Base layer buying guide
What are Base Layers?
Base layers are the base of any layering system. They are designed to sit next to the skin and wick moisture away from your body. They do this by absorbing moisture (sweat) from the surface of your skin when you’re working hard, then subsequently allowing it to evaporate away. By wicking sweat away from the body a base layer keeps you dry, comfortable and chill free. Thermal base layers can also help to keep you warm, by trapping an insulating layer of warm air around the skin.
Wiggle has an excellent range of base layers to help you stay dry and comfortable during your sports activities.
Base layers can be made of several materials; namely polyester, merino wool and polypropylene. They also come in a huge variety of styles; from long sleeved with high collars for the cooler weather, to mesh sleeveless garments for the hot days.
In this guide we look at what you should consider when you are buying a base layer; including the fit, the materials and the season that you are buying for.
Base layer materials
We have an excellent range of base layer clothing designed with the latest fabric technology. With such a huge range of choice, it’s essential to choose the right fabric for your performance needs.
Base layer fabrics should satisfy four core requirements:
- Wicking – Does the fabric wick away moisture and keep you dry?
- Fit/Comfort – Is the fabric comfortable on your skin?
- Odour resistance – Does the fabric have any odour reducing properties?
- Durability – How well with the fabric last with many hours of use?
- Soft - Merino wool has very fine fibres, this means they bend more easily than traditional coarser wool fabrics. As a result Merino wool is soft and gentle to the touch, making it ideal for a base layer that sits next to your skin.
- Close fitting – The fine fibres in Merino wool allow it to stretch and contour to your body, yet return to its original shape even after many uses. This close fitting property makes it perfect as a cycling garment.
- Breathable - Merino wool keeps you cool in warm conditions and warm in cold conditions. It has a great ability to react to changes in body temperature; acting as both an insulating layer in cold weather and a wicking layer in hot conditions.
- Odour resistant - Unlike synthetic fabrics, Merino absorbs moisture which means less sweat is left on your body. In doing so, the fabric also absorbs the odours from perspiration; these are then retained until the garment is washed clean. This property makes Merino wool an ideal fabric for long hours in the saddle and for commuting cyclists who don’t want to be putting on smelly kit when they come to cycle home.
- Easy care – Merino wool requires a bit of extra care when washing, however most of the merino garments that Wiggle sells can be washed on a gentle (wool) machine cycle on 30’C. However, you should always check the label!
- Durable and subtle – Polyester is strong, durable and has excellent resistance to stretching and shrinking. These properties make it ideal for base layers, where the demand to remain a close fitting garment is vital to performance
- Wicking – Polyester also has excellent wicking properties; fast dry fabrics made from polyester such as CoolMax, ThermoCool and DriFit ensure that sweat is quickly moved away from the body, keeping you cool and comfortable.
- Odour resistant – Whilst not naturally odour resistant like Merino, many modern Polyester fabrics use odour reducing technology such as Microban and Polygiene. These anti-microbial finishes stop odour building up on the base layer even with heavy perspiration, making them more pleasant when in use for longer days in the saddle.
- Warmth – Polypropylene is most frequently used in thermal base layers. It is the lightest fibre of all natural and synthetic fibres, and therefore can be finely stitched together to produce a layer very adept at trapping insulating air next to the skin.
- Wicking – The main advantage of Polypropylene is that it doesn’t absorb any water, as a result it works very well as a wicking fabric. Transporting moisture from your skin to the outer side of the fabric and then drying quickly. Examples of this kind of fabric include Helly Hansen‘s LIFA Stay Dry technology
- Durability – Much like Polyester, Polypropylene is durable and capable of being machine washed many times.
Fit, Design and Season
Base layers aren’t just for the colder months; a base layer should be the basis of any layering system, which can be utilised in spring, summer, autumn and winter. Yes a base layer can provide added warmth, but it can also provide a cooling effect and prevent uncomfortable moisture build up in warm conditions. Summer specific and winter specific base layers have distinct differences in fit, design and appearance.
Summer Base Layers – Summer base layers focus primarily on wicking away sweat, to prevent an uncomfortable build up of perspiration on the skin or on your jersey and shorts. These base layers are normally short sleeved or sleeveless and made of a thin material or even mesh. Wearing a base layer underneath your bib shorts even in the summer can stop uncomfortable chafing from your bibs and stops your jersey and shorts becoming damp with sweat.
Autumn/Spring Base Layers – These base layers are for the transition seasons and therefore resemble a compromise between the wicking sweat management of summer base layers, and warmth of thermal winter base layers. They are a thicker material than summer mesh layers and normally short sleeved.
Winter Base Layers – The primary function of these is to keep you warm. They focus on keeping your core temperature at a comfortable level by trapping a layer of warm air between your body and your outer clothing. They are almost always long sleeved, have a high cut collar and can have added features such as thumb loops to help protect your extremities.
How do I decide?
- To get the most out of your clothing you really need a base layer for each season. That way you can ensure maximum comfort; with increased warmth in the winter months and the benefits of wicking materials to dissipate perspiration in the hotter months. Having a good base layer can significantly improve your riding comfort and enjoyment in all seasons.
- The fabric you opt for will depend on your budget and what you intend to use the product for. Merino wool is normally more expensive than polyester due to the expense of sourcing the relatively rare natural material. However, it may be worth spending more on merino if you are going to be using the top frequently for commuting or long rides when you will value the odour resistant properties and soft feel.
- It is also important to ensure you get a base layer that fits you well; base layers are designed to be a “second skin” so close fitting profiles are vital. Sizes vary between manufacturers, so check the Size Guide on individual products that you buy.