Thermal Tops

We have reviewed long sleeve tops and puffy jackets…so it is time to review thermal tops. Thermal tops provide more warmth and protection than the standard long sleeve top while also offering up breathability you won’t find in a full-blown jacket. The thermal tops that we reviewed below have a few things in common. First, they all use technology and materials designed to keep you warm in cold weather. Second, each top has a quarter or half zip down the chest for added ventilation. Third, they all dance along the line between baselayer and outer layer, a choice you get to make depending upon the weather in your neck of the woods!

In this review we share some details on the materials used in the tops, the breathability of the material, and the overall fit of each top. We included information on the measurements of the sleeves and the back of the top. These measurements are based upon the body length (armpit to top of hip bone) and arm length (armpit to wrist bone). We will also measure each top in the individual reviews — please note that the shirts are measured along the seams while laid out.

Brooks Notch Thermal Hoodie

The Brooks Notch Thermal Hoodie top uses a notched material to help keep your warm but also allows for breathability when needed. It also has odor resistant properties to allow for a few uses between laundry days. The sleeve cuffs are wide with thumb holes and a small pouch pocket at the wrist for hand warmers on the coldest days. The hood fits comfortably over a beanie but if you’re not into the hood it does securely roll down with the help of an attached bungee.

What We Loved: This top has a hood, which is great for the colder days when your neck needs a little more protection from the cold. There are thumb holes and the zipper has a tab cover to make it comfortable against your chin.

  • What We Would Change: The fit from the chest to the waist is not very fitted which makes it hard to comfortably layer this top under a jacket. A slightly more fitted design on the top would make it a more versatile layer.
  • Fit, Feel + Function: The sleeves measure at 20 inches and the back measures at 22 inches. The overall fit is true to size although it does have a bit of a boxy fit through the chest to waist [says someone without much chest, so use your best judgment!]. 

Under Armour ColdGear Base 4.0 ½ Zip

The Under Armour ColdGear Base 4.0 ½ Zip top is the warmest base layer that UA makes. It is made with a material that has a brushed grid on the interior. This is designed to help manage your body heat to keep you warm without overheating. The material is also moisture-wicking and quick-drying to keep you warm and dry. The raglan sleeves allow the top to fit a wide range of shoulder widths comfortably. The front zipper opens halfway to allow for extra ventilation.

What We Loved: This top has a thicker material that feels both cozy and durable with a tighter fit that makes it easy to layer a puffy, fleece, or wind jacket on top.

  • What We Would Change: When you zip the mock turtleneck all the way up it gets a bit tight, especially if you’re more comfortable in crewnecks. There are thumb holes but they also seem very tight against your hand.
  • Fit, Feel + Function: The sleeves measure at 22 inches and the back measures at 25 inches. The fit is true to size and fits next-to-skin.

Smartwool 250 Sport Long Sleeve ¼ Zip

The Smartwool 250 Sport Long Sleeve ¼ Zip top has a thicker Merino/polyester blend to keep your core, shoulders, and hips warm. It combines this warm layer with a venting mesh on the underarms and upper back to add extra breathability to the parts of your body most likely to get sweaty when you’re on the trail. The top has a quarter zip to allow for extra ventilation. There are integrated thumb holes at each cuff to help keep the long sleeves in place when you’re adding another layer to the mix.

What We Loved: This top is made with two types of material — a thicker material that warms your core and a breathable material that vents the traditionally sweaty parts of your upper body. There are also thumb loops [rather than holes] which work well and fit comfortably.

  • What We Would Change: The fit of this top falls between next-to-skin and relaxed but the mock turtleneck manages to be very tight when zipped all the way up.
  • Fit, Feel + Function: The sleeves measure at 21 inches and the back measures at 23.5 inches. It fits true to size and is just fitted enough to layer over a tank top and/or under a fleece.

Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip Neck

The Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip Neck top is made with a moisture-wicking polyester blend fabric that has a fleece-like interior and smooth, durable exterior. This allows it to feel cozy while also looking sleek and functional. The gusset underarms allow for more freedom of movement without adding bulk. There is a small zipper pocket on the left arm for keys, credit cards, or ID. The zipper opens up the top quarter of the top for ventilation.

What We Loved: This top has a longer hem in the back which is much appreciated when your tush is freezing on cold days. The material is very stretchy and works well with the next-to-skin fit.

  • What We Would Change: There are no thumb holes or loops; however, the cuff of the sleeve does help keep the sleeve in place.
  • Fit, Feel + Function: The sleeves measure at 22 inches and the back measures at 26.5 inches. This top fits true to size with a next-to-skin fit [size up if you want a little extra space!].

Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck

The Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Zip-Neck is made with the Polartec Power Grid fabric that also has HeiQ Fresh for odor control. This fabric also has an open-grid pattern that is designed to promote warmth, breathability and is moisture-wicking. The shoulder seam is offset to allow for a variety of shoulder widths to fit comfortably. There is a low profile thumb loop that hides away in the cuff when you’re not using it. 

What We Loved: This top is very lightweight and manages to mix breathability with warmth by using a unique material. It has a slim fit but the mock turtleneck is comfortable when fully zipped and the zipper is a deep zip halfway down the chest.

  • What We Would Change: The sleeves are loose and you truly need to use the thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place. The material is also easy to snag [on trees…or with cat claws].
  • Fit, Feel + Function: The sleeves measure at 21.5 inches and the back measures at 26.5 inches. The top fits true to size with a relaxed fit.

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Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.


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