For colder weather, I’ve been using Paradox layers from Costco for years:
Inexpensive, durable, and an excellent “happy medium” between silk weight layers and heavier mid-layers. I can’t tell the functional difference between these layers and the merino layers I used to use for winter use (other than longevity!).
But here in Utah, I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed using the silk weight type layers more often than not during the spring and fall. Just enough to take the chill off and perfectly fine at night when wearing my fleece pullover. And it is what I wore during my New Mexico loop this past summer. And they dry quickly, too.
The mil surplus silk weight bottoms made with Polartec have worked exceptionally well. At 5 oz for men’s medium, they are light, effective, and inexpensive.
A men’s top weighs a similar amount, but I prefer a shirt that vents for maximum versatility and will take a slight weight penalty.
And what silk-weight layers have I been using that fill this niche? The TSLA Men’s 1/4 Zip HyperDri shirt. A men’s medium weighs 6 oz, comes in various colors, and feels comfortable while hiking. Oh, and it costs $17. (A women’s version is also available for $14)
Combine this top with the bottoms above, and I have a utilitarian, inexpensive, and light system for general three-season use for around $30. And not just light in weight, but also the fabric thickness. Meaning I do not overheat as quickly as with thicker layers.
It is telling me that I’ve used the top layer enough this past fall that I felt the need to grab another top for both guiding and my personal use.
Are they perfect? Of course not. The layer felt somewhat “plasticky” at first despite the polyester vs. even more budget polypro that traditionally feels even more plastic-like. But after a few uses and washes, the TSLA shirt felt comfortable and quickly became my layer of choice for cool weather use.
I will say that the Polartec bottom layers had a similar history with my personal use. I suspect these silk weight layers, regardless of manufacturer, tend to have a similar arc vs. “fuzzier” winter layers even if made of the same material. At least that has been my use with a thicker polyester Coldpruf layer I’ve been using for skiing recently with never felt “plasticky.”
Overall, though, you can’t go wrong with these practical budget tops. Combine the TSLA Men’s 1/4 Zip HyperDri shirt with the Polartec mil surplus bottoms, and you have a functional set of baselayers that serve well for cool conditions for around 11oz and $30. And TSLA makes a similar women’s top as well for only $14 and also comes in various colors.
Are the more expensive layers better? Perhaps. But I doubt they’d make my hiking that much enjoyable.
Disclosure: I purchased these layers with my funds.