Base Layers for Cycling in the Cold

By on October 6, 2011
winter cycling gear

If you’re reading this and don’t know what base layers are, I highly recommend you read Winter Cycling Gear Essentials where I explain how to layer up your clothes to optimise warmth for colder rides.

I’ve ridden through some extremely cold winters in the Alps where day temperatures are averaging around zero, so to get the most out of my training, the base layer has to be right, no matter what else you add over the top.

To get the base layer right you need to know if you’re a heavy sweater or not.  I’m someone who sweats quite heavily and need something that takes the sweat away from my skin AND keeps me fairly dry AND warm.

To keep warm I always go for a long sleeved thermal base layer and my brand recommendation is Helly Hansen.

I say this because I own two “original,” wool based long sleeve thermals in navy, which have never let me down.  With this garment, I’d only need to wear a fleece lined long sleeved cycling jersey and a gilet on top!

Now in reality, the original wool top does get a bit damp. I’d be lying if I said I was perfectly dry after riding a hard 100kms!  But, it does the job of keeping me warm, fairly dry and the soft wool is able to absorb and evaporate most of my sweat, so it fulfils my criteria above almost perfectly.

So for me, this has been the best base layer product I’ve ever used and I still use today even after 20 years cycling! Now that says something about the durability of the original wool top by Helly Hansen.

Surprisingly, it still hasn’t lost shape after years of regular washing either – take a look below:

Here’s a pic of it:

Base Layers

20 years old and still going strong!

The only problem is I only bought two and would love to buy more but can’t find the product to buy anywhere.  If you know where to buy this original woollen Helly Hansen, then do comment below!

So being somewhat disappointed with searches, I decided to try the newer Helly Hansen long sleeve top with LIFA material (says 100% polypropylene on the label, so obviously this is synthetic material).

Last winter I bought the Helly Hansen Womens LIFA Dry Stripe and each year they name it different. I got the original pink version with white stripes down arms, but there are black and blue available.  Picture below:

Base Layers

Helly Hansen Lifa Stripe Base Layer: now called the Helly Hansen Stripe Crew Dry Base Layer


Now, this model works well wicking sweat away from the skin, but it doesn’t seem to cope well with a high sweat volume as efficiently as wool does.  I get a small sweat patch showing on my torso which can be uncomfortable in extremely cold weather.

If I cycle slow enough this isn’t a problem, so the Helly Hansen Stripe Crew Dry Base Layer gets me through mild British winters fairly comfortably.

Another small comparison to the original woollen garment is that the Helly Hansen LIFA fabric doesn’t keep you quite as warm as wool on much colder days.  It just doesn’t have that snug warmth of wool even though the garment is close fitting to the skin.  This means I depend on my midlayer to do all the work to keep me warm.

The Helly Hansen Stripe Crew Dry Base Layer states it has “antibacterial protector” which I have to admit works for the first few weeks and then wears off.  The solution is to wash it after each ride because I’ve found it can build up significant odour.

Other than that, I think this is a quality garment.  It does the job well if you don’t sweat too heavily and are not needing to ride through Alpine winters!  It machine washes easily at 40C  and the price is about right for what you get.

For this reason, I highly recommend the Helly Hansen Stripe Crew Dry Base Layer as a good starting point if you’re new to choosing base layers.  Buy two or three of these for your winter because you’ll find you need to wash them frequently and will need dry spares ready for next day rides.

Base layers for much colder cycling:

An alternative for colder rides could be the Helly Hansen Freeze Prowool 1/2 Zip Turtle Base Layer top, which I’m interested in trying this winter.  I believe this is an alternative to the Original woollen Helly Hansen, but I’ve not tried it.  Being a heavy sweater this might be an even closer fit to the older original wool Helly Hansen as it uses Merino wool.  It seems to be about the most I’d want to pay for a base layer too, which is (at that time of writing) around £49 (US$60).

So, what base layers have you used in the past?  Anyone know where to buy the Original wool Helly Hansen? Look forward to your comments.

About Rebecca


  1. Pingback: Winter Cycling Clothing Essentials

  2. Random Cyclist

    February 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Agreed on the Helly Hansen brand, I have a winter base layer made by them and it is amazing. Really really love it, and well worth the money

    • Rebecca

      February 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      Yep – Helly Hansen always done the job for me too and probably always will do! Cheers for commenting RC and have a great weekend cycling!

  3. David Chee

    June 3, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Hi Rebecca,
    Just discovered your informative website. Thank you.
    Congratulations on the birth of your son Angus.
    You can always try these baselayers made in NZ and Aust respectively.

  4. Mike Wilson

    November 1, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Hello Rebecca,

    Thank you for your detailed review of these tops. A few weeks ago I was debating whether to go for a Helly Hanson synthetic or a Dhb Merino Wool base layer. I read quite a few reviews about the Helly Hanson products, generally all positive but many commented on the “Smelly Hanson” property of the top compared to wool.

    The Dhb base layer has been absolutely terrific, although I have nothing to compare it to. With a short sleeve jersey on top (and occasionally a jacket on top of that), I feel happy down to fridge temperatures outside where previously anything below 13C felt cold.

    The price tag for these base layers is pretty high though, so I’m hoping that I get even a tenth of the use out of mine that you’ve had from yours! :-)

    All the best and congratulations on the new arrival!


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