If you’re like me and use shell (non-insulated) snowboard jackets and pants, then you’ll know the importance of layering.
Choosing the right base layers for snowboarding is often overlooked but it’s still really important for ensuring your day on the mountain will be as enjoyable as possible.
And even if you have insulated outerwear, you’ll still often have to layer, when it gets really cold – and at least one base layer for the top is usually necessary regardless – we don’t typically wear a jacket directly against our skin. And just using a stock standard cotton t-shirt is not a good idea, as we’ll see below.
But Getting Back to Using a Shell
Using shell outerwear keeps you nimble and able to adapt depending on the weather. On those warm days, you can prevent yourself from overheating by using minimal layers underneath your shell jacket and pants.
And then when it gets colder you can layer appropriately.
But base layers are still important even for those who never really see warm days and have insulated outerwear. Even insulated outerwear needs helping out with base layers when things get really cold.
Snowboarding in -25°F (-30°C) temperatures can still be enjoyable when you’re prepared, as can snowboarding in 50°F (10°C) temperatures!
What Are the Worst Materials for Base Layers?
The material of your base layer is critical. Get the wrong material and it can backfire. You may end up colder than without the base layer – and almost certainly more uncomfortable.
This is an area where cotton is a no go.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll know that sweat can, and often does, happen when you snowboard. When this happens, you need a fabric that will wick that sweat away.
Cotton is not a very breathable material and will soak up all your sweat. When you stop (i.e. on the lift ride – or if you take a break for a coffee, meal etc.) then that sweat gets cold – and now you’re just wearing a wet cotton t-shirt – not a recipe for staying warm!
So, should I wear cotton or something similar on a warm day?
Still not a good idea. When it’s really warm, having a breathable fabric is just as important.
a. you’ll be sweating more and b. with a non-breathable fabric you’ll get even hotter.
So, What Are the Best Materials for Base Layers?
OK, I’m going to state the obvious here, but you want something breathable!
Something that effectively wicks away sweat to keep you dry.
Personally, my favorite material for this is Merino.
Merino Base Layers
Merino is really breathable and comfortable and I’ve found it to be the perfect base layer material.
And don’t worry, Merino wool doesn’t feel scratchy or harsh like you’d think of for a traditional wool sweater. Merino is nice and soft and really comfortable to have against your bare skin.
Other Material Options
Some other materials that are also used in base layers – sometimes these, and Merino, are used together in a combo-fabric. From a quick bit of research I found that the most common materials for base layers, in order, were:
- Polyester: Often but not always mixed with other materials, like Merino, Polypropele and Nylon but sometimes 100% Polyester. And often mixed with something like Elastane, Lycra or Spandex for that stretchiness.
- Elastane/Spandex: As the names suggests, this material makes fabric more elastic. It’s not a material that’s used exclusively but added to other materials (like Merino, Nylon and Polyester) to add to the stretchiness of the material.
- Nylon: Typically mixed with other materials though – most commonly Merino, Polyester, Wool and Elastane)
- Polypropylene: Less popular than it once was, you can still find polypropylene base layers, but like most here, it’s often mixed with other materials, most commonly Merino and Polyester. Though you can still get 100% Polypropylene items.
- Bamboo (Rayon): Yes bamboo is used in some base layers! I haven’t seen anything that’s 100% bamboo, but some that are 60%+ Rayon from bamboo.
And when I say weight, I don’t mean how much the items weigh (though items with more “weight” do tend to weigh more – confused yet?) but rather how much insulation they provide, how much warmth essentially.
I typically like to go with a lightweight base layer to start – and if it’s warm that will be my only base layer. Only if it’s cold will I add a second heavier layer – a mid-layer. And sometimes I just use two light base layers if it’s reasonably cold but not that cold.
But everyone is different and some run hotter or colder – and are in different conditions – and some have shell outerwear and some have insulated outerwear. So what you need may be different depending on these factors.
Types of Base Layers
Base layers typically come in the following:
- Full Length Bottoms
- ¾ Length Bottoms
- Short Bottoms (though not very common)
- Long Sleeve Tops
- Short Sleeve Tops (though these are much less common)
- Hoody Tops
- Ninja suits (one-piece)
What Base Layers Do You Need for Snowboarding?
How many and what type you go with depends on various factors including:
- How hot or cold you run. Some people naturally stay warmer and other naturally get cold more easily
- The typical temperatures you face at your resort
- Whether you have a shell jacket/pants or if you they are insulated
Let’s look at some of the potential base and mid-layers you might need for snowboarding.
This is what I personally like to have in my arsenal.
- 1 long sleeved merino top
- 1 short sleeved merino top
- 1 ¾ length bottoms
- 1 hoody mid-layer
Even though they’re not that common, I like to have a short-sleeved top. If I’m going to double up on two lightweight layers, and it’s not a super cold day and don’t want to go with my hoody mid-layer, then having the short sleeve over a long sleeve works well, IMO. In that case I don’t want to double up on my sleeves, but want a bit of extra warmth around my torso.
I prefer ¾ length bottoms if I’m going with a base layer on the bottom at all. I find this works well, with socks pulled up over the ends.
But full-length bottoms work too and even shorts, if you just want that extra warmth around your upper half. Though I do find that having that extra warmth around my knees on a cold day is nice, which shorts don’t provide. Which is likely why they’re not very common.
I stick with just a lightweight bottom as I never feel the need to have too much warmth on my bottom half but some people prefer a heavier-weight option.
Base Layers tend to be quite form fitting. But aren’t usually super tight like compression wear or anything. Having your base layers fit fairly close to your skin though is a good idea, so as not to add too much bulk under your outerwear.
Because they do tend to fit so close to the skin, base layers with low profile seams which you don’t feel (or at least that don’t irritate) is important for comfort.
Prices tend to range from:
- Around $40 to $200 for tops full price
- Around the same range for bottoms
- Around $100 to $200 for one-piece
These prices are based on men’s and women’s base layers. Kid’s stuff tends to be a little cheaper on average – more like $30 to $70 per item.
Snowboarding Profiles’ Top Choices
Below are what we’ve selected as great options for each type of base layer described above.
BEST MEN’S LONG SLEEVE LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER TOP
BEST WOMEN’S LONG SLEEVE LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER TOP
BEST MEN’S SHORT SLEEVE LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER TOP
BEST WOMEN’S SHORT SLEEVE LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER TOP
Again the same top above also comes in a women’s version.
BEST MEN’S MID TO HEAVY-WEIGHT TOP
BEST WOMEN’S MID TO HEAVY-WEIGHT TOP
BEST MEN’S LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER BOTTOM ¾ LENGTH
BEST WOMEN’S LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER BOTTOM ¾ LENGTH
BEST MEN’S LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER BOTTOM FULL LENGTH
BEST WOMEN’S LIGHTWEIGHT BASE LAYER BOTTOM FULL LENGTH
Whilst choosing base layers for snowboarding is an important task, it’s pretty easy and there’s not much that can go too wrong. Just make sure to steer clear of the likes of Cotton – make sure the fabric is breathable and does a good job of wicking away sweat. And get something that is in a size that fits fairly close to the skin and with comfortable seams.
Personally, I prefer Merino – either 100% Merino or a blend that has Merino in it. Merino is really common now, so there’s a huge selection of options you can go with.
Check out our selections for what we think are great options above, but there are many other suitable options too, depending on what you’re looking for.