How to Choose a Women’s Cycling Base Layer

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kathlene pierson spinning instructor and writer
By Katie Pierson

Spinning® Instructor & Personal Trainer

 Katie holds ten different fitness certifications, including Group Fitness, Spinning Elite, Rockstar Spinning, and Personal Training.

If you like to ride throughout the seasons, we can’t wait to introduce you to your new best friend, the base layer. A quality base layer should be in every cyclist’s closet. However, there are so many base layers on the market it can be hard to select the right one. So stick around, and we will explain how to choose the perfect women’s cycling base layer to keep you comfortable while doing what you love.

katie with a base layer in action

What is a Base Layer?

A base layer is a thin article of clothing that is meant to be worn closest to your skin. Base layers can include tops and bottoms. The primary purpose of a base layer is to wick away moisture and keep you dry.

When Do You Need a Base Layer?

Base layers can be worn year-round by cyclists. However, there is debate during the summer among cyclists on whether to wear a base layer or not. Some cyclists still rely on the sweat-wicking properties of a base layer when the temperatures heat up, while others opt to trust that their jerseys will keep them dry.

Even though the jury might still be out on wearing base layers in the summer, there is a strong consensus about the benefits of wearing them in the fall, winter, and spring. Base layers are ideal for layering to get the most out of your ride. 

roman trail base layers

Benefits of Base Layers

Many benefits are associated with base layers, especially when you look at specific fabrics that they include. However, three components are fairly universal when considering what a base layer should do for you. Some base layer benefits include temperature regulation, wicking capability, and compression.

  • Temperature Regulation: We all know how uncomfortable it can be to feel overheated or cold during a ride. One of the fantastic features of a base layer is the ability to keep you warm when it is cold outside and cool when it is hot outside. It is important to note that the base layer’s primary purpose is to wick away moisture and not warmth.

    This is a common misconception since base layers are available in various weights. Although they help keep you warm, it is your mid-layers job to focus on warmth.
  • Wicking: No one likes the clammy feeling often experienced from a wet sports bra. Base layers do a terrific job of transferring the moisture away from your skin to the outside of the garment, keeping you dry. The chance for chafing increases in wet clothes, so the moisture-wicking capability is clutch when riding.
  • Compression: It is common to see an athlete wearing a base layer while training. Yes, the temperature regulation capabilities make exercising more comfortable, but the compression that specific designs offer is another beneficial feature. Compression garments help reduce inflammation and support muscles, which aids with performance and recovery.

How to Choose a Women’s Cycling Base Layer

How to Select the Perfect Women’s Cycling Base Layer

Selecting Base Layer Fabrics

Since base layers are worn against bare skin, they are designed to be soft to decrease the potential for irritation. However, the fabric options of base layers can differ from natural and synthetic fibers. So let’s look at each option a little more closely.

  • Natural Fibers: Merino wool is the most common natural fiber used in a women’s cycling base layer. Merino wool is incredibly soft and has a few features that other natural and synthetic fibers lack. This unique fabric is not only antimicrobial but also helps those with sensitive skin. In addition, Merino wool is made to last after repeated usage but comes with a potentially more significant price tag. Although they might be more expensive, the added benefits from Merino wool and the lifespan of this time of base layer are worth the investment. 
  • Synthetic Fibers: Most base layers containing synthetic fibers are polyester or polyester fiber mix. Synthetic threads often are less expensive than base layers made from natural fibers and are also lighter weight. Base layers made from synthetic fibers can also offer more compression.

Pick Your Fit

Since a base layer’s job is to wick moisture, a base layer should fit snugly against your body. If it is too baggy, moisture-wicking capabilities are drastically diminished. It is crucial to select a base layer that was explicitly created to hug the curves of a woman’s body. Unisex clothing designs are often boxy and will not provide the vast majority of women with the proper fit. Although a base layer should be snug, it should not be so tight that it impacts movement. If you are uncomfortable with how tight a particular base layer feels, it is okay to purchase a size larger, as long as it remains in contact with your skin,

Another fit feature to keep in mind is the length of the base layer. If you are wearing cycling bibs, the length might not matter as much due to the short design. However, depending on the short design you like to ride, or if you plan not to wear it under a jersey, the length of the base layer might come into play. For those that want to wear regular cycling shorts and the base layer on its own, we recommend looking for a base layer that offers a little more coverage in the back for maximum comfort.

Keep Your Activity Minutes in Mind

If you are planning on only going for a short ride, any of your base layers will probably be fine. However, a Merino wool base layer would be your best selection if you are going for a long ride or on an extended cycling trip. You can smell fresh for longer with Merino wool compared to synthetic fibers that can trap odor. 

Riding Season

Knowing what temperatures to expect while riding will help you determine which base layer is suitable for you. Some base layer manufacturers provide information regarding what temperatures they are designed for, while others list the base layer weight. Another feature to keep in mind is whether a sleeveless, shorts sleeve or long sleeve base layer would serve you best. 

Base Layer Care

It is always essential to read the care instructions before washing any new base layers or performance garments. First, use a mild detergent and wash your garment in cool water. Depending on the fabric type, base layers can be hand washed or washed on a delicate cycle. After the washing cycle has ended, remove your base layer promptly and allow it to air dry, as a dryer can cause shrinking.

Although base layers come in various fabric options, there are a few universal tips to prolong their life. Since the fabrics usually consist of more delicate threads, you will want to avoid washing them with rougher materials such as towels. Coarser materials can damage the fabrics and cause pilling. Preferably, wash alone or with a mesh garment bag to keep your base layer looking and feeling its best. Although fabric softener works well with your other garments, you will want to skip it for your base layer. Fabric softener creates a layer of film around the fibers, which inhibits their moisture-wicking properties. 

Have you accidentally shrunk your base layer? No problem. Simply place your base layer in a tub with lukewarm water and a few drops of baby shampoo. After allowing the garment to soak for 20-30 minutes, gently place it on a towel and begin to roll it up to remove the excess water. Then, allow the base layer to air dry completely on a dry towel.

The Best Women’s Cycling Base Layers

Since so many women’s base layers are on the market, we wanted to share a few options we have tested and love. Please check out a few of our favorites below. 

Best Long Sleeve Base Layer: Roman Trail Women’s Merino Wool Base Layer

The Women’s Merino Wool Base Layers from Roman Trail are crafted from 100% of Australian Merino Wool. This ultra-light base layer includes wool threads of only 17.5 microns, and the no-chafe flatlock seams offer maximum comfort.

Designed with a woman’s body in mind, they fit in all the right places. Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, making it ideal for longer rides. In addition, the smooth fibers are much softer than other fabrics on the market. Above, we shared that the ultra-thin threads are 17.5 microns. For a point of reference, a strand of hair is 45 microns. 

This base layer is my favorite to wear during the fall, summer, and spring while riding. Since it is recommended that it is only washed after every 3-4 wears, this makes Roman Trail’s Merino wool base layer ideal for longer rides and trips that I will be wearing it for multiple rides. Additionally, since this base layer is extremely comfortable, I also wear it for other activities such as hiking, running, skiing, or even as a cute top.

Best Sleeveless Base Layer: Women’s Zero-Weight Short Sleeve Base Layer from Pactimo

Pactimo’s Zero-Weight Short Sleeve Base Layer offers a honeycomb fabric design for maximum airflow and wicking capabilities. This base layer comprises a fabric mix of 93% polyester and 7% spandex. This base layer also comes in a variety of colors. 

I love wearing this base layer during my Spinning classes or when cycling outdoors in the summer. I love the fit and the bright colors, my favorite color being the Orchid. Since this base layer is designed to offer more compression, it has a tighter fit. In addition, this base layer is feather light, making it incredibly comfortable and ideal when teaching a packed cycling class since it can get pretty hot inside the studio.

Are you looking for a great pair of riding shorts? Then, check out our review and learn more about Pactimo’s Women’s Summit Short. 

Best Short Sleeve Base Layer: Pactimo WOMEN’S TRANSFER–C™ SS BASE LAYER

The Women’s Transfer-C Short Sleeve Base Layer from Pactimo features carbon fibers woven into the garment offering superior moisture-wicking and odor-resistant capabilities. 

This form-fitting base layer is a perfect seasonal jersey as it is ideal for riding when the temperature is between 35 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The silver carbon fibers give this cycling top a fashionable design and assist in odor management. Odor is absorbed through the carbon fibers helping you to remain fresh. I love riding this base layer design when I need a little help under my regular short sleeve jersey.

The Bottom Line

katie with a base layer

A women’s cycling base layer is a girl’s best friend. A great fitting base layer enhances your riding experience by allowing you to remain comfortable no matter the season.

Katie Pierson

Katie is the creator of MT Girl Fitness and has been a certified fitness professional for almost twenty years. She currently holds ten different fitness certifications, including Group Fitness, Spinning Elite, Rockstar Spinning, and Personal Training. Fitness is her passion, and she loves seeing her clients reach goals they never imagined.

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