuffs have thumbloops. The collar is short, almost a crew neck which layers well as it doesn’t interfere with other tops and jackets but it also has a zip for venting which is unusual on a top without a high collar. It works very well. There’s a small zipped side pocket and in this eye-catching design, you can spot it in your kit drawer no problem.

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Boxer Shorts

The shorts are all the matching models to their brand counterparts above, fabrics are the same unless noted otherwise.

Alpkit Kepler Boxersalpkit boxers


These shorts are a slim fit with longs legs which I like for long treks where in the past some trousers have had seams that have chaffed me. The waistband is wide and comfy but there’s no fly which some will see as a must but the waist does pull down just fine. The merino does keep you fresh over the days but if you get a chance at camp hang them out to dry properly, something I always do with merino boxers.

Falke Boxer Athleticfalke boxers

Women’s version available

Minimalist, light and very stretchy, it’s hard to tell you’ve got these on. They’ve kept me very dry, the legs are quite short , there’s no fly which hasn’t been a problem with the soft and wide waistband but I’ve noticed some wear appearing to the fabric where it’s rubbing on my trouser seams.

Icebreaker Oasis Boxers w/Flyicebreaker boxers

Women’s version available
Good wide waistband with a good length to the legs which I like. There’s a fly which is well designed and despite all the extra seams around the front to allow this they’re comfortable to wear over the miles.

Odlo Revolution Light Baselayer Boxersodlo boxers

Men’s version available

The lightness of these is great on warmer treks and the fit is excellent despite there being very few seams, they’re mostly just one piece of fabric. There’s no fly but the front is well designed for comfort and the comfy waist band can be pulled down easily enough. The legs have a decent length for tackling potential chaffing areas and the fabric mix have made these a strong performer.

Smartwool NTS Micro 150 Boxer Briefsmartwool boxers

Women’s version available

These have long legs, a comfortable waist band and a fly with a neat construction that doesn’t add bulk or too many seams . The fit is excellent as is the comfort in use. The merino is light and performs well, these are just about right all round.

X-Bionic Energizer Summerlight Boxersx bionic boxers

Women’s version available

These are a slim fit and quite minimalist with no legs to speak of which I don’t like so much in trousers but work well in leggings for running. The gentle compression is also good for running and they do keep me dry. If you like the fit they could do the job.

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Last word

Everything there from a t-shirt you can wear with jeans to an expedition long sleeve you can wear for days on end while living in a tent. The fit across the brands was very different, arm and body length varied a good bit, so it always pays to try stuff on to make sure that the fit is right for you.

Merino versus synthetic fabric isn’t as clear cut a choice as it once was where you would would chose merino for odour control and synthetic for fast drying. Synthetics are now better at dealing with odour and the lighter weight merino dries faster so your choice is more likely to be based on fit and features.

Nothing bad at all here, some are going to be better than others at specific things but there a couple of all-rounders which is good to know when you want to buy once and buy correctly.

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