Base Layers – Buyer’s Guide

 

This is the layer that will probably never be seen, but it is critical to get it right if you want to manage your core temperature, whether it is seriously hot or freezing cold. 

 

Most of us will use a layering system that combines a base layer, with a jersey, all topped off on colder days with a jacket.  This is a fantastically versatile system because you can adjust each layer to suit the conditions.  However, select the wrong base layer and you will have wasted all the money spent on outer layers, because nothing can overcome a poor choice of the layer that sits next to your skin.

 

Given how critical it is to get this right, we thought we would put together our thoughts to help you make the right decision when you are next thinking of buying a base layer.  For us, it’s all about fabric, fit and functionality…

 

 

The choice of fabric

 

Good base layers are made from fabrics that move sweat away from your skin.  In summer this will keep the body cool and dry and in winter, well it is still all about keeping dry, but in addition there is a focus on warmth as well.  The choice you need to make is between highly technical synthetic fabrics or merino wool.

 

Synthetics are primarily based on polyester or polyester blends.  The really clever bit is how they weave these to move sweat away from the body.  Many manufacturers offer base layers that are constructed with a combination of different knit weight and densities to optimise wicking comfort.  Clearly, a more open weave under the arm and down the back makes sense and this can be combined with a heavier density on the front for warmth.

 

The Swedish brand Craft have developed their hexachannel fabric to optimise wicking.  We reviewed their cool V neck base here CRAFT Cool V Neck – perfect for warm days, but the same super technical fabric is used in a slightly different way to offer warmth in their Zero Extreme CAFT Zero Extreme

 

CRAFT Zero Extreme

 

While Gore have incorporated a windproof layer on the chest that protects the body from wind chill.  Of course, in the good old days, racers would grab newspapers from spectators at the top of climbs to push down their jerseys, Gore’s solution is all together more elegant and technical.  We reviewed the short sleeved version here Gore Windstopper Base and we are looking forward to getting our hands on the long sleeved version soon. 

 

Gore Windstopper base

 

Vanguard also offer windproof panels in some of their base layers.  You can check out their range here Today's Cyclist - VANGARD

 

Wool and specifically, Merino is the natural alternative.  It is excellent at regulating body temperature, especially when worn against the skin - where the fabric gives some warmth, but without any danger of over-heating - and when you do break sweat, it wicks moisture away from the skin very efficiently.  In common with most wools, merino contains lanolin, which has natural antibacterial properties and so this base layer does not get smelly with use.

 

Typically, merino is the more expensive option, but for great value for money try the dhb brand from wiggle.co.uk.  We reviewed their long sleeved merino base layer and love it – check that out here  dhb Merino Base

 

dhb Merino Base

 

If money is no object, then Rapha www.rapha.cc may be the brand for you, but Howies www.howies.co.uk are also worth checking out.

 

 

The fundamentals of fit

 

Typically base layers are super stretchy and should fit like a second skin, because contact between the fabric and the skin is essential for the optimal wicking of sweat.  And make no bones about it, regardless of how cold it is, if you are working hard on the bike, you will be sweating!

 

We always look for female specific fit and additionally recommend a truly ergonomic design – the base layer should use stretch, along with the cut and design to follow the female form and allow for a full range of movement.  You need to know you will be able to ride on the tops or the drops, without any tugging or pulling, 

 

Additionally, we suggest going for a cut that allows for good tuck in.  Essential for warmth in winter, but in hot weather a base layer that rides up is really distracting.  For long sleeved base layers, we believe the arm length should also be generous, because you don’t want gaps around your wrists and again, any riding up of your base layer will quickly eat away at your sense of humour.

 

After that you can choose between v-neck, crew neck or turtle neck, with the latter coming with and without zips.  One word of advice here, if there are any zips, make sure the zip pull has a little port to hide away in when full zipped up, to ensure you avoid chafing of your chin – very unattractive!

 

 

Additional features and functionality

 

Flatlock seams are a must to ensure comfort as they minimise the risk of rubbing or chafing.  There are however seamless versions available, where the base layer is knitted in one piece.

 

Additional features now also include antimicrobial properties.  These range from special coatings on the fibres of the fabric, to the addition of carbon or silver to the fabric to keep nasty smells at bay.

 

Compression benefits are becoming more common as well.  Here’s our guide to compression wear - Compression Wear

 

 

Compression Wear 

 

Thumb loops are sometimes offered.  We are not huge fans, but if you really want to ensure the sleeves stay in place, this might be for you.  Of course, the sleeves need to be long enough to prevent any tugging or pulling when the thumb is through the loop, so try before you buy!

 

 

The base layers and brands we have used as examples here are not exhaustive, there are lots more great brands to choose from, but hopefully this is food for thought when you next need to buy a base layer.

 

 

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