Group test: women’s summer base layers

Women's summer base layers: Stolen Goat, Rapha, Madison, Castelli and Sportful
Top row, from left: Stolen Goat, Rapha, Madison. Bottom row, from left: Castelli, Sportful
It looks like we’re in for some warm, sunny days. The kind of days you want to be out in the saddle. Content officer Rebecca Armstrong reviews some summer base layers to keep you cool and sweat-free

It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been a classic June weatherwise so far. Rain and very cold mornings and evenings have had me contemplating turning the central heating back on. You might be wondering why you’d need a summer-weight base layer.

But as I write this, the sun is shining and I’ve even opened a window. A lightweight base layer improves comfort on long summer rides by wicking away sweat and helping to keep you cool and dry. This June it’s also provided a welcome extra layer on cold mornings.

I tested four women’s specific versions, plus one described as unisex, on rides of varying lengths.

1. Stolen Goat Women’s Jefferson Ibex Base Layer

Price: £40
Sizes: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL, XXXL
Colour: Multi
Available from: Stolen Goat

This mesh top is lightweight and comfortable to wear. It’s sleeveless so fits well under long- and short-sleeved jerseys. The fit and length were great. I generally find cycling tops too short so this was a pleasant surprise.

It provided a welcome extra layer on cold morning rides, while remaining sweat-wicking and breathable under a long-sleeved jersey on warm evenings. It didn’t smell even after a couple of outings.

I love the design. It’s almost a shame to hide it under a jersey, so it’s good that the top is substantial enough to be worn on its own if it’s very hot. But you would have to slather on the sunscreen.

Verdict: Looks great; fits well. Breathable and sweat-wicking.

A purple sleeveless mesh top with pink flowers and swirls on it

2. Rapha Women’s Lightweight Base Layer

Price: £55
Sizes: XXS, XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
Colours: Black, white
Available from: Rapha

This is a very thin, lightweight mesh top that went nicely under both long- and short-sleeved jerseys. It fit well but I would have preferred it to be slightly longer in the body. The white version I tested is more cream than pure white.

It’s definitely a base layer – the see-through mesh is far too thin to double as outerwear. But it’s light enough to be worn on the very hottest of summer rides. I barely noticed it was there, it was so thin and comfortable.

Verdict: A breathable, sweat-wicking underlayer for very hot days.

A woman is wearing a very thin, white mesh top. She has her hands on her hips. You can also see the waistband of her black cycling shorts

3. Madison Roam Isoler Mesh Short Sleeve Baselayer

Price: £24.99
Sizes: XS/S, M/L (tested), X-Large/XX-Large
Colour: Black
Available from: Madison

This is described as a year-round product and it’s the thickest and warmest tested. This was very much appreciated on cold morning rides during which an extra layer was needed. It also performed well on warmer evenings but would likely be too heavy on hot days. That said, it’s substantial enough to be worn on its own.

The seamless knitted fabric was very comfortable to wear, while mesh panels at the sides and back provided breathability.

I’m not usually a fan of clothing described as ‘unisex’ – men’s and women’s bodies are very different shapes, after all – but this fit well. The length was good too.

Verdict: A versatile base layer that would work in various conditions, though not best for hot days.

A black T-shirt with mesh panels

4. Castelli Pro Issue 2 Women’s Short Sleeve Base Layer

Price: £52 (£26 at time of writing)
Sizes: XS, S, M, L (tested)
Colour: White
Available from: Saddleback

Made from a very light and thin mesh, this top is another one you couldn’t wear on its own. To be clear, though, base layers aren’t really designed for this – they’re meant to go under a jersey. But sometimes it’s a nice bonus if they do work on their own.

This was too thin for added warmth on cooler days. However, on warm rides it kept me comfortable, wicking away sweat and keeping me dry. It performed very well on a long hot Sunday ride.

It came up tight on me despite testing the large, especially around the arms. This is an issue with a lot of cycling kit. I’m not that big and if this is the largest version available it isn’t exactly inclusive of larger sizes.

Verdict: While the sizing wasn’t great, it performed well in hot weather.

A woman is wearing a very thin, white, mesh T-shirt and black cycling shorts. The top has the Castelli logo on the neck

5. Sportful Midweight Women’s Short Sleeve Base Layer

Price: £45 (£22.50 at time of writing)
Sizes: 2XS, XS, S, M, L (tested), XL, 2XL
Colours: Black, white
Available from: Saddleback

This very thin, lightweight top is woven rather than a mesh. The fabric is brushed on the inside, and it feels lovely against the skin. It’s a very snug fit but it’s so soft that it didn’t feel tight or uncomfortable.

The length was good, with the back longer than the front and so covering up that bit where your jersey meets your shorts. The sleeves are long, though, meaning they get snarled up in the shorter sleeves of a short-sleeved jersey.

Breathability was good, but the sweat-wicking properties weren’t great under a long-sleeved jersey on warm morning rides.

Verdict: Felt great but best for cooler rides.

A woman is wearing a very thin, white top. You can also see the straps and waistband of her black bib shorts

Overall verdict

All five base layers performed well, though slightly differently. I really liked Stolen Goat’s version. It looks great, fits well and works well in hot weather.

There’s little to tell between Castelli and Rapha. Similar price points, looks and both breathable and with great sweat-wicking properties. These are best for very hot days.

Madison was the lowest price on test. It’s also the heaviest and would serve well in spring and autumn and even warmer winter days. It’s too heavy for summer, though. Sportful’s sweat-wicking abilities weren’t quite up to very hot conditions, but the layer was very comfortable to wear.

Looking for summer base layers for men? Read our group test.

Our test promise

At Cycling UK, we are proudly independent. There’s no pressure to please advertisers as we’re funded by our members. Our product reviews aren’t press releases; they’re written by experienced cyclists after thorough testing.

How to choose the best summer base layer


Base layers are meant to fit under your jersey so you want them quite snug, but not so tight that they feel uncomfortable. You’ll want plenty of room around the armpits to allow for breathability. As with all cycling kit, if you can it’s best to try before you buy.


This is very personal: do you want something longer in the body that will be visible under your jersey? Or do you prefer something that fits entirely under a jersey?


Choose a lightweight, breathable fabric. Mesh is good for breathability. Natural fabrics like wool will be too heavy – all those on test were of a technical synthetic fabric designed to wick away wetness.


The length of the sleeves will affect comfort and wearability. Too long and they’ll get in the way of short-sleeved jerseys. You might want to consider sleeveless, vest-style options that avoid the issue entirely.


For something that’s worn so close to the skin, comfort is paramount. It’s not just about fit – you want something that’s stretchy and moves with your body. It needs to fit under your other jerseys without being restrictive. Avoid anything scratchy, too.