Base Layer for Running: 14 WeeViews Picks for Cold Weather

When it comes to cold-weather, the right base layer for running can keep us warm, comfortable, safe and even motivated to get out the door in the first place...

Especially when temperatures dip below freezing, wind is howling and snow swirling.

A base layer for running can help you manage weather and conditions when the going gets cold. 

What exactly is a base layer for running?

Here's some advice from runner Brynn Cunningham + 14 base layer for running picks from the WeeViews team.

Base layer for running basics

Here's the basics about base layers for running, they are...

  • The first layer
  • Meant to be worn next to the skin
  • Like a second skin or long underwear

Base layers come in various levels of warmth:

  • Lightweight 
  • Midweight
  • Heavyweight/ thermal

And in a variety of fabrics:

  • Wool
  • Capilene
  • Poly-blends
  • Patented moisture-wicking materials, etc…
  • But NEVER cotton - wet cotton, whether from sweat or the elements, is a surefire way to hypothermia and botched runs.

Many of the top running apparel brands offer base layer for running options giving runners a wide array of:

  • Price ranges
  • Sizes
  • Fit
  • Styles
  • Colors, and...
  • Fabrics to choose from

In this article, the men and women of Team WeeViews share their thoughts and opinions about some of their very own base layer for running picks.

Author Brynn Cunningham running with the Trail Run Tribe, Quebec Run Wild Area, Pa., Nov. 2019, because with the right gear, it’s never too snowy for a run! (Photo/ Rachel McFall)

Brynn Cunningham: WeeViews Writer and Ambassador

For assistance in determining your own size, here are the female wear tester’s measurements:

  • Height: 5’ 3 ¾”
  • Weight: 120-125 pounds
  • Waist: 27.75 inches
  • Chest/bust: 34 inches
  • Hips: 34 inches
  • Thigh circumference: 18.5 inches
  • Inseam: 28 inches
  • Typical shirt size: XS
  • Typical pant size: 2, sometimes 0 if the brand runs large
Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Daily Shirt, size XS (Photo/ Eric Harder)

1. Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Daily Shirt

The Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Daily Shirt, which I wear in size extra small, is listed in the Patagonia Baselayer section of their website, though it functions well as a stand-alone shirt, too.

While I mostly use it as the latter, it comes in handy...

  • As a lightweight base layer when I want a thin long-sleeve underneath a windbreaker...
  • Or rain jacket during high winds or cold rain or during a mix of cloudy, rainy, wet, windy days in the high 40s to 50s. 

After all, I live in the same region as the ninth cloudiest city in the United States, right up there with Seattle and Portland, making a lightweight base layer a running wardrobe must-have.

Because when it’s 50 degrees with zero sun and lots of elements, the real-feel temperature can bring on a chill quite quickly, especially on the trails. 

The fit: The waist is a bit wide (it does not hug the body), and the arms are a bit short, but I have long arms. 

Still, the Capilene Cool Daily Shirt fits nicely under loose outer layers and even sweaters.

Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew, size XS (Photo/ Eric Harder)

2. Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew

Another running wardrobe staple is a midweight base layer such as the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew, which I wear in an extra small. 

It has a smooth outer finish, allowing for ease of layering, as well as elastic thumb holes, making it a cinch to wriggle into another shirt or outer layer. 

  • For me and my personal body temperature/ sensitivity to cold, this base layer works best for the mid-30s to low-40s, a common temperature range where I live, especially if running in the early mornings or late evenings. 
  • I can wear it alone on a sunny, mid-40s day, but mostly wear it as a base layer on colder days. 

The fit: The arms are a little bit longer than the Capilene Cool Daily Shirt, making it easier to slip into the elastic thumb holes when needed. I wear the Midweight Crew three seasons of the year. 

Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Crew, size XS (Photo/ Eric Harder)

3. Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Crew

If you were to rate the Patagonia base layers reviewed in this article as warm/ warmer/ warmest, the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Crew, which I wear in size extra small, would certainly be warmest.

Winter running is a magical time of the year to get out and experience the world. 

  • This shirt makes that experience not only possible but also cozy and inviting. 
  • The thermal weight crew boasts the same smooth exterior and thumb holes as Patgonia’s Midweight Capilene, featured above, for ease of layering. 
  • I wear this one when it’s below freezing and underneath my sweaters during the day, so that I’m half-way dressed when it comes time for a run.

The fit: The Capilene Thermal Weight sits slightly lower on the hips than the Midweight and is a little bit stretchier, always a plus. 

ridge Merino Aspect Merino Wool High Neck Top, size XS (Photo/ Eric Harder)

4. ridge Merino Aspect Merino Wool High Neck Top

A high neck base layer like the ridge Merino Aspect Merino Wool High Neck Top, which I wear in size extra small, can...
 

  • Amp up your confidence in the cold
  • Allow you to bundle up, and...
  • Get out in the elements with no fear of freezing

The Aspect is thinner than non-wool base layers but has all the warmth while possessing those much-loved merino wool qualities, including:

  • Quick-drying
  • Extreme softness
  • Thermoregulation
  • Odor resistance (I hang this up to dry and use many days in a row - it NEVER smells bad).

I wear the Aspect as a stand-alone shirt when it’s 30-something degrees and also as the first layer when it’s below freezing. 

Additionally, the high neck covers my entire face...

  • All the way to the hairline if I wanted, not that I wear it that high, and can even sit and stay above my nose without slipping off while running. 
  • Though I love a separate neck tube or buff, the high neck completely eliminates the need for any of those additional accessories, making getting dressed a cinch less complicated. 

Even more, the Aspect is multi-functional and versatile
 

  • It can go from home to street to office to trail to errands with ease. 
  • I like to put on at least some part of my running outfit at the beginning of the day, so that when I’m ready to hit the trails, I’m already partly dressed. 
  • The Aspect is wonderful as a layer underneath a chunky sweater, dress, or jumpsuit, easing the transition from life to running. 

The fit: Sometimes my extra-small shirts have short arms, but not the ridge Merino Aspect. 

  • The sleeves cover half my hands, with thumb holes that are the same material as the shirt itself and essentially an extension of the shirt, as opposed to an elastic loop like the Patagonia Midweight and Thermal base layers. 
  • As for the length, it sits below my hip bones, making it easy to tuck into pants to keep a draft from sneaking in.

Shop ridge Merino

Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew, size XS (Photo/ Eric Harder)

5. Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew

Because the Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew, which I wear in size extra small, is a hand-me-down that’s nearly 10 years old, I’m not sure if the shirt pictured here holds the exact same description as the current version listed on the website, but it’s pretty darn close.

100 percent merino wool shirt. Regardless, I had to include it, because, despite its age, it’s a classic, 100 percent merino wool shirt, and aside from some staining and slightly saggy armpits from years of wear, it’s in good condition.

As I mentioned, merino wool is a wonder fabric for high-output outdoor adventures like trail running, or even plain running, and you can’t beat it for its warmth.

Once upon a time, I used to grab this favorite shirt for running on 50-degree days, deceived by the lightness of the fabric, only to get into the run to realize that I chose a thermal shirt, albeit one that felt too lightweight to be thermal.

I’ve learned to reserve this one for colder days, 30 degrees or less, and I hope to hold onto it for another 10 years. 

The fit: Perfect: snug torso, long arms, stretchy.

Shop Smartwool

Patagonia Women’s Capilene Midweight Baselayer Bottoms, size S (Photo/ Eric Harder)

6. Patagonia Women’s Capilene Midweight Baselayer Bottoms

A midweight base layer legging like the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Midweight Baselayer Bottoms, which I have in size small, works perfectly for a high-output activity like running.

When worn underneath a rain shell or wind pants, the Patagonia Women’s Capilene Midweight Baselayer Bottoms regulates temperature well and keeps in the warmth without overheating.

Keep in mind that I lean to the colder side...

The fit: I am usually in between a size small or extra small in bottoms, and while I went for small in the Patagonia Capilene Bottoms, sometimes I wish I would have purchased a size extra small, as the knees and thighs are baggy. 

  • Yet, I’m afraid the smaller size would have been too tight around my calves. 
  • This is more of a body-type issue, as the lower legs of base layers often fit well while the hips, butt, thighs and knees are too loose.
  • Still, I like to sleep in base layer bottoms while camping, and for that, I want a looser fit, so I’m not willing to trade a too-tight lower leg for a well-fitted upper leg area. 
  • Even more, I’d love to wear these as tights under sweater or hoodie dresses, but they are too saggy to look chic. Thus, they serve the purpose of a first layer under track pants or rain pants and as camping pajamas. 

Shop Patagonia Men and Women Baselayer

Smartwool Women’s Classic All-Season Merino Base Layer Bottom, size XS

7. Smartwool Women’s Classic All-Season Merino Base Layer Bottom

While my favorite pair of lightweight base layer bottoms are a discontinued size extra small Mountain Hardwear product, with nothing similar on their shelves, these extra small Smartwool ones are a close second. 

  • They were given to me by a friend nearly eight years ago, making them at least 10 years old. 
  • I’m not sure if they are exactly like the Smartwool Women’s Classic All-Season Merino Base Layer Bottom.
  • But they are 100 percent merino wool and as durable as any Smartwool product I’ve ever owned. 
  • Aside from a fraying waistline due to extreme wear and tear, they are in good condition, and I plan to wear them until they completely disintegrate. 

I use these much like the midweight and thermal pair of base layer leggings that I own: 

  • Underneath the Outdoor Research Women’s Helium Rain Pants during a rainy, windy day in the mid-40s with sloppy trail conditions, or...
  • The Patagonia Wind Shield Pants when it’s not so wet. 
  • Furthermore, I like to wear lightweight base layer bottoms under joggers and pants while I’m working in my home office during the colder months, making these a multi-functional piece of running gear. 

The fit: Yep, extra small is the perfect fit. 

Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino 250 Base Layer Bottom, size S (Photo/ Eric Harder)

8. Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino 250 Base Layer Bottom

Smartwool knows how to do base layers, and the Smartwool Women’s Classic Thermal Merino 250 Base Layer Bottom, which I have in size small, is no exception. 

  • They feel more like a soft pair of thick cotton leggings, even though they are 100 percent merino wool. 
  • Their ability to thermoregulate proves that this is more than just a cozy pair of long underwear. 
  • They work best when it’s 33 degrees with a mix of rain, sleet and snow and worn underneath the Outdoor Research Women’s Helium Rain Pants

The fit: They fit similarly to the Patagonia Midweight Baselayer Bottom (read review above) but are even baggier in the knees and hip area - perhaps you can see the loose fabric on the hips in the photo. 

But again, I wanted to be able to sleep in them during cold-weather camping, so I opted for a looser fit. 

Maybe one day I’ll find the perfectly fitting base layer bottom! 

Shop Smartwool

Nathan Reyes is the co-founder of WeeViews.

Nathan Reyes: WeeViews Co-Founder

Nathan Reyes is the co-founder of WeeViews.

He's game for some cold-weather running in Ohio with the right base layers.

And in case you didn't know, he's also a running-sock  aficionado.

Here's his base layer for running recommendation...

Burton Men’s Midweight Base Layer Long Neck Shirt, size XL

9. Burton Men’s Midweight Base Layer Long Neck Shirt

I tend to get pretty chilly this time of year, so I went for the Burton Men’s Midweight Base Layer Long Neck Shirt.

Why? 

  • It's heavier than what most of us are used to having wrapped around our bodies while running uphill in a hot, sweaty mess, but it sure does take on the cold while being active. 
  • It’s also perfect for: coaching, volunteering or simply spectating a friend's Thanksgiving turkey trot.  

Runners will appreciate the feel on their skin as well as the ability to hide the neck and chin from the wind chill. 

When we leave the slopes, we tend to forget brands like Burton, who pioneered the outdoor performance gear industry, but I can’t help but like a heavier, warmer underlayer when my body heat lets me down.

Shop Burton Men and Women Base Layers

David Moore is the co-founder of WeeViews.

David Moore: WeeViews Co-Founder

David Moore is the co-founder of WeeViews.

He still finds time to run when Ohio winter weather arrives. But he's happy to go with cross-training for triathlons, too.

If you're wondering how to make running a regular part of a busy schedule, check out David's advice:

Here's David's base layer for running picks... 

For assistance in determining your own size, here are the male wear tester’s measurements:

  • Height: 5’7”
  • Weight: 165 pounds
  • Waist: 32 inches
  • Chest: 40 inches
  • Typical shirt size: M
Arc’teryx Cormac Zip Neck Base Layer, size M

10. Arc’teryx Cormac Zip Neck Base Layer

The Arc’teryx Cormac Zip Neck Base Layer is one of my all-time favorite base layer tops (or running tops in general for that matter).  

  • Unfortunately, the Cormac model has been discontinued. But Arc’teryx’s replacement of the product line is the Motus AR Zip Neck Long Sleeve. The Cormac (and Motus) is a lightweight, quick-dry base layer designed for high output activities.  

I’ve had nothing but great running experiences…

  • Wearing this on it’s own in 60-65 degree weather during my first ultramarathon 
  • On sunny but cool days as a long-sleeved sun shirt
  • In moderately cold temperatures (30-45 degrees) directly under a lightweight jacket
  • Directly under a heavier wool or synthetic layer in cold temps (this feels better against the skin)

 Shop Arc’teryx

REI Co-Op Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Base Layer, size M

11. REI Co-Op Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Base Layer

I bought the REI Co-op Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Base Layer Top and Bottoms as a set. 

After comparing the Smartwool 250 line with teh REI Co-op Merino 185 line, I decided that for more than half the price, I’d take a shot with the REI Co-op and have had no complaints.  

  • All things equal, I’m sure I’d rather have the Smartwool, but this $185 set has performed great and at around $125 less than the alternative. 
  • I rarely wear a bottom layer during high output activities such as running, but the top has been great as a base in temperatures below freezing. 

Shop REI Co-op Men and Women Base Layers 

When Evan Jensen ran the Orcas Island 100-Mile Ultra, base layers were essential for cold temperatures, wind, rain, snow and mud.

Evan Jensen - WeeViews Editor and Ambassador

Evan Jensen is a WeeViews Ambassador and editor for The Rundown.

When he's not logging miles for another 100-mile ultra, he's in the gym or chasing kids around.

Here's his base layer for running picks to keep your hands warm...

Men's Burton GORE-TEX Mittens

12. Men's Burton GORE-TEX Mittens

My hands and fingers get cold a lot faster than most people.

Cold temperatures and high humidity is especially bad. Less than 30 minutes running in conditions like that, and my fingers will be frozen sticks on the verge of frostbite.

I tried a lot of gloves and mittens before I found the Burton GORE-TEX Mittens.

These are my go-to base layer for running mittens for temperatures colder than 40 degrees.

Here's a few things I like about these mittens:

  • Waterproof. The GORE-TEX material makes these gloves waterproof, keeping your hands dry in rain, wind, and snow.
  • Wrist-cinch. This feature is designed with snowboarder in mind, but it's useful for running. The wrist-cinch helps keep your gloves on, traps heat, and help keep rain and snow out.
  • Handwarmer pocket. At first I didn't think much about this feature. But after running a couple hours at night during the Mountain Lakes 100-miler when temperatures dipped below 30, my fingers were cold...even with the mittens on. An aid station volunteer stuffed some handwarmers into the pockets and my fingers were basically tucked into a warm blanket for the rest of the race.
  • Stuffability. Even though these are mittens, the material and design still makes these easy to stuff in a pocket or hydration pack.
  • Durability. I've had this pair of Burton GORE-TEX Mittens for almost 10 years. And they've been on a lot of running adventures, including some 100-mile ultras and many cold-weather runs. I frequently use these mittens in winter for other activities, too, like yard work, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking.

Shop Burton mittens

SmartWool Knit Mittens

13. SmartWool Knit Mittens

If I'm not worried about rain or snow, but the temperature is still pretty cold, I'll sometimes wear the SmartWool Knit Mittens instead of the Burton GORE-TEX mittens.

Why? They're a little more breathable than the Burton GORE-TEX mittens, but still keep my fingers warmer than gloves.

I've also worn these inside the Burton GORE-TEX mittens with the lining removed.

Even if you do get caught in the rain, or your hand gets wet some other way (like a puddle or stream crossing), the wool blend will keep your hands and fingers warm for quite awhile.

These got soaked after about 5 miles of running in pouring rain at night during the Mountain Lakes 100-miler, but did a pretty good job keeping my fingers warm for 25 miles until I could change.

Shop Smartwool mittens

HEAD Men’s Ultrafit Touchscreen Running Gloves

14. HEAD Men’s Ultrafit Touchscreen Running Gloves

If rain and temperatures are moderate, my base layer for running to keep my hands warm are the HEAD Men’s Ultrafit Touchscreen Running Gloves.

I've bought these at Costco for years, and typically have at least two pair at any given time.

Here's a few things I like about these gloves:

  • Compression. There's just a little bit of compression in these gloves, which may help with blood flow to keep your hands and fingers warmer. If nothing else, it feels good slipping these one.
  • Not too hot. Unlike the Burton and Smartwool mittens, my fingers typically don't overheat in these gloves. I've ran all day starting with cool temperatures in the morning to moderate temperatures in the afternoon, and kept the gloves on the entire time to help navigate stuff like slippery rocks, sticker bushes, and branches on a trail run.
  • Fast drying. The stretch-fleece material dries quickly, once they're out of the rain or you make it home.
  • Stuff factor. If you find your hands and fingers are starting to overheat, these are easy to stuff in a pocket or pack.

What are your top base layer picks for running?

Share your favorites in the comments.

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, cross country and backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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