The Best Cycling Base Layer for Every Season: The Ultimate Guide

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Best Cycling Base Layer

A good base layer will keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. It adds comfort, especially under bib-shorts, and can help you regulate your body temperature by wicking away sweat. Plus, it provides an extra layer of protection from road rash if you take a spill.

In this buyer’s guide we cover:

  • What to consider when buying a base layer
  • How to care for your base layer
  • Our favorite base layers for all seasons

Our Favorite Base Layers

Base Layer

Price RangeColor(s)StyleBest for…
Craft Cool Mesh Superlight Sleeveless Base Layer$White, black
SleevelessHot weather, summer
Castelli Pro Issue Short-Sleeve Base Layer$$WhiteShort-sleevedWarm and hot weather, spring, fall
Castelli Pro Issue Short-Sleeve Base Layer Assos Ls.skinFoil_winter_S7 Body Insulator Base Layer$$$BlockblackLong-sleevedCold weather, winter
Endura BaaBaa L-S Base Layer$$
Black, orange, ultramarineLong-sleevedCold weather, winter
Pearl Izumi Transfer Long-Sleeve Base Layer$$
Black
Long-sleeved
Cool weather, spring, fall
Pactimo Thermoregulator L/S Base Layer$$$GreyLong-sleevedCool and cold weather, spring, fall
Rapha Merino Mesh Base Layer$$BlackShort-sleevedAll-season
dhb Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck Base Layer (M_200)$$Dark gray, navyLong-sleevedCool and cold weather
Pactimo Zero-Weight S/L Base Layer Womens$Midnight/magenta, Topo Tangerine, Topo, White, Topo BlueSleevelessHot weather, all year round
Gore Bike Wear Base Layer Windstopper Lady Turtleneck$$Black, Light gray/whiteLong-sleeved
Cool and cold weather, windy weather

Base Layer Buying Guide

Fit and Style

Base layers typically come in one of three styles: long-sleeved, short-sleeved or sleeveless. Long sleeves provide more protection and are warmer in winter, whereas short sleeves or sleeveless models are better suited to warmer seasons.

Base layers are designed to be close fitting and worn next to the skin. You want to make sure it’s long enough in the body to cover your back when you’re bent over in the saddle, and, for long-sleeved tops, that the arms are long enough to cover your wrists.

If you’re going for a model with sleeves, then raglan sleeves will give you good freedom of movement – they extend up to the collar, with a diagonal seam to the underarm.

Material

There’s a wide choice of base layers available in both natural or synthetic fibers. Man-made materials (typically polyester blends) are often more effective at wicking away sweat, but they do start to smell after a while. If you’d prefer natural fibers, merino wool is the fabric of choice. It’s fast-drying, stays warm when wet and is largely stink-resistant: a great option for everyday commuting in colder climates.

Warm but not too warm

Base layers come in different weights, giving different levels of warmth. There are no hard and fast rules about which weight is ‘best’: while one person might layer up the thermals when the temperature drops, another can be toasty in a t-shirt in the middle of winter.

If you fall somewhere between these two extremes, then it’s likely you’ll want a range of base layers to deal with different weather conditions. Investing in a short-sleeve top, such as the Rapha Merino Mesh base layer, and a long-sleeve like the Pearl Izumi Transfer, will see you through spring, summer and fall. Layered together, they’ll keep you warm on all but the coldest winter days.

Looking after your base layers

For the most part, you can wash your base layer with your other cycling gear. If you’re worried about delicate fabrics snagging on Velcro, then pop use a pillowcase or washbag to protect it.

You do have to be a bit more careful with merino base layers as wool is prone to shrinkage at high temperatures. To avoid your favorite cycling top coming out of the machine baby-sized, check the label first and avoid the tumble drier. Merino base layers don’t need to be washed as often as synthetic layers and you may want to wash them separately from the rest of your cycling clothing, on a specific wool wash.

If your base layers are getting really smelly, a specific odor eliminating wash can help get rid of the funk.

Best Base Layer for Summer

It may sound counter-intuitive but adding an extra layer on a hot day may be more comfortable than just wearing a jersey. You want a lightweight layer that’s designed to wick sweat away from your body and cool you down, as well as preventing chafing from bib short straps.

Craft Cool Mesh Superlight Sleeveless Base Layer

Craft Cool Mesh Superlight Sleeveless Base Layer

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This featherweight top has a mesh structure that effectively pulls sweat to the surface of the fabric for evaporation. It’s so lightweight you’ll barely know you’re wearing it and has a generous fit with a long tail. It’s designed for summer, but it’s so effective at wicking away sweat that you may find it useful to regulate your body temperature under warmer layers in winter.

Castelli Pro Issue Short-Sleeve Base Layer

Castelli Pro Issue Short-Sleeve Base Layer

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A performance-based layer that wicks away sweat as fast as you can generate it, this base layer is designed for pros. It has a race cut (and is an Italian brand) so the fit is snug but the minimal seams and flat hem make it feel almost like a second skin. If you regularly cycle in very hot temperatures, the Craft Cool Mesh may be a better bet, but if you’re looking for a base layer that’s good for a range of summer temperatures as well as late spring and early fall, the Castelli is a great choice.

Best Base Layer for Winter

You’ll want a heavier weight option for winter, but still something that wicks away sweat and is slim enough to fit under a jersey or softshell jacket. A high collar and thumb loops will keep your neck and wrists warm in the coldest temperatures, but you may want a zip neck to help you cool down on the hills.

Assos Ls.skinFoil_winter_S7 Body Insulator Base Layer

Assos Ls.skinFoil_winter_S7 Body Insulator Base Layer

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Aside from having the most complicated product name ever, this winter base layer is one of the best money can buy. (And you’ll need a good wad of cash to buy it.) It’s designed to be skin-tight, but the seamless design is stretchy enough to adapt to different body shapes and not restrict movement. It does a fantastic job of regulating body temperature in different conditions but is best suited to cold weather.

Endura BaaBaa L-S Base Layer

As you might expect from the name, this base layer is made from 100% merino wool. This means the fit isn’t quite as body-hugging as synthetic fabrics, which will be welcomed by those looking for a more relaxed style. It’s naturally odor-resistant and will keep you warm even when wet. A great winter option for commuters and anyone else who prefers natural to synthetic fibers.

Best Long-Sleeved Base Layer

These long-sleeved base layers are perfect for the days when there’s a nip in the air in early spring or fall, or for layering in the depths of winter.

Pearl Izumi Transfer Long-Sleeve Base Layer

Pearl Izumi Transfer Long-Sleeve Base Layer

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Perfect for transitional weather in the shoulder seasons, the Transfer Base Layer is thin enough to layer under a jersey and does a good job of wicking away sweat. Unlike the Pactimo, the fit is long, with a drop tail at the back so you won’t get any cold spots.

Pactimo Thermoregulator L/S Base Layer

Pactimo Thermoregulator L/S Base Layer

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The Thermoregulator uses Dryarn® – the lightest textile fabric in the world – to push moisture away from your skin, keeping you warm and dry. This base layer is exceptionally thin, stretchy and comfortable, and is a great option for mixed weather rides as well as cool and cold conditions. Taller riders may find the fit a bit short for their liking.

Best Merino Wool Base Layer

With its anti-odor properties, merino wool is a great choice if you don’t want to be washing your base layer after every ride. It’s soft against your skin, comes in a variety of weights and you can walk into the office after your morning commute without worrying about your colleagues turning their noses up.

Rapha Merino Mesh Base Layer

best merino wool base layer

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A lightweight, short-sleeved top that’s perfect as a year-round base layer. Merino wool is blended with polyester to give a form-fitting fit with raglan sleeves and smooth flatlock seams. A great choice for everyday commuting, all year round.

dhb Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck Base Layer (M_200)

dhb Merino Long Sleeve Zip Neck Base Layer (M_200)

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One of the few 100% merino wool cycling base layers, this long-sleeved top has a high neck with a zip for flexible ventilation. Wear it as a base layer in winter or on its own on chilly spring or fall days. A good value choice for regular cold-weather use.

Best Women’s Base Layer

Technical tops with a female-specific fit.

Pactimo Zero Weight S/L Base Layer Women

best womens base layer

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This stylish sleeveless top has a honeycomb texture to maximize wicking performance. It’s designed to fit close to the skin, but even on hot days, it’s so light and comfortable you’ll forget it’s there, and it’s a good option to pair with a thermal jersey in colder weather. The fit is on the short side, so if you’re tall or have a long body, you may struggle to tuck it into your shorts.

Gore Bike Wear Base Layer Windstopper Lady Turtleneck

best womens winter base layer

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Designed for cold and windy rides, the Windstopper panels on the front and back of this base layer will stop the wind from cutting to the bone, and breathable underarm panels and a zipped neck help you regulate your temperature. Perfect for women who feel the cold and don’t want to stop riding in winter.

Related Posts: Is Your Seat a Pain in the Butt? How to Choose the Best Road Bike Saddle

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