We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

Updated Nov 9, 2022 10:56 AM

Picking the best long johns means finding base layers that match your activity and temperatures. Long underwear is ideal for long sits in a deer stand or over an expanse of tip-ups, and a decent base layer also works well for cross-country skiing. Weight, fit, and materials all matter when picking the right thermal underwear. Synthetic blends are popular, as are merino wool base layers, which are far preferable to old-fashioned cotton long johns, which lose insulation when wet. 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 and 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 Overall: Ibex Men’s Woolies Tech Bottoms

Best Overall

Why It Made The Cut: The Ibex Woolies are the best overall base layer pick for their natural comfort, high percentage of wool fibers, and superior performance in various outdoor settings.

Key Features

  • Material: 81% Wool 12% Nylon 7% Elastane
  • Weight: 6.5 oz
  • Available Sizes: S – XXL

Pros

  • Flatlock seam to reduce chafing
  • Primarily wool fibers
  • Nylon core improves durability
  • Ideal comfort and temperature regulation

Cons

  • Material snags easy; could improve durability

Ibex has a few different base layer options, but the Woolies are our top pick. The snug, natural feel of the leggings improves overall comfort, and although the materials are mainly wool, the merino wool reduces any itch. The waistband remains sung and doesn’t ride down while working on a hike, and the nylon core improves elasticity and durability. Overall, the durability could be better, but if well taken care of, they will last a long time.

These leggings are designed for an active lifestyle. They have excellent moisture-wicking capabilities and odor control while remaining breathable even during intense activity. Even though it is designed to retain warmth and does so very well, the breathability and fabric weight prevents you from overheating. Since these long johns are made from wool, take note of wash/care instructions to improve the product’s lifespan.

Runner Up: Sitka Core Lightweight Base Layer

Runner Up

Why It Made The Cut: The Sitka Core is a lightweight base layer with a high level of performance and durability.

Key Features

  • Material: 100% Polyester
  • Weight: 5.1 oz
  • Available Sizes: S – 3XL

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Quick dry fabric
  • Excellent for layering
  • Polygeine technology for odor control

Cons

  • Made from 100% synthetic materials

The Sitka Core Lightweight Base Layer is an excellent base layer for all hunting seasons. As a part of their core clothing line, this base layer has a snug, performance fit that helps move moisture away from the skin to keep you warm and dry. Made from polyester, the materials are pretty durable. Although synthetics are known for holding onto odors, polygiene technology was added to combat this. Polygiene is a permanent fabric treatment that adds love concentrations of silver salt to neutralize the smell.

These work well for all seasons in a layering system, but they are a bit thinner than cold-weather-specific options. These are not the right pair for you if you plan to be outdoors in extremely cold weather. These are a performance-wear pair of leggings designed to insulate and wick moisture away from the skin during moderate to strenuous activity, such as hiking.

Best Base Layer Combo: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Base Layer

Best Base Layer Combo

Why It Made The Cut: The Patagonia Capilene is made from recycled materials and a well-performing top and bottom base layer that you can easily add to any layering system.

Key Features

  • Material: 100% Recycled Polyester
  • Weight: N/A
  • Available Sizes: XS – XL

Pros

  • Available in men’s and women’s sizes
  • Meets bluesign® criteria and is Fair Trade Certified™ 
  • Flatlock seam to minimize chafing
  • Can be worn as a base layer or as leggings

Cons

  • Be careful with sizing; the pant legs tend to run short

The Patagonia Capilene base layer is available as pants and as a top. Pair them together for a comfortable and effective layering system. Although the one featured in the product card above is women’s, it is also available for men with different sizing and styling. Made from 100% recycled materials and bluesign® fabric, the polyester materials are classically moisture-wicking and durable. Expect having to wash these less often with the HeiQ Fresh odor control.

We like the versatility of these as a base layer because they can also function as leggings. They have a thick waistband to provide a secure fit, even while hiking or working. The smooth face of the fabric makes layering easy, while the internal diamond grip pattern helps trap heat against your skin. You will have no problem staying warm and dry with the breathability and wicking performance of the top or bottoms in the Capilene base layer line.

Best for Women: Smartwool Classic All-Season Base Layer

Best for Women

Why It Made The Cut: The Smartwool Classic All-Season Base Layer is an excellent pick for anyone, and their women’s variety is the perfect balance in comfort, mobility, and fit.

Key Features

  • Material: 87% Merino Wool, 13% Nylon
  • Weight: 5.2 oz
  • Available Sizes: XS – XL

Pros

  • Nylon core adds durability to the fibers
  • Comfortable against skin
  • Regulates body temperature well
  • Lightweight yet warm

Cons

  • Sizing can run a bit small

Smartwool has a large selection of top-tier base layers to choose from. The Smartwool Classic All-Season Base Layer is an excellent choice for anyone, and we chose it as the best women’s option due to the fit, comfort, and range of motion available with the materials. They used to be made from 100% Merino, and the nylon core changed the overall feel of the leggings. Smartwool does have products made from 100% Merino if the feel of these isn’t quite right. Although there are full Merino base layer options from Smartwool, the nylon core adds to the durability and longevity of the garment.

We also like that while they are made from mostly wool, the care is relatively easy. These can be washed and dried on low, but we recommend hang drying even Merino wool products to increase longevity. Learn more about Merino wool care.

Best for Extreme Cold Weather: Minus33 Merino Wool 707 Yukon Men’s Expedition

Best for Extreme Cold Weather

Why It Made The Cut: Minus 33 Expedition weight base layer is 100% Merino Wool designed for temperatures 30°F to 0°F.

Key Features

  • Material: 100% 18.5 Micron Merino Wool
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • Available Sizes: XS – 4XL

Pros

  • All natural materials
  • Insulates when wet
  • UPF rating of 50+
  • Good for high and low activity temperatures

Cons

  • Crew neckline can feel a little high

In the wool business since 1916, L.W. Packard introduced the Minus 33 brand in 2002, initially 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. These shirts are an excellent option for just wearing around camp after the hunt.

Best for Deer Hunting: First Lite Men’s Kiln

Best for Deer Hunting

Why It Made The Cut: The Kiln base layer will see you through a day in the deer woods, no matter what you’re doing.

Key Features

  • Material: 95% Wool, 5% Spandex
  • Weight: 13 oz
  • Available Sizes: S – XXL

Pros

  • 1/4 zip for added ventilation option
  • Flatlock seam to reduce chafing
  • Several color design options
  • Excellent temperature and odor regulation

Cons

  • Looser fit than other base layers (can be a pro)

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.

Best for Active Sports: Under Armour ColdGear Compression Mock Shirt

Best for Active Sports

Why It Made The Cut: Form fitting compression ColdGear provides warmth with no bulk at all.

Key Features

  • Material: 87% Polyester, 13% Elastane
  • Weight: N/A
  • Available Sizes: S – 3XL

Pros

  • Fitted and Loose options also available
  • 4-way stretch material
  • Dual layer fabric for warmth and moisture wicking
  • Inentional seam placement to reduce chafing

Cons

  • Made from all synthetic fibers

UnderArmour’s ColdGear is made from a stretchy, polyester, and elastane 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. UnderArmour also has the same shirt design but in fitted and loose options if the compression fit is not suitable for you. Made to wick moisture and perspiration away from your body, this is ideal thermal clothing for strenuous activities.

Best Wool: Icebreaker Oasis Thermal Leggings

Best Wool

Why It Made The Cut: The Icebreaker Oasis Leggings are lightweight, soft with a snug fit, and plenty of mobility for active wear.

Key Features

  • Material: 100% Merino Wool
  • Weight: 7.04 oz
  • Available Sizes: S – XXL

Pros

  • Keeps you warm and dry naturally
  • Snug, comfortable fit
  • Versatile use
  • Excellent odor resistance for extended wear

Cons

  • Pant leg fit can be short for some wearers

If you are set on natural fibers like Merino wool, then the Icebreaker Oasis Thermal Leggings must be at the top of your list. This thermal base layer is comfortable, odor-resistant, and high performing. The fit is generally just right for most folks, but if you are taller, the legs might be short, so we recommend looking into sizing before you buy. These are great for layering, as backpacking sleepwear, or your go-to fall/winter hunting cold weather apparel.

Best Budget: 32 DEGREES Men’s Heat Long Sleeve Crew Neck

Best Budget

Why It Made The Cut: 32 Degrees offers affordable base layers to keep you warm all winter.

Key Features

  • Material: 41% Polyester, 33% Acrylic, 22% Rayon, 4% Spandex
  • Weight: N/A
  • Available Sizes: S – XL

Pros

  • Very affordable price
  • Easy care
  • Lightweight materials
  • Work well for layering

Cons

  • Questional durability
  • Made from synthetic materials

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.

Things to Consider Before Buying 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.

Activity Level

If you are moving around and working up a sweat, that perspiration must go somewhere, or you’ll get cold quickly. Any good merino or synthetic wicks moisture, but a body-mapped garment 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 activewear, too, because you can open it to vent excess heat.

Temperature

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 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 not to 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 ice fishing or doing anything in extremely cold conditions, get long johns designed for such use.

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 while sitting still and wick moisture when 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 wear your top as your only layer, so camo colors help you stay hidden from the game even if you remove some layers.

Athletes

Cold-weather athletes have special base layer needs. Runners, cyclists, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers need warmth without bulk. Their base layer will work as hard as they do to wick sweat away from their skin. Tight, compression-fitted thermal underwear permits freedom of movement and easy layering. Elite athletes wear compression gear in all seasons to reduce fatigue and muscle soreness and boost their performance.

Price

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 wear for weekend outings will be uncomfortably hot at the office. You might need a few sets to get through the winter, which 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 they will keep you warm.

FAQs

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.

Q: How do I wash long underwear?

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing any clothing. How to wash and dry the base layer often depends on the materials. If they are made from wool, they will have different care instructions than a synthetic base layer.

Q: Is there a difference between long johns and thermal clothing?

Traditionally, long johns are made from thinner materials, and thermal clothing is thicker. Now, the terms are used somewhat interchangeably or regionally. Some people may only refer to cotton thermal sleepwear as long johns and base layers as thermal clothing.

Q: Are long johns water repellent?

No, long johns are not designed to be water repellent, but they should draw moisture away from your skin and dry quickly to improve temperature regulation.

Final Thoughts

The best long johns 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 pick the right weight and style for your cold-weather activities. We did our best to include various options to fit everyone’s intended use and budget. Even if you didn’t find the perfect fit on our list, we hope you can use the buying considerations to guide your shopping experience.

How We Made Our Picks

Our selections for the best long johns were based on performance, durability, and comfort. We based these decisions on information collected from product testing, company-specific information, verified customer reviews, and general knowledge of textile performance and impact. Although there are inclusions of synthetic materials on the list, we lean heavily towards natural materials as they are renewable and far more sustainable.