Why Wear A Base Layer For Hiking? (+ Top Tips for Layering)

Wearing base layer for hiking

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After many years of adventures in the UK and abroad, I now realise the importance of a good base layer for hiking.

Back when I first started hiking, I’d wear whatever was in my drawers and set off on an adventure. But over time, I like to be more comfortable and importantly warm enough when I go out hiking.

Many people talk about the importance of layers for hiking. The theory is that you can cool your body down or warm up by simply taking a layer off or adding one. Pretty obvious, I guess!

Wearing base layer whilst hiking
Wearing a base layer whilst hiking – Helly Hansen Merino Mid

But your base layer is the one closest to your skin so you want to feel comfy and you certainly don’t want to feel wet from sweating. 

Over the last few months I’ve been testing out some of Helly Hansen’s Merino wool and LIFA base layers, both tops and bottoms and I’m impressed with how they compare to other hiking clothes I’ve worn. 

View the Helly Hansen base layer range here.

Base Layers for Hiking

Helly Hansen Base layer for hiking
Keeping warm in my Helly Hansen LIFA Merino base layer

Why wear a base layer for hiking?

As a beginner hiker, you’ll be aware that a waterproof jacket and boots are essential items. But did you know that a base layer is another piece of important clothing to keep you happy whilst you’re hiking?

To be honest, when I first started hiking, I had no clue what a base layer was or the importance of one. A friend once said to me, can’t anything be a base layer, if it’s what you put on first. I guess he had a good point!

A good base layer will allow you to sweat but will absorb the moisture so keep it away from your skin.

Hiking in the UK
Testing out the Helly Hansen base layers

When you’re hiking in the hills and mountains, especially in the UK, the weather can change within minutes, that beautiful blue sky disappears and you’re left with a big black rain cloud. 

In order to keep yourself warm and dry a good base layer will help keep you happy, yes, I know that sounds cheesy! 

For me, my temperature fluctuates the most when I’m hiking uphill, as I’m sure you’ll agree! The higher you climb the hotter you feel with each step you take. But in cooler weather you can’t just de-layer everything, that’s why a good base layer is important.

What is the layering system for hiking?

Ok, I’m talking about base layers but how many layers should you wear for hiking and what should each layer be? 

Ideally, you should be looking at a 3-layer system for hiking, sounds a bit scientific, doesn’t it!

Top half 
  1. Base layer top 
  2. Mid jacket/top – a warm layer
  3. Waterproof jacket or warm down jacket (in cold weather)
Bottom half
  1. Base layer bottoms
  2. Hiking trousers
  3. Waterproof trousers (optional)
Winter hiking in Peak District
Cold day hiking in the Peak District

Depending on the time of year and weather conditions will make a difference on which layers you choose.

For example, during the colder winter months, you’ll want to choose a warm base layer, thicker mid-layer top and winter hiking trousers and either a good waterproof or down jacket, depending on whether it looks like rain!

See an example of my cold weather hiking outfit above. I’m wearing my Helly Hansen LIFA Merino base layer on my top and bottom, with a mid-layer on my top plus hiking jacket, then winter hiking trousers combined with gaiters!

However, in summer months, you might choose a short-sleeved base layer, thinner mid-layer and lightweight waterproof jacket.

If you have any questions about what to wear whilst hiking then let me know in the comments below.

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Wearing base layer for hiking

What to look for when choosing your base layer for hiking?

Hiking in Peak District on winter day
Hiking in Peak District on a winter day
  • Choose a top that is long enough to tuck into your trousers (keeps your back warmer!)
  • Pick a wicking material to absorb any moisture to keep it away from your body
  • Select a lightweight base layer to ensure you’re comfortable. You can add additional layers for extra warmth.
  • For warmth, pick a base layer that fits your arm/leg length too – Nothing worse than cold ankles
  • Crew cut necks are perfect for hiking, keeping your warm from top to bottom!

You can choose which base layer will suit your needs by using Helly Hansen’s ‘Find your base layer‘ option.

This then brings up options to select your warmth requirement and what activity you’ll be wearing the base layer for.

  1. Lightweight warmth or Extra warmth
  2. Low activity or medium/high activity

Why choose a merino wool base layer? 

Helly Hansen merino wool base layer
Helly Hansen Mid Merino wool base layer

Merino wool clothing is made from a natural, renewable fibre which also means you can wash it less and it will also last a long time. This means less water used in washing and fewer clothes going into landfill since your base layers will last much longer.

One thing you don’t notice with Merino wool is that it doesn’t pick up smells, again, yes, I’m talking sweat and body odour. Of course, being a woman I don’t sweat, haha, only joking, but even after a tough all-day hike I still feel clean wearing the Merino Wool.

In fact, I often will wear my Merino Wool base layers for my hike and then keep them on to sleep in overnight when I’m camping.

Helly Hansen base layers

Wearing Helly Hansen base layer whilst hiking
Hiking in the Peak District

Helly Hansen has a range of different base layers you can choose from depending on what sport and the warmth you want from the base layer.

I have been testing out two of their base layers, the Merino Mid and the LIFA Merino, perfect for the colder winter months. But they also have the LIFA and LIFA Active for lightweight warmth.

They have their own product ‘LIFA Stay Warm Technology’ which is a unique fibre invented by Helly Hansen. The design means that LIFA Baselayers ensure that any moisture (ie sweat) is pushed away from the skin, which ultimately keeps you dry and therefore warm.

The synthetic LIFA which makes up the interior of the base layer and then the outer is 100% Merino Wool which ensures you have extra warmth as well as wicking away the moisture.

About Merino Wool from Helly Hansen

Walking in Helly Hansen base layer
Perfect for local walks too

In a world where we are continually trying to make the right decision about what products and clothes we purchase, here’s more about Helly Hansen’s Merino Wool.

The Merino Wool used in the Helly Hansen base layers is sourced ethically from non-mulesed sheep raised in Australia and New Zealand.

You can read more about their Sustainability policies here.

What about wearing a base layer for camping?

Wild camping in the UK
Wild camping in the UK

If you enjoy camping then one thing to ensure you have an enjoyable experience is to make sure you’re warm!

Whether you’re wild camping up a mountain or you have your tent pitched in a campsite it’s handy to have the right gear to keep you warm at night.

I often go wild camping up hills and mountains in the UK, not only do you have stunning views but also the temperature can be cooler the higher up you go.

If you’re wild camping then you need lightweight clothes and gear, because basically, you’ll be carrying everything! I always pack my Merino base layers for my adventures.

Hiking in Peak District
2-day hiking trip in Peak District

Base layers make the perfect sleeping wear for camping trips. They not only keep you warm but it’s handy for a midnight run to the toilet!

And when you’re in a sleeping bag you don’t want to be wearing lots of extra clothes, regular PJs just don’t keep you warm enough so the Merino wool base layers are the best option.

Helly Hansen base layer range

Of course, Helly Hansen has a huge range of base layers on its website, as well as different colours and sizes. The thing I love about their range is the variety of different colours, patterns and styles that everyone for love.

I love my bright colours, you’ll notice the bright pink top I’ve been trying out but they do have darker colours if you’d rather something darker. In addition, Helly Hansen has a mix of stripy tops and patterned bottoms so if you pick and choose something that suits you.

Wearing the Helly Hansen base layer
Wearing the bright pink Helly Hansen base layer

One great thing about choosing a base layer via the Helly Hansen website is that they also have a great guide for choosing what size to fit you.

Once you’ve decided on which base layer you want simply click on the ‘Size Guide’, which then brings up a series of questions, including height, weight, body shape, measurements and what fit you’d like.

My clothes are normally between a size 10-12. After answering the questions I came out as a medium size, which I’m completely happy with.

The base layers are comfortable but also not too tight or loose (see photo above), which allows air to trap between and ultimately keep me warm.

Visit Helly Hansen website for the full range.

What are your thoughts on the best base layer for hiking and camping? Have you tried any of the Helly Hansen range? Tell me in the comments.

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Wearing base layer for hiking

*Becky the Traveller participates in the Amazon Services Associates Programme, as well as other affiliate programmes. If you make a purchase through these, I earn from the qualifying links. This is at no extra cost to you. Read more here.

Helly Hansen provided me with the base layers mentioned in this post. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.




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