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December 31, 2021 5 min read

A quality base layer is almost as important as remembering to pack your board or skis when headed to the mountain. Although they are rarely seen except in the lodge after an epic day on the hill, base layers are your first line of defense against the elements. Read on to learn how to pick a base layer that doesn't stink or make you stink, for that matter.

What is a Base Layer, and How Should it Fit?

A base layer is an article of lightweight clothing that acts as a second skin. A base layer's job is to draw moisture away from the skin. Although a base layer needs to be close to the skin to wick away moisture effectively, it should not be skintight.

Base Layer Material Options

Base layers can consist of natural fibers, synthetic fibers, or a blend of both. The most common base layer materials used for skiing include cotton, silk, Merino wool, nylon, and polyester.

Natural Fibers

Natural fibers are organically made in nature by plants or animals. Natural base layer materials often consist of cotton, silk, and Merino wool.


After the cotton is harvested and processed, this natural plant-derived fiber is lightweight and soft. However, cotton is not ideal for high moisture environments as it is very absorbent. In a high sweat situation, the moisture is absorbed into the fiber, allowing bacteria to accumulate and the garment to feel wet and potentially become smelly.


Known for its sheen and softness, insects create silk for use in their nests and cocoons. Silkworms produce the most common type of silk. The smoothness of this lightweight natural fiber decreases the chances of skin irritation.

Merino Wool

Merino wool comes from Merino sheep found worldwide, but primarily in Australia and New Zealand. Unlike regular wool, Merino wool contains ultra-fine fibers that are only a fraction in diameter compared to other wool, making it incredibly soft and lightweight. The Merino wool fibers also naturally trap warmth while wicking away unwanted moisture, making them ideal in warm or cool temperatures.

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic materials are not found in nature but are created by humans through chemical synthesis. The most common synthetic fibers used for base layers include nylon and polyester.


Nylon is a strong and elastic synthetic fiber that is made of polyamide. However, this fiber is not suitable in high moisture or high heat environments due to a lack of ability to wick away moisture and the potential to melt.


Due to its ability to blend well with natural fibers and its durable nature, polyester is a common component in many garments. Polyester is made of polyethylene terephthalate. This soft, quick-drying material is also relatively inexpensive to be produced.


How to Pick the Best Base Layer for Skiing

1. Fights Bacteria

Let's be honest, no one likes being the stinky kid, and some materials give you a better chance of escaping being smelly after a great day or couple of days on the slopes. Look for a base layer option that has antibacterial properties. Wool, for example, naturally contains lanolin produced by the sheep's glands to keep wool dry in the rain and also locks out bacteria.

2. Wicks Away Sweat

The primary purpose of a base layer is to get rid of moisture. We all want to avoid the feeling of wet clothing clinging to our bodies, especially when out in the cold. To prevent that clammy feeling associated with wet clothes, it is best to find a fabric that removes moisture from the skin's surface without being completely absorbed into the base layer's fibers.

3. Garment Design

If you are downhill skiing, you need to quickly move into the correct position to pull off that trick or merely to keep your balance. The garment's design plays a big role in restricting or promoting movement. Therefore, selecting a comfortable base layer that you can easily move in is vital.

4. Weight Matters

It is essential to select the right base layer for your weather conditions. For example, spring skiing, compared to when the wind chill on the mountain dips well below freezing, might require a different weight of base layer depending on what other gear you are using. Base layers are available in lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight options.

  • Lightweight – mild to cooler temperatures
  • Midweight- cold temperatures
  • Heavyweight- temperatures below freezing

*Note: The basis of a base layer is to wick away moisture. Although base layers help keep you warm, the purpose of your insulating layer (middle layer) is to focus on keeping you at the right temperature.

Merino Wool for the Win

Base layers made from Merino wool check all the boxes for a high-performing and comfortable top for skiing. They are lightweight compared to other materials while trapping heat to keep you warm. The best feature of a Merino base layer is that the fabric naturally wicks away excess moisture from your skin in the form of vapor to keep you dry. Since this type of base layer doesn't retain a lot of moisture, bacteria have a difficult time growing, making it, so your top doesn't need to be washed as often.

Since Merino wool is also natural, there is less of a chance of skin irritation compared to synthetic materials. In addition, the ultra-fine fibers are soft and bend with your body, making a merino base layer extremely comfortable. For more great information about what makes Merino wool awesome, read our Merino Wool 101 article.



Should Merino Wool Base Layers Be Tight?

A Merino base layer should be close to your skin to stop air from flowing through and allow it to wick. It should not be tight.

Is Merino Worth the Money?

Yes, Merino wool is worth the investment due to its breathability, moisture-wicking properties, and odor resistance.

Can You Wear a Base Layer by Itself?

Yes, base layers can be worn under other layers of clothing or by themselves.


The Bottom Line

A quality base layer can significantly impact your experience up on the ski hill. Merino wool base layers are a fantastic option that will keep you dry while allowing you to crush every run.



About the Author
Katie Pierson

Katie is the creator of MT Girl Fitness and a freelance writer with a passion for the health and wellness industry. She has been a certified health and fitness professional for almost twenty years. She currently holds ten certifications and looks forward to sharing her passion for health and wellness with you.

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