Merino is the base layer material of choice for many cyclists, and with good reason. With great breathability and insulating properties, not to mention the antimicrobial properties of the wool, there are many ticks in the plus column. Welsh brand Howies' Women's Light Merino base layer adds a great cut and a dash of style.
As the name suggests, the Howies women's Light Merino base layer uses a fine weave and 160gsm wool and is 100 percent merino, unlike some base layers which blend it with synthetic materials. There are pros and cons to this approach.
On the plus side the jersey fabric is supremely comfortable against the skin, itch free, very breathable and pong-resistant. On the downside, depending on what you are looking for in a base layer, the jersey fabric sits loosely against the skin rather than being skin tight. There is some stretch to the garment fabric, provided by the weave of the knit.
That said, the panelled construction with flatlock seams makes for a female specific fit that sits nicely against the body, with raglan sleeves meaning no seams at the shoulder tops, where they can sometimes rub when wearing a rucksack. The base layer has long cuffs that sit comfortably on the wrists, and while they're neither grippy nor elasticated they didn't ride up during testing. The jersey also has a good length to it, sitting down over the hips (I'm 5ft 8in / 173cm).
We tested a medium, which Howies equates to a UK/Aus 12 (US 8) with a 36in chest. I'd say this sizes up accurately, though if you are towards the lower end of a dress size and want a more fitted feel, it might be worth going down a size. It's available in sizes XS to XL.
Overall it's a versatile jersey, suitable for a variety of conditions. I wore it under waterproofs on warm and wet days, with a gllet for cold and dry days, and layered up when the temperature dropped. It performed admirably in all of these conditions.
Although colour might not be the first priority when deciding on a base layer, I liked the purple Howies produces this one in. The fine knit does mean that it's every so slightly translucent though, which is something to bare in mind if you are planning on wearing it on its own without other layers.
The Howies Light Merino base layer also keeps its shape and shade remarkably well. After 15-plus rides in cold, wet and muddy conditions, with a trip to the washing machine after each ride, it still sits like new and has only a minute amount of bobbling.
The base layer retails at £49.99, or $79.99 plus shipping. Howies doesn't distribute in Australia, but will ship there.