Wanderlust reviews the best of short-sleeved base layers
Review Words : Phoebe Smith | 24 September

Traveller's guide to short-sleeve base layers

You need a base layer that will keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot – forget the old cotton tee and try one of these for size

Short-sleeve base layers are one of the most versatile pieces of travel clothing, whether they're wicking sweat on sunny city explorations or providing a sturdy base layer for breezy mountain hikes. Like any top, fit and length are a personal choice, but aim to find one that's so light and comfortable you barely notice you're wearing it. Here's our guide to the base layers with the best bells and whistles... 

Weight

A light top that packs down small is ideal for keeping your luggage weight low, but be sure it’s still suitable: ie, still offers good sun protection and is not see-through (inappropriate for more conservative countries).

Insect protection

Some base layers are impregnated with insect repellent. However, you can easily treat the fabric yourself (try EX-4 anti-mosquito clothing spray). Remember that a treated top only protects the flesh it covers.

Sleeves

All tops on test here are short sleeved, but some short sleeves are longer than others. Try tees on first to make sure you’re happy with the cut.

Seams

Seams can cause rubbing – particularly if you’re wearing a backpack or shoulder bag. Look for layers with as few seams as possible, and flat-lock stitching for less bulk. Wear your bag while trying on the top to be sure there are no problem areas.

Fabric

The ideal fabric will offer a good level of sun protection: look for items that offer a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of at least 15 – ideally higher – to prevent the sun’s harmful rays permeating clothing. Also, look for moisture wicking fabric that moves sweat away from the body, and fabric that manages odour, so you don’t smell too bad in the pub after a day’s hike.

Drying time

Look for quick-drying fabrics – especially important when travelling so that you can wash your top on the road and therefore pack less.

 

Lowe Alpine

Dryflo Short Sleeve £25

The test: Made from a breathable synthetic fabric, this athletic-cut top offers a nice length in both body and sleeves. The fabric is good for the price – it offers sun protection with UPF 30 and has been treated to stop odour-producing bacteria from growing; however, after a few days of use this fabric started to become a little bobbly. It also has more seams than some others on test, though they are flat-locked. At 85g (size 10) it’s the third-lightest on test. It took 6½ hours to dry.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★★✩
Dry time:
★★★✩✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

lowealpine.com

Berghaus

Base Crew / Vapour Light £27 / £30

The test: Also made from a breathable synthetic fabric, the Base Crew is cut long, with a close athletic fit. The fabric is UPF 30+ (men’s) and a combination of UPF 20 and 50 (women’s), due to the different panels used. The fabric has built-in permanent odour resistance but has the potential to bobble. The women’s version has fewer seams than the Lowe Dryflo; all are flat-locked on both men’s and women’s models. It’s the second-lightest on test (75g, size 10) and took 6¼ hours to dry.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort:
★★★★★
Versatility:
★★★★✩
Dry time:
★★★✩✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

berghaus.com

Rohan

Essence / Element T £29

The test: Pay a little bit more and you get a top that looks less athletic and more casual, with the women’s version featuring a scooped neck. The main drawback is the length – shorter than others on test, it rises up a little during activity. Also, the seams are not flat-locked. It’s made from a synthetic fabric that feels like cotton and won’t crease. It has a UPF of 40+ but doesn’t have in-built odour control. At 131g (size 10) it is the second heaviest here and took 6¼ hours to dry.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort:
★★★✩✩
Versatility:
★★★★✩
Dry time:
★★★✩✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

rohan.co.uk 

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Finisterre

Eddy Cap Sleeve £38 / £42

The test: If you have a bit more cash then this is a good investment. It is a good length, has a fit that’s halfway between athletic and loose, and a look suitable for walking, travelling and wearing to the pub. It’s also made of 80% merino wool – so naturally anti-smell – and offers great breath-ability. In the sun protection stakes you’re covered with a UPF rating of 50, but the seams aren’t all flat-locked. It weighs 94g (size 10, fourth lightest on test) and dried in 5¼ hours.

In brief

Design: ★★★★★
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★★✩
Dry time:
★★★★✩
Value:
★★★★★
Overall:
★★★★✩

finisterreuk.com

The North Face

Go Light Go Fast £40 / £45

The test: Weighing a miniscule 61g (size small), this is the lightest on test so ideal if weight is an issue. Made of synthetic fabric, with UPF 30, it’s formed of a series of panels – all secured with comfy flat-locked seams – to help keep moisture at bay where you need it (back/ under arms). The length is good, and it’s fantastic if you’re wearing a rucksack and if you’re planning to be very active, but it may look a little technical for some. It doesn’t have in-built anti-odour tech but dried in 5¼ hours.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★✩✩
Dry time:
★★★★✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

thenorthface.co.uk 

EDZ

Merino V-Neck £40

The test: Made from 100% merino wool, this athletic-cut top feels warm when on – great for travel in cold climes but maybe too warm for hot destinations. Unsurprisingly it is heavy (127g, size 10; third heaviest) but is a decent length in body and sleeves. It’s tighter around the bottom to stop it rising, and seams are flat-locked. It is naturally anti-odour but has no official UPF rating – though it should be around 25+. It’s initially good at repelling water but took 5¾ hours to dry.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★✩✩
Dry time:
★★★★✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

edzlayering.com

Craghoppers

NosiLife Base T-Shirt £30

The test: This top has a more casual look and fit. Both the body and sleeves are a good length, though the tiny breast pocket (women’s version) is a little pointless, and it’s a shame the seams aren’t all flat-locked. The stand-out feature is the NosiLife fabric, which offers permanent protection against biting insects as well as a UPF of 40+; it’s also crease-proof but not anti-odour. At 114g (size 10), it’s fourth heaviest on test. It took the longest to dry – 8 hours.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★★✩
Dry time:
★★✩✩✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

craghoppers.com

Sherpa

Endless Knot T £30

The test: With a Buddhist knot emblazoned on the front, and a soft, cotton-like feel, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is just a regular T-shirt. But it hides an array of technical features – it’s moisture-wicking, has odour-preventing FreshGuard technology and a UPF of 50+ – yet it would look fine on the high street as well as the hill. The only downside is that not all seams are flat-locked. At 109g (size small) it’s middle of the road weight-wise but took a respectable 5¾ hours to dry.

In brief

Design: ★★★★★
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★★★
Dry time:
★★★★✩
Value:
★★★★★
Overall:
★★★★✩

sherpaadventuregear.co.uk

Páramo

Cambia T-Shirt £32.50

The test: The single-colour Cambia also has a not-too-technical look. The length is OK (there are longer ones on test) but did ride up a little. The fit is more relaxed than athletic, though it is contoured. The fabric is UPF 30+ and features flat-locked seams for comfort. It doesn’t have anti-odour technology but is reversible: it has a very breathable side for hot conditions, while the other side is ideal for cooler climes. It weighs 101g (size small) – sixth lightest. It took 6¾ hours to dry.

In brief

Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★★★
Dry time:
★★★✩✩
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

paramo.co.uk

Bergans

Fjellrapp Tee £45

The test: The Fjellrapp feels instantly warm. It has the best length of all those on test – it’s long in body and sleeves, with no chance of riding up. It has a comfy, athletic cut that looks a little techy but has good features: UPF 25+, anti-odour, outstanding water repellency and all flat-locked seams. It would be a great base layer for trips to cold places. Weighing in at 137g (size small), it’s the heaviest on test but outshone all the others in drying time – it was ready to wear in just 2 hours.

In brief

Design: ★★★★★
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★✩✩
Dry time: Value:
★★★★★
Overall:
★★★★✩

bergans.com

Smartwool

NTS Micro 150 Tee £45

The test: Considering this is made from 100% merino wool it feels incredibly light and soft, and not too hot. The length is ideal, not riding up at all during activity, and it looks non-techy enough to wear both on and off the hiking trail. Being merino it’s naturally odour-resistant and breathable; also, all seams are flat-locked and it is UPF 30. At 97g (small) it’s fifth-lightest on test and dried in 5 hours; it repelled water well too. A good price and weight for a pure merino layer.

In brief

Design: ★★★★★
Comfort:
★★★★★
Versatility:
★★★★★
Dry time:
★★★★✩
Value:
★★★★★
Overall:
★★★★★

smartwool.com

Icebreaker

Cool-Lite Sphere £55

The test: The most expensive top on test is also the softest, made from a blend of merino wool and synthetic fabric – the perfect combination of breathable, anti-smell wool and itch-free, cooling Tencel. The result is a low weight (94g – small, joint fourth lightest) with an impressive UPF 50+, a good length, the second-fastest dry time (4¾ hours) and a versatile look – you could wear it anywhere. The only drawback is the seams, which aren’t all flat-locked.

In brief

Design: ★★★★★
Comfort:
★★★★✩
Versatility:
★★★★★
Dry time:
★★★★★
Value:
★★★★✩
Overall:
★★★★✩

uk.icebreaker.com