8 mins

6 of the best thermals for travellers

Heading north to gaze at the aurora? South for an Antarctic expedition cruise? No matter how cold it gets, these cosy thermals will keep you toasty and warm...

Dress appropriately for the environment (Dreamstime)

Thermals are essential for travellers braving icy conditions, so we asked gear manufacturers to submit the thermals that they felt were most suitable for travellers.

From the 10 sets we were sent, our editor-at large, Phoebe Smith, took them out on the road to see which thermals were the very best.

All are available in men’s and women’s specific fits, with the different names indicated if applicable. The ‘Value Buy’ and ‘Best in Test’ are also indicated. Weights for all items are based on a UK women’s size 10 (top) and 12 (bottoms).

Here are the best thermals for travellers...

BAM long-sleeve baselayer and leggings (BAM)

BAM long-sleeve baselayer and leggings (BAM)

BAM: Long-sleeve Baselayer & Enduro Deep Waistband Leggings / Zip Neck Bamboo Baselayer & Training Leggings

£70 (top), £55 (bottoms)

Made from a mix of bamboo, organic cotton and elastane, the first thing you notice is that these baselayers are super soft to touch. The fabric is not only good at moving sweat away from skin but, like merino, has naturally occurring antibacterial properties to stop it smelling. All the seams are flatlocked, though not all sit flat against the fabric and I was quite aware of them compared to others. They also sit close to the body, to keep you warm, but have the added advantage of thumb loops on the sleeves. With a 340gsm fabric – classed as heavy – they hit the scales at a combined weight of 486g (the heaviest on test).

Verdict: Soft and well fitting, but the weight will not suit very energetic activities.

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Craghoppers long-sleeve top and luna leggings (Craghoppers)

Craghoppers long-sleeve top and luna leggings (Craghoppers)

Craghoppers: Nosilife Coast Long-sleeve Top & Luna Leggings / Bayame Long-sleeve Tee

£40 (top), £50 (bottoms) / £35 (top)

Craghoppers is known for its tropical-climate clothing, so it’s to be expected that these thermals are also impregnated with NosiLife, which keeps biting insects away. You may not think you’d need it in the Arctic, but flies there can be relentless. All are mostly made from polyester, with the advantage of a UPF ‘SolarShield’ of 50. Moisture control moves sweat away from the skin and the fabric is quick-drying and super stretchy. They are a little heavier than some (a combined weight of 412g; fourth lightest on test), and though all seams are flatlocked, not all are flat to the fabric. But it should be noted that, for now, there are no men’s leggings available.

Verdict: Great for warmth and protection from biters.

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Merino Union 150 top and travel leggings (Rohan)

Merino Union 150 top and travel leggings (Rohan)

Rohan: Merino Union 150 Top and Union 200 Travel Leggings / Merino Union 150 Crew & Leggings

£59 (top); £45 (bottoms) / £49 (top); £49 (bottoms)

Pay a little more and you enter merino wool territory – albeit with a 37% polyester mix to help with durability while still being anti-smell. The women’s versions are lightweight on top and more midweight on the bottom; the men’s versions are lightweight on both. And weight is noticeable (323g combined) as these are the second-lightest here. When it comes to seams, they are all flatlocked (though not all flat against the fabric). I found the fit a little looser than others, and the women’s collar is a turtleneck (good for keeping you warm) and has a handy zipped security pocket on the left side; the men’s version is a crew neck and has no pockets.

Verdict: A good price for the fabric and weight, but the fit may be a bit loose for some.

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Merino 120 long-sleeve zip tee and pants (Rab)

Merino 120 long-sleeve zip tee and pants (Rab)

Rab: Merino 120 Long-sleeve Zip Tee and Pants – Wanderlust value buy

£70 (top), £55 (bottoms)

Using a mix of ultra-fine merino wool with 35% polyester (called Merino+), Rab has managed to create not only a warm baselayer but also an incredibly lightweight one (at a combined weight of 245g, making it the lightest on test by a long way). All seams are both flatlocked and flat to the fabric, though I found the material not as soft as the higher-end products. It is naturally good at wicking sweat away from your skin, and the inclusion of a zip (with a chinguard for comfort) means you can control your temperature easier. The fit is nice and close without feeling restrictive, and it’s quick drying and anti-odour, too.

Verdict: A great-value merino mix that’s lightweight; but if you’re headed somewhere really cold, more warmth may be needed.

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Arc'teryx satoro shirt and bottom (Arc'teryx)

Arc'teryx satoro shirt and bottom (Arc'teryx)

Arc'teryx: Satoro AR Zip Neck Shirt LS and Bottom

£110 (top), £80 (bottoms)

The price shoots up here because you’re getting extra warmth. Classed as a midweight baselayer (180gsm), these will keep you warm yet are still very light (350g combined weight – third lightest on test). Arc’teryx has gone for their own trademark mix of merino wool: each yarn is wrapped around a nylon core, adding durability and flex, so that it keeps its shape after lots of washing as well as being very efficient at moisture control. The fit is close but on the right side of tight. The sleeves are also a great length and tightness at the cuff, and not prone to riding up. The zip helps regulate temperature but has no chinguard. The seams are flatlocked and don’t rub.

Verdict: A well-featured, warm yet lightweight, durable option – but you do pay for it.

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Smartwool Merino 250 Asym top and bottom (Smartwool)

Smartwool Merino 250 Asym top and bottom (Smartwool)

Smartwool: Merino 250 Asym Top & Bottom / Pattern Crew & Bottom – Wanderlust best in test

£111 (top), £93 (bottoms) / £95 (top), £85 (bottoms)

Let’s not gloss over it, these are an expensive option, but they are definitely the most comfortable on test. It’s almost hard to believe it’s 100% wool, as there’s not a hint of scratch from the fabric. They are also heavier – second heaviest (combined weight 470g) – but then they are classed as a heavyweight baselayer, designed to be worn on their own in cold climates and as a baselayer in freezing conditions. All seams are flatlocked and flat to the skin, with no rubbing at all. Moisture control is excellent and the cowl neck allows you to further control the temperature. Note: the cheaper Pattern Crew for men is also available for women but doesn’t have the cowl neck.

Verdict: Super soft, warm and versatile. If you can afford it, it’s the best for Arctic adventures.

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6 things to consider when buying thermals

Weight

Of course, how much your clothing weighs is important, but when it comes to thermals (often called baselayers), the ‘weight’ takes on a new meaning, especially when it comes to natural fibres. As a general rule, the heavier the weight (usually identified in the item’s name), the warmer the thermal – so a 250gsm would be warmer than a_150gsm. If you’re going to be very active in cool conditions, then a lighter weight will suffice, but if heading to very cold climates and standing around a lot, a higher number will be best.

Top and bottom

So many people invest in good thermal tops but forget about their legs. This might be ok if you’re moving around a lot, but if stood still, then your lower body will get just as cold, so it’s worth investing in long johns/leggings, too (which can handily double up as PJs!).

Material

There are two main options here – natural or synthetic. Natural tends to come in the form of merino wool (a fine, non-itchy but incredibly warm fibre from New Zealand sheep) or bamboo. Man-made options are typically polyester. Both have pros and cons. The former is warmer and has anti-bacterial

properties, which naturally stops them from smelling when you sweat; the latter is often lighter and cheaper. Manufacturers often offer garments with a mix in order to try and encapsulate the best of both in one item.

Fit

Go for your normal top and bottom sizes; but to keep you warm, these should be close-fitting – gaping gaps will allow warm air to escape. Check that sleeves and legs don’t ride up when lifting your arms above your head or when bending or kneeling down.

Comfort

Look for elements that will not irritate you when wearing them – flatlocked seams, chinguard on the zip (if applicable) or thumb loops for a closer fitting sleeve that won’t ride up.

Extras

Some baselayers will come with additions, such as highly rated UPF fabric to protect from the sun, or will be impregnated with insect repellent, or feature one or multiple pockets. Rather than be dazzled by the ‘added extras’, ask yourself if you need them.

 

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