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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.

How We Picked The Best Long Johns

Our selections for the best long johns focus on performance, durability, sustainability, and comfort. We base 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.

Assorted long johns and base layers spread out on mountain overlook
We spent hours on the trail and at the campsite in some of the most popular long johns to find our favorites. Meg Carney

All the base layers we tested for this article were worn during outdoor activities ranging from hiking, backpacking, trail running, and cycling.

Best Long Johns: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Wool Baselayer

Best Overall


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


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


  • Sizing can run a bit small

Smartwool has a large selection of top-tier base layers to choose from. The Smartwool Classic is an excellent choice for anyone, and we chose it as the best overall 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. Note: Smartwool still has products made from 100% Merino if the feel of these isn’t quite right.

Female hiker wearing Smartwool Classic Merino wool base layers playing with dog
These Smartwool base layers were comfortable to wear while hiking, camping, and playing with my pup. Meg Carney

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. You can wash and dry these on a low setting, but we recommend hang drying even Merino wool products to increase longevity. Learn more about Merino wool care.

I’m a big fan of the crewneck base layer with its flatlock seams and flexible fit. The only thing I didn’t love about the Smartwool Classic line is that the leggings seem to run a bit small, and the waist hit too low on my frame. I prefer a higher-waisted legging as that helps keep it in place while doing activities, especially when layered under other clothes.

Most Comfortable


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


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


  • Material snags easy; could improve durability

Ibex has several 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 the itch for the most part. While I was hiking and working, the high-waisted waistband remained snug and never rode down. The nylon core improves elasticity and durability.

Female hiker wearing Ibex Woolies base layer bottoms
I could do almost any activity in the Ibex woolies without worrying about adjusting them. Meg Carney

These leggings and half-zip base layers are designed for an active lifestyle. They have excellent moisture-wicking capabilities and odor control while remaining breathable during intense activity. Even though the fabric is designed to retain warmth very well, it’s lightweight and breathable, which kept me from overheating. It also makes the Woolies ideal for layering. Since these long johns are made from wool, take note of wash/care instructions to improve the product’s lifespan.

As for potential downsides, I noticed they’re a bit scratchier than other wool options like Smartwool and Icebreaker. The durability could also be better, but if you take care of them properly, they will last a long time.

Warmest: Sitka Core Merino 330 Leggings and Sitka Core Merino 330 Half-Zip



  • Material: ArmorSpun Merino Wool exterior, synthetic interior
  • Weight: 8.8 oz
  • Sizes: S – XL


  • Easy care merino wool
  • Very warm
  • Half zip fits well and is stylish
  • Very comfortable for all-day wear


  • Waist on the leggings is low cut and a bit loose-fitting
  • The synthetic mix makes it less odor resistant than merino alone

The Sitka Core Merino 330 Base Layer is an excellent base layer for all hunting seasons, especially the cold ones. 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 a recycled synthetic and merino wool blend, the materials are durable and relatively odor-resistant.

Female hiker wearing Sitka Core base layers while packing her backpack
These Sitka base layers are great for layering when it’s super cold outside. Meg Carney

These work well in a layering system, but I found them the best for cold weather. The leggings and the half-zip are incredibly comfortable, but I wore the half-zip far more than the leggings (partially because of the season) because the fit is a bit off. I would’ve liked them to have a higher waist and one that wasn’t as loose. The loose waist made it hard to keep the leggings in place while hiking or doing other activities. That said, I highly recommend these long johns in cold temperatures when you need to stay warm, whether you’re hunting or camping.

Best for Women: Wild Rye Hailey Half-Zip Base Layer

Best for Women


  • Material: 100% Merino Wool
  • Weight: 230 GSM
  • Sizes: Women’s 0-18


  • Very comfortable fit
  • Nice fabric feel
  • Thumb holes on sleeves
  • Unique prints and colors
  • Versatile clothing piece


  • Price

The Wild Rye Hailey Half Zip might be the most worn base layer item that I own. Not only do I love the color and design, but it is also a highly versatile top suitable for shoulder seasons and winter activities. Since Wild Rye only designs clothing for women, I couldn’t mark it off as the best overall, but it is comparable to the feel and performance of any Smartwool item I’ve owned. Since it is 100% merino wool, I assume it won’t be quite as durable as fabrics with a synthetic blend, but in my opinion, it’s hard to beat the performance of wool, especially in a base layer.

Female hiker wearing Wild Rye Hailey Half-Zip Base Layer
This Wild Rye base layer is easily one of my favorites of all the ones I’ve tested. Meg Carney

The fit and feel of the fabric are comfortable, and the half zip helps vent the top on runs or as the day warms up while hiking. The sleeve length and thumb holes are favorable for layering under a jacket and my preference in a running top. If you want a product designed specifically for active, outdoor women, look no further than Wild Rye. They have other base layer options, including a onesie.

Best Base Layer Combo


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


  • 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


  • 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 Deer Hunting: First Lite Kiln Quarter-Zip

Best for Deer Hunting


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


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


  • 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 Wool: Icebreaker Merino 200 Oasis Thermal Leggings

Best Wool


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


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


  • 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. These thermal long johns are 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 base layers are great for layering, as backpacking sleepwear, or as your go-to fall/winter hunting cold weather apparel.

The waistband on the Icebreaker leggings does an excellent job keeping them in place, even when hiking or moving around camp. I liked the material for layering, and since it is 100% wool, I could wear it backpacking with no issues with odor. Unlike other options, they added almost no bulk when wearing them under other pants. I wish the fit had more variation, but other than that, these are an excellent option.

Best Active Wear: 5.11 PT-R Shield Tight 2.0

Best Active Wear


  • Material: 86% polyester/ 14% elastane jersey
  • Weight: 5.2-oz
  • Sizes: M – 2XL


  • Wicking and anti-odor finish
  • Good anti-chafing design
  • Suitable for active or work wear
  • Comfortable fit and secure waist


  • Made from fully synthetic materials
  • Only available for men

The 5.11 PT-R Shield Tight 2.0 is the active gym-goer’s best friend during the cold winter. Their snug fit and anti-chafing design was a good sell for our male tester. Not only were these great for high-altitude hikes and mountain biking, but they became a go-to option for a base layer under work wear. Since they’re made from synthetic materials, they are easy to clean and highly durable. 5.11 claims the fabrics have anti-odor properties, and so far, our tester can confirm this is true, which is great when you’re sweating during a workout or strenuous hike.

One note: These tights are only available in men’s sizing right now.

Best for Winter Sports: Jack Wolfskin Alpspitze Wool Base Layer

Best for Winter Sports


  • Material: 87% Merino Wool, 13% Polyamide
  • Weight: 5.5 oz
  • Sizes: XS – XL


  • Intentional design for active winter sports
  • Lightweight and comfortable fit
  • Optimal for layering
  • Mostly natural materials
  • Seems durable


  • 3/4 pant length is great for skiing but limits application

The Jack Wolfskin Alpspitze Wool Base Layer is a winter sport’s enthusiasts best friend. The intentions come through well in the design and fit of the clothing, and the material blend is optimal for performance, fit, feel, and durability. I appreciate the shorter 3/4-length design of the tights. When paired with snow socks, they’re perfect for comfort in ski boots. For other activities like running and hiking, I don’t favor the fit.

The lightweight material offers a nice feel under other clothing layers and prevents overheating on more strenuous ascents while still providing enough warmth while stopped or on a descent. These long johns are perfect for anyone looking for a base layer for ski and snowboard season.

Best Budget: Magellan Outdoors Thermal Base Layer Pants

Best Budget


  • Material: 100% polyester
  • Weight: N/A
  • Sizes: S – XXL


  • Affordable price
  • Comfortable fleece lining
  • Well-insulated
  • Decent fit


  • Made from 100% synthetic materials

If you’re in the market for long johns but don’t want to spend that much on a pair of wool ones, the Magellan Outdoors Thermal Base Layer is a decent budget buy. They are made from 100% polyester, which makes them affordable and durable. However, you may be compromising on performance and feel. The waffle fleece lining is comfortable and quite warm, but it doesn’t wick moisture quite as well as wool.

For the price, they are a great option. They’d be warm enough for more stationary activities in cold weather, or if you’re looking to buy some layers for kids bound to tear things up or outgrow them, these will save you some money. Overall, the comfort and fit are decent, but I wish the waist stayed in place a bit better while hiking.

What to Consider When Choosing 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Best Long Johns: Final Thoughts

To choose the final product lineup, I asked myself this question: Which of the base layers I am testing do I gravitate towards in my daily life? While I tried all of them separately and had my partner test the 5.11 tights (they only come in men’s), I noticed a few brands that I started to return to over the month I tested. I may have used the Wild Rye Hailey Half Zip the most and found it the ideal layering option for trail runs, day hikes, and backpacking. I gravitate towards patterns, so the fact that this has patterned sleeves played a role in my choice as well. The next two I used the most were the Smartwool Classic and Ibex Woolies. I liked both for different reasons and found myself wearing them together often.

That said, each base layer on our list is stellar at its job and works well in various layering systems. There were activities that I preferred one over the other, and since I tested in autumn instead of winter, I noticed that some options, like the Sitka Core 330 line, were too warm for my current needs. I look forward to using them in the winter season. Overall, your intended use, body type, and preference in fit and feel play a role in the best long johns for you.

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For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.