This is a review of the Helly Hansen LIFA ACTIVE Base Layer Pants – the versatile option for year-round adventures on and off the trail. Similar to the previously reviewed here LIFA ACTIVE Crew top and LIFA Merino Midweight base layer pants, this is a 2-layer performance base layer construction. Crafted by Helly Hansen, the renowned Norwegian company specializing in outdoor clothing and gear, these multisport base layer pants are designed for active individuals engaging in various outdoor activities.
After rigorous testing over the last several months, we can confidently provide all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether to consider these versatile base layer pants. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Quick specs: Helly Hansen LIFA ACTIVE Base Layer Pants
Weight: 192 g (6.77 oz) for ‘Black’ in men’s size 2XL
Material: 66% Polyester (recycled), 34% polypropylene
- Shell (exterior): Polyester
- Next-to-skin (interior): Polypropylene
- 2-Layer construction that includes a 100% recycled polyester exterior and 100% LIFA, a lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying synthetic fiber next to the skin.
- Articulated patterning with a gusseted crotch for added mobility.
- The fabric is soft and stretchy for improved fit and extra comfort.
- Bluesign-approved and Oceanbound Recycled materials.
- HH printed logo at the left thigh and HH Performance stripes at the bottom hem.
- Jacquard logo elastic waistband for convenience and comfort, featuring an asymmetric design.
- Year-round comfort and lightweight mobility make it suitable for both indoor and outdoor activities.
- Versatile design that’s ideal for various activities on and off the trail.
- Great, balanced fit that isn’t too loose or too tight.
- Good weight-to-warmth ratio. The next-to-the-skin LIFA fiber provides lightweight warmth. It’s fairly breathable, allowing the body to maintain a comfortable temperature during a variety of physical activities.
- The smooth and soft stretch fabric feels delightful to the touch. The base layer is well-made with easy-care polyester-polypropylene material.
- Excellent moisture-wicking abilities. The efficient moisture-wicking management of LIFA is well-known. Lightning-fast drying speed as both polyester and polypropylene have low moisture regain.
- Unlike merino, all-synthetic base layers lack superior thermoregulation. This one is no exception. Feels damp (and hence not very comfortable) when wet and you will definitely notice it before you take off the pants.
- In extremely cold weather, additional insulation is necessary. While this thin bottom provides lightweight warmth, it falls short in below-freezing temperatures when more warmth is required.
- Generates static electricity. Like most all-synthetic garments, this base layer is prone to generating static electricity.
- Requires regular washing. Unlike designs with a higher merino content, this base layer needs regular washing. While the post-trail odor isn’t as strong as other synthetic underlayers, regular cleaning is essential for optimal performance.
We’ve been testing these LIFA base layer pants since early March 2023 in a range of temperatures, environments, and conditions. We’ve worn these during hiking trips, extended travels, fast-paced city walks, and for casual wear in town. So we have plenty of information to share.
The HH LIFA ACTIVE Base Layer Pants offer lightweight warmth throughout all seasons, providing the comfort you need whenever you require it. Not only are they versatile, but they’re also soft, incredibly comfortable, and highly breathable. But that’s not all – they have excellent moisture-wicking abilities and an impressively fast drying speed, making this underlayer a viable option for both outdoor activities in the mountains and everyday wear in town. Those familiar with similar lightweight designs will recognize their main drawbacks: the need for extra insulation in extremely cold weather, susceptibility to static electricity, and less effective thermoregulation compared to merino wool underwear.
Continue reading the in-depth review below to learn more about its advantages and disadvantages, features, uses, performance, and functionality across various environments.
Material, construction, and durability
Another 2-layer construction by Helly Hansen, these base layer pants combine a polyester exterior with a LIFA (modified polypropylene) interior. The next-to-the-skin part utilizes Helly Hansen’s proprietary fiber known as ‘LIFA Stay Warm Technology’, providing insulation, moisture management, and comfort for indoor and outdoor activities, as well as everyday use. The material inside is extremely soft. The exterior is crafted from soft recycled polyester, a fiber renowned for its durability, high resilience and abrasion resistance, easy care and excellent moisture management properties.
Those looking for more sustainable alternatives will be glad to learn that this underlayer contains bluesign-approved material that meets the criteria for sustainable textile production. It also includes Oceanbound recycled materials sourced from discarded plastic bottles.
The construction is well-made and surprisingly durable, especially considering the thin and lightweight fabric. The addition of double stitching has further enhanced its durability. These underlayer pants have held up remarkably well. Despite numerous washes, the garment still looks and feels great. The fabric remains very soft and there are no visible signs of wear or deterioration.
Weight and packability
Just like the case with the LIFA Merino Base Layer Pants (we measured them to be 285 g instead of 350 g), there is a difference between the weight shown on the product page and the real weight of the garment measured by us. Thus, the weight of ‘Black’ in men’s size 2XL turned out to be 192 g or 6.77 oz and not 260 g (9.17 oz) as indicated on the dedicated HH’s product page. The garment is highly packable and occupies minimal space. This makes it easy to carry and store in a backpack during both shorter and longer trips. Given their usefulness, the added weight of carrying this garment in your pack (just in case) is negligible.
When stating that a pair of underlayer pants weighs around 200 g, mentioning the weight alone might not convey much to most people. So, how does it compare to the weight of other top-quality synthetic options suitable for year-round use?
Well, the closest competitors or rivals, such as the Patagonia Capilene Midweight and Odlo Active F-Dry Light, have a similar weight. REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Bottoms is another comparable model. For a size Medium, a pair of Arc’teryx Rho LT Base Layer Bottoms weighs 180 g or 6.3 oz. This implies that the 2XL size will be no more than 200-210 g or between 7.06 oz and 7.41 oz. This design comes with a zippered side thigh pocket so a huge part of the extra weight comes from the additional material for the pocket and the zipper itself. Another excellent alternative to the LIFA ACTIVE pants is the REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Bottoms, averaging around 204 g (7.2 oz).
Design, fit, and comfort
The material inside is extremely soft and feels pleasant when in contact with the skin. This coupled with the classic design as well as the stretch fabric, makes the underlayer pants quite comfortable.
The size tested is 2XL – the biggest size for this particular model. There are five options available as Helly Hansen offers these underlayer pants in size options from S to 2XL for the men’s version and from XS to XL for the female’s version. This size fits well the author who’s 186 cm (6’1″) tall and whose weight varied from 96 kg to 101 kg (211 lbs to 223 lbs) between March and January. Not 100% sure, but I think size XL would also work. Generally, both 2XL and XL fit me well in most all-synthetic base layers by Helly Hansen. In any case, most people who have used the ‘Find Your Size’ button on the HH’s product page reported that the fit is ‘True to size’ and I agree.
The color featured in this review is classic ‘Black’. This is the only shared color between the men’s and women’s versions. Each version has four additional specific color options. The men’s version is available in darker and more subdued colors (except for the bright blue, similar to electric blue, called ‘Cobalt 2.0’). In contrast, the women’s version offers more vibrant colors, including shades of blue, violet, and orange-red.
The material does not wrap around the thighs or lower legs. It feels free (without being loose) and wraps only around the ankles. The length is okay, it will fit someone who’s like 10 cm taller than the author. The elastic waistband allows for personal fit, i.e. the base layer pants might fit heavier persons. There’s no unnecessary bulk, and layering is easy. The addition of a crotch gusset enhances comfort and freedom of movement. The cut allows for year-round flexibility. The garment offers ample comfort for high-intensity pursuits as well as casual walks around town. It’s comfortable enough for all-day wear, as long as it doesn’t get too wet (for example, from sweat during your outings). This is because when it’s wet (not just slightly wet, in which case there’s no problem), the garment feels damp and not very comfortable.
As with most other base layer designs offered by Helly Hansen, especially underlayer pants or bottoms, the labels inside are not an issue. Since these labels can be potential friction points for those with sensitive skin, removing them is a viable option.
Warmth and layering
The feeling of warmth or cold is strictly individual, and you should be cautious when reading about someone’s experiences as these perceptions are very subjective. It isn’t rare for someone to be shivering with cold while others might feel totally fine. Now, let’s get straight to the topic of this section.
As usual, we tested the item in various temperatures and environments to gather as much relevant information as possible. Thankfully, we’ve had plenty of time and opportunities to do so. Here’s a list of our impressions:
- At temperatures around -5°C or 23°F (paired with lightweight hiking pants such as the KUHL Renegade, i.e. non-lined trousers), it felt a bit chilling while walking or hiking relatively fast under the sun. Walking under the shade (same temperature) felt considerably colder but was still bearable. While this may seem a bit off, the experiment was interesting because walking really fast (similarly to running in a sense) usually leads to excessive heat production and, thus, sweat. This happens in cold environments too. So, wearing lightweight garments can be a much better choice in such a case.
- At temperatures between -2°C and 5°C (28-41°F) and paired with lighter pants, with or without a softshell lining, the base layer pants felt cool (but not cold) and comfortable during brisk hiking. The key is to stay active; otherwise, you may feel too cold.
- For temperatures up to around 10°C (50°F), both fast-paced walking and less active moments are generally comfortable.
- For temperatures above 10-12°C (50-54°F), we recommend only casual walks and less active situations. You’ll likely feel too warm wearing these underneath even lightweight pants, especially during sports or engaging in low- to moderate-intensity activities. Combining them with shorts is a good option for those practicing sports.
- Note that these are not wind-resistant or windproof, so in windy weather, your outer layer needs to repel wind. Otherwise, you will feel the cold wind going through them.
- The ability to layer up is straightforward, but keep in mind that they work much better with loose-fitting long pants rather than slim-fit pants (snug on your thighs and/or calves). The air between the layers insulates much better, providing a surprising amount of warmth.
- These bottoms are better suited for thicker or lined pants unless you are engaging in something more fast-paced where sweating is expected to be more intense, like sports (running, skiing, etc.) or fast and light hiking.
In short, stay active, layer up in colder weather, and know that the “lightweight warmth” coupled with the superior moisture management these provide works well in temperatures between -5°C and 10°C (23°F to 50°F) when combined with a proper overlayer. We wouldn’t use these for much lower temps as we think that thicker and more substantial merino base layer pants would be a better option.
Breathability and ventilation
While their breathability isn’t bad for an all-synthetic underlayer (the mesh-like fabric allows for effective ventilation in most conditions), these work better in cooler weather. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the LIFA fiber was virtually engineered to focus on ensuring insulation, moisture management, and comfort specifically for cool-to-cold weather conditions. Nevertheless, in higher temperatures or during more intensive activities, combine them with shorts or lightweight pants that aren’t tight-fitting. This will ensure more effective cooling of the body.
Moisture management and drying speed
Breathability is a very important characteristic of a base layer but moisture management properties are even more vital to the perception of comfort on and off the trail. This is especially true during intense hiking, running, skiing, or any comparable activities where excessive heat production and sweating are inevitable. Fortunately, most of the time, these leggings, with their mesh-like weave, effectively wick sweat away from the skin and transport it to the outer layer for quick evaporation. Designed to keep the skin dry during various sports and pursuits, their moisture-wicking capabilities prevent chafing, discomfort, skin irritation, and temperature fluctuations.
Nevertheless, despite the excellent moisture-wicking properties of this high-performance multisport base layer, it lacks the thermoregulation typically offered by merino wool counterparts. While this difference may be less noticeable in colder conditions or during less intensive activities, it becomes evident when profuse sweating is present—whether from the specifics of the activity/exercise or as a result of warmer weather. The sensation of damp skin isn’t very comfortable, and unfortunately, this is likely to happen. This is one of the reasons why merino wool base layers are generally preferred over all-synthetic options. Thankfully, both man-made materials that make up the bottom—polyester and polypropylene—have low moisture regain, so the fabric doesn’t retain excessive liquid even when wet. This, combined with the thin material, plays a key role in the lightning-fast drying properties of the garment.
While we typically wash all-synthetic base layers after each use, even if worn for as little as an hour or two, this one doesn’t become smelly that fast unless the user sweats heavily. In any case, we’ve noticed that both the LIFA ACTIVE base layers (top and bottom) need to be washed a bit less often than typical underlayers made with man-made materials, indicating that the former probably have some sort of antibacterial treatment.
Washing and drying the garment is easy and the process is straightforward. It is a low-maintenance underlayer that can be thrown in the washing machine and dryer without worrying about it shrinking or losing its shape. In most conditions, these base layer pants dry in about an hour or two (in colder conditions). The drying time of the fabric in sunny and warmer weather is less than an hour (it typically dries completely in 40-45 minutes).
The usual price is $5 less than the price of the LIFA ACTIVE Base Layer top, so the LIFA ACTIVE bottom comes at $55. This price is on par with or even lower than the average price of other high-quality base layer bottoms with similar features. Certainly, when on sale, you can expect to get the garment with a good discount (around $30-40 or so).
Below, you can find some of the best all-synthetic underlayer pants available on the market today for easy reference.
Patagonia Capilene Midweight Bottoms are slim-fit base layer pants known for their soft, smooth material, versatile design, and excellent quality. This flatlock seam construction with an elastic waist and gusseted crotch provides all-day comfort for both indoor and outdoor activities in less-than-ideal weather. Lightweight and thin, yet durable, they are the epitome of a staple base layer suited for skiing, hiking, running, fishing, or casual strolling around town. The added HeiQ Pure odor-control additive inhibits the growth of odor-causing microbes and prevents the unpleasant smell of an all-synthetic garment after use. They come at $79.
Arc’teryx Rho LT Base Layer Bottoms are an athletic base layer suitable for snowshoeing, backpacking, hiking, and all sorts of cooler weather activities. With a trim, next-to-skin fit and soft, supple Torrent stretch fleece material, they ensure a comfortable fit and functionality. In addition to the excellent moisture management properties of these leggings, Polygiene treatment provides long-lasting odor control. Unlike other similar designs, it has a zippered side thigh pocket for securing a wallet, phone or other small items. Not that you’d really need it, but it might be a nice feature for those who’d use it. The usual price of this garment is $100.
REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Bottoms are a good lightweight option for those on a tighter budget, as they come at a considerably lower price than the two designs above – $40. A solid base layer choice, these come with flat-seam construction, a fly opening, a low-profile waistband, and a gusseted crotch. The semi-fitted design and nice-to-the-touch polyester blend mean that it is less likely that you’d feel restricted while wearing these. Lightweight and comfortable, these underlayer pants, made from a snag-resistant polyester-spandex blend, are designed for four-season sports and pursuits. The only feature that seems a bit off is the UPF 50+ sun protection, unless you are a mountaineer who will be wearing these on their own in the (summer) sunny mountains or, more realistically, will combine them with suitable shorts. The average weight of the REI Co-op Lightweight leggings is approximately 170 g or 6 oz. For those looking for warmer winter underwear, we’d recommend checking the heavier version called REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Bottoms. It’s a bit more expensive at $55. There isn’t a huge difference between these two, but the latter is still 20% heavier, making it a bit more suitable for colder weather.
Odlo Active F-Dry Light is a classic base layer bottom made with a blend of polyester and polypropylene. Crafted from 88% recycled polyester and 12% polypropylene, this light, breathable, and versatile design has all you’d need for your adventures year-round (Odlo recommends these for temperatures between -15°C and 25°C). The material is soft, the construction is flatseam, thus comfort is inevitable. ODLO’s fastest-drying base layer bottoms, these are designed to provide optimum comfort in all situations thanks to the active design and ergonomic fit (which doesn’t impair movement). The bio-based ZeroScent silver-ion technology (effective antibacterial treatment that limits bacteria build-up) guarantees a less stinky experience after all-day use. The regular price is around $55-$60, making it a good alternative to the Helly Hansen LIFA ACTIVE leggings.
Helly Hansen’s LIFA ACTIVE Pant stands out as one of the top choices for active individuals as it’s a lightweight base layer suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities. Its classic fit and design, coupled with the soft and comfortable material, make it ideal for both multisport activities and casual walks in cool-to-cold weather. While it does have some typical drawbacks of all-synthetic base layers, such as lacking the superior thermoregulation properties of merino, generating static electricity, and requiring regular washing, we believe that its advantages far outweigh these disadvantages. Overall, we consider it one of the best options on the market today.
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