Moisture Wicking Base Layers

During warm weather here in Texas (which is about eight months out of the year) I like to wear just a cycling jersey next to my skin. But if the temperature gets below 70 degrees (21C), I add a base layer.

I haven’t been too particular about what kind of base layer I use. I’ve got three. Two are polyester items from Jockey, a sleeveless and a t-shirt. I have since added another t-shirt from Performance, which fits looser than the Jockey items.

A Craft base layer t-shirt.

The whole idea behind moisture wicking fabrics is to pull moisture from your skin and cause it to evaporate quickly, keeping you dry and comfortable. My experience is that there is something to that, but it doesn’t work as completely as the catalogs would have you believe.

When I get back from my rides, my base layer is usually soaked. There doesn’t seem to be any area on it that isn’t wet with sweat (admittedly, I am a heavy sweater). The moisture does transfer from the base layer to my other clothing layers. If I’m wearing a windbreaker over my jersey, the windbreaker is usually wet, too.

The best luck I’ve had is with the Performance tee. I think that might be because the item doesn’t cling to my skin and make me look like I’m wearing a sausage casing. There are folds and wrinkles that I think might help with moisture transfer. After a brisk ride Sunday morning, I was perfectly comfortable sitting outdoors in cool weather as we relaxed at the coffee shop.

So that makes me wonder: Have you had different experiences with different types of base layer? Have you got some that are your go-to items for certain weather conditions, or are they all pretty much the same as far as you’re concerned?

Now, I must admit that I’m not a real student of the properties of different wicking fabrics. I’ve worn polyester. I haven’t owned a wool base layer, or a wool jersey. I haven’t used high-end base layers, like those from Craft or Helly-Hansen. So I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences, and see if there is a real difference in base layer wicking properties, or if they’re all pretty much the same.


  1. says

    G’Day! Bikenoob,
    Thanks for that, I’m going to be out in the winter weather for several hours at nighttime. Obviously I want to stay warm so I’ve been reading on proper attire/gear for the conditions. The temperature will be around freezing (32° Fahrenheit). I have a pair of polypropylene thermals but I read that they don’t wick moisture away. And moisture is the enemy of staying warm.

  2. Paul Jakma says

    Wool base layers are good. Been using one this winter, and won’t be going back to synthetics. They don’t seem to soak as quickly as synthetics, and don’t stink like synthetics do.

  3. Matt says

    I have both a short sleeve Under Armour layer and a long sleeve layer. I start layering when the temps get below 60. I’ve found that the key to the base layer’s ability to dry as it wicks moisture is the level of humidity; if it’s 70% humid here in SC, that base layer just isn’t going to be completely dry.

  4. says

    I wear a base layer nearly year round, only omitting it in the hottest weather. For most of the year, I wear a combination of short sleeve, sleeveless, or long sleeve compression shirts that are fairly light, and all are off brands that I’ve been able to find pretty cheaply at either Johnny Mack’s Sports or Play it Again Sports here in Springfield.

    Below 32 degrees, I usually throw on either a winter weight ReeBok baseball compression shirt or one of several Academy Sports’ house brand compression shirts that I recently picked up for about $20 each.

    I keep dreaming of getting some wool, but haven’t needed it badly enough to actually pull the trigger yet.

  5. Bill says

    In the colder weather here in NYC, I generally start with an Under Armour base and then over than use a layer of winter silk. The combination works to usually keep me both warm and dry though sometimes the silk will get sweaty, especially if it is very cold and I have a fleece layer over it before I wear my breathable rain jacket from J&G (which is also great).

  6. Jeff A says

    I usually start layering around 60F. I have a Craft longsleeve, and two Under Armour Cold Gear longsleeves. Interesting that you mention fit, since one of my UAs is “fitted” and the other is “compression.” I find that I feel warmer in the fitted version. I sweat at the drop of a hat, too, to no matter what, the bottom layer is going to be soaked.

  7. Daved says

    When we were discussing base layers Sunday and I pointed out the review I saw in Men/s Journal mag. on base layers. They rated the Ibex Indie Long Sleeeve Jersey as best. Pricey at $125 but the Merino Wool is the best. I went to the site and they have a good tutorial on why/how wool works so well. Now if I can just find a deal……..

  8. says

    I haven’t really worn anything special yet while cycling. Towards the end of last season I bought myself some bib shorts. These bib shorts have a higher back i’m hopping this will help on those warmer day we ocassionally get here in the PNW. Most of the time I can get away with wearing normal cotton shirts. I wondering if this is possible because of the windy conditions we generally ride in. Look forward to getting some use out of my bibs this year. I have a question for who ever reads this comment. Have any of you used legings with bib shorts for those colder morning rides?

  9. says

    I have one sleeveless polyester base layer (EMS brand) and a Smartwool, very thin, short sleeved base layer. I think the smartwool does a better job of wicking moisture away and staying dry, but it’s slightly warmer–I wouldn’t want to wear it on a particularly warm day. I just ordered a Helly Hansen long sleeve that I found on sale, so we’ll see if it’s really that much better than.

  10. says

    Under Armour is great in both winter and summer. I wear the sleeveless Heat Gear undershirt under my jersey in the summer to wick away the sweat. Their winter stuff is insulating and wicking.

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