Picking the best long johns means finding base layers that match your activity and the temperature you’re planning to be out in. Long underwear that’s ideal for long sits in a deer stand or over an expanse of tip-ups might not be the right choice for cross-country skiing. Weight, fit and materials all matter when it comes to picking the right thermal underwear. Synthetic blends are popular, as are merino wool base layers, both of which are far preferable to old fashioned cotton long johns, which lose insulation value when they get wet or sweaty. Hikers call cotton “death cloth” and have learned to trust wool and synthetics that wick moisture away from the body, keeping you dry and comfortable.
While synthetics are generally more durable and cost less than wool, some retain odor, making them a smelly choice if you have to wear the same base layer for several days. Merino wool is soft, comfortable and stays fresh longer. Finally, remember that the best long johns for you are the ones that fit well, not too tight, but fitting close to the skin where they can do their job of wicking moisture.
- Best Moisture Wicking Long Johns: Cabela’s E.C.W.C.S. Thermal Zone Base-Layer Quarter-Zip Long-Sleeve
- Best Extreme Cold Weather Long Johns: Minus33 Merino Wool 707 Yukon Men’s Expedition Weight Crew
- Best Long Johns for Deer Hunting: First Lite Men’s Kiln
- Best Long Johns for Active Sports: UnderArmour ColdGear Compression
- Best Cheap Long Johns: 32 DEGREES Men’s Heat Long Sleeve Crew Neck
Features to Consider When Shopping For Long Johns
How do you choose thermal clothing? Price and comfort play a part in finding the best pair of long johns. It’s most important, though, to match your long underwear needs to your outdoor activity and the temperature. Think about what you’ll be doing in them. If you’re sitting in a duck blind or deer stand in below-freezing temps you’ll want a different base layer than when you’re walking pheasant fields or grouse woods when it’s in the 40s. Keep that activity foremost in mind when shopping, because thermal underwear varies widely in material and construction.
Will You Be Active When Wearing the Long Johns?
If you’ll be moving around and generating perspiration, that perspiration needs to go somewhere or else you’ll get cold quickly. Any good merino or synthetic wicks moisture, but a body-mapped garment—one that uses different weights of materials in different places—is best. It will retain heat in some critical areas and release it in others. A quarter zip top works well for active wear, too, because you can open it to vent excess heat.
Best Moisture Wicking Long Underwear: Cabela’s E.C.W.C.S. Thermal Zone Base-Layer Quarter-Zip Long-Sleeve
This base layer is body mapped to combine maximum insulation with minimum bulk. Cabela’s
Designed for the military, this base layer is made to keep you warm and wick moisture in demanding conditions anywhere in the world. Bulky only where it has to be, the E.C.W.C.S. base layer (Extended Cold-Weather Clothing System) top layers easily under winter clothing. The all-synthetic material contains 4MOST INHIBIT to reduce odor. The quarter zip design lets you quickly vent excess heat.
Will You Be in Extreme Cold?
Extreme cold demands heavyweight base layers. The natural loft of merino wool traps air very efficiently, making it warmer than synthetics of equal weight. While synthetics may dry faster, merino is warmer and more comfortable when it does get wet.
While lambswool is actually warmer than merino wool, it’s too scratchy to be worn next to the skin. To be effective a base layer has to fit closely enough to carry away moisture but should be flexible enough to not restrict your movement.
Most manufacturers reserve the term “expedition weight” for their heaviest base layers. Merino base layer weight is expressed in grams per square meter of fabric. Ultralight base layers are made of 150 g/m2 fabric, while anything over 250 g/m2 is considered heavyweight. If you’re going to be ice fishing, or doing anything in extremely cold conditions, get long johns designed for such use.
Best Extreme Cold Weather Long Johns: Minus33 Merino Wool 707 Yukon Men’s Expedition Weight Crew
Minus 33 Expedition weight base layers put a thick layer of merino warmth between you and the cold. Minus33
In the wool business since 1916, L.W. Packard introduced the Minus 33 brand in 2002, originally marketing their warm base layers to snowmobilers, who face brutal wind chills as they speed through the cold. The Expedition Weight pieces have survived the extreme cold of Everest. Made of heavy, 400 g/m2 merino wool they are cut to a regular fit that is neither super-tight like some synthetics, but not so loose that it’s difficult to layer over. This makes these shirts a great option for just wearing around camp after the hunt.
Will You Be Deer Hunting?
Thermal leggings and a top are an essential foundation of any outfit for hunting deer, and have to satisfy several requirements. A day in the woods might start with a long hike to your stand, where you’ll sit for several hours. You may climb down to still hunt at mid-day before sitting again in the evening. Your base layer has to keep you warm when you’re sitting still, and wick moisture when you’re moving.
A stinky base layer will give you away immediately to any game that wanders downwind, so a garment that doesn’t collect odor is a plus, both in the woods and back at the cabin.
Finally, on warm days or when you’re particularly active, it’s handy to be able to wear your top as your only layer, so camo colors help you stay hidden from game even if you remove some layers.
Best Long Johns for Deer Hunting: First Lite Men’s Kiln
The Kiln base layer will see you through a day in the deer woods, no matter what you’re doing. First Lite Men’s Kiln
Made of 95% merino wool with 5% spandex woven into a warm, high-loft 250 gram fabric, the Kiln long john shirt can be worn on its own, as a mid-layer, or paired with Kiln thermal leggings as a base layer. Available in three solid colors as well as First Lite’s own Fusion and Cipher camo patterns, the Kiln base layer helps you stay hidden. A quarter-zip lets you open the throat for ventilation once you fill your tag and the hard work of packing out your deer begins.
Will You Be Extremely Active?
Cold weather athletes have special base layer needs. Runners, cyclists, snow-shoers and cross-country skiers need warmth without bulk. Their base layer will work as hard as they do to wick perspiration away from their skin. Tight, compression-fitted thermal underwear permits freedom of movement and easy layering. Elite athletes wear compression gear in all seasons because it reduces fatigue and muscle soreness and boosts their performance.
Best Long Johns for Active Sports: Under Armour ColdGear Compression Mock Shirt
Form fitting compression ColdGear provides warmth with no bulk at all. Courtesy Under Armour
UnderArmour’s ColdGear is made from a stretchy, polyester/Lycra material that moves as you do. Made to fit tight both for layering and to provide the benefits of compression wear, ColdGear has a warm, brushed inside finish. Made to wick moisture and perspiration away from your body, this is ideal thermal clothing for strenuous activities.
Best Budget Long Johns: What You Get For Under $50
If you wear base layers day after day, you’ll want more than one. You’ll want different weights for different purposes, too. The expedition-weight long underwear you put on for weekend outings will be uncomfortably hot at the office. You might need a few sets to get through the winter, and that can add up. Find a good budget brand that meets your needs and you can put together a base layer wardrobe. Even inexpensive brands will wick away moisture to keep you comfortable. The construction and durability may not equal that of top brands, but it will keep you warm.
Best Cheap Long Johns: 32 DEGREES Men’s Heat Long Sleeve Crew Neck
32 Degrees offers affordable base layers to keep you warm all winter. 32 DEGREES
Made from a synthetic blend, 32 Degrees base layers give you performance on a budget. This is definitely no-frills outdoor gear. You don’t get the option of a quarter-zip, it’s not scent-controlling, and the material can snag. But it sells for a price so low you practically can’t afford not to buy it, and it will wick moisture away from your body and keep you warm and comfortable.
Q: How do I choose long underwear?
Choose long underwear that’s appropriate for your cold weather needs. Make sure you select the right weight for the temperature, and think about your activity levels, too. The base layer that’s perfect for sitting still in a deer stand may be too warm for a hike.
Q: What material is best for the base layer?
The best material for the base layer depends on what you’re using it for. Avoid cotton, which doesn’t wick moisture and will chill you quickly if you sweat. Merino wool is currently popular because it wicks, it’s warm, and doesn’t immediately hold odors the way synthetics can. Synthetic materials also wick moisture and usually cost less than wool.
Q: Should long johns be tight or loose?
Base layers perform best when they fit close to your skin. Except for compression-wear for very active sports, you don’t need a perfectly skin-tight fit, but it shouldn’t be loose and should fit under mid- and outer layers without bulk.
A Final Word On Shopping For the Best Long Johns
The right base layer will play a huge part in keeping you warm and comfortable in the cold, but it has to match your activity level. Merino wool and synthetics both perform well. Decide what fits your budget and be sure to pick the right weight and style for your cold weather activities.