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What base layer should you choose? Maybe not everyone wants to wear a base layer in the summer, but when you do, it’s important to know the advantages of the different types of base layers.
Even though base layers for hiking, cycling, and running all serve the purpose of wicking moisture away from the body, there are some differences in the various brands for each type of activity. While cycling base layers have quite a bit of mesh for air flow, running base layers focus on stretchy fabric and mobility.
Depending on whether you are wearing a hiking base layer, cycling base layer, or running base layer, you may choose a different type. While I did do some research of my own, I also tried contacting members of the different outdoor communities to figure out which base layers they recommend for their activity.
To understand the advantages of the different types of base layers and to learn about the favorite brands and styles of summer base layers, read on!
Summer Base Layers for Hiking
For the hiking community, base layers are often worn to keep hikers warm in moderate to cold temperatures. Because base layers are designed to wick moisture from your body, they prevent your body from becoming cold due to excess water (sweat) on your body. Even so, some hikers may choose to wear base layers in the summer.
What are Hiking Base Layers?
Hiking base layers come in several different materials, including merino wool, synthetic fabric (polyester, for example), silk, and even cotton. When asked about their preferred base layers, many hikers reported that merino wool was their preferred for summer hiking.
Base layers for hiking are typically designed to fit snug against your body so that they can wick moisture away from your skin. Even so, they are not necessarily the most breathable pieces of clothing. Especially if you choose to wear a synthetic base layer, you may find yourself overheating in the summer sun. So, make sure to look for base layers that have some sort of mesh for extra breathability if you can.
Additionally, many hikers claimed that they may wear a short-sleeved base layer instead of a long-sleeve during the summer to stay a bit cooler.
Another key characteristic for summer base layer wearing was moisture wicking. It is no secret that you will be more sweaty (and thus more stinky) in the summer. So, it is very important to find a base layer that is designed to remove sweat from your skin. As you’ll read in one of the suggested base layers for summer hikers, copper can be sewn into the fabric of your base layer to prevent bacteria from stinking up your base layer.
BALEAF Women’s Fleece Thermal Mock Neck Long Sleeve
For a bargain base layer, the BALEAF Fleece Thermal (see on Amazon) is a great choice and one recommended by someone from the hiking community as a base layer to wear in the summer. The fabric claims to be breathable and lightweight so that the wearer does not overheat.
Additionally, the polyester and elastane fabric can wick moisture away from your body to prevent excess sweat. An added bonus is that this base layer is extra stretchy to enhance your mobility as you wear it.
Blackcomb Light Crew Base Layer Top
The Blackcomb Light Crew (see on REI) base layer top can be worn all year round by itself in the summer or be added as a first layer in colder weather. This top is also made from elastic material and sits snug against your body to wick away moisture. Plus, it is fast drying and has anti-odor treatments to avoid stinky smells.
Athleta Ascent Top
Another recommended summer base layer is the Athleta Ascent (see on GAP) top. Not only is it stylish and comfortable, but the shirt itself is chafe-free, made for hikers, climbers, and off-trail explorers, and has added mesh to increase airflow. That said, this base layer would make an ideal shirt for summer hiking.
Copper-infused clothing actually can reduce bacteria counts and affect clothing odor! (source) Coppertfit Tees has made that a part of their marketing.
Copperfit makes several different pieces of clothing for active lifestyles, including shirts, boxers, socks, leggings, and more. One hiker who responded to our survey for summer base layers said that he wears Copperfit shirts and socks during the summer to keep sweat and “funk” at bay. Because this brand has copper sewn into its fabric, bad-smelling bacteria will be driven away.
Icebreaker (Icebreaker) is an outdoor brand that uses only natural material and has an emphasis on merino wool. Because merino wool is often chosen because of its moisture-wicking properties and anti-smell, any of the clothing items from this brand would work as summer thermals. In fact, you may choose to wear their undergarments if you really want to avoid the “funk,” as the hiking community puts it.
Smartwool has always been a leading brand when it comes to outdoor gear. Made from merino wool, Smartwool makes great base layers, socks, underwear, and more. While they do focus the most on winter and cold-weather base layers, they also have tank tops and short-sleeved shirts that would work perfectly for a summer base layer.
Summer Base Layer for Cycling
Cyclists often rely on base layers to wick the sweat away from their bodies to keep them dry in hot temperatures. Base layers for cyclists may consist of short-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved shirts, leggings, and even bodysuits.
What Does a Cycling Base Layer Do?
Similar to base layers for hiking, a cycling base layer will wick the moisture away from your body. The base layer is the foundation of a cyclist’s outfit and ensures the cyclist is comfortable while riding. These base layers for cyclists are also generally slim fit and sit tight against the skin as a way to be more streamlined.
Another key aspect of many cycling base layers is their odor resistance. Because many cyclists can expect to sweat a lot, the technology that goes into cycling base layers has really focused on odor resistance and moisture-wicking abilities. In fact, some of the base layers for cyclists have silver sewn into the fabric to keep the smelly bacterial away.
Further, many of the cycling base layers have a mesh component that has more airflow and ventilation than some of the heavier base layers. If you are planning to go cycling or know that you will be sweating a lot, then choosing a cycling base layer may be your best option.
When I asked the cycling community about their preferred summer and lightweight base layers, I was immediately directed to Galibier. Galibier seems to be a leader in cycling apparel and makes plenty of base layers for all kinds of weather.
Even so, many of their base layers are short sleeves or have that body-suit look that can be worn as a one-piece. The layers themselves are lightweight and are supposed to be excellent for moisture management in hot weather.
Another recommended brand was Pearl Izumi, which also seems to be a popular cycling apparel brand. Their base layers come in many different styles, and most notably for summer the short-sleeved shirts and tank tops. Their products seem to be made from either merino wool or mesh for extra airflow and breathability.
Summer Base Layer for Running
I did not get nearly as many responders about wearing a base layer in the summer from the running community, but I did learn a few things about summer base layers by researching the different types of running base layers. Yet similar to hikers, runners tend to forgo the base layer in the summer and choose either a running vest or short-sleeved shirt, according to this running forum.
An important aspect of running-style base layers is their anti-chafe and movement-enabling, stretchy designs. Because runners pump their arms and their arms and armpits (and inner thighs) rub against each other, it is super important to have a base layer that prevents this chafing. Plus, runners definitely need a full range of movement, so the added stretch comes in handy.
Runners also tend to prefer merino wool over other types of materials because it is resistant to smelly odors and does a good job with moisture-wicking to avoid sweat sticking to their skin. Similar to hiking base layers, running base layers come in many different levels of thickness. For summer running, base layers are often made from thinner material and have short sleeves.
Because you can also just wear a base layer, some runners opt to only wear a base layer for summer running. This is because the base layers do a good job with managing the body’s sweat, avoiding armpit stains, and keeping odors under control. So, runners may wear short-sleeved base layers, also known as “compression” (coachmag.co.uk) shirts.
Smartwool Merino 150 Short Sleeve
The Smartwool Merino 150 short sleeve (see on Amazon) base layer is designed with summer running in mind, but can also be used underneath other layers in the winter. Because runners like to wear shirts that are odor resistant, this short sleeve may be a great choice for summer running. In addition, the shirt itself claims to be breathable and lightweight.
This base layer does sit tight against the skin, but it is still durable and allows for maximum movement. This allows runners to move freely during their runs.
REI Co-op Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Base Layer
The REI Co-op Merino 185 base layer is made from, you guessed it, merino wool. The material of this base layer is ultra-fine, super soft, and is said to be itch free and comfortable. This base layer is designed for warmer days, but also transitions nicely to cooler weather. Even though this base layer is a little on the pricy side, it is supposed to last longer than some of the less expensive base layers for runners.
Athleta Speedlight Top
The Athleta Speedlight top not only sits comfortably but it is supposed to have a flattering fit that wicks away any sweat. The top itself is lightweight and made from nylon and spandex. Additionally, the Speedlight has up to 50 UPF to protect your skin from the sun. For a shirt that is comfortable, has holes for your thumbs, and protects you from the sun, this may be a great base layer option.
Should I Wear a Base Layer in the Summer?
While not everyone feels it is necessary to wear a base layer during the summer months, base layers can be used during the summer to feel more comfortable in cooler, humid conditions. Base layers are typically lightweight, breathable, and made out of moisture-wicking material to help regulate your skin temperature.
If you are interested in learning about whether or not you should wear a base layer in the summer, check out our article here. It’s actually not a clear-cut answer with a one-size-fits-all conclusion.
Does Base Layer Keep You Cool?
Although we will go more in-depth on this topic in our summer base layer article, it is worth it to discuss this common misconception about base layers. Contrary to popular belief, base layers do not actually cool your body down in hot conditions. Wondering how base layers work? Check out our article here!
Instead, base layers can help you regulate your body temperature and move moisture away from your skin. This quality can help make you feel more comfortable when you sweat, even if it doesn’t actually keep your body temperature down.
Additionally, good base layers will also protect your skin from sunlight, which can help you avoid an uncomfortable sunburn. Because sunburns can emanate their own heat and make you feel warm, the sun-blocking aspect of wearing long sleeves does have its benefits.
What is the Best Base Layer for Summer?
The best base layer for summer will likely depend on where you are and what you are doing. When asked about summer base layers, the hiking community either responded that they prefer not to wear a base layer or that they chose base layers that were lightweight and moisture-wicking to move the sweat away from their bodies.
In addition, the best summer base layer will depend on the material. For example, many respondents reported that they preferred Smartwool or merino wool over any other material. You may have also heard cautions regarding cotton, but you may decide that cotton is a good choice for summer.
Want to know when and why you should either choose or avoid cotton material as a base layer? Check out my article here!