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The best women's cycling base layers of 2020

Women's cycling base layer
Women's cycling base layer (Image credit: Rapha)

No matter the time of year, a good quality women-specific cycling base layer is essential for staying comfortable on the bike, from regulating your body temperature to keeping body odour in check.

There are lots of options to choose from, like differing fabrics and technical materials, or natural fibres versus synthetic ones. Some cycling base layers are designed for specific weather conditions, so sleeve-length, cut, and thickness will also have a part to play.

When it comes to women-specific cycling base layers, the fabrics and technologies are much the same as men’s and unisex options. The key is in the cut. To do its job properly a base layer must comfortably hug your figure and sit flush against your skin, so you need a women-specific base layer for the ultimate comfort and fit.

To make the decision easier, we’ve rounded up a list of the best women’s cycling base layers on the market, for a variety of budgets.

Here’s what to look for when choosing a women's cycling base layer

Keep cool base layers

Assos Skinfoil womens base layer

(Image credit: Assos)

Assos SkinFoil

The Assos SkinFoil base layer is high performing and breathable, with multiple options available for all-weather riding

Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 85% Polypropylene, 15% Polyester | Colours: Two

Super breathable
Light muscle compression
Expensive 

The Assos skinFoil base layer range comes with multiple options for seasonal riding, from a sleeveless Transport Mesh Summer base layer to a short-sleeve open mesh spring/autumn option, right through to a long-sleeve winter layer that will see you through the colder months.

The sleeveless summer base layer is designed to keep you comfortable as temperatures rise. It’s constructed from Assos’ Transport Mesh, which is claimed to tailor its cooling effect in reaction to the amount of sweat being produced. In other words, the harder you ride, the harder it works to cool you down.

The spring/autumn and winter options, on the other hand, have a little more heft to them and are constructed from a moisture-wicking open mesh polypropylene fabric.

All four skinFoil base layers are constructed from a seamless tubular knit, which reduces the number of irritant areas to help you stay comfortable at all times. While the fit is on the snug side, it doesn’t restrict movement. It lifts sweat away from the skin and offers some light compression to combat muscle fatigue.

Castelli Women's Pro Issue women's cycling base layer

(Image credit: Castelli)

Castelli Women’s Pro Issue 2

The Castelli Pro Issue 2 base layer is performance-focused and promises a sweat-free ride

Sleeve Options: Short / sleeveless | Material: 100% polyester | Colours: One

Ideal for UK summer 
Pairs well with aero jerseys 
 Italian sizing

If you’re not looking for warmth from your base layer, then the Pro Issue 2 will keep you fresh and dry without causing you to overheat. This mid-range base layer from Castelli is designed to be worn in milder temperatures, from 15-25 degrees Celsius.

The Castelli Pro Issue 2 is made from a light 3D mesh fabric that uses capillary action to draw sweat away from the skin, making for a dry and comfortable ride. Minimal collar seams and a single flat hem around the waist mean there are fewer irritation points.

The Pro Issue 2 has a snug fit that sits flat without bunching up. It pairs well with aero jerseys, or anything with a tight collar, so there’s no need to compromise on performance. 

The only downside is that Castelli is notoriously biased towards the svelte Italian physique, so it may not be the best option for curvier bodies. Always check the size guide before buying online.

dhb Lightweight Mesh Base Layer womens base layer

(Image credit: dhb)

dhb Lightweight Mesh base layer

The performance offered at this price is hard to beat

Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 93% polyester, 7% elastane | Colours: 2

Superb value 
Antibacterial finish 
Sizing comes up small 

If you’re looking to spend a little less, Wiggle’s budget-friendly brand dhb has some cards up its sleeve. The dhb Lightweight Mesh base layer, for example, is both performance-focused and great value for money. 

It’s treated with a Polygiene antibacterial finish to combat body odour and keep you feeling fresh. The open mesh knit successfully wicks away sweat while trapping air to regulate body temperature. 

To help with layering, all stitching is flat-locked and there are minimal seams. Overall it’s a good base layer that won’t break the bank, however, sizing does come up small so be sure to check Wiggle’s size chart before purchasing.

Stolen Goat Mesh base layer womens base layer

(Image credit: Stolen Goat)

Stolen Goat Mesh sleeveless base layer

A lightweight base layer to inject some fun into your cycling wardrobe

Sleeve Options: Sleeveless | Material: 80% Polyester, 20% elastane | Colours: Four

Fast-drying
Bright colours and patterns
No long sleeve options

Stolen Goat is known for its fun and colourful cycling kit, and its lightweight base layers are cut from the same cloth. With three colourful pattern options, you’ll be proud to unzip at the top of a climb. Of course, if this doesn’t sound like you, there’s a low-profile white version as well.

Constructed from four-way stretch AirMesh that’s super breathable, this sleeveless base layer is ideal for summer rides. The race fit hugs your form perfectly and moves with you, making it a comfortable option when you’re likely to feel hot and bothered. The fabric is fast-drying and moisture-wicking too.

Far be it from you to be mistaken for a fair-weather cyclist, however, the Stolen Goat Mesh base layer could also be a great piece of kit to wear year-round when paired strategically with warmer jerseys and jackets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with any sleeved options.

Keep warm base layers

dhb Women's Merino M200 womens base layer

(Image credit: dhb)

dhb Women’s Merino M200 base layer

Grab the versatility offered by merino wool for a bargain price, in a range of colours

Sleeve Options: Short / sleeveless | Material: 100% Merino wool | Colours: Five

Value for money 
Versatile 
Slow drying 

If you’re looking for the coveted properties of merino wool without spending the last of your savings, then dhb offers a fantastic value merino base layer too. M200 signals the weight of the wool used, and this particular base layer is more geared towards winter riding. A lighter M150 version is also available.

Merino wool is a dab hand at naturally regulating body temperature, and stays fresher for longer. While we do recommend regularly washing your base layer, you may find yourself able to take it on a multi-day ride and come out almost fresh as a daisy.

The yarn is superfine, promising a soft and comfortable mid-weight base layer that will see you through the colder months. You can layer it up all winter and then wear it on its own once temperatures rise. It’s also comfortable enough to wear off the bike, thanks to the close but relaxed fit.

Endura Baabaa women's base layer

(Image credit: Endura)

Endura Baabaa Blend long sleeve base layer

Endura’s Baabaa Blend combines the benefits of merino wool with moisture-wicking synthetic fibres for overall performance

Sleeve Options: Long | Material: 80% Lyocell, 20% Merino wool | Colours: Two

Forget-you're-wearing-it comfortable 
Remains odour-free over multi-day us 
Can overheat on warmer days

Endura’s Baabaa Blend base layer combines merino wool with Lyocell synthetic fibres to offer an all-in-one package of thermoregulation, odour control and sweat management. Once again it’s a great option for layering or wearing as a standalone top.

The Baabaa Blend base layer gets ethical brownie points too, as the merino used is non-mulesed (meaning the cruel practice of mulesing is not involved in its production). What results is a soft and itch-free blend of natural and synthetic fibres that’s so comfortable you’ll forget you’re wearing it.

The fit is pretty relaxed, meaning it works well as a standalone long-sleeve top or an upper layer with something else underneath. It’s still reasonably form-hugging though, with no uncomfortable bunching when paired with a fitted jersey.

We have reviewed the men's Endura Baabaa base layer and found it works best at lower temperatures, as its warming properties can be a bit too much on milder days. 

Gore Windstopper womens base layer

(Image credit: Gore)

Gore Women’s Windstopper base layer

The Gore Windstopper is perfect for keeping you warm on crisp morning rides

Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 88% polypropylene, 8% elastane, 4% polyamide | Colours: One

Warm
Windproof
The windproof membrane doesn’t wick moisture away well

If you’re riding in blustery conditions, keep the cold out and protect your core with some windproof kit. Gore’s Windstopper membrane has been designed specifically for this purpose, to counteract wind chill and provide an impenetrable barrier between you and the gales.  

With its comfortable close fit, the Windstopper base layer creates a thin but powerful addition to whichever warmth strategy you opt for. Pair it with a single jersey for a little protection, or make it part of a full-blown winter layering system. The Gore Windstopper membrane is an essential part of any serious all-weather cyclist’s wardrobe.

The Windstopper membrane is water-repellent and features on the areas most likely to feel the full brunt of the elements: the front and shoulders. The back, as well as the under-arm panels, are constructed from an open mesh to disperse heat and cool you down.

Madison Isoler Mesh womens base layer

(Image credit: Madison)

Madison Isoler Mesh women’s base layer

Madison’s Isoler Mesh base layers are comfortable and competitively priced

Sleeve Options: Long / sleeveless | Material: 75% polyester, 20% polyamide, 5% elastane | Colours: Three

Seamless circular knit construction
Budget-friendly
Fairly basic

Madison’s Isoler Mesh base layer is another budget-friendly option that offers basic performance, great for entry-level cyclists exploring what the world of lycra has to offer. There are two versions available: long-sleeved or sleeveless, providing options for year-round training. 

The Isoler Mesh base layer is constructed from a circular knit design, meaning more comfort thanks to the lack of seams. The binding on the neck and arm openings are soft to the touch and irritation-free. It comes in a close race-fit, but is completely unrestrictive and works well both on and off the bike. 

At this price point, it doesn’t have any bells and whistles but this base layer is covered by a limited lifetime warranty, and is perfectly fine if you’re only just getting into cycling.

Rapha Brevet womens base layer

(Image credit: Rapha)

Rapha Women’s Brevet cycling base layer

With a permanent antibacterial finish, Rapha’s Brevet base layer is specifically designed for long-distance riding

Sleeve Options: Short | Material: 82% polyester, 18% elastane | Colours: Three

Permanent antibacterial finish
Classic Rapha aesthetic
Expensive

Rapha’s Brevet range is named after the exact discipline it’s designed for (also known as audax or randonneuring, or simply non-competitive long-distance cycling). It’s there to keep you in the saddle for as long as you need to be, while staying cool, fresh and comfortable. It comes with all the features you’d expect - high-stretch, high-wicking, quick-drying, and flat-lock seams - plus a few added bonuses. 

The Brevet base layer is Rapha’s first to feature a permanent antibacterial finish. Formed from silver-coated ion yarn, this keeps the stench at bay, allowing you to ride for days on end in a single garment without offending anyone you come into contact with. It was tested over an ultra-distance race through Europe (our guess is the Transcontinental) and has proven to be ideal for any endurance cyclist looking to pack light.

The fit is close but relaxed, and the base layer is cut longer in the body for all-day cycling. Plus it just looks really good. It’s got the signature Brevet stripes (though these are unlikely to be visible to other riders) and comes in those lovely Rapha colours of pink, olive and black.

It is expensive for a base layer, but if you factor in the free repairs, and the respect from other Rapha-loving roadies, then it’s a very nice piece of kit to have.

Sportful Women's 2nd Skin womens base layer

(Image credit: Sportful)

Sportful Women’s 2nd Skin cycling base layer

Brilliant performance in cold weather, while the comfort provided lives up to its name

Sleeve Options: Long | Material: Dryarn polypropylene and polyester blend | Colours: One

Body-mapped construction
Impressive comfort
Expensive

Sportful’s 2nd Skin women's cycling base layer does exactly what it says: it forms a barrier like a second skin that fits perfectly, feels delightfully soft and doesn’t limit your movement in any way. The snug fit aids with moisture-wicking and provides some compression support for the muscles.

It’s designed mainly for use in winter, tackling a range of weather conditions and performing best at subzero temperatures, namely between 0 and -5 degrees Celsius. 

The Dryarn fabric is cleverly put to work, incorporating a body-mapped design that strategically tailors the fabric texture to the various needs of the torso. This means a thicker and warmer main body, well-insulated shoulders and elbows, and highly breathable light mesh on the rear and underarm panels.

It is expensive, but a lot of consideration has been put into it. If you’re looking for a high-performance garment and have some money to spend, this is a good choice.

How to choose

Materials

Different materials perform best in different environments, so it’s important to consider what kind of riding you’ll be doing when choosing a base layer. You’ll mostly find yourself choosing between synthetic and natural fabrics, though nowadays there are plenty of garments that blend the two. 

Man-made synthetic materials are often geared towards warmer weather, as they excel in sweat management and cooling. Natural materials on the other hand, like merino wool, aren’t as efficient at wicking or drying, but they are great thermoregulators across a broad range of temperatures. This makes them really versatile, plus they keep you warm even when wet, and are more odour-resistant.

Fit

For a base layer to properly do its job, it should fit like a glove. Sitting flush with the skin allows it to wick away sweat, while the closer the cut, the less chance there is of bunching (which is really unpleasant if you’re layering on top of it). 

There are unisex options that may suit a more slight physique, but if you’re curvier we strongly recommend choosing a women-specific cut. 

If you’re racing, opt for a performance fit with flat-lock stitching, an aggressive cut and a wide collar to fit seamlessly below skinsuits. More casual riders can opt for a relaxed cut. Let the material’s stretch provide the comfort and fit you need.

Sleeve length

Some base layers have different sleeve lengths to choose from. Opt for short or sleeveless if you’re riding in hot or unpredictable weather. They can easily be combined with other layers, such as a jersey, or arm warmers to keep your bases covered when the temperature drops.

For cold weather rides, go for long sleeves. They can also be worn beneath other garments to create a winter layering system when you’re heading out in arctic conditions.

Features

Some base layers offer a level of compression support, to increase the blood flow to your muscles, delay fatigue and improve your performance. It also helps to reduce recovery time so you can train harder.

If you’re looking for something specific, pay attention to the extra features that are sometimes on offer, as they generally relate to specific riding conditions. For example, really thin mesh panels offer superior breathability while training at maximum effort in the hottest climes. On the other hand, water resistance, windproofing, a high-cut collar and perhaps even an integrated balaclava hood might be considered in the colder months.