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Gear Review: Winter Base Layers

Sprayway 1/2 Zip Roola

RRP: £55 (widely available for less)
Weight: 195g (men’s large)

The lightweight Roola is 50% merino wool and 50% polyester, combined to give a very comfortable base layer with a moderate amount of stretch. It’s extremely soft to touch, quick to dry, wicks well and gives a reasonable amount of warmth – though it’s not as toasty as some of the other bases featured below and will require more layers in the coldest conditions. I do like having a half-zip on winter base layers to give a venting option when needed. It comes in two colours and sizes from S to XXL; the women’s version is called the Kara half-zip.

Given that the Roola seems to be available for around £35 on some online stores, there’s really not much to count against it. It’s one of the most luxurious-feeling base layers in this test, at a great price.

Alpkit Laika

RRP: £32
Weight: 270g (women’s size 10)

Very comfortable, the super-stretchy fabric (88% polyester, 12% spandex) has a brushed, slightly furry inside which is lovely next to the skin. The collar is comfortable even when zipped right up, and the mid zip is useful for extra venting. The fit is reasonably generous and there are thumb loops to keep the arms in place. Moves well with your body and despite it being a heavier fabric than the others on test I’ve found it wicks well and the Polygiene has kept it smelling fresh.

Available in women’s sizes 8 to 16 and men’s sizes S to XXL in chilli red and midnight blue options for both sexes. Beware, the chilli colour runs in the wash so don’t put it in with your whites! A good value, versatile base layer, it has quickly become my favourite for cold weather.


Rab Powergrid pull-on

RRP: £75
Weight: 190g (men’s large)

Made from Polartec’s Power Grid fleece, the pull-on is promoted by Rab as a fleece mid layer rather than a base layer, but I’ve found it really excels as the latter. The interior has a grid pattern of fleece squares which are intended to trap air, and I’ve found this to be amongst the warmest garments in this test, despite being very lightweight. There’s a half zip, and thumb loops to ensure the sleeves don’t roll up when pulling on other layers. The side panels and under-arms are made from a very stretchy jersey which helps to make the fleece very comfortable to wear with great movement. The men’s version is available in three colours and five sizes, with both men’s and women’s options available.

The price is towards the high end for a base layer but this is the one I’ve been happiest to be wearing out on the Cairngorms over the last couple of months.

Columbia Women’s Titanium OH3D Knit Crew Neck

RRP: £70
Weight: 185g (women’s small)

The first thing you’ll notice about this base layer is the unusual space-blanket type inner lining. Made up of a pattern of small silver shapes interspersed with nano tufts of fabric, the aim is to reflect back most of your radiant body heat with the tufts creating a tiny insulating layer of air between your body and the top. As the metallic shapes only cover around two-thirds of the fabric, Columbia claims it remains fairly breathable. There are side panels extending under the arm pit and a back panel which don’t have the silver lining. Over pro-longed testing in both very cold winter conditions and mild autumnal days I have found it does keep you very warm without being overly sweaty. The only exception to this has been on the warmer days carrying a rucksack when my back has been a bit sweaty, personally I’d probably prefer a larger back panel without the reflective lining but then this is a top designed for snowsports as well as walking.

The fabric is much comfier against the skin than I thought it would be, you really don’t notice the metallic lining. I found it to be on the small size but the high (15%) elastane content means it’s pretty stretchy and with thumb loops and reasonably long arms the garment moves easily with you. It doesn’t smell bad after prolonged use and seems to be robust.

Available in women’s sizes XS to XL in dark blue and red colour options and men’s sizes S to XXL and red and black colour options. A good base layer for very cold days.

Icebreaker 200 Oasis LS Crewe

RRP: £70
Weight: medium 220g (men’s large)

The Oasis long sleve 200 crewe is the at the lightweight end amongst Icebreaker’s extensive range of 100% merino wool ‘cool weather’ base layers; they also offer a heavier 260 weight tech crewe, though I’ve found even the 200 to offer good warmth. Being 100% merino, the fabric feels very luxurious and soft. The design is very simple, being a long-sleeve t-shirt with no collar, zip or thumb loops.

It’s a fine base layer with a lovely comfortable feel, but the price seems perhaps a little on the high side for the features on offer here.

Sherpa Rinchen Zip Tee

RRP: £40
Weight: 200g (women’s small)

This is a lightweight, very stretchy (91% polyester, 9% spandex), mid zip top with a stand up collar. The cut is very long, especially on the arms, which for me rendered the thumb loops redundant, however it does feel comfortable against the skin, moves really well, and being small and thin means it’s okay as a first layer leaving plenty of room under an outer shell for mid layers. The top is marketed as one for both hot and cold weather conditions but I found it didn’t wick as well as the other tops when working hard in cold conditions under other layers, leaving a clammy back. I did like the zip for venting and sometimes a collar is useful to keep wind and sun off the neck. The incorporation of Polygiene means the top really doesn’t smell making it a good option for multiple days .

Available in women’s sizes XS to XL and men’s sizes S to XXL in grey and light blue options for both sexes. It is also available in a crew neck for a fiver less. A good value, stretchy, thin and comfortable base layer.

Berghaus Thermal Tech Tee Long Sleeve

RRP: £50
Weight: 340g (men’s large)

This is much the heaviest weight amongst the base layers on this test – it’s definitely a base layer for the coldest weather days. It’s 100% polyester and feels quite old-school when compared to the lovely soft fabrics of some of the alternatives in this test, but then it is likely to be amongst the most durable and is cheaper than most. I’ve found it does wick moisture very well; it also has an anti-odour treatment. The cut and sizing are very generous. It comes in 7 different sizes and 3 colours, and also in a women’s version.

It’s very much the odd-one out amongst the base layers I’ve tested here; it’s much heavier, very warm, and lacks the luxury feel to touch – you wouldn’t want to wear it down the pub. But the price is very reasonable for a base layer that more than does its job of keeping you toasty out on the winter hill.

Vaude Men’s Base LS Shirt

RRP: £72
Weight: 205g (men’s large)

Here’s something at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Vaude Men’s Base long sleeve shirt is 80% merino wool and 20% polyester. Whilst it’s not quite as warm as the Rab Power grid, it is very comfortable to wear. The cut is excellent, though there is no zip in the version tested (or thumb loops, though the Vaude website claims otherwise); there’s a more expensive option that has a half-zip and collar. Vaude has strong environmental credentials, so that’s another point in its favour. The shirt comes in five sizes and two colour options, and a women’s version.

This is an excellent base layer which is hard to fault. The price is relatively high – especially if you want the half-zip version – but then the smart design means that out of all the garments on test this is the one you’d be most comfortable also wearing out in the Clachaig bar in the evening after a grand day out on the hill.


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