Baselayers are there to keep you comfortable while riding. They do this in two ways: by trapping a layer of air next to your body to keep you warm, and by transporting sweat away from your skin to keep you dry.
If you want to get technical about it, a cycling baselayer forms the bottom of a multi-layer clothing system designed to manage the climate differential between the inside and outside of your garments.
As such, you’re likely to wear them on all but the very hottest days.
We’ve pulled on a selection of winter and summer baselayers suitable for road and mountain biking and tested them to their limits.
At the end of the article we’ve included a buyer’s guide listing everything you need to know about baselayers and how to choose the right one for you. On with the recommendations…
Best of baselayers, as tested by our experts
- Brynje Super Thermo C-Shirt: £23.99
- Craft Advance Warm Fuseknit Intensity: £60
- Giro Chrono: £55 / US$90 / €60
- Gore M Windstopper long-sleeve: £69.99
- Endura Transrib: £38 / US$55 / €45
- Specialized Merino: £65 / US$90 / €75
- Alpinestars Tech Top Summer: £55 / US$80
- Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight Crew: £70 / US$100 / AU$160 / €80
- Madison Isoler Merino: £50
- Nukeproof Merino 1/4 Zip: £50 / US$63 / AU$75
- Santini Grido: £100 / US$125 / €109
Brynje Super Thermo C-Shirt
- Men’s / Women’s
- Price: £23.99
Legendary in outdoor circles, the Super Thermo from Norwegian firm Brynje is a baselayer made from a polypropylene mesh.
It might look strange but this baselayer is super comfy, particularly hard wearing and represents superb value for money.
In use the mesh is particularly soft against the skin and picks up a lot of perspiration but doesn’t absorb it – making for an exceptionally quick drying layer.
We love the sleeveless option but these are indeed available in a variety of different sleeved options as well as women’s specific versions.
Despite not being cycling-specific, the baselayer is very long and tucks down into bib shorts with ease. We found no unexpected surprises with the sizing, though they’re so stretchy that you’d be hard pushed to go far wrong.
We’ve subjected several of these to years of abuse now as well as countless wash cycles and have no durability concerns to report.
Craft Advance Warm Fuseknit Intensity
- Men’s / Women’s
- Price: £60
Craft’s baselayer won every one of our testers over with its excellent fit, bang-on cut and superb neck profile. The fabric backs this up with a ‘3D knit’ that gives a pleasantly chunky, but not too heavy, feel to this top, boosting the thermal properties and making it feel more substantial for use in chilly weather. And it’s most definitely a winter baselayer – it’s way too hot for summer months.
For warmer weather Craft do a thinner version so that would be well worth a look. Body-mapping is evident all over this highly technical top, with thicker fabric in certain areas and thinner in others to allow sweatier regions to breathe better when you warm up.
It washes well, dries fast and is easy to care for. At £60 it’s pricey, but worth every penny if you want to stay warm and comfortable this winter.
- Price: £55 / US$90 / €60
Straight out of its box there was a great deal of doubt as to whether the Giro top would fit any of us – it looked tiny. But, as testament to the stretch of the fabric, not only did it fit but it was supremely comfortable and warm into the bargain. The body-hugging cut prevents any sweaty and clammy patches, while the seamless torso means there’s no irritating stitching to cause hotspots when worn under bib shorts or backpacks.
The more we wore it, the more we loved it as a terrific all-rounder. It’s not too hot and not too cool, and that’s the primary purpose of a baselayer – to keep you comfortable through a range of activity intensities and weather conditions. The Chrono became the baselayer to reach for when we were looking at hard days out on the bike.
It copes admirably with the heat and sweat of high-intensity riding, but remains as comfortable as can be expected during the inevitable stops, when you’re prone to chill. It wicks sweat efficiently, doesn’t hold on to moisture and the cut is perfectly suited to the riding position.
Even though it looks small, the waist and sleeves always stay exactly where we put them when we dressed – there was never a tendency to ride up. With its mid-weight fabric it could certainly be used right through a UK winter from autumn to spring without overheating or undergunning. It isn’t cheap, but what you get is a tremendously durable and versatile baselayer that all our testers were unanimously positive about.
Gore M Windstopper long-sleeve
- Price: £69.99
As a champion of many of our kit bags, the Gore M Swindstopper long-sleeve baselayer offers impressive sweat-wicking ability from its water-resistant and windproof polypropolene fabric.
The construction quality is excellent, as you’d expect for the price.
This garment helped us ride without a jacket right the way into autumn but for cooler conditions this pairs particularly well with a modern lightweight insulated jacket.
When things are sub-zero, the M Windstopper beneath an insulated windproof jacket proved to be a winning combination.
- Price: £38 / US$55 / €45
The Transrib is a simple, effective and hardwearing baselayer at a keen price. Synthetic CoolMax material is knitted into a ribbed profile, allowing it to trap more air when other wind-resistant layers are worn on top, yet be reasonably cool when used under a thin, wind-permeable riding jersey in the warmer months.
As much as you need different layers for different seasons, this is one that could be used across a wide variety of temperatures and conditions. The fit is excellent, if a little small for the size, but it’s stretchy and body-hugging in all the right ways. While the fabric doesn’t feel quite as nice as merino, being a bit scratchy and harsh, it certainly isn’t terrible by any means.
We also love the fact that it comes out of the washing machine almost wearably dry, so turnaround time between rides is excellent.
- Men’s / Women’s
- Price: £65 / US$90 / €75
Although the name suggests a pure wool construction, the Specialized top actually combines a Dryarn synthetic inside face with merino on the outside. Theoretically this inner fabric should boost moisture away from your skin quickly while the wool layer adds a great feel and hit of warmth.
In practice, it worked very well. The fit is excellent, with areas of body-mapping giving warm or breathable panels where appropriate. For example, it’s perforated at the top of the neck and under the arms to let sweat escape. This all added up to make it a tester’s favourite for comfort on the bike in a wide range of conditions.
We did have concerns about durability, with the collar starting to bobble slightly towards the end of the test period – it could be bad luck or a washing issue, but at £65 it wouldn’t be great if it persisted.
Alpinestars Tech Top Summer
- Price: £55 / US$80
If anyone is in any doubt that a baselayer is beneficial in warm weather, just hand them this little gem from Alpinestars. Light as a feather, it’s perfectly form-fitting with superb stretch and support, great length and well-proportioned short sleeves.
Its bodymapped construction thins the fabric out to an almost open mesh in places where you need to lose more heat and moisture, reducing the tendency for damp and uncomfortable spots. As with several on test, the torso is seamless, which reduces the chance of pressure points if you’re wearing a pack or armour over the top.
While £55 is a little steep for a featherweight T-shirt, once we got our heads around the technical cut and body-mapping, it suddenly didn’t seem quite so pricey. A great summer baselayer that’ll certainly be front and centre of our warm-weather wardrobe.
Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight Crew
- Men’s / Women’s
- Price: £70 / US$100 / AU$160 / €80
Available in a huge selection of colours, this offering from the original baselayer brand, Helly Hansen, proves to be an excellent cold-weather stalwart. It boasts a layered fabric that incorporates a LIFA (the brand’s traditional synthetic fabric) interior, to boost moisture transfer, with a merino exterior for thermal properties and improved feel.
After high-intensity rides we found it grew heavy with sweat that would linger in the merino layer, taking longer to dry, so decided it was better suited to low-to-mid-intensity day rides where moisture build-up shouldn’t be as much of an issue. Fabric feel and overall quality are as good as you’d expect for the cost, so we didn’t sniff too much at the £70 price tag.
All testers found it to be a generous cut so it’d be worth sizing down from your usual measurements to get a better, more athletic fit.
Madison Isoler Merino
- Men’s / Women’s
- Price: £50
One of the few pure merino baselayers on test, the Isoler displays all the characteristics you’d expect from the fabric. Pleasingly soft to the touch, stretchy enough to figure-hug to a decent degree and warm even when damp, it was popular with our test riders. When the going gets very sweaty it does start to hold more moisture than the synthetics, and becomes heavier as a result, so we tended to favour it for less aggressive rides where the additional feel and thermal properties were very welcome.
We did find the wrists a little roomy – handy if you have a chunky sports watch underneath, but otherwise it left spare fabric that was out of contact with our skin, which we’d rather have done without. It’s good value for merino, and not so cycling-specific that you couldn’t use it for other outdoor activities, too.
Nukeproof Merino 1/4 Zip
- Price: £50 / US$63 / AU$75
There’s nothing like the feel of a good merino jersey, and that’s exactly what the Nukeproof turned out to be. Pure merino makes for a luxuriously soft handle with all the qualities we’d expect – it stays warm when wet, resists odours and absorbs moisture. For high-intensity rides the fit was a little loose, not quite as body-hugging as we’d like for an efficient baselayer.
Being merino, however, it isn’t ideal for super-sweaty rides anyway, instead better suited to long, cool-weather days out when we weren’t going to saturate it from the inside. In those conditions it was excellent, with its snug high neck to fend off the chill and thumb loops for keeping your wrists covered. We also made good use of the quarter zip to regulate our temperature on the climbs, reducing sweat build-up as a result. A great baselayer for steady days on the hill.
- Price: £100 / US$125 / €109
We questioned the logic of a thermal baselayer with short sleeves, but it does have its place – for example, worn on a cooler summer day under a thin jersey. With a Polartec Power Wool layered combination of stretchy synthetic on the outside and merino on the inside, Santini are attempting to combine the benefits of synthetic wicking with natural insulation and feel. It certainly makes for a comfortable baselayer – the fit and feel are great, and it quickly drew a healthy following among our testers.
The £100 price tag is hard to overlook, though, and there are others on test that are as comfy and high-performing at nearly half the price. Santini also make a long-sleeved version of the same baselayer, which is definitely worth a look if your pockets are deep and the short-sleeved format doesn’t float your boat.
How do baselayers work?
Some baselayers wick moisture away from the skin through capillary action (the fabric’s inner face has lots of tiny voids to make it porous), while others do it using hydrophilic coatings that work to actively draw moisture through the garment.
Either way, the idea is to move moisture away from the skin, in order to help regulate your body temperature.
What are baselayers made from?
Polyester vs Merino wool
Broadly speaking, baselayers are made from synthetic fibre (such as polyester blends) or natural fibres (in most case, Merino wool).
Synthetic fibres can be manufactured with hollow channels to aid the wicking process and can be incredibly efficient as moving sweat and drying quickly.
The downside is that they get smelly fast, so most now come with some form of antibacterial treatment.
Merino wool is naturally antibacterial, so it can be worn for extended periods without needing washing, and feels often feels luxuriously soft against the skin.
However, it doesn’t wick as well, takes longer to dry and can feel damp next to your skin, although it does still maintain its ability to insulate.
Many higher-end baselayers are now made of a mixture of wool and synthetic fibres, for the optimum combination of comfort and performance. This means they provide a lot of warmth at a lighter weight and drying faster than pure wool.
What to look for in a baselayer
When it comes to choosing a baselayer there are other things to consider besides the material it’s made from. It’s important to think about the fit, thickness of material used, warmth you’ll need from it and odour management.
Warmth (but not too much)
Baselayers provide warmth by trapping air next to the skin. This effect is due to the weave design, the fabric fibres used, or a mixture of both. The colder the conditions, the thicker the baselayer you use.
How warm you want your baselayer to be depends on how warm you naturally are, and how warm you want to stay. Some folk can ride in sub-zero conditions with just a thin baselayer and a shell, while others need three inches of fleece just to go out in autumn.
For the ultimate warmth, some baselayers have a windproof panel integrated into the front, but this can come at the cost of breathability when you’re working hard.
Baselayers aren’t just for cool or cold conditions, though. Many riders swear by baselayers throughout the year – even in the heat of summer, when a lightweight or mesh baselayer can help keep you comfortable by moving sweat away from the skin.
Long, short or no sleeves?
Assuming you want sleeves, the first thing to consider is how long you want them to be.
You won’t want a long-sleeved baselayer if all your jerseys have short sleeves. In terms of versatilty, short-sleeved baselayers will work with long- and short-sleeved jerseys but won’t be as warm in winter, and you may find the sleeves bunch up around your shoulders, especially underneath some of today’s closely tailored tops.
Whether you prefer short or long sleeves, you’re better off going for ones that use a raglan design. Raglan sleeves extend over the shoulder and all the way up to the collar. The design provides more freedom of movement for your arms and uses a diagonal seam that runs from your armpit to your collarbone, rather than circling your shoulder.
The other option is to go sleeveless. If you can’t bear to go without a baselayer on even the hottest days, a sleeveless, string-vest style garment might be the way to go.
As few seams and zips as possible
As a general rule, you want as few seams and zips as possible. The reason for that is simple: a baselayer is worn close next to your skin, so you’ll want to avoid anything that might catch, nip, rub or irritate as much as possible.
That said, you can’t avoid seams entirely so look for garments with seams in places that won’t interfere with your movements. Seams that are flatlock stitched rather than coverstitched are less likely to irritate skin, as the joint between fabric panels is level rather than lipped, so they’re the ones to seek out.
Some fabrics use contour mapping, which changes the weave of the fabric so that the structure can map to the body’s shape without the need for numerous panels and seams.
Baselayers do get smelly, so any material that delays the build-up of bacteria is a bonus. Merino naturally resists odours — wool fibres are smooth so there’s nowhere for bacteria to hide and fester.
Unfortunately, the rougher fibres of synthetic baselayers are great for breeding bacteria. Some tops use a microbacterial treatment that fights them off for a bit, but within a few rides all synthetic tops will have a… certain nasal ambience.
The answer is easy, of course – wash your baselayer(s) regularly – but it’s something worth considering if that’s not something you can do easily (on a multi-day tour or bikepacking trip, for example).
Some high-tech synthetic tops use activated carbon-treated fabric to hold in the odours and release them during the wash and dry cycle.
Some baselayers have high collars but those that do are geared more towards winter use, and may be too warm to wear in the summer months.
A lighter baselayer with a lower collar is more suitable for warmer weather and can be worn with a high-collared jersey/jacket and neck warmer when the mercury drops.
The bottom of the baselayer is just as important as the top and it’s worthwhile looking for one that extends down a little further than the typical top.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a cycling-specific cut but a baselayer with a longer body provides more coverage, but also more material to overlap, so you’re less likely to be exposed if your jersey rides up or shorts slide down.
Meanwhile, an articulated cut will ensure the sleeves follow the bend of your elbows when you’re in an active position on the bike, rather than being left straight. This is generally comfier and prevents the fabric from riding up or bunching.
Thumb loops on long-sleeve baselayers can help keep your hands warmer in winter. They are also are great for holding your sleeves in place when you’re layering up or wearing winter gloves on top.
Caring for your baselayer
For the most part, baselayers can be thrown in the wash with the rest of your gear, but given that they’re usually made of soft materials it’s best to avoid washing in the same load as garments with Velcro, as snags can potentially ruin a baselayer.
If you’re worried about snags, consider using a wash bag (or, if you don’t have one, a pillowcase also works).
To limit a baselayer’s smelliness you may want to wash them in hot water to get rid of any stowaway stinky bacteria. But be sure to check the washing instructions before you put them in a hot wash as Merino can shrink at high temps. Also, take note of drying instructions as this can shrink baselayers too.
If you’ve got a baselayer that can’t be washed in hot water but smells like you’ve just worn it on a five-hour ride fresh out of the washing machine, Nikwax and Grangers make detergents specifically to take care of the odour-causing bacteria that can build up on your wicking layer. Assos and Rapha also make similar active washes.