5 Best Base Layers For Hunting – From Hot to Cold

Layering is the key to keeping your body temperature regulated in any environment. It allows the body to maintain temperature, rather than fluctuate rapidly based on external conditions. This helps you to stay comfortable and focus on the task at hand, like pursuing that trophy whitetail. 

This is why you need the best base layers for hunting.

What are base layers?

Having a base layer has progressed leaps and bounds technologically, from the days of just packing your long underwear. It may have some of the same DNA though. Since humans began to wear clothing, the idea of layering has been standard practice in cold environments.

That long underwear your grandfather reminded you to bring was just an iteration of that same premise. A thin, lightweight thermal top and bottom was the first layer of clothing that was guaranteed to keep your skin from being exposed to the elements. On top of that came standard outerwear, and past that was your shell. 

That first layer was traditionally the softest and most comfortable so that it fits snugly against your skin without itching or chafing.

It helped when adding heavy wool or canvas outer layers that would normally be very uncomfortable against your skin. The long underwear advice was twofold when you were a kid, first, it was to keep you from getting cold, and secondly, to keep you from whining that your tag was itchy! 

The base layer technology today stems from the same premise, keeping you comfortable and warm. Technology has taken base layers one step further though, keeping you dry. Base layers are now created with smart technology.

This allows for multiple thicknesses across the garment for different climates and uses.

They sometimes even implement heat dispersing zones where more breathable sections can purge access heat from high friction areas. Features like this make base layers a necessity for almost every activity. 

Do I need a base layer?

The short answer here is yes.

From swimming to biking, to hiking and especially hunting, base layers have become an absolute necessity.

It is a no-brainer, that comfortability in any aspect is worth its weight in gold. When you can be warm and dry without the sacrifice of performance, you have no valid reason not to take advantage of this technology. 

While performance-enhancing supplements are usually frowned upon, performance-enhancing gear is praised. 

For hunting alone, having a base layer that keeps you from being drenched in sweat on your hike in, and then keeps you from being cold on your stand because you were drenched in sweat on your hike in, is invaluable.

Being comfortable in these conditions will allow you to hunt longer and be more attentive to the hunt itself, rather than having a fear of hypothermia living rent-free in the back of your mind. 

It is not all about being warm either.

Being warm is important to eliminate the fear of hypothermia, but base layers are common in the opposite situations, where overheating or sunburn comes into play.

In the instance where you will be hunting or fishing in direct sunlight for long periods, having a UV protection base layer is more effective, and again, more comfortable than sunscreen. 

High-performance base layers that shade skin from the sun and regulate body temperature could make the difference between having to rest in the shade or stalking that elk through the heat of the day when he is resting in the shade.

Give yourself the advantage of technology and invest in the appropriate base layer for your desired activity. 

What are the best materials to choose for a base layer?

Best Base Layers For Hunting

Traditional base layer materials were mostly cotton. This provided warmth but was useless once it was wet from either sweat or precipitation. Today, modern base layer materials vary, but synthetics are the name of the game.

Materials like nylon, polypropylene, vinyl, and wool that have a hybrid weave work well in cold conditions. These materials are great for wicking sweat as well.

To do so, they must be in direct contact with skin. So, you will want to purchase them in the form-fitting variety.

These materials do get stinky though. With all of the wicking properties synthetics provide, they also soak up body odor. Keep this in mind if you intend on using the same base layer for days at a time.

Silk is the route to go if you prefer an all-natural base layer. It fits well and is extremely comfortable. There are some disadvantages to silk though. It is not very durable, so silk baselayers are not intended to be worn on extreme hikes or hunts, other than for sleeping.

Silk is not very warm because it does not have the best thermal properties. Lastly, silk is not scent resistant, so this material will get stinky if you do not wash it between uses. 

Merino wool is the future of the base layer. This material is not the itchy wool sweater you find in your attic. Merino wool combines super finely woven wool fibers with spandex to provide the highest level of performance.

The wicking properties, thermal properties, and natural scent resistance of wool make it the best foundation material. The addition of spandex fabrics makes it form-fitting and comfortable, creating a near-perfect garment. 

Is Merino wool worth it?

Having the best costs extra, and you get what you pay for. These are common phrases we hear all the time by companies trying to sell on quality and reputation, rather than value and price.

In the case of merino wool, paying extra is worth it.

The performance aspect of these fabrics is top-notch for a few reasons.

First, wool keeps you dry. When it rains or snows, wool keeps water off of your skin. When you sweat, wool keeps perspiration off of your skin. Staying dry is staying comfortable.

Next, the thermal capabilities of wool are unmatched. It keeps sheep warm in winter pastures and it keeps you warm in a cold winter treestand. Lastly, let’s talk durability.

Merino wool is the toughest material you will find in a base layer, from any manufacturer.

The ability to wear your merino wool base layer as an outer layer when the trail heats up or your outer layer becomes compromised, makes it the equivalent of buying two garments for the price of one. 

Hunting specific base layer

Hunting has been intertwined with humanity for countless millennia. Even the earliest hunters knew the benefits of layering for extended expeditions. Knowing that on any given outing, a hunter may encounter everything from sub-freezing blizzards to squelching hot drought was always a concern.

To counter these inconveniences, hunters would dress in multiple layers, with the idea that one could always remove layers based on the elements.

If outer layers became wet or ripped, hunters could stay comfortable by a fire in lower and base layers while waiting for repairs or for garments to dry. 

For today’s hunters, the same aspects are relevant, but with some additional solutions. Modern base layers are as much about comfort as they are about life-saving necessity.

Hunters who hike for miles on rough trails into the mountains perspire, only to stop at a given location for hours, where it may be cool or cold. This process would demand a change of clothes if it were not for modern moisture-wicking base layers.

The hunter no longer has to sit in wet clothes or worry about changing out of them to stay warm on a stand. 

Comfort is also key when hunting in thorns or briars. While it may be arid and hot, hiking through spiny thorns requires tough chaps made of leather or canvas. These materials are very uncomfortable to hike in, so a comfortable, breathable base layer extends the hunt.

The longer you can stay in the field, the better chance you have at taking your desired animal. Having a performance base layer will theoretically give you a better opportunity. 

As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, I have gone through the trouble of researching which brands and materials will give you the best base layer in a variety of conditions.

Because every hunt is different, and factors affecting hunts can be all over the spectrum, these categories will be a general buyer’s guide based on my research. Let’s dive in! 

Best Base Layers For Hunting:

  1. Badlands Seal
  2. ScentLok AMP Late Season
  3. HECS Hunting- High-Performance Base Layer
  4. Sitka Gear Merino Heavyweight
  5. First Lite Wick

Best All-Around

Badlands Seal

In some situations, you will realize that only one layer is necessary. This is the perfect scenario for the form-fitting, quarter-zip by Badlands.

The extremely lightweight makes it suitable for temperatures across a large spectrum. The style of a garment also lends itself to multiple temperature zones due to its versatility.

With its sleeves pulled up and the quarter zip down, the shirt is nicely suited for an uphill hike to a glassing location. With the zipper up and sleeves down, it eliminates skin exposure and maintains body heat.

This top also comes in a single camouflage pattern, making it suitable for a variety of terrain. Badlands does suggest using this particular base layer in temperatures ranging from 0 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

This base layer is made from merino wool. We have discussed the benefits of this material.

I want to reiterate that it is the perfect selection for an all-weather, range of temperatures base layer. This particular base layer can be worn on its own or under multiple layers of outerwear. It is tough and will last for years of daily usage.

Badlands is an exceptional brand with a reputation for quality hunting gear. This makes purchasing their base layer just the first step in the layered outfits they sell.

A perfect pairing for this top is the Badlands Calor hunting pants. Adding these pants to the top makes for full-body coverage that can do everything one would ask of the gear.

Pros:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Cons:

  • Not often to be broadhead capable and compatible.
  • Susceptible to damage more than the other options.
  • Has a tendency to move or shift with each shot if not held down.

Best Base Layer for Treestand Hunting

ScentLok AMP Late Season

Treestand hunts are one of the most versatile as far as gear selection goes. These hunts usually entail a long hike in with a backpack full of gear, not to mention your bow or rifle.

This hike can generate a bunch of heat and even a bit of perspiration. You need a base layer that can handle the hard work without becoming waterlogged, chafing, or making you overheat. The AMP late season base layer does this job perfectly.

Next, you climb atop your perch and wait. This could be a torturous wait if you are sitting in damp clothes. So, you need a moisture-wicking element to keep you dry during the hike and climb.

After a few minutes of sitting stone still, that fall breeze could bring a chill to the average hunter who did not utilize a base layer, but you know better by now. The polyester midweight maintains your body temperature and laughs in the face of that cool breeze.

Lastly, you will need to make the hike out. You have sweat, and sat, now you are in the home stretch. With the Scentlok quarter zip, you could potentially strip off your outer layers and use it as a single layer for the ride home.

For 3 season use, and especially in your tree stand, the mid-weight base layer by Scentlok is a solid choice. Something we have not touched on, but is an integrated feature of the Scentlok base layer, is the scent concealment abilities of the garment.

Scentlok creates all of its gear with a golden honeycomb pattern woven in, which blocks small scent particles from escaping. Staying concealed is second only to comfort while in a treestand.

Pros:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Cons:

  • Not often to be broadhead capable and compatible.
  • Susceptible to damage more than the other options.
  • Has a tendency to move or shift with each shot if not held down.

Best Base Layer for Spot and Stalk 

HECS Hunting- High-Performance Base Layer

For spot and stalk hunting, you need to call upon your inner ninja. This means not only moving silently but also masking your body to the other scenes of your target species as well. The 3- piece suit from HECS is not your ordinary base layer.

The combination of a lightweight top, bottom, and hood makes for the ultimate in concealment. This base layer keeps you comfortable sure but it also keeps the prey from ever knowing you are there. 

Using a carbon fiber conductive grid block technology, the HECS high-performance base layer blocks our human electrical energy field. It is an invisibility cloak in the form of a tight-fitting base layer. 

This bodysuit is as much a gadget as it is the base layer. The energy blocking grid absorbs electrical signals emitted by the human body and disperses them evenly across the material of the entire outfit.

If you have ever heard that horses can feel your heartbeat, or that animals can smell fear, you will understand what these electrical signals are.

In a hunting scenario, especially a spot and stalk, you want to be as invisible as possible, and this base layer by HECS will be your best option for an up-close and personal encounter. 

The HECS base layer is not the heaviest on the market, so, while it is the best for a spot and stalk hunt, you will not want to be wearing it for a deep winter adventure. The lightweight suit is great for long hikes and moving comfortably all day, not for sitting or treestand hunting.  

Pros:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Cons:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Best Extreme Cold 

Sitka Gear Merino Heavyweight

Sitka Gear is known for there unbelievably well-performing hunting apparel. They keep you dry and warm in all conditions and are incredibly comfortable. If cold-weather hunting was all we were talking about in this guide, the Sitka Gear Merino Heavyweight would be our number one choice of best base layers for hunting.

This particular base layer top is quite breathable for its thermal capabilities. It even has a half zipper, this gives you the option to release heat when hiking, or zip up to create a microclimate within the shirt.

When I say Sitka Gear is one of the best, I mean it, just for the simple features like that. You may be able to get full or quarter zip garments from other brands, but no one else is utilizing a half zipper.

When you are on a cold-weather hunt, you will most likely be wearing a heavy outer layer or shell. This makes the Merino Heavyweight a great choice because it fits snugly against your skin.

This top was meant to be worn as a base layer, it still has all of the perks of merino wool, but the added comfort of a base layer centric shirt.

Pair this top with the Merino Heavyweight bottoms, and you will feel like you wore your pajamas to your deer stand. These bottoms are again, meant to be a base layer only, so they sacrifice durability for warmth, breathability, and comfort.

They make a great addition to your lower-level layering strategy and are perfect for keeping you comfy under those bulky snow bibs.

Pros:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Cons:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Best Extreme Heat

First Lite Wick

Not only are base layers great for layering on cold hunts, but they can also serve a purpose as a single layer on days in late summer or early fall. Those days when the sun is beaming and you need protection more than ever.

These days challenge hunters to outwork animals, rather than outsmart them. Big fur pelts are not the best option for summer heat, that is where a lightweight t-shirt style base layer comes in handy. Thankfully, First Lite has you covered with their Wick T-shirt.

No need to take a break in the shade, with a lightweight base layer, you can put in the extra work and stalk up on that bedded big game. The T-shirt-style base layer even provides UV protection, so you can stay cool all day without fear of getting a sunburn either.

The advantages of the Wick T-shirt over a standard cotton t-shirt do not stop there. With the lightweight breathability of the synthetic base layer, chafing on armpits and other high friction areas will never cross your mind.

Pros:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

Cons:

  • Cheaper than the other options (on initial purchase).
  • Light and portable – easy to take from home to field.

How often should you wash your base layer?

Washing your hunting gear can sometimes be tricky. If you are in the field on a lengthy excursion, washing your gear may not be a possibility at all. If you commute to your hunting spots via a truck or 4 wheeler, you may want to wash them more often to keep them scent-free.

You do not want to throw them in with the regular laundry that has scented detergents and fabric softener. So, what do you do? 

There are plenty of hunting-specific, scentless detergents on the market which can be bought right on Amazon. Using these on your hunting clothes will give you the ability to wash them as often as you like without smelling like an artificial flower bed when sitting in your fall hunting stand. 

As far as how often you should wash your base layer, I would advise after every use. The moisture-wicking properties of a base layer allow it to collect sweat, which makes reusing a base layer multiple times between washes unhygienic.

There is also a quality to synthetics that makes them softer each time they run through a wash cycle. So, washing your base layer can help to make them even more comfortable than they are from the factory. 

How long do base layers last

Because base layers are a composite material, they can last a very long time. This is another reason to invest in quality products. You won’t feel bad throwing them away after a few uses because they can last for multiple seasons. The durability of synthetics and merino wool gives base layers the ability to be used and abused, in the elements and the laundry for hundreds of cycles.

The only times I have ever needed to get rid of base layer garments was because I was unable to get the smell out of them, and that was after years of use. It is safe to say that a quality base layer will last at least three years. 

Wrap Up

Plain and simple, base layers are a necessity. They may be an added expense, and it may be one extra item to pack on your next hunting excursion, but you will be glad you added them to your arsenal. I would encourage you to even purchase multiple varieties.

One for cold weather because it is better to be safe than sorry. One for warm weather, because sweaty clothes mean chafing is only a matter of time. And one for extreme cold, because laying still in a goose hunting field is much more fun when you are warm.