The function of a baselayer is to keep your skin dry and to wick perspiration up to an insulating mid-layer garment that will keep you warm even though it’s damp. While some people prefer a wool baselayer over a synthetic one because it feels warmer and traps less body odor, wool absorbs water when it gets wet and takes longer to dry.
For highly aerobic activities like winter hiking and backpacking, where you’re on the move most of the time, synthetic baselayers are the way to go because they’re very effective at transferring water away from your skin up into your insulating mid-layer. After years of trying different baselayers, my all-time favorite synthetic baselayer remains Patagonia Capilene, made using Polartec Power Dry.
Polartec Power Dry is made using two different synthetic yarns that are knitted together to form what they call a bi-component knit or dual layer garment. The inner yarn absorbs perspiration from your skin, which is in turn absorbed by the second outer yarn, pulling the moisture through the garment. The overall effect is like adding a thin absorbent layer between your baselayer and your mid-layer to better facilitate the transfer of moisture between them. It works real well!
Here are 2 Patagonia baselayer garments that I highly recommend for winter hiking and backpacking that use Polartec Power Dry. While you can usually find Patagonia base layers on sale if you shop around (which is how I buy them), other manufacturers have adopted the fabric including REI, Marmot, Outdoor Research, Mammut, Millet, LL Bean, Cabela’s,and Black Diamond. Make sure you check that they’re made with Polartec Power Dry though, because some brands only make a subset of their garments with it.
Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Crew
Patagonia’s Capilene Lightweight Long Sleeve Crew (formerly Capilene 2) is my go-to base layer for all of my winter hikes down to about 10 degrees, layered under a 100 weight fleece midlayer 1/4 zip pullover and a hard shell jacket. I’ve been known to strip down to it when we’re climbing high angle trails up to treeline with all of our mountaineering gear in our packs. It keeps me cool and dries rapidly in the cold winter air. I like the long sleeve crew cut the best, although Patagonia makes a zip-neck version as well.
Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew
When it gets really cold out and the temperature drops under 10 degrees, I switch to the heavier Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew because it’s much warmer. This is for seriously cold hikes, although we usually draw the line at 20 below zero and stay home on those days. I still use a 100 weight fleece pullover as a mid-layer on cold winter hikes, but I will layer up with an insulated vest under my shell layer if I get chilled. These temperatures are pretty brutal to hike in, but you can stay safe if you have the right hats, gloves, insulated boots and bring plenty of hot drinking water along.
Proven Track Record
I’ve been using Patagonia baselayer garments for over 10 years (see Patagonia Capilene Baselayers, a post I wrote about them in 2008) and can’t recommend them highly enough.They’re super durable, easy to wash and dry, and I still use every Capilene shirt and long john I’ve ever bought to this day.
Disclosure: Philip Werner has purchased all of his Patagonia Capilene baselayers with his own funds.