What are base layers?
Base layers are the base of any layering system - they are designed to sit next to the skin, and wick moisture away from your body; they do this by absorbing moisture (sweat) from the surface of your skin, then allowing it to evaporate away.
By wicking sweat away from the body, a base layer keeps you dry, comfortable and chill free. Thermal base layers can also help to keep you warm, by trapping an insulating layer of warm air around the skin.
Base layers can be made of several materials: namely synthetics (Polyester or Polypropelene) or Merino wool.
Cycling base layers also come in a huge variety of styles; from long sleeved, with high collars for the cooler weather; to mesh sleeveless garments for the hot days.
In this Wiggle guide, we look at what you should consider when you are buying a base layer; including the fit, the materials, and the season that you are buying for.
Summer cycling base layers
What should you consider when you're buying a base layer for summer use?
The most important factors for your summer cycling comfort:
- Material: you want a fabric that will wick moisture away from your skin, leaving you cool and dry.
- Fit: you want a summer base layer to be close fitting, so it doesn't clump underneath tight summer riding kit, and so it sits close to your skin.
- Cut: summer base layers come in short sleeved and sleeveless options. What will be best for you, depends on the riding conditions and your other riding kit.
Summer base layer materials
Summer base layers are normally made of synthetic materials, because these have excellent stretch properties - to provide a good fit; they are also resistant to shrinking with continued use, and they are highly effective at wicking away moisture.
Look out for fast dry fabrics such as CoolMax, CoolMesh, ThermoCool and DriFit; these will ensure that sweat is quickly moved away from the body, keeping you cool and comfortable.
Many modern polyester fabrics also use odour reducing technology: such as Microban and Polygiene. These anti-microbial finishes stop odour building up in the base layer, even with heavy perspiration; making them more pleasant when in use for long days in the saddle.
Summer base layer fit
The great stretch properties of modern synthetic materials mean that base layers can fit like a second skin; indeed it's important they do, to provide the best moisture management.
Use our detailed size guides on each base layer product page, to ensure you get the best fit.
Summer base layer cut
Sleeveless or short sleeved? Summer base layers could be either.
Which one you choose depends largely on personal preference; a vest style base layer will typically be cooler.
Summer base layers we recommend:
- Castelli Core Mesh 3 Sleeveless Base Layer
Winter cycling base layers
What should you consider when you're buying a base layer for winter use?
The most important factors for your winter cycling comfort are:
- Material: you want a fabric that will provide warmth and insulation.
- Fit: just like a summer base layer, a winter layer also needs to be close fitting; to ensure you're trapping a layer of insulating air between body and fabric.
- Cut: winter base layers can be short sleeve or long sleeve - personal preference comes in here, but also how adaptable you require your base layer to be.
Winter base layer materials
Winter base layers may also be produced from synthetic materials; often Polypropelene, because it has great fast-dry characteristics, with good thermal properties.
Another great material for winter base layers is Merino wool. This material has a number of great natural attributes:
- The ultra-fine yarns of merino wool means it is super soft, and super stretchy (far more so than normal wool).
- The fine fibres in Merino allow it to stretch and contour to your body, yet return to its original shape even after many uses.
- Unlike synthetic fabrics, Merino absorbs moisture - which means less sweat is left on your body. In doing so, the fabric also absorbs the odours from perspiration; these are then retained until the garment is washed clean. This property makes Merino wool an ideal fabric for longer hours in the saddle, and for commuting cyclists who don't want to be putting on smelly kit when they come to cycle home.
Winter base layer fit
Like summer base layers, it is vital that winter base layers fit close to your body. Luckily, both synthetic materials and Merino wool have great stretch properties.
Check the unique size guide on all base layer product pages, for a tailored fit.
Winter base layer cut
You may want to wear your winter base layer underneath a protective short sleeved jersey, with arm warmers; in this case you'll need a short sleeve winter base layer.
However, if you're wearing your winter base layer with a jacket or long sleeve jersey, then we highly recommend a long sleeve base layer.
Longer sleeves keep warmer blood flowing to your forearms, and then onto your hands; helping to keep this vital extremity warm and protected from the chill.
Winter base layers we recommend:
- dhb Merino M200 Long Sleeve Base Layer
- Craft Extreme 2.0 CN Long Sleeve Base Layer
- Helly Hansen Dry Stripe Crew Neck Base Layer
To make the most of your technical cycle clothing, you really need a base layer for each season; to maximise warmth in the winter months, and manage moisture in the summer. Having a good base layer can significantly improve your riding comfort and enjoyment in all seasons.
The fabric you opt for will depend on your budget, and what you intend to use the product for: Merino wool is normally more expensive than polyester, due to the expense of sourcing the material. However, it is worth spending more if use the layer frequently, or for longer rides.
Ensure you get a base layer that fits you well: base layers are designed to be a "second skin", so close fitting profiles are vital. Sizes vary between manufacturers, so check the size guide on individual products.