Base Layers

In our house everyone has at least one base layer set packed as our emergency/backup clothing. A base layer doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive it just has to get the job done and the job at hand is keeping bodies warm.

Once upon a backpacking trip, three friends with their three children under the age of 7 went on an adventure to Joffre Lake back then there was still a glacier there.

We took two days to do an out and back hike and the children had a blast exploring the varied terrain and the novelty of eating everything we had to offer them. That is until we had to pack up camp in the rain….

It was wet and miserable.

The children were wet and miserable.

Except one.

My daughter skipped and hopped and danced around the camp wearing only a Stripes base layer a wool hat while the rest of us grumbled and warmed our cold hands on our thermos’.

She wore that base layer for the rest of the day and all the way home in the car.

She slept in it that night.

And when I finally peeled her out of it the following morning she was cozy and happy.

It did take two days and a lot of convincing to get her into that base layer. She was a very sensory sensitive kid who wore specially sourced socks and very specific clothing but once she discovered how comfortable she was outside in it there were no more battles.

It was worth every ounce of my effort and every penny. Even back then I think it was $50 for the set.

A base layer is something that I have rarely been able to thrift or buy used, I’m not sure why. It seems to be pretty universal around BC because I do look where ever I travel. Which means to have one I’ve had to purchase them. As a single parent living on the poverty line it is always hard to shell out $40 for a top that I know my child is going to outgrow.

But I do because I know it means freedom to play & explore the outdoors.


Base layers either provide one of two things: warmth or moisture wicking. Here we are talking about warmth.
A good base layer is made of one of three main fabrics:

  • wool
  • polyester
  • silk

Silk is the most expensive and in my limited experience the least insulative. It is excellent for sensitive skin and can be very useful in some situations.
Polyester is the most versatile and most affordable but comes with the plastic problem.
Wool is my preferred choice as it is superior in all ways.

If you’d like to learn more about choosing base layers REI has written an excellent how to article. This is more of a buying guide.

My son 2009

Buying Base Layers

Base layers are one gear item where function (warmth) isn’t affected much from brand to brand so cost can reign king.

Some other factors that play into base layers are fit, feel and longevity.

  1. Scoring top points in all of those areas and with a price tag to match would be Patagonia Capilene. I have seen capilene items that have been handed down through 4 decades of children. If you have more than one child this is well worth the investment.
  2. Runner up would be MEC’s base layers for children if you can catch them when they are not sold out. They make a synthetic and a wool version. One thing to note about both is that they have a tendency to run so fix snags right away.
  3. Stripes is a BC company based in Comox and also have superior durability. We’ve handed ours through several families now and they look much like the first time I washed them. They fit VERY tightly and can feel a bit scratchy for sensory sensitive children.
    Super bonus 10% of your purchase supports our scholarship fund 🙂
  4. Mountain Warehouse has the middle road option with wool base layers for $25 a piece or sometimes less!

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