This post may contain affiliate links, which help to keep Discerning Cyclist rolling. Learn more.
During cold winter months a good quality base layer can be a life saver. This applies to both commuters and those who enjoy a leisurely pedal.
With our top selections of base layers to suit male and female riders alike, you’ll be able to enjoy your rides without having to worry about being too cold!
What is a Cycling Base Layer?
A cycling base layer is similar to a second skin. They often come in a few different styles, such as short sleeve, sleeveless and lightweight, or long sleeve and warm for colder climates.
Likewise, base layers are often made from different materials to suit the main use. For example, a long sleeve base layer for winter will often be made from thicker materials, such as merino wool. As opposed to their summer counterparts which tend to be made from synthetic fabrics.
Similarly to waterproof socks, neck warmers and gloves, base layers can be a really great and essential piece of equipment for your cycling wardrobe and can often double up for other uses such as running and skiing as well.
What’s the Purpose of a Base Layer?
Base layers have three main purposes. First and foremost, arguably their biggest benefit is to help keep warmth in and insulate heat while exercising on cold or windy days. Thus ensuring that the rider’s warmth is retained throughout their ride.
Secondly, base layers also help to keep you dry. This is due to their abilities of effectively wick away sweat as you perspire, this therefore results in keeping you comfortable and dry instead of clammy and damp.
Next, they also act as a second skin when riding; if you are unfortunate enough to crash and hit the deck then a base layer offers an added layer of protection as the material will rip before your skin.
However, it’s worth noting that base layers don’t have to be used just for sporting activities: they can also be worn as a comfortable all round top which can be worn whenever as they tend to be comfortable and warm.
Do You Need a Base Layer When Cycling?
When cycling a base layer can be an essential piece of kit which is needed for: protecting your skin, wicking away sweat and layering. The latter being an effective way of keeping warm and dry when sweating or while it’s raining.
Likewise, the type of cycling that you partake in will determine the type of base layer that will suit your needs best. As well as perform the function that you require. But in general it’s best practice to wear one.
Therefore, whether you find yourself often riding in the heat, springtime freshness or during cold spells in deep winter, there will be a suitable base layer for you. One that will perform your desired function, regardless of climate.
Do Bike Commuters Need Base Layers?
While those who commute by bike may favour more practical pieces of kit to pop over their work clothes (such as water resistant trousers or anything else to keep your feet dry on cold days), a base layer will also effectively keep the heat in too while commuting.
Furthermore, while commuting it’s not uncommon to have to stop-start often due to traffic lights and congestion, therefore it’s common to heat up and cool down. But wearing a base layer could help prevent subsequently getting a chill.
In addition to this base layers can also be worn underneath work attire to help wick away sweat that would’ve otherwise been absorbed by your shirt. Thus helping to keep dry and hygienic for the day ahead.
Types of Cycling Base Layer
There are many types of base layers that are cycling specific. For example, in warmer climates it’s common for people to use a short sleeve or sleeveless base layer made either from mesh or thin synthetic materials.
Moreover, there are also intermediate base layers that are meant for cooler climates. These types of base layer tend to feature either short sleeves or long sleeves. However are often a little thicker in comparison to a summer base layer.
On the other end of the spectrum there are full-on heavy winter base layers that are long sleeved and tend to be made from heavier materials in order to keep warmth in and the elements out.
What Are the Best Base Layers for Cycling?
The best base layers for cycling will first and foremost include some sort of antibacterial qualities. For example, merino wool is a great material to fashion a base layer from, this is due to their antibacterial properties that help to reduce smell and skin complaints.
As well as that, the best base layers (regardless of their seasonal purpose) will also be very good for wicking away sweat and ensuring moisture is drawn away from the body to help prevent feeling damp.
Also, the best base layers for cycling will also fit close to the skin and allow for full range movement. This is because any garment used for exercising needs to fit and conotor the body well, else it will be uncomfortable, nor will it wick away sweat or keep heat in properly.
Discerning Cyclist’s expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing cycling products so you don’t have to.
Testing stylish gear since 2012
Hundreds of hands-on product tests
Unfiltered opinions from experienced cyclists
Best Men’s Cycling Base Layers
- SPATZWEAR BASEZ 2 Baselayer [REVIEW]
- Pas Normal Studions Heavy Base Layer [REVIEW]
- Castelli Flanders Warm Base Layer [REVIEW]
Developed in the Yorkshire Dales and winner of the Independent best buy competition in 2020, the SPATZWEAR BASEZ 2 is a firm favourite among cyclists of all types, and has been tested by current Olympians and professionals to ensure functionality and quality.
This base layer is tight fitting which helps to actively move sweat away from the skin while riding in order to keep you warm without being clammy. Moreover, there is also an extended rear section to keep your back warm and protected.
Additionally, it is available in both black or white and comes in a range of sizes. It also features thumb loops for comfort and added warmth as well as a high neck which acts like a built-in buff.
- High Neck
- Thumb loops
- Extended rear section
- Moisture managing fabric
- Thermal yet lightweight design
Designed in Denmark and created by cyclists, the Control Heavy long sleeve base layer from the super stylish Pas Normal Studios is a fantastic piece of kit for any rider who tackles the chilly elements of deep winter.
This super soft thermal merino wool base layer benefits from Polartec® Power Wool™ technology which helps to promote heat insulation and sweat wicking in order to keep you warm while out in cold weather.
Moreover, the Control Heavy is available in sizes XXS to XXL allowing for great inclusion and can also be found in five trendy neutral colours. Additionally, customers to PNS also benefit from a great crash replacement service.
- Polartec® Power Wool™
- Superior wicking action
- Fast drying
- Highly breathable
- Naturally odour resistant
The Flanders Warm / Neck Warmer base layer is another deep winter item from the iconic Italian cycling brand Castelli is another great turtle neck style under top designed for optimal warmth.
In addition to the useful neck warmer feature which can double up as an ear warmer, this base layer also benefits from being made out of a soft polyester fleece fabric to offer comfort and warmth.
On top of being made out of comfortable material there are also mesh inserts under the armpit for breathability. Additionally, the Flanders base layer is also available in sizes XS-XXL and also comes in either a light grey or black.
- SottoZero multi-denier 100% polyester fleece fabric
- Flat-lock stitching
- Mesh armpit insert
- Higher than normal neck can be pulled up to act as a neck warmer
- -8°-6°C / 18°-43°F
- Weight: 184g
Best Women’s Cycling Base Layers
- Rapha Women’s Pro Team Base Layer [REVIEW]
- dhb Aeron Women’s Polartec Base Layer [REVIEW]
- Endura Women’s Baabaa Blend Base Layer [REVIEW]
An obvious brand for those who don’t want to compromise style and sophistication with functionality, Rapha have created a great all round base layer in the Pro Team Thermal within their women’s range.
This high neck style base layer has been made from a mix of quick drying polyester and spandex for an optimal tight fit, drying ability and comfort. A great option for those wanting a fast drying piece that is also warm.
As well as that, this product also benefits from thicker insulation on the arms and chest area for added protection. You can also purchase this piece in either black or teal/dark navy, both of which look great and it’s also available in sizes XXS-XL.
- Made of a warm, quick-drying polyester fabric
- Two fabric weights, with thicker insulation across chest and arms for added warmth
- Tall collar covers mouth and ears when worn high
- Same ‘Race’ cut as other Women’s Pro Team base layers – for a low on-bike position
This offering from dhb may be the cheapest in the list of base layers, however don’t be fooled by the affordable price. The high performance Aeron Women’s Polartec long sleeve is a super comfortable and great all round base layer for cyclists.
Moreover, the fabrics used to create this garment have been bluesign® approved, with 57% of the fabrics being recycled polyester, meaning you can be guaranteed a sustainable purchase. Also this base layer benefits from Polartec® technology, which helps to retain heat.
Additionally, the dhb Aeron Polartec long sleeve jersey is available in a trendy trekking green as well as sporting a slightly higher neck in order to keep heat in. The sizes are also in a UK standard and range from sizes UK 8 to UK 16.
- High-performance winter baselayer
- Polartec® Power Dry™ moisture management
- High neck for added warmth
- Dropped hem for race position
- bluesign® approved fabric
Designed as well as tested in Scotland, the well priced and high quality women’s Endura Baabaa Blend Long Sleeve base layer is a very popular cycling wardrobe staple for many riders due to its comfort, quality and affordability.
Similarly, to many other popular base layers on the market, this one is made from a merino wool blend which is itch free and has been non-mulesed, proving to be a comfortable as well as ethical item of clothing.
Lastly, this base layer comes in just the one colour which is black and is also available in sizes XS-XL and has a more relaxed fit. In addition to this, it’s also naturally odor free and fast drying, perfect for commuters and bikepackers.
- Non-mulesed merino blend for soft, itch-free comfort
- Naturally odour resistant and fast drying
- High warmth to weight ratio
- Easycare machine wash
- Simply the best of both
Because not everyone will want a base layer or perhaps may feel that they are a little on the pricey side, the alternative option to a base layer is still very effective in keeping the cold out and the heat in.
For those of you who don’t want the hassle of either having a layer underneath all of your jackets and outer layers, or simply just want something easy to pop down your shirt while commuting or prior to descending, I present to you: the Burner by Albion.
This really cool piece of equipment is essentially a square shaped insulator. Made from 100% recycled nylon and available in four quirky colours this foldable layer is perfect for those wanting convenience and targeted protection.
In order to use the Burner, simply pop it underneath your shirt or jacket on the front of your body and then zip yourself back up, et voila, a clever and effective way to keep warm and keep the wind from chilling you to the core. Perfect.
- Ultra-lightweight, highly packable insulated layer
- Clo™ Eco Vivo recycled insulation
- Fabric – 100% recycled Nylon
- Weight – 18 grams
- Made in Italy