Best for budget: short sleeve base layers reviewed

Base layers are worn next to the skin to form the basis of a hillwalker’s clothing system, and by moving sweat away from the skin they keep you warm and dry without any of the clamminess associated with cotton T-shirts. 

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UP TO £25
At this price you get the basic requirements of a base layer while hillwalking, which is to wick sweat away from the skin to keep you dry without that horrible clammy sensation. In general the base layers will not feature any anti-microbial treatments, or the treatments will not be the most effective available, so these garments tend to be a little more smelly if not washed between walks. The seams may not be as smooth as higher-priced options, and you may not get additional panels of materials to improve fit and comfort. There is certainly no need to spend more on a base layer than those available in this price band, but if you do then there are additional benefits that you may welcome.

FROM £26 TO £50
In this price band the wicking properties of the materials used are generally slightly better, due to improved weaving of the materials. Equally the anti-microbial treatments tend to be more effective at managing odour. You may also get a higher UPF rating to provide protection against ultraviolet light when hillwalking, although not all brands provide this data. A rating of UPF 15-20 is good as it permits only 1/15th to 1/20th of UV to transmit through the fabric, but UPF 25-35 is better, while UPF 40-50 is excellent. Flatlocked seams to reduce chafing and additional panels of material under the arms may be provided to improve both fit and comfort. In some cases a short neck zip may be provided within this price band to allow extra ventilation in warmer weather.

FROM £51
Improvements in odour control are available in this price band due to the use of merino wool, which carries a high price tag but is naturally anti-bacterial and ideal for multiple days of use between washes without becoming smelly. Exceptionally smooth seams are common, and there may be combinations of materials to provide a greater overall blend of performance benefits above and beyond that which merino wool can provide alone. Products in this price band are ideal for multi-day trips when odour control is a priority, but for day walks they are not essential requirements as you can always wash your kit between trips.


Best for budget up to £25


Alpkit Koulin Trail Tee £18

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  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s 8-16
  • Weight 150g (L)
  • Material 100% polyester with Polygiene (silver) anti-microbial treatment

IT'S GOOD Like many Alpkit products this base layer offers far more for its price compared to other options. The 100% polyester base material wicks away sweat speedily, while Polygiene, a feature normally only available in higher-priced options, provides odour control. The seams are flatlocked so they don’t chafe, and a more open mesh knit on the back and under the arms further improves wicking and drying. There is also an additional panel under the arms for a better fit. The relaxed fit would suit general walking well, as it allows a little airflow to help cooling. Very hard to beat.

HOWEVER On multi-day backpacking trips a merino wool or bamboo base material does offer even more odour control, but this only affects those that cannot wash their base layer regularly. Some other higher-priced polyester base layers use a knit that dries slightly faster, but the difference is very small, and some are slightly longer in the body, which may benefit taller people. More athletic users may prefer a closer-fitting style for running, and moving sweat away more rapidly with polypropylene. A zipped collar would be nice too, but few short sleeve base layers offer that anyway. There is really very little wrong here for general hillwalkers.

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VERDICT For the price, both the wicking performance and odour control are exceptional, but merino wool has even better odour control and some dry slightly quicker.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

Highlander Bamboo 190 Base Layer £20

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  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 173g (L)
  • Material 95% bamboo, 5% elastane

IT'S GOOD Bamboo is naturally anti-microbial, so does not get smelly like other base layers, and this sets it apart from other low-priced options. Bamboo is also a more environmental- and animal welfare-friendly option than other base layers. It dries faster than merino wool too, but not as fast as layers that feature polyester, polyamide or polypropylene, so it is a good material for general walking, so long as you aren’t getting too sweaty. The material also appears a little more durable than merino wool. Flatlocked seams are featured, which is important for this base layer as the fit is quite close and figure-hugging. Also the body is slightly longer than average.

HOWEVER Only being available in black means this base layer will absorb plenty of heat in sunny conditions, so it’s not ideal for wearing in warmer weather. In really hot weather the close fit does not allow much airflow either, which again can make this base layer feel overly warm. It does wick and dry faster than merino wool but synthetic fabrics are better if you are really sweaty. So this is great for mild conditions but others would be better in really hot weather due to colour benefits, looseness of fit and drying performance. 

VERDICT Excellent low-priced option for general hillwalking in mild weather, with outstanding odour control, but others are better in hot weather or during sweatier conditions.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 3/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

Berghaus Tech Tee SS Crew £25

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  • Men’s XS-XXL
  • Women’s 8-18
  • Weight 139g (L)
  • Material Argentium (100% polyester) plus zinc anti-bacterial treatment

 

IT'S GOOD Made from polyester to move moisture rapidly, and with zinc anti-bacterial treatment to keep odours at bay, this base layer offers a lot for a very low price. In test it wasn’t as smelly as other low-priced synthetic layers without odour treatment, and the polyester dried very slightly quicker than the lower-price options too. The seams are all flatlocked, and around the inside back of the collar a smooth overlay of material adds more comfort. The loose fit is great for airflow and comfort when hillwalking in warm weather. 

HOWEVER The silver anti-bacterial treatment is slightly more effective than the zinc anti-bacterial treatment used here, so it isn’t the absolute best for controlling odour compared to those using Polygiene silver for example, or those made from merino wool or bamboo which are far better at controlling odour than any synthetic fabric. The fabric is slightly less stretchy and less soft than some higher-priced designs too, although it is not itchy like merino wool. It is rated as UPF 30+ but you can get higher UV protection if you pay more. Some may prefer a closer, figure-hugging style for fast action and to maximise moisture movement. 

VERDICT A good all-rounder that will suit the needs of most hillwalkers, but improved odour control and a closer fit if desired is available elsewhere.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 54/5
  • In use 3/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

Best for budget from £26 to £25


Montane Dart T–Shirt £26

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  • Men’s XS-XXL
  • Women’s 6-16
  • Weight 101g (M)
  • Material Apex D-Fuse (100% polyester) with Polygiene (silver) anti-microbial treatment

 

IT'S GOOD The relatively low price is instantly appealing, and it is hard to justify paying more when you look at the details of this base layer. The material is soft 100% polyester with Polygiene treatment to manage odour, which would generally be expected with higher price tags. The knit of the fabric wicks sweat and dries as well as the higher-priced options. The seams are flatlocked, so they don’t chafe in hot weather, and you also get an extra panel under the arms so the sleeves fit more neatly. The Medium was snug, but I normally take a Large so I suspect the correct fit will be slightly relaxed rather than too figure-hugging.

HOWEVER There is very little to complain about with this base layer at this price point, as its performance is virtually as good as higher-priced options. However, if you pay more you can get a higher UPF rating of 50+ rather than the 40+ offered here. Also some base layers are available with short neck zips. Like other synthetic base layer, it can’t manage odour as well as merino wool, although this is only important if you can’t wash your base layer for weeks at a time. For my money this is a winner that is hard to beat for hillwalking.

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VERDICT Very well-priced compared to others with similar features, making this a brilliant choice for hillwalkers who don’t need the benefits of merino wool or a zip.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

Jack Wolfskin Hydropore XT £40

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  • Men’s S-XXXL
  • Women’s XS-XXL
  • Weight 164g (L)
  • Material Hydropore (100% polyester) with S.Fresh (Titan Oxide and Silver Chloride) anti-bacterial treatment

 

IT'S GOOD The unique construction of the Hydropore fabric creates small pores and a smoother surface to enhance wicking, so the fabric transports sweat more quickly across its layers than other fabrics and also dries more rapidly. The fabric is also very stretchy and soft against the skin, while an S.Fresh treatment keeps it smelling nice. UV protection is also an enhanced offering, at UPF 50+ (most base layers are 30+). The fit is more relaxed than others too, so this allows a little more airflow around the body, and is more forgiving for those who are more body-shape conscious. 

HOWEVER Other base layers at this price have flatlocked seams for more comfort, and some have an additional panel under the sleeves to provide a neater fit, so this base layer does come across as slightly overpriced in terms of features. The fabric appears to perform slightly better than others at this price, but the difference is small so it all comes down to whether you want the better fabric you get here, or the better seams and an extra under arm panel you get elsewhere for the same price. Also you still get even better odour control with merino wool layers.

VERDICT Improving moisture transport and anti-bacterial performance, but you don’t get the super-smooth seams available elsewhere.

  • Features 3/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

Berghaus Super Tech Tee SS Crew/Super Tech Tee SS Zip £40/£50

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  • Men’s XS-XXL (men’s Super Tech Tee SS Crew)
  • Women’s 8-18 (Women’s Super Tech Tee SS Zip)
  • Weight 108g (M)
  • Materials Argentium Pro (100% polyester) with Polygiene (silver) anti-microbial treatment

IT'S GOOD This base layer is new for 2018 and features Argentium Pro. This has an additional cooling element that causes the fabric to change its performance as you warm up, by becoming extra cooling and extra breathable. You still get the basic polyester wicking performance and the benefit of silver to manage the odour. Extra mesh panels under the arms increase cooling even further. On the body this gives a good general fit and the seams are flatlocked to be smoother against the skin. There are also additional panels under the arms to allow for a closer fit. The £50 women’s option gets a short zip for added ventilation in warm weather. 

HOWEVER Argentium Pro doesn’t actually perform much differently to standard Argentium. Also while you get the benefit of silver to control odour, you still get even better odour control with merino wool, although this is only important if you can’t wash your base layer for weeks at a time. In hot weather a short zip at the collar is ideal, but only women get this option. The UPF rating is only 30+, which is low compared to others. Some base layers have an even longer body and a looser fit which you may prefer. 

VERDICT Excellent general-purpose synthetic base layer with the benefit of Argentium Pro which reacts to your body temperature.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

Best for budget from £51


Icebreaker Tech Lite SS Crew £55

  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 135g (L)
  • Material 87% merino, 13% nylon

IT'S GOOD A high percentage of merino wool in this base layer makes it softer and more comfortable, and boosts its anti-microbial performance so it doesn’t get smelly easily. The relaxed fit allows a little more airflow around the body than closer-fitting designs, making it good for warmer weather when air cooling is important. The body is also a little longer than some, so the back is well protected when bending over and doesn’t ride up easily under a rucksack hip belt. Some nylon in the construction adds a little more durability. A good price compared to other merino base layers.

HOWEVER 

Like other merino wool base layers, it is very slightly itchy, and during sweatier activities such as very warm hillwalking it can become saturated with sweat. Those with more synthetic content tend to dry faster and move water through the layer without saturation occurring, so comfort levels depend on how hot the conditions are. The fit is a little loose, but more athletic
users may prefer a closer fit. The higher-priced options offer smoother seams than these, as well as extra durability from the use of more nylon and less merino wool. These drawbacks are small, however, and for general hillwalking in mild conditions this is a good option at this price. 

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VERDICT Well-priced merino wool base layer that does have some drawbacks, but for many hillwalkers it is a great option with the benefit of great odour control.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 3/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

Arcteryx Pelion Comp Short Sleeve Shirt £75

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  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s n/a
  • Weight 154g (L)
  • Material Nucliex (87% merino wool, 13% nylon), Alatorre (95% nylon, 5% elastane)

IT'S GOOD The bulk of this base layer is made from a blend of merino wool and nylon branded as Nucliex. The high wool content combined with a thinner material makes this feel very soft. The fit is not overly close either, making it feel nice and airy and ideal for warmer climates. The high wool content is naturally anti-microbial, so this base layer doesn’t get smelly as easily as lower-priced options. The inclusion of some nylon improves moisture movement and increases durability. For maximum durability at the shoulders there is a panel of Alatorre, which at 95% nylon will also provide better abrasion resistance under rucksacks.

HOWEVER There is no women’s option, and for this price you don’t even get a neck zip for venting. The high merino wool content means this can wet out a little more easily, as well as be slower to dry than those with more synthetic materials. Also while there is that reinforcement on the shoulders, this is a more delicate material than some others, so some care is needed to prevent it from snagging. While the seams are smooth, some options have fewer seams for an even higher comfort level. Like all high wool content base layers, this is slightly itchy. 

VERDICT A good base layer for hillwalkers in warm weather. It does saturate and stay damp if conditions are too warm, but offers good odour control.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 2/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 72%

Falke Short Sleeved Shirt Wool-Tech £79

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  • Men’s S-XXL
  • Women’s XS-XL
  • Weight 131g (L)
  • Material 55% merino wool, 43% polyamide, 2% elastane

IT'S GOOD Falke claims to use wool that is certified free from the practice of mulesing, and it is sourced and manufactured within Europe to guarantee ethical standards. As well as the merino wool which has the benefit of moisture movement, comfort and anti-microbial benefits, this base layer uses a high percentage of polyamide (nylon) which improves durability but also moisture movement to prevent the wool from becoming saturated with sweat, which can happen in higher-content wool products or during increased activity. The fit is very close and figure hugging, with exceptionally smooth seams throughout so it feels great against the skin. It is ideal for sweatier activities and does not get too smelly. 

HOWEVER The price tag is very high, so it’s disappointing not to get a short neck zip. Also, while some will welcome the figure-hugging fit, others may prefer a looser style, particularly when walking in warmer climates. As there is some nylon in the mix, base layers with just merino wool or bamboo are softer and more comfortable against the skin, although their moisture management is not so good and high wool content can prove itchy. 

VERDICT Outstanding blend of material and seam construction for comfort and moisture movement, but the price may be excessive for general hillwalking.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 2/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%