Arguably the most underrated piece of kit and kept well-hidden, we normally don’t get a glimpse of the humble base layer. Still, it is always there, despite not getting the recognition it deserves when competing with bib shorts made from new high-tech thingamajigs or jerseys with loud designs and patterning.
Despite being a simple item, there is actually a lot to love about a base layer, and they do a crucial job. It's easy to assume that they’re only useful in winter, adding protection against colder weather underneath bulky jackets. Really, though, the base layer comes into its own during the warmer months and it can even keep you cooler in the heat than just wearing a jersey alone (cue angry debates around the dynamics of thermal insulation and sweat wicking). Not only that, but a base layer can act as a second skin if you’re unlucky enough to hit the tarmac, potentially saving you a couple of painful nights nursing road rash.
Unlike a jersey, which might need to look good, be aerodynamic or carry a multitude of tools and gels, the base layer only has one requirement to fulfil and that’s wicking away sweat from the body to keep you cool in summer heat. This means that complex, specific materials can be used to do this important job. It’s fair to say that some cycling apparel brands fit this brief better than others.
To save you scouring the internet for the best base layer for you, we’ve narrowed down a few of our favourites for the warmer months.
Assos Summer NS Skin Layer
£50, Shop Assos
Whilst Rapha’s base layer boasts improved, bonded seams, Assos have done away with them all together in their Summer NS Skin Layer. Their seamless construction introduces a tubular knit that helps create an ultra soft feel against the body, ensuring comfort as well as high-performance.
It may be a base layer, but it's certainly not basic. The blend of carbon and polypropylene yarn used in the fabric of Assos’ base layer allows uncompromised moisture management and has the added bonus of antibacterial properties. Offering a two year warranty on all products and a crash replacement service, Assos garments are a solid investment and this baselayer is a great place to start. They claim to take the baselayer seriously, ensuring it isn’t an afterthought but a useful and essential piece of kit.
Le Col Womens Pro Air Short Sleeve Base Layer
£50, Shop Le Col
One of the factors which might lead you to ditch the baselayer on a hot day is the possibility that it won’t sit quite right underneath your jersey of choice. The women’s specific fit of Le Col’s Pro Air Baselayer ensures this won’t be an issue, sitting close to the skin to ensure that it will blend seamlessly into the jersey on top. Despite being a race fit, the 3D mesh fabric also has some natural flexibility, ensuring that any movement isn’t restricted or uncomfortable.
This is a garment designed for the hottest days, perhaps one to pack for a training camp in sunny climates, or one to save for the rare occasion the sun pops out in the UK. There is really no worse feeling than sweat weighing you down and absorbing into your clothing, so the lightweight properties of this baselayer make it the perfect choice for long days in the saddle where you need to keep dry and fresh. The logo detailing around the colour also spices up a simple piece of kit, making it fashionable as well as practical.
Ashmei Women’s Merino Sleeveless Mesh Baselayer
£56, Shop ashmei
Unlike Le Col’s base layer which is cut with longer sleeves to come down over the shoulder, ashmei’s base layer is completely sleeveless, perhaps making it more suitable for extreme heat. Its longline cut ensures extended coverage, meaning it will tuck well into a pair of bib shorts and stay put, without uncomfortably riding up the body.
The merino+carbon technology means that the garment is fast drying, which will be essential on sweaty days. Ashmei also claims their baselayer is multi-functional; it is usable for a multitude of different sports including both running and cycling. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, this base layer can be worn both on and off the bike, making it a good investment.
With the sleek black colourway and silver branding, ashmei’s base layer really does look good enough to wear casually as well as when riding. The merino fabric feels natural against the skin and has high wicking properties too, which means breezes and descents won’t chill skin that is wet with sweat.
Rapha Women’s Pro-Team Mesh Baselayer
£50, Shop Rapha
With quirky slogans paying homage to cycling culture, Rapha’s Pro-Team base layers are detailed and unique. Every feature is well thought out thanks to extensive feedback and testing from their World Tour women’s team, Canyon-SRAM.
Their Pro-Team Baselayer has recently been updated and Rapha claims that it now provides an even better foundation for both racing and intense efforts. Made from a new mesh fabric, the baselayer is exceptionally breathable and super-light, allowing riders to keep a cool head whilst riding at a high tempo.
Despite their focus on performance, Rapha has kept practicality at the forefront when designing this garment. Bonded seams at the rear of the baselayer ensure that any rubbing is minimised and an overall improved fit and design alleviate the potential for any discomfort. The four colour options, each with different phrases embellished on the front, mean that this baselayer looks good as well as feels good. It’s one that you will want to show off at the cafe stop or if you’re partial to unzipping your jersey on a long climb.
Isadore Women’s Merino Light SS Baselayer
£100, Shop Isadore
Perhaps the most lightweight of all the base layers in our collection, Isadore’s number is made of a knitted blend of merino wool and stretchy polyamide fibres. It’s really as light as a baselayer can get, acting solely as a second skin designed for riding in intensely hot climates. Rather than being a solid material like the others in our selection, Isadore’s jersey features a loose knit design, allowing pockets of air to flow through the garment.
Merino wool’s natural fibres keep any odour to a minimum ensuring that body temperature is well regulated. The jersey is an extremely slim fit, keeping things tight, compact and aero-dynamic. Isadore gets extra points for having thought of every detail: they’ve added a suede label on the outside of the baselayer to ensure that it doesn’t rub against the skin when the garment is being worn.
Described as “cooler than wearing nothing” Isadore’s base layer is a great addition to any summer cycling wardrobe.