The best base layers designed to keep you warm when running in cold weather

·8-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Keeping the motivation up to train when it's chilly outside can be difficult. To keep you warm as you clock up the miles, we've found the best base layers to keep you at an optimum temperature below.

What is a base layer?

Unlike a long-sleeved T-shirt, a base layer will wick sweat away and keep you dry when you’re running. Base layers can be worn in winter and in the summer to help your body regulate your temperature when you’re running. They're designed to fit like a second skin, in the winter, they’ll preserve your body heat and in the summer they’ll wick sweat away, helping you stay cool. Most will also have compression elements to their design.

How we test

To help you element-proof your next run, we’ve put the best base layers for men and women through their paces. The Runner’s World Lab asked a panel of runners to try each one on at least three outdoor runs, rating them on warmth and how dry they kept when working up a sweat.

They also scored each for fit, design and comfort, and put each top through the wash to note any changes in colour and fit. You’ll find their top recommendations below, stamped with the Runner’s World Expert Tested logo.

The remaining base layers have been chosen by the Runner’s World editors, so there’s something for every need and budget.

Running shoes at the ready…

Nike Dri-Fit Women's Running Crew

With smart details including thumb holes, high-vis panels and even a slit to check your watch for those all-important stats, this top from Nike is the crème de la crème of base layers. Scoring highly with our testers, they found the top to be comfortable, a good fit and a decent thickness for staying at an optimum temperature.

Shop now - women's

Runderwear Running Base Layer


Another winner among our testing panel, this one has the added benefit of hand-warming mitts, for those particularly crisp mornings. Our male runners appreciated its streamlined style too, rating the fit and cut of the top highly, while the chafe-free guarantee also checked out.

However, our female panel would have appreciated a little more freedom of movement; some found the fit a little tight, or that it rode up during a run. Pockets for your keys, however, went a long way.

Shop now - men's

Shop now - women's

Adidas Terrex Drynamo Long Sleeve Base Layer T- Shirt

This lightweight number from Adidas performed extremely well with our runners, especially on fit, ventilation and sweat-wicking, making it suitable for everything from leisurely hikes to more demanding runs. Small ventilation holes under the armpits helped maintain optimum body temperature – very smart indeed – while its soft stretchy fabric didn’t cling to the skin when perspiring. Our panel even said it aided their overall performance.

Take note, however, that the torso and sleeves were on the long side for some of our female testers, so it might be best suited to taller runners. Our male panel said it kept them toasty, but may need to stay in the wardrobe once the weather warms up.

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Icebreaker Women's BodyfitZone Merino 150 Zone Long Sleeve Crewe Thermal Top

Made from 80% merino wool, this is one of the more premium tops on our list. Our testers rated it highly for breathability and sweat-wicking capabilities, so it’s ideal if you’re going the distance.

If you’re looking to splash out for race day, you might want to give this a quick whirl in the washing machine first – some of our panel found it was comfier to wear post-wash.

Icebreaker 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Crew Base Layer

If you’re someone who likes to mix things up with other outdoor sweat sessions, like cycling, skiing or hiking, then get your debit card out. Versatility is the order of the day with this base from Icebreaker.

Our testers loved it for a variety of activities, keeping them comfy and at a good temperature throughout. If you like a snug fit, you might want to downsize as this came up large for some.

Montane Men's Dart Zip Neck T-Shirt

If budget is a consideration, then this is a sound choice. Made from 100% recycled polyester, it got a thumbs up for wearability and comfort. However, testers didn’t rate its sweat-wicking capabilities, so it might be best thrown on for recovery runs as opposed to your next fartlek sesh.

Van Rysel Long-Sleeved Base Layer

While it's not a running base layer by name (they called it a cycling base layer), if you're worried about staying warm this winter and want an affordable layer to chuck on before you head out, this is a smart choice and does a great job.

Helly Hansen Lifa Stretch Crew

You’ll probably have seen a lot of runners with striped arms over the years and there’s a good reason why – Helly Hansen know what they’re doing when it comes to base layers. Made with their own ‘Lifa’ technology to keep you warm as you move, this lightweight base layer is breathable, comfortable and insulating for chillier runs. Available in a number of different colourways in both men’s and women’s sizes.

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Lululemon Swiftly Tech Long Sleeve 2.0

A great technical running top to wear as a base layer, or on its own when the weather is milder. It’s insulating without making you feel like you’re overheating in the final few miles, and the fabric is lightweight, with plenty of ventilation. The latest version of Lululemon's high tech base layer, our Deputy Digital Editor was impressed by the changes – the fit is more comfortable, the thumbholes are improved and the top retains its shape wash after wash. Plus, it comes in a number of colours to suit every running wardrobe.

Dhb Merino Long Sleeve Base Layer

A mid-weight merino wool base layer for cold running, this is a great under-layer for your training. Compared to other synthetic running layers, the inner layer of this top is sweat wicking, whilst the outer layer is water repelling, allowing it to absorb a greater amount of moisture before it feels wet. The fit is close to the body, and the layer is available in a number of different colours for both men and women.

Buy now - women’s

Megmeister Drynamo Crew Neck Base Layer

A go-to among team RW when the mercury drops, Megmeister’s baselayers provide serious warmth, super-fast moisture-wicking and great ventilation.

The ergonomic design, with a four-way stretch fabric, allows impressive ease of movement, while the seam-free material means there’s nothing to rub against skin.

Shop – men's

UA IntelliKnit Phantom 2.0 Crew

Under Armour has a range of base layers to help you battle freezing temperatures. This one is probably the best it does and the price reflects that, but it's really suited to the UK winter and built to keep you warm and wick sweat when you're running. It also doesn't feel overly bulky or restrictive on the run.

Shop now - men's

Craft Active Extreme CN Base Layer

Craft has been making base layers for all sorts of sports for many years now, including cross county skiing, and if there was ever a sport in which to perfect a cold-weather base layer, it's that!

For the money, this is a whole heap of base layer that performs really well in cold weather, wicking away sweat before it can make you feel cold and keeping it away. It's form fitting and the flat seams reduce the risk of chaffing.

Zip-neck Bamboo Base Layer

With a high zip-neck for extra warmth when you first head out the door, and extra ventilation when things heat up a bit, this base layer is a great choice for winter running. Made from a super soft jersey material, the bamboo makes this layer extremely absorbent, keeping you dry as you run. There's also thumb holes for extra warmth on days when you forget your running gloves.

Shop now - men's

Shop now - women's


Artilect Women's Goldhill 125 Zoned Crew

A ground-breaking construction process – spinning merino fibres along a high-performance filament – means the Nuyarn fabric used by outdoor innovators Artilect amplifies the merino wool’s natural properties to make it even lighter, more breathable and quicker to dry. We can testify that it performed superbly in a wide variety of conditions.

Soar L/S Merino & Silk T-Shirt Base

The merino and silk blend is beautifully soft on the skin, as well as being warm and fast-wicking. All seams are flat-locked to minimise chafing and the top offers a close fit that still moves really well with your body. Like all the natural-fabric tops here, it’s also anti-bacterial, which helps to keep the wretched post-run whiffs at bay –always a bonus.

Loomi Beta Tec Merino Baselayer

This new British brand is driven by a passion for running and the outdoors – and you can feel the love in these layers. Super fine merino ‘beta spun’ with nylon and elastane delivers warm, breathable, seamless itch-free comfort, along with terrific durability and odour resistance over time. You’ll find yourself reaching for this one again and again.


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